0433 GMT February 18, 2020
ICTs prove to be effective and advantageous war technologies, as they are efficient and relatively cheap when compared to the general costs of traditional warfare. This is why the use of ICTs in warfare has grown rapidly in the last decade bringing about some serious changes fighting strategies. ICTs gave rise to the latest revolution in military affairs (RMA) by providing new tools and processes of fighting – like network-centric warfare (NCW), and integrated command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR).
This RMA concerns in primis military forces, as they have to deal with “the 5th dimension of warfare, information, in addition to land, sea, air and space” [emphasis added]. It also concerns strategists, policy-makers and ethicists, as rules for this new form of warfare are much needed and the existing international regulations, like the Geneva and Hague Conventions, provide only partial guidelines. In the same way, traditional ethical theories of war, which should provide the framework for policies and regulations, struggle to address the ethical problems that arise from this new form of warfare.
In particular there are three categories of problems on which both policy-makers and ethicists focus their attention, and these are the risks, rights and responsibilities. ICT-based modes of conflicts do not relate exclusively to military affairs. Rather, they represent a wide spectrum phenomenon, which is rapidly changing the dynamics of combat as well as the role warfare plays in political negotiations and the dynamics of civil society. These changes are the origins of the 3R problems, so the conceptual analysis of such changes and of the nature of this phenomenon is deemed to be a necessary and a preliminary step for addressing these problems.
Altogether, the 3R problems pose a new ethical challenge with which most of the extant literature on the use of ICTs in warfare is concerned. Nevertheless, the 3R problems will not be the focus of this paper, which will instead concentrate on the analysis of the nature of ICTs-based warfare. The task of the proposed analysis is to lay down the conceptual foundation for the solution of the 3R problems, which will be provided elsewhere.
Attempts have been made in this article to analyze ICTs-based warfare within the framework of the Information Revolution. In particular, a general definition of this kind of warfare will be provided as a starting point of the analysis. Then it will be argued that this form of warfare is one of the most compelling cases of the shift toward the non-physical domain brought to the fore by the Information Revolution. Attention will be paid to the effects of such a shift on the concept of war and upon a structural aspect of contemporary society, such as the distinction between civil society and military organizations. Finally, the Just War Theory and its application to the case of ICTs-based warfare will be discussed.
Before analyzing in detail the nature of this new form of warfare, the 3R problems are discussed concisely. The examination of these problems is not the goal of this analysis, but since this article is devoted to preparing the ground for their solution, the reader may benefit from being acquainted with them.
Risks; The risks involved with ICTs-based warfare concern the potential increase in the number of conflicts and casualties. ICTs-based conflicts are virtually bloodless for the army that deploys them. This advantage has the drawback of making war less problematic for the force that can implement these technologies, and therefore making it easier not only for governments, but also for criminal or terrorist organizations, to engage in ICT-based conflicts around the world.
Rights; ICTs-based conflicts are pervasive for they not only target civilian infrastructures but may also be launched through civilian computers and websites. This may initiate a policy of higher levels of control enforced by governments in order to detect and defend their citizens from possible hidden forms of attacks. In this circumstance, the ethical rights of individual liberty, privacy and anonymity may come under sharp, devaluating pressure.
Responsibilities; The problem concerns the assessment of responsibilities when using semi-autonomous robotic weapons and cyber attacks. In the case of robotic weapons, it is becoming increasingly unclear who, or what, is accountable and responsible for the actions performed by complex, hybrid, man-machine systems on the battlefield. The assessment of responsibility becomes an even more pressing issue in the case of cyber attacks, as it is potentially impossible to track back the author of such attacks.
Nature of ICTs-based warfare; Information Warfare and Information Revolution
ICTs are used in several combat activities, from cyber attacks to the deployment of robotic weapons and the management of communications among the fighting units. Such a wide spectrum of application makes it difficult to identify the peculiarities of this phenomenon. Help in respect to this will come from detailed study of the different applications of ICTs in warfare.
A smurf attack is an implementation of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. Another definition of a smurf attack may be: an exploitation of the Internet Protocol (IP) broadcast addressing to create a denial of service. The attacker uses a program called Smurf to cause the attacked part of a network to become inoperable. A DDoS is a cyber-attack whose aim is to disrupt the functionality of a computer, a network or a website. In a smurf attack, the attacker sends a request for return packets to some intermediary network’s broadcast address, which in turn automatically communicates the request to all the peers on that network. All the peers then reply with a return packet. In the original packet, the author of the attack replaces her source address with the address of the intended victim. The victim is then flooded with replies from all the peers in the network. The author of the attack can send similar packets to other networks at the same time to intensify the attack and cause so much network congestion at the victim’s site that it will be impossible for the victim to perform any work or provide any services. This form of attack was deployed in 2007 against institutional Estonian websites, and more recently similar attacks have been launched to block the Internet communication in Burma during the 2010 elections.
The use of robotic weapons in the battlefield is another way to use ICTs in warfare. It is a growing phenomenon, coming to widespread public notice with US army, which deployed 150 robotic weapons in Iraq’s war in 2004, culminating in 12,000 robots by 2008. Nowadays, several armies around the world are developing and using tele-operated robotic weapons, they have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more sophisticated machines are being used at the borders between Israel and Palestine in the so-called ‘automatic kill zone’. These robots are trusted to detect the presence of potential enemies and to mediate the action of the human soldiers and hence to fire on potential enemy’s targets when these are within the range patrolled by the robots. Several armies also invested their resources to deploy unmanned vehicles, like the MQ-1 predators, which have then been used to hit ground targets, and to develop unmanned combat air vehicles, which are designed to deliver weapons and can potentially act autonomously, like the EADS Barracuda, and the Northrop Grumman X-47B. One of the latest kinds of robotic weapon – SGR-A1 – has been deployed by South Korea to patrol the border with North Korea.
This robot has low-light camera and pattern recognition software to distinguish humans from animals or other objects. It also has a color camera, which can locate a target up to 500 meters, and if necessary, can fire its built-in machine gun. Up until now, robotic weapons were tele-operated by militaries sitting miles away from the combat zone. Human beings were kept in the loop and were the ones who decided whether to shoot the target and to maneuver the robot on the battlefield. The case of SGR-A1 constitutes quite a novelty, as it has an automatic mode, in which it can open fire on the given target without waiting for the human soldier to validate the operation.
Finally, the management of communication among the units of an army has been revolutionized radically by the use of ICTs. Communication is a very important aspect of warfare. It concerns the analysis of the enemy’s resources and strategy and the definition of an army’s own tactics on the battlefield. NCW and C4ISR represent a major revolution in this respect. An example of such revolution is the use of iPhone and Android devices. Today, the US army is testing the use of these devices to access intelligence data, display videos made by drones flying over the battlefields, constantly update maps and information on tactics and strategy, and, generally speaking, gather all the necessary information to overwhelm the enemy.
IW represents a staggering revolution, which concerns military affairs and has also political and social ramifications for contemporary society. Such a radical revolution leaves a vacuum for both ethical principles and regulations. Ethical guidelines are deemed to be the grounds on which any regulation of IW stands, and for this reason most of the extant literature focuses on the ethical analysis of this form of warfare.
Therefore, Information Warfare is characterized by the use of information and communication technologies. This is a fast growing phenomenon, which poses a number of issues ranging from the military use of such technologies to its political and ethical implications.
Sajjad Abedi, PhD, is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies.