The good news about the Iranian nuclear situation is that it probably signals the end of traditional large-scale war, at least for countries with modern and near-modern economies. I say that because I predict economic sanctions will eventually work and Iran will allow inspections. When that happens, economic sanctions will become the go-to weapon of choice until someone invents an even nerdier way to wage war.

It helps that the countries with the biggest and baddest armies also have nukes and an incentive to keep the world order stable. And it helps that the Middle East will become less problematic as the world develops other sources of energy.

Meanwhile, the Internet will make it increasingly difficult for dictators to control information. And when dictators can't control information, they can't easily start unwinnable wars of aggression.

I think we'll see special ops attacks against terrorists for another hundred years or more. And obviously there will be regional skirmishes in parts of Africa and other sub-modern economies. But the days of big, traditional wars might be behind us. We've entered the age of Nerd Wars.

Nerd Wars involve cyber attacks, disinformation, economic sanctions, and other brain-over-brawn aggression. We'll see plenty of that for decades to come, if not centuries.

I can't rule out the possibility that North Korea or Pakistan will someday go extra crazy and launch nuclear weapons. But that sort of catastrophe will last less than a day or two in terms of the "fighting." I'm not sure that qualifies as a war. It's more in the unthinkable catastrophe category. And it would probably be caused by a technical error or other misunderstanding. It will look more like a tragic accident of epic proportions than a war.

I'll grant you that no one predicted Al Qaeda would attack New York City in 2001 and trigger wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Wars come from unpredictable places. That makes me look a bit ridiculous to predict an end to them. But keep in mind that I'm not predicting an end to aggression in general. I'm only suggesting it will evolve from physical violence, which no longer works as well as it once did, to nerdier attacks involving information technology and economic sanctions.

Wars have always evolved from what works poorly (spears and rocks) to what works better (bombs and drones). At the moment, the weapons that work best are economic sanctions, disinformation, spying, and cyber attacks. Nations won't adopt those tactics because humans are becoming more enlightened or more peaceful; we will simply move to the tools that work most effectively, as we have always done.

Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +29
  • Print
  • Share


Sort By:
Jun 9, 2012
I agree with the thrust of what you are saying, but I strongly disagree with your characterization of economic sanctions as being something separate from physical aggression. To 'impose economic sanctions' is for some third party, justified or not, to prevent some other parties from engaging in free association. This can only occur through the threat or use of physical violence somewhere along the line. Somebody, somewhere will have their ships boarded and their cargo seized. Should they resist this invasion, they will be arrested or killed by whatever party is enforcing 'economic sanctions'. It's not a voluntary boycott, it is a violent threat that is enforced by men with guns. You may well be correct to describe it as more efficiently targeted aggression, but it is aggression nonetheless.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 8, 2012
I realize you intended this as humor, but I think this time it deserves a serious answer:

There are two great wrong ideas in the world, that would be so wonderful if they were true that everybody wants to believe them. And each one seems to reappear in the world every 80 to 100 years -- just long enough apart that those who learned otherwise the hard way last time around are nearly all dead and gone, leaving us to have to learn the same lesson the hard way all over again.

They are:

(1) There will never be another depression. The modern economy is different from any in past centuries, and we know how to prevent them now.

(2) There will never be another major war, because either (a) everybody knows better now, (b) today's weapons are too horrible to contemplate using, and/or (c) our country is still the strongest on earth and always will be.

In both cases, when a large part of the population starts believing these ideas, that itself is a major warning sign that they're about to learn their lesson good and hard.

Kipling's "The Gods of the Copybook Headings," I think, was trying to say the same thing.
Jun 7, 2012
I agree with what you say, but am surprised you don't put drone attacks on the list of nerdy weapons - they're in heavy use, effective, VERY nerdy (e.g., very high-tech), and are only in their infancy from a technology standpoint (think smaller, more accurate, etc).
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 7, 2012
The only thing I can think about now is the strip where Dogbert wants the entire world to renounce violence so in his words "I can conquer the whole stupid planet with just a butter knife."
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 6, 2012
Been saying this for awhile now. It also appears China is winning.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 6, 2012
"Nations won't adopt those tactics because humans are becoming more enlightened or more peaceful; we will simply move to the tools that work most effectively, as we have always done."

Ultimately, I agree with you. However those tactics are usually developed and promoted initially by people with a distaste for mass violence. Those methods then gain traction because they work better than raw force. I believe humans are hardwired to have an "us vs them" outlook. Education and global mobility and communication help change the definition of "us" to include almost anyone not directly brandishing weapons in our faces. That counts as enlightenment in my book.

Also - War has always been driven primarily by economic concerns. If you take over someone else's territory, you get their stuff. Soldiers once were (and in some places still are) paid in plunder. For dictators: If you control the military, you control a lot of money. If you need to start a war to keep your military funded and empowered, so be it.

Understanding and disrupting the motives for war could also be considered a form of enlightenment-driven progress.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 6, 2012

I believe resource scarcity is ultimately behind most of the current conflicts. Die-hard "America-First" folks hate spending on international aid - but love to pour dollars into the military. The irony is that the military has become the primary means by which the US Government engages in international development projects.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 6, 2012
My first thought was to take issue with you and say that war isn't going away. But upon reflection, I think you've left enough exceptions to make a good point. Specifically:
- small, local skirmishes will continue for a long time.
- terrorism and special ops counter-measures will also continue.
- hostilities and aggression aren't going away, but could look more like cyber-warfare, etc.
- tragedies like 9-11 could still happen, but are unlikely to be protracted.

Even in that last case, they are unlikely to be initiated (at least overtly) by nation-states because it would be too easy to retaliate. E.g.: If the leadership of Iran blatantly brought a large-scale catastrophe to U.S. soil, I'm certain that we would eliminate them (or at least their lifestyles) post-haste. It took us a while to get Hussein and bin Laden, but neither of them were enjoying palace life in the meantime (let's ignore for this argument the issue of Hussein's culpability; no leader would willingly trade his palace for a hidey-hole). The same would be true of N. Korea or other nations.
Jun 6, 2012
I was going to post something else, but I'm going to quote Fallout:

"War never changes"

You forget that over history, most wars have been spurred on by economic conditions... After WWI there was talk that the US and Britian might go to war over trade. Evenutally economic scations will get someone like iran desprate (or it would if russia and china weren't dealing with them). then Iran or whoever decides to invade a country for resources.

Take the american, french, and russian revolutions. They were caused economic sanctions (taxes) being imposed by the government on their people, it was just a matter of tolerance determining when the people would revolt. US civil war? It was caused because of slavery (as economic issue first) in addition to other economic issues.

So yeah, war never changes.

PS. You can do some things to censor the internet. If the government has full control over what's on your PC and the sites you are allowed to visit, it can control info. As a technology guy, you should realize this. All dictatorships need are better network admins.
Jun 6, 2012
Next up: "A Taste of Armageddon"
Jun 6, 2012
Along with the nuclear deterrent, another factor limiting full scale ground wars has been the development of trade as a more efficient way to access resources versus seizing land. This works in a world of abundance. However, I worry that if we enter a phase of resource scarcity, we may see a return of land wars.
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog