Economic growth has some perverse implications. Not only does new technology allow for enhanced weaponry, but it also implies a reluctance for humans to tolerate casualties. One could argue that the collapse in human mortality and frailty in modern societies has stoked a rising intolerance for the bloodshed of war. An interesting result is that American attitudes towards was seem less sensitive to the carnage of war, so long as our side is relatively unscathed.
Regardless of other causes, the basic fact is that robotic war-fighting is extraordinarily effective in terms of costs and benefits. For surveillance alone, a small robot can see bad guys or sniff our roadside bombs in a mortally costless fashion that defies imagination and traditional concepts of war. Once you expand imagination to the offensive realm, the impact of robotics is obviously revolutionary. Consider these facts, quoted from P.W. Singer's article in Wilson Quarterly:
When U.S. forces went into Iraq in 2003, they had zero robotic units on the ground. By the end of 2004, the number was up to 150. By the end of 2005 it was 2,400, and it more than doubled the next year. By the end of 2008, it was projected to reach as high as 12,000.
All told, some 22 different robot systems are now operating on the ground.
The amount spent on ground robots, for example, has roughly doubled each year since 2001.
In addition to the Predator and Reaper [two large robotic air drones], a veritable menagerie of drones now circle in the skies over war zones. Small UAVs such as the Raven, which is just over three feet long, or the even smaller Wasp (which carries a camera the size of a peanut) are tossed into the air by individual soldiers and fly just above the rooftops, transmitting video images ....
As new prototypes of aerial drones hit the battlefield, the trend will be for the size extremes to be pushed in two directions ... The military's estimation of what is possible with micro air vehicles is illustrated by a contract let by DARPA in 2006. it sought an insect-sized drone that weighed under 10 grams (roughly a third of an ounce), was 7.5 centimeters long, has a speed of 10 meters per second and a range of 1000 meters, and could hover in place for at least minute.
The big idea in military strategy is "asymmetric warfare" where conventional forces face an enemy that is smaller, lighter, and qualitatively different. While that asymmetry poses difficult problems, the rise of robotic warfare is in the process of turning asymmetry upside down. The power of force stemming from greater financial resources, traditionally manifested in heavy conventional arms, is being supplemented by robotic forces that are smaller, lighter, and qualitatively different than revolutionaries and guerillas.
Peace on Earth? It would be nice to think so. While I am convinced the battlefield is changing faster than most soliders, let alone policymakers, can anticipate, the path to peace is on the other side. Strategic counterinsurgency requires transformative construction, not transformative weaponry. I'm certainly not the first to say so. I wouldn't put it past the brightest minds in the Pentagon to already have worked on robots that build roads, schools and hospitals.