March 21, 2011

However you feel about the disposition and application of US military might around the world, you have to admire the singular ability of the US armed forces to systematically dismantle air defense systems of other countries. This capability is largely the result of having a super weapon of sorts, the Tomahawk Missile.

Tomahawk is the U.S. Navy's surface- and submarine-launched, precision strike long-range stand-off weapon. Originally introduced into the Navy's inventory in 1983, the Tomahawk has provided the commander with a powerful tool to shape the battlespace and achieve decisive victory in numerous theater operations including Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom.

I don't know if the full scope of the strategic advantage of the device was properly understood when it was developed, but it certainly reduces the political cost (though perhaps not the monetary cost) of military intervention, and is one of the great "triumphs" of modern robotic weaponry.

Update: I've been thinking about this a bit more. Though the nexus of technology,culture, and politics is quite complex, the whole "casual war" phenomenon that super weapons facilitate seems like such a clean slice through the otherwise complex knot. With reality as a starting point, we can ask all kinds of hypothetical questions like "What if Libya had nuclear weapons?" or "What if cruise missiles did not exist?" that seem at least in casual consideration to really expose the way technology shapes us and we shape technology.

For one, it seems like our moral obligations seem to grow with our ability to right particular moral wrongs in the world (e.g. prevent genocide). The later ability is mediated by technology, but the former is often treated as some kind of universal truth. This all leads to a strange kind of paradox where supposedly universal moral obligations shift over time.