What in the 90s was a cyberpunk apocalyptic scenario, is now everyday: the war conflicts of the 21st century will be marked by indirect tactics, information technologies or military operations carried out remotely.
In 1993, Alvin and Heidi Toffler published their essay Future Wars. The American sociologist left a thesis: “our way of fighting reflects our way of earning money, and the way of fighting against war must reflect the way of waging it”. And also a warning: “how we deal with this threat of explosive violence will determine, to a large extent, how our children live or perhaps die.” The Tofflers, he who died in 2016 and she in 2019, and also authors of The Third Wave and The Shock of the Future, divided the story into three waves. The first, the agricultural revolution, which occurred in the Neolithic, which turned us from nomads to sedentary ones. The second, the industrial revolution, which arrived three centuries ago and multiplied our way of producing, consuming and exploiting the planet’s resources. Finally, the information revolution, which appeared in the 70s when they refined their theory and today marks our lives. Therefore, the wars of the information and technology age will be marked by the use of both. Something that overlaps with the military theory that emerged in the same 90s in which the Tofflers wrote their essays.
US Army experts and theorists such as Martin Van Creveld fleshed out another classification, those of the four generations of wars. They begin with the sisters of fire and the third generation is that of the great conflicts of the 20th century: World War I and II, the Spanish Civil War, the Yom Kippur War… and continues until the 21st century, with wars such as the Lebanon in 2016.
Our time is that of fourth generation wars, which overlap with the previous ones. The great capacity for destruction of modern armies, through nuclear arsenals, discourages large or medium powers from facing each other directly, so indirect conflicts are sharpened. On the other hand, the so-called asymmetric wars arise, in which the strategy manual of the previous ones is useless, in which a combatant at a technical disadvantage must apply guerrilla or other tactics. They are wars like the Vietnam, the former Yugoslavia or Syria, where the sides multiply and the traditional concept of “front” is diluted, although civilian casualties also increase.
For the Tofflers or the military strategists at the end of the Cold War they were the wars of the future, but for the inhabitants of the imminent second decade of the 21st century they are the wars of the present. In reality, cyber warfare tactics and indirect conflicts can be seen in the news every day. Russia, Turkey and France are currently fighting in Libya for their energy interests and the first two are also in the current conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, in which the Putin government is at stake for part of its international prestige. Iran and Saudi Arabia clash in Yemen. But India and China, both nuclear powers, despite skirmishes, avoid a direct confrontation.
It is precisely the Russians who are suspected – or known – to be more active in cyber warfare. The information war is also the fake news, updating to our current technological level of the propaganda of atrocities, the radio proclamations of Hitler or Goebbels in the Second World War… Or the so-called soft power exercised through culture, as has been done during the last decades, or trade, as China is now doing with its New Silk Road.
Cyber warfare can starve a population of millions of people by attacking power plants or hospitals. You can take down a government website. You can misinform prior to elections or carry out the so-called fake bombing. We have yet to see its large-scale devastating effects on civilians, but it is the new blitzkrieg. Low-intensity wars in an increasingly multipolar world in which the American superpower seems to be in retreat –or dedicated to its own interests–, Chinese power is lurching forward and the European Union gives the impression that it is unwilling to take on a leading role in the defense of Human Rights at a global level, this type of low-intensity conflict is multiplying.
Sci-fi scenarios, sci-fi solutions
At the moment, and despite what the conspiracy groups say, another of the forecasts that the most doomsayers waved has not been fulfilled: that of bacteriological warfare – which, in different ways, has always existed – enhanced by genetic engineering. On the other hand, artificial intelligence does play an increasingly important role, in addition to remote-controlled warfare. Although it is unlikely that soldiers will disappear in the coming decades, it is becoming more and more common for the great powers to bomb from afar, with drones capable of bombing civilians on the other side of the world and that their pilots then can with their family as if they had just play a video game. What in the 90s was a cyberpunk apocalyptic scenario, is now everyday…