The British forces in Afghanistan are using helicopters-spies PD-100 PRS (codenamed Black Hornet) to find weapon emplacements of Taliban; they are 10 cm long and weigh 16 grams / Photo: proxdynamics.com

Mankind will die without wars

Military drones, the internet and artificial intelligence alter the face of war. How will our cities adapt to new threats?

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An interview with Sergey Pereslegin

An interview by Maryana Zvyagina

Warfare and mankind are inseparable. Warfare changes as we change, and new wars change us. Throughout history, warfare has been developing as part of civilizations and, at the same time, it has been served as a catalyst for scientific inventions, urban planning, culture, economy, and many other things.

Today, moats with water and solid walls cannot defend human settlements. Military drones, the internet and artificial intelligence alter the face of war. New weaponry and new military strategies require different type of defense. How will our cities and settlements adapt to new threats? How should citizens prepare for the wars of the future?

Sergey Pereslegin is a physicist, sociologist, military historian, researcher and theorist in fiction and alternate history. He is an author of numerous articles and books on system theory, strategy, military history, social and political issues. Sergey is the head of the research groups 'Designing the Future' and 'Knowledge Reactor'.
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Mankind has always waged wars, but over time tactics and scales of war have changed. What new factors should military strategists take into consideration today?

The military has not still paid attention to the fact that Europe and America today are mostly urbanized territories, they are still going to wage war according to the logic of ‘we found a large field – there is place to roam at will’ (an approximation of the poem ‘Borodino’, by M. Lermontov). Meanwhile, if there will be a war, the fighting will be in a purely urban environment, which requires absolutely different training of infantry and different military equipment. Among other things, there is the problem of creating fortified passages for movement between buildings, where drones are useless, to say nothing of traditional military aviation.

Once you quoted Moltke, who said that in the nineteenth century Russia had not built fortresses for defense but railways. What is replacing anti-​tank mines and water moats today?

Antitank mines could stay where they are. First of all, let’s talk about the control of territory. First it was controlled by fortresses, then by churches, monasteries, and then again fortresses, and afterwards by infrastructural construction, about which Moltke is talking. But since the late 1990s, the control of the territory is actually a control of the energy structures, large energy facilities, nuclear power plants, large mineral deposits, pipelines. Imagine that Russia takes the stance that the Kuril Islands are its territories. Japan thinks the same. In order to strengthen our own position, we need to build a nuclear power plant and thus to demonstrate that it is our atomic object, and so that this is our land.

The second question is a matter of defense. Not everything that controls territory, allows it to be defended. The basic task of a small army is to protect a large area with the help of rapid mobility. So, today it is important to use outer space: space surveillance systems, air defense systems. According to formal rules, outer space can’t have any weapons other than spy systems (due to the Outer Space Treaty of 1967), but many things in the world can’t happen according to formal rules! Cosmos gives a possibility to control attacks and to prevent them. As to the question of city defense – what to do with drones? They need to be managed and their electronics are rather fragile. Stratospheric nuclear explosions can disable them. And people can only be fought against by people. No other options! And there should be people specially trained to fight in urban areas. So there is no need for an army but for specially trained professionals and mobilized residents, those who are called ‘militia’ or ‘armed people’. Most countries in the world still do not consider an urgent need for the preparation of such units.

A MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle prepares to land after a mission in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. The Reaper has the ability to carry both precision-guided bombs and air-to-ground missiles. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

A MQ-​9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle prepares to land after a mission in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. The Reaper has the ability to carry both precision-​guided bombs and air-​to-​ground missiles /​Photo: U.S. Air Force /​Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

Considering the current level of mobility and globalization can one just get out of a danger zone if there is a threat of military conflict?

The first important point: it may happen that there is no safe place to go. The second one: it may happen that there is nothing to go away in, because at the moment of military conflict first task is to block the possibility of escaping the territory of warfare. So going somewhere else would be extremely dangerous or even impossible. And finally the third point: people still depend on the place where they were born and lived. Attachment to home has been nurtured for thousands of years. Is it possible to change it in a few weeks? Of course, the part of the population which is mobile will be increasing throughout time; it directly depends on the financial viability and independence. Do you seriously believe that in a capitalist society there is anyone interested in providing free resources, free time and free opportunity to spend money on a large part of the population?

As a result people will be classified into two categories: those who do not depend on the land, and those who will fight for it. Those who are not tied to the land will not take part in the conflict at all and will not have any relation to it. There will be not more than half of the population belonging to this part, probably even less. According to those conditions the global world would collapse. Most likely it would collapse.

Globalization is the political and economic project of the world elite

Well, it’s difficult to imagine…

You see, the whole idea of globalization is secondary, specific and transient. Some of the leading world figures and certain social groups have already received all the benefits from globalization which they expected to get. Now the cost of its maintenance is too much. And in this situation it is reasonable to destroy the régime of globalization and earn on its collapse. As I understand it, the Americans have already begun to do so. Do not think, please, that the régime of globalization will last forever. 

The Internet could be a great tool of globalization if there were no government control. But so far there are attempts of Russian, American and European governments to forbid safe encryption in the Internet (to introduce legal obligations of information disclosure upon the security services request), the law regarding extremist content websites is a good example. That is the trend of the last 15 years. Although the trend of the 1990s was towards increasing globalization, it began to slow down after September 11, 2001. It has been racking up actively till now. But notice, please, that the global information networks, the global transportation networks, the global trade networks themselves do not mean globalization. In general, globalization is a political, economic, structural, cultural and financial process. So, the networks will remain. But will they remain globalized? What part of the population will be mobile in the future? It is hard to answer. A certain part, of course, will be mobile, but there was always a mobile part of people. For sure the agricultural population in Africa, Asia and South America, 5 billion people, will have a low level of mobility.

