Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Economy of Force

Those of us who are disturbed by the US policy of walling-off Iraqi neighborhoods have apparently failed to understand that the walls were built for a reason:

"The point of the walls was to structure the environment, to hold the city and keep it safe," [Retired Colonel David Kilcullen] tells DANGER ROOM. "It's like [keeping] guard inside a concrete building, instead of in the middle of a field... You don't need vast maneuver forces to do it... It's the principle of economy of force."
Thank heavens we didn't listen to the dirty fucking hippies who opposed the war. If we had, we might never have learned that partitioning urban neighborhoods is useful when you invade a country illegally - for no reason, at an incalculable expense – and find yourself facing a determined, creative insurgency.

Maybe I’m a sourpuss, but I see the construction of neighborhood walls – “necessary” or not – as symbolic of why the occupation is a failure (as well as a crime, and an act of elemental stupidity). Never mind the PR catastrophe of evoking the wall between Israel and Palestine, or the absurdity of trying to “break the cycle of sectarian violence” by setting sectarian divisions literally in stone; the simple fact is that building barriers on other people’s land makes them angry, and any security you earn with this strategy is likely to be fleeting at best.

Unfortunately, building barriers is a centerpiece of post-9/11 strategic thinking; it’s right up there with killing ‘em all, and ordering our womenfolk to ramp up production of white babies.

Barriers aren’t just defenses, of course; they’re also vulnerable infrastructure that must be defended, lest the evildoers blow them up, or tunnel under them, or assassinate the people guarding them, or what have you. That’s why Taser International’s Taser Remote Area Denial (TRAD) is such an exciting development. Basically, it’s a robotic taser that will patrol “high value facilities or operations such as checkpoints, command centers, depots, aircraft insertions, and spec ops, as well as fixed installations such as embassies, air fields, utility facilities, pipelines, etc."

Like all the best robots, TRADs can distinguish between friend and foe, and act accordingly:
Once an engagement decision is made (either by the operator or the system depending on user selected settings), the TASERNET program selects the specific TRAD units best suited for engagement and transmits fire authorization. The TRAD unit will then arrest the targeted individuals by providing complete incapacitation.
In other words, they've found an unmet need in their target market, and they intend to fulfill it.

A shrewd commenter at Danger Room thinks the TRAD could be knocked off its spindly little legs without much effort, or simply riddled with bullet holes from a safe distance. This is a serious concern, which is why I suggest that any TRADs deployed should be under constant surveillance by armed microdrones, and protected from enemy approach by automated kill zones.

Otherwise, we run the risk of wasting the taxpayers' money by having our robot guardians used for target practice.

(Illustration from the October 1948 issue of Popular Science, via Modern Mechanix.)


Anonymous said...

Weren't all of the war bloggers wetting themselves over the need to "get tough" and emulate measures used in the Boer War, like building walls?

The US built walls and concentration camps aka "strategic hamlets" in Vietnam, but essentially the program did nothing but fuel rural resentment against the US.

Phila said...

Weren't all of the war bloggers wetting themselves over the need to "get tough" and emulate measures used in the Boer War, like building walls?

Tacitus was arguing for a Boer-style approach, but I think he liked the concentration camps better than partitioning.

Their philosophy seems to be that you can't go wrong exercising power, and that the more brutal it is, the more likely it is to succeed. A popular view among cowards, needless to say. And it doesn't seem to be all that accurate, either....