Friday, April 04, 2008

Why Tech Matters

It's common in liberal arts circles, especially military circles with a liberal arts focus, to ignore and/or denigrate technology. One example would be gun issues, as referenced in the post below. People conflate "assault weapons" only capable of semi-automatic fire with selective fire weapons that can rock and roll, forgetting (or choosing to ignore) the distinct mechanical differences in the weapons. Another example is the counterinsurgent's focus on the human factor, through studying anthropology, sociology, and economics as opposed to the conventional war's focus on technology for the sake of technology, with humans just being operators moving things in a prearranged pattern. (I'm exaggerating, of course.) However, tech matters. More specifically, a solid understand of the limitations of technology matters, especially when talking about military strategy.

I was treated to an example of this in my politics of the middle east class last night. A group was giving a presentation on the chances of Iran making nuclear weapons and the subsequent repercussions if they do. It wasn't a bad presentation, but let's just say that they got more wrong than they got right, especially with regard to the technical aspects.

For example, as I'm sure SJS can tell you, having enriched Uranium does not a bomb make. Having (uninspected) facilities to enrich Uranium is bad, but there's a leap from enriched Uranium to a bomb that will reliably go off. Just ask the Norks about that one. Furthermore, there's yet another step (that I'm sure SJS can also tell you about) to go from having a working bomb to mounting it on a reliable and effective delivery system. However, listening to their presentation, it made it sound like once Iran had the capability to enrich Uranium we would be one step away from having fully operational nukes mounted on IRBMs pointed straight at Israel.

Speaking of Israel, a discussion after class brought up another "tech matters" point. The discussion focused on the likelihood of Israel taking out the Iranian facilities before they got a chance to become operational. Most everyone thought that Israel would until I raised the point of if it was even technically possible for Israel to strike the facilities, taking into account a) can Israel physically get there to strike them, b) can they project enough force to reliably strike all the facilities, c) do they have the technical capability to strike buried and hardened Iranian facilities, and d) can they get good enough intel to be sure they are striking all the facilities. This certainly muddied the waters a bit.

Bottom line, tech matters, and it's a shame that it is often overlooked when discussing pol-mil strategy issues.