The Atlantic Council, seeking to enhance its exploration of the Future of Warfare with some new blood, recently hired Call of Duty: Black Ops series director Dave Anthony for an unpaid position as a senior fellow. At first glance, given the futuristic games Anthony has developed and the extensive consulting he has conducted with domain experts, the move seems like a no-brainer. Why not think outside the (policy) box with a man whose games rule the X-Box? Anthony’s Black Ops 2 in particular is seen by many defense analysts as a chilling vision of future warfare. However, this may have something to do with the fact that Anthony consulted many of them in the development process.
One of the most fundamental questions lurking beneath the surface of 21st century security discussions is the question of what constitutes a state. Does the prominence of powerful sub-state actors with state-like functions show that the state is declining?
Recent events in Iraq suggest that our confusion is a function of substantial definitional problems. Is the Islamic State in Iraq really a state? An armed movement that has a state? None of the above?
While I cannot improve on the analysis of ISIS offered by Middle East specialists Douglas Ollivant and Brian Fishman, I at least can offer a few general observations derived from the literature about the problem of analyzing ISIS as a state.
It is often said that the rise of military robotics and cyber warfare is turning war into a “videogame.” But this thesis—which blames technology for a supposed loss of moral seriousness about war—gets the causation wrong. It isn’t bloodless technology that really makes war videogame-like. Rather, videogames are simple and deterministic in that they mirror the ways a cross-section of national security experts think about war. It seems that as hard as we try to be treat war as “tragic, inefficient, and uncertain,” we end up getting our military analysis from the same mental place that’s engaged by a shopping trip to GameSpot. We might as well use this to our advantage by diversifying our unconscious war(games) rather than playing the same titles over and over again.One of the most common tropes in both military analysis and popular culture is the danger of war becoming a “videogame.” From Matthew Broderick’s “game” with a military supercomputer in WarGames to Robert Gates’ recent criticism of drone warfare, there is a strong tendency to equate technology with both dehumanization as well as an overly stilted and abstract view of conflict. While this sort of rhetoric is primarily deployed to critique drones and other standoff technologies, it also is used to bash mathematical or computational methods of analysis. Quoth Gates:
For too many people—including defense “experts,” members of Congress, executive branch officials and ordinary citizens—war has become a kind of videogame or action movie: bloodless, painless and odorless. But my years at the Pentagon left me even more skeptical of systems analysis, computer models, game theories or doctrines that suggest that war is anything other than tragic, inefficient and uncertain.