The war in Ukraine has not only witnessed the largest European land conflict since World War II, but it has also become the battleground for the first major shooting war fought in cyberspace. This new dimension to warfare highlights the critical role of technology and information in the fight. For Ukraine, a country that is outmanned and outgunned, the conflict has evolved into a Total War, where all resources, including civilians and non-offensive infrastructure, are seen as part of the war effort. As emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, drones, and cyberweapons become increasingly integrated into our daily lives, it is imperative to explore their impact on warfare. In a groundbreaking paper, Jordan Richard Schoenherr, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, argues that our understanding of war is now outdated and that the role of sociotechnical systems in strategic thinking remains underdeveloped.
Schoenherr emphasizes the need to consider sociotechnical systems in our analysis of warfare. These systems are defined by the interdependent relationship between technology and human organizational behavior in complex networks. While the concept of sociotechnical systems has gained traction in recent decades, it has only recently been given serious consideration in military strategy and tactics discussions. By comprehending the potential and vulnerabilities of these systems, planners can better prepare for the future of warfare.
The war in Ukraine serves as a testing ground for the rapid deployment of technological breakthroughs on the battlefield. Both sides are leveraging new technologies to gain the upper hand. Schoenherr argues that this war represents a shift towards the totalization of warfare in sociotechnical systems. He draws parallels to past conflicts, such as the cyberwarfare in Kosovo, Iraq, and the clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia. While cyberwarfare initially consisted of website defacements, it has evolved into a sophisticated tool that combines psychological warfare with AI-based technologies like malware and drones.
As the war becomes more technologically advanced, the issue of supply chain vulnerabilities becomes increasingly important. High-tech weapons rely on specialized components, making their production and procurement crucial. Geopolitical tensions can disrupt supply chains and lead to illicit sales or smuggling by third parties. Schoenherr points to the presence of Western-made parts in downed Russian drones as an example. Understanding and managing supply chain vulnerabilities is vital for maintaining an advantage on the battlefield.
Schoenherr identifies a prevalent culture of paranoia in 21st-century warfare that mirrors the Cold War era. This paranoia drives the growth of nuclear arsenals and escalates conflicts, blurring the lines between civilians and militaries and expanding the scope and duration of wars. By understanding the mechanisms through which conflicts escalate, Schoenherr believes that we can develop strategies to manage and de-escalate conflicts before they spiral out of control.
The war in Ukraine marks the evolution of warfare in the age of sociotechnical systems. As the conflict extends to cyberspace, our understanding of war must adapt to encompass the role of technology and information. Sociotechnical systems, the interplay between human behavior and technology, play a pivotal role in shaping the future of warfare. Through comprehensive analysis and strategic planning, we can effectively manage conflicts, minimize casualties, and prevent the rapid escalation of hostilities. The totalization of warfare in sociotechnical systems necessitates constant adaptation and innovation to ensure the preservation of peace.