Fault Lines: On the Pulse of the Pentagon

The US announced a new military strategy today at a Pentagon briefing. Much of the discussion concerned what could be read as predictable—and cyclic—budget cuts of a post-war drawdown. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also took pains to mention what wouldn’t feel the fiscal pinch: offensive and defensive cyber security and unmanned systems.

We at Fault Lines have covered and predicted both of these trends.

First with an episode called Cyberwar.

A growing fear of computer hackers—a term encompassing a broad range of entities from digital spy rings to information thieves to cyberarmies of kids, criminals and terrorists (some backed by nation states)—and their potentially massive threat to national security has Washington maneuvering into position to defend its assets from a new style of warfare: one without foot soldiers, guns or missiles. Crucial national infrastructure, high value commercial secrets, tens of billions of dollars in defense contracts—as well as values like privacy and freedom of expression—are at stake. 

In this episode of Fault Lines, I enter the domain of “cyber” and speak to a former US national security official turned cybersecurity consultant, a Silicon Valley CEO, a hacker, and those who warn of a growing arms race in cyberspace.

Is the US contributing to the militarisation of cyberspace? Are the reports of cyber threats being distorted by a burgeoning security industry? And are the battles being waged in cyberspace interfering with the Internet as we know it? 

Then last week we filed a report titled Robot Wars.

Over the past decade, the US military has shifted the way it fights its wars, deploying more unmanned systems in the battlefield than ever before.

Today there are more than 7,000 drones and 12,000 ground robots in use by all branches of the military.

These systems mean less American deaths and also less political risk for the US when it takes acts of lethal force – often outside of official war zones.

But US lethal drone strikes in countries like Pakistan have brought up serious questions about the legal and political implications of using these systems.

Fault Lines looks at how these new weapons of choice are allowing the US to stretch the international laws of war and what it could mean when more and more autonomy is developed for these lethal machines.

Also on the briefing’s docket today: the US is shifting its military focus to China and Asia Pacific. I’m already packing my bags to head east this year to explore these developing, strategic fault lines.  

Notes

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