Is it possible to start a war in a social network? And is it possible to transmit violent and bloody conflict into a ‘soft’ one? What role do media play in warfare?

As to the first question – yes, sure, it is possible. The media can build a fact which didn’t exist. As a well-​known example there was the war in Libya in 2011, when a long chain of hostilities was started because of reportage about the shooting of Gaddafi’s opponents at a demonstration. Later it was discovered that there was no shooting and no demonstration. All information from beginning to end was generated by news feeds. Media is a tool of war, a strong and significant one. The people who created the war in Libya did a clean job of generating news that caused war including air attacks, artillery firing, executions of prisoners and so on.

The transition from bloody wars to purely ‘soft’ ones is impossible. From my point of view, bloody war leads to the realization of accumulated aggression. A human is a large primate, and like any large primate, he is aggressive. And society only increases its aggressiveness and creates stressful conditions. And the result of it is the same aggression. Hence, there are wars during which aggression stored by society can result in a form of socially acceptable aggression — not in its own society, but in another one, which is considered much more acceptable. War cannot be carried without blood. It could be possible, but people will always feel that something is missing, than the social temperature begins to rise, and instead of war we will be able to see constant turmoil, tension, fans’ fights and everything else. And sooner or later, if you do not find more appropriate ways to dispose of this aggression, the situation will lead to a very simple thing: ‘instead of imperialist war arise civic ones’ as Lenin said. It is well known that during periods of external political stability there is a rise of domestic violence in the country.

While war remains itself, along with entirely bloody things, there will be used ‘soft’ battles and similar ‘pure’ things.

What is the secret of the old cities? Why do people want to stay there? Why are projects of new cities generally unsuccessful?

My colleagues and I are wondering why there are no successful projects of new cities. Though in the old days any Roman legion commander easily camped at the area and built a city there. The Soviet Union was carrying out a very active experiment of mass resettlement. The result of it is uncertain. Among so many cities, created at that time, only Komsomolsk-​on-​Amur and Norilsk became successful. And the rest of the Soviet monotowns constructed on the site of the villages are still under deep crisis, and no one perceives them as cities.

A man as any other large primate is aggressive. Living in society according to the rules is stressful for every human 

Previously, when people were leaving to a new location, they cut connections with the old one, going to live and die in the new town. Now people work in one city, and then move to live in another more comfortable one. From this perspective, people just do not attach their hearts to new cities, do not root. So the cities remain ‘working structures’. When you create a city from nothing it is always less comfortable than the one which has been inhabited over centuries.

Due to the trend of de-​globalization and the strengthening of national borders, is the appearance of mobile border cities defending the country possible?

The concept of the mobile city has repeatedly been considered in literature. And a couple of times it was even implemented. Such cities find sources of water and supplies to which they connect. If something is going wrong, for example taxes raise, the city migrates to another place in one night. In this regard, the mobile city can exist. But it’s always the exception. All that we know about cities are examples of agricultural towns belonging to settled civilizations. But there were nomads, traveling civilizations that nobody has properly analyzed yet. My colleagues and I are now engaged in the study of the economy of ways of migration.

And speaking of borders: they defend the city as a source of population, technology and strongholds of the army. So the sources are under the protection, and they are not always near the border of subordinated territories. In general, the military professionals consider first line of defense to be at the place where the capital of a potential enemy is. 

And the distance between the border and the capital does not matter: in any place where there are an international airport, transportation route, a port, there is the border which must be strengthened. In cities, other infrastructure units need to be protected, such as power lines, drainage, water supply, et cetera.

While the state takes care of the entire country, is it worth it for everyone to know how to protect themselves in the future?

The individual is obliged to ask himself what he would do in the case of a crisis. He must always have at least a minimum set of techniques that he will use in order to be saved during emergencies. It is a necessity in the modern world. For example, in the United States during the hurricane in New Orleans, the government realized that the majority of the population was not able to take care of themselves, to say nothing of others. After this catastrophe Americans began very seriously to prepare programs to help everyone in the similar case to protect themselves and loved ones. In Russia, this year Putin revived GTO norms to ensure minimum physical preparedness of the population and readiness for mobilization of forces in the case of crisis.

IBM’s Watson computer, Yorktown Heights, NY (Photo credit Wikipedia)

Watson is a artificial intelligence computer, developed at IBM. Now it finds uses in many different fields, from cooking to treating cancer /​Photo: Wikipedia​.org

Returning to the future of military conflicts, what changes and discoveries should we expect? How will technology affect the tactics of warfare?

I can’t imagine something bigger than the invention of the Internet and social networks fundamentally changing a lot of things including military action. The most important achievement will be the shift from artificial robots to artificial intelligence. Smart fighting vehicles will appear. UAVs (drones, submarines, aircraft carriers) will develop further. New management models are already established: they use very strong and complex types of impacts, when a group of terrorists is remotely submitted to the team of analysts. For example, we can imagine that excellent engineers in the United States may think that they are solving a formal puzzle, while in fact being engaged in the destruction of the infrastructure of a foreign city.

In the future, every lieutenant and every sergeant will be able to operate in the situation of total uncertainty

It is now possible to always stay in touch and manage military operations from long distance via satellites, which is wonderful and dangerous at the same time, because anyone could accidentally damage the international communications and surveillance systems. It means that it is necessary to think about the fighting in which these communications can be suddenly forever lost. An entirely new military training is required. The strongest change in warfare lies in changing the principle that ‘a fighter should not argue’. In the future, the army will win in which every junior lieutenant and sergeant will be able to operate and make decisions on their own in uncertainty. This is an important psychological and humanitarian technology. Previously strategy began from the commands of armies and generals, and now it will start at the level of the squad leader, and even individual soldiers. Very complicated wars are coming.