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AZ Tech Beat | September 20, 2019

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ASU teams up with New America to address cyberwarfare challenges

ASU teams up with New America to address cyberwarfare challenges
Travis Arbon

The future of war is here and Arizona State University has teamed up with New America, a Washington D.C. based think tank, on an initiative that aims to analyze and address the difficulties of dealing with modern warfare.

The Future of War project studies the changes in warfare from a variety of perspectives, but the advancement of military technology plays a central role.

Drones, cyber-warfare and mass surveillance are just some of the technologies that have fundamentally altered the way the world conducts war, according to project Co-Director and Vice President of New America Peter Bergen.

“War looks a lot different than it did several decades ago, when war was declared and the winner took a surrender from the loser,” Bergen said. “And that goes to other issues, such as armed drones that we’re using to fight countries that we’re not at war with. So the boundaries between war and peace are eroding.”

Bergen said the use of drones and cyber-attacks has also muddied the definition of what constitutes an act of war. Cyber-attacks demonstrate the decreasing distinction between foreign and domestic events because they happen on both an international and local scale, he said.

When nuclear weapons burst onto the scene in the 20th century, the international community was initially unsure of how to handle them, but eventually established treaties and other regulations. A similar situation has emerged with drones and cyber attacks, Bergen said.

Countries have yet to establish a framework for addressing the changes that new technology brings to war and Bergen said that conversation needs to happen soon.

“Should there be some kind of international framework around the use of these drones across state borders,” Bergen said. “That’s a very similar question to the use of cyber-attacks, which also happen across state borders. And should there be some kind of international legal framework around what is considered an act of war when it comes to cyber-attacks?”

Daniel Rothenberg, also a co-director of the project and a professor at ASU, has been co-editing a book with Bergen called “Drone Wars,” which chronicles the use of drones from the perspectives of people who deal with them in a variety of situations.

Rothenberg said that drones not only change how large nations approach war, but they also have a dramatic effect on the people whose lives are impacted by drone warfare.

“What’s really fascinating about drones is that in nearly a decade and a half of war, drones are really the only weapons system that has drawn public interest and attention,” he said. “So they have a symbolic and analytic place that is really very special in these conflicts. They draw public attention is a way that hasn’t been picked up by the multitude of other military technologies that have been deployed.”

Read: How drones are used for humanitarian aid

Rothenberg said that general interest in the future of warfare is so high because despite the technological and military power of the United States, complex international issues still pose a steep challenge.

“It’s very important to reflect on that,” he said. “There’s not a singular story with a singular answer, but I think that a lot of people after these incredible moments are interested in thinking through what all of that means.”