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Emerging Technologies and the Future of War

February 16, 2015 |  12:15:00  |  Eastwoods Room, Texas Union (UNB 2.102)

The Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law, the William P. Clements Center for History, Strategy and Statecraft, and the International Relations and Global Studies (IRG) program, jointly welcomed Andrew James, Senior Lecturer at the Manchester University Business School. His talk, “Emerging Technologies and the Future of War,” addressed the nature of emerging technologies—said to have the potential to change the “rules of the game” in military and economic realms—their implications for military capabilities, and the challenges they pose to the acquisition system. The development of these technologies has been already identified by the defense sectors of the United Kingdom and the United States as a key component of future military strategies, as exemplified by the Department of Defense’s “Defense Innovation Initiative.”

James defined “emerging technologies” as “immature technologies in the early proof-of-principle stage…[as well as] more mature technologies where a novel defense application has been identified.” For some, the term “emergent” references a remote place in the future, while for others, it refers to technologies on the brink of coming to light. In any case, nanotechnology, human enhancement and augmentation, partially sentient robots, and 3D printing may all be important technological advancements, but will only become relevant for a country’s defense sector once they can be incorporated into weapons systems that enhance military capabilities.

The road from prototype to effective incorporation, however, is filled with uncertainties and bureaucratic hurdles. Many new technologies may fail in their early stages of development due to engineering problems or to their inability to translate into military equipment. Emerging technologies can fall prey to a “conspiracy of optimism,” under which entrepreneurs, thinks tanks, and academics, with stakes in the development of a particular technology, artificially boost their results to attract more funding. Bureaucratic politics also play a role in the trajectory of an emerging technology, appropriating funds for certain projects over others. In order for technology to lead to military effectiveness, moreover, organizational innovation is required.

Emerging technologies have several potential implications, said James, the prediction of which is very difficult to conduct. This is especially true in today’s context, given the multiplicity of security threats, as well as the diversity of sources of technology. As James explained, defense sectors are no longer the sole investors in technology and are instead followers of alternative sources of technologies, such as the business and academic arenas. Military forces need to reach out to these new sources, for emerging technologies will likely affect the world’s security environment, the likelihood of conflict, the structures of military forces and the way they conduct war, along with the legal, ethic, and moral questions that surround war itself.

Andrew James is a Senior Lecturer in Science and Technology Policy and Management and a member of the Manchester Institute of Innovation and Research at MBS. His research and teaching interests focus on corporate technology strategy, innovation management and science and technology policy, as well as business strategy. He has engaged in research and consultancy with companies from a diverse range of sectors including chemicals, industrial electronics and pharmaceuticals but his particular focus is on the industrial and technological dynamics of the defence, security and aerospace sectors. In the defence and security field, he has held a number of international advisory positions including membership of the European Union Institute for Security Studies Independent Expert Working Group on the European Commission’s Green Paper on Defence Procurement and he was External Expert on defence matters and Rapporteur to the European Union Research Advisory. In May 2000, he was invited to brief the US Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Industrial Affairs on the health of the US defence industrial base and the prospects for transatlantic defence industrial integration. Andrew has been an invited speaker on defence, security and counter terrorism science and technology policy and corporate strategy issues at conferences organised by, amongst others, the Royal United Services Institute, NATO, the Atlantic Council of the United States, the SAIS Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University, the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik/American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, L’Ecole de l’Air, Fondation pour la Recherche Strategique, the Italian Istituto Affari Internationale and the Australian Defence Force Academy. In 2004, he directed a NATO Advanced Research Workshop on Science and Technology Policies for the Anti-Terrorism Era and, in 2005, he organised a European Commission PRIME-funded workshop on Defence R&D in the Innovation System.

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