My submission for AoIR 9.0 in Copenhagen was accepted a few days ago. I have pasted the abstract below.

From Network Society to Network-Centric Warfare: Articulating Theories of Information-Age Warfare in the U.S. Military

In testimony before the U.S. Congress in 2003, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld lamented that, “In an age when terrorists move information at the speed of an email, money at the speed of a wire transfer, and people at the speed of a commercial jetliner, the Defense Department is bogged down in the micromanagement and bureaucratic processes of the industrial age—not the information age.” Rumsfeld was by no means the first in the U.S. defense community to express such sentiment. While the U.S. military played a key, early role in the development of the Internet, in the last fifteen to twenty years U.S. defense officials have increasingly expressed concern over their belief that the U.S. military has not kept pace with developments in globally networked information and communication technologies and the resultant social and economic shifts. Indeed, during the 1990s, with the absence of a major security threat following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the “Information Age” itself became the challenge towards which much of U.S. military theorizing and planning was directed. Having accepted the Tofflers’ assertion that “nations make war the same way they make wealth,” for many within the U.S. defense establishment, information gathering, processing, and distribution—and the denial of those capabilities to the enemy—came to be seen as the central activities of warfare.

This paper will explore the emergence in the late 1990s of the most recent and most consequential example of U.S. military theories of Information-Age warfare: the theory of “network-centric warfare” (NCW) that has guided U.S. actions in its “war on terrorism” and served as the goal of ongoing efforts at “military transformation.” In NCW, Information Age society and economy are seen as more complex and chaotic; the battlefield as a nonlinear, chaotic space; and enemies as networks that behave like complex adaptive systems. In response, military theorists have increasingly asserted that the U.S. military itself must adopt the behavioral and structural characteristics of a complex adaptive system—e.g. flexible, adaptive, self-organizing, networked, decentralized, and dispersed. Military-specific versions of popular Internet technologies are seen as key to this “transformation.” The creation of battlefield-level, ad-hoc intranets that provide soldiers with VoIP, email, file-sharing, and instant messaging capabilities are said to allow the flattening of traditional military hierarchies and the flow of “power to the edges” of the organization. More alarmingly, the power that the U.S. military is said to accrue from such a transformation is said to allow the U.S. to become a “global systems administrator,” a “military leviathan” that uses rapid and precise military force to prevent the flow of “system perturbations” from the “non-integrating gap of globalization,” those regions traditionally home to lesser-developed countries. Thus, by exploring the U.S. military’s ideological readings of the Information Age, the Internet, and the value of networked ICTs, we will gain a better understanding of current and future U.S. military operations.

[Cross posted here.]

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