The most significant and disruptive development in foreign policy is going to be the rise of military drones.
Drones of all sizes, styles, and shapes have been steadily taking the place of American service members in the most dangerous military roles. While there will probably be no official moment when we switch to a “robotic army,” we will soon reach a point where that has effectively happened. One thing the military industrial complex is very good at is coming up with new weapons, and no other set of weapons have generated as much interest as drones.
This development won’t simply mean a reduction in American military casualties, but also a radical change in the political and legal dynamics surrounding foreign policy actions.
The biggest political constraint on military action throughout American history has been the massive deployment of troops and news reports of American deaths. It was these two factors which eventually galvanized the nation against the Vietnam war. A mostly robotic military removes these political constraints by keeping American service members out of harm's way. It is simply a fact that the American public doesn’t value the lives of foreigners as much as they do the lives of fellow Americans who may be their friends and family. As we have seen in recent years, even actions that result in significant foreign civilian casualties simply don’t generate the same public backlash as the death of a few Americans.
Perhaps even more significant is the recent precedent set by the Obama administration. President Obama has effectively argued that as long as there are no “boots on the ground,” a military campaign isn’t a “war” and consequently doesn’t require congressional authorization. Imagine the level of freedom this way of thinking will offer presidents in a few decades. At the current rate of technological advancement, in 20 years it might be possible to stage a full scale war and robotic occupation without technically putting a single boot on the ground -- only rubberized treads.
We could be entering an era when the White House’s ability to engage in military campaigns is truly unconstrained. The United States has been accused of acting as the world’s policeman, but our current level of foreign military involvement might eventually seem quaint compared to what we may soon see when our military is mostly automated.
*By U.S. Air Force photo/Lt Col Leslie Pratt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons