The war in Ukraine has not only marked a significant milestone as the largest European land war since World War II, but it has also been the battleground for a new type of warfare fought in cyberspace. The conflict between technologically advanced countries has brought to the forefront the critical role of technology and information in modern warfare. This article explores the evolving concept of Total War in sociotechnical systems, where all resources, including civilians, become part of the war effort.
Total War, as defined in this context, is a war in which a country mobilizes all available resources and utilizes them to achieve victory. This includes civilians as potential military targets and the targeting of non-offensive infrastructure. The war in Ukraine has exemplified the Total War phenomenon, where both sides have embraced new technologies and tactics to gain an advantage. However, the concept of Total War within sociotechnical systems remains relatively underdeveloped.
Sociotechnical systems refer to the complex interplay between technology and human organizational behavior. Understanding the potential and vulnerabilities of these systems is crucial for strategic thinking in warfare. Jordan Richard Schoenherr, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, argues that our understanding of warfare needs to adapt to this changing landscape. Social network analysis, a relatively new concept in military strategy, can shed light on the intricate relationships between people and technology.
Schoenherr examines past conflicts, such as those in Kosovo, Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Armenia, to identify patterns of Total War within sociotechnical systems. He notes that the advent of cyberwarfare in the early 2000s marked a significant shift in the landscape. Traditional forms of warfare, such as website defacement, gave way to more sophisticated tactics involving psychological warfare on the internet. This combination of cyberwarfare and emerging technologies like AI-based malware and drones has reshaped the nature of conflict.
The war in Ukraine has witnessed the involvement of non-state actors, including companies like IBM, Elon Musk’s Starlink, and hackers from both sides. As AI, UAVs, and 3D-printed materials become integral to the battlefield, the study of supply chain dynamics becomes increasingly important. High-tech weapons rely on specialized components, and illicit sales or smuggling by third parties can disrupt military operations. The discovery of Western-made parts in downed Russian drones highlights the complexities of the supply chain in modern warfare.
Schoenherr raises an essential concern about the strategic-level culture of paranoia that persists in modern warfare. Just as during the Cold War era, the boundaries between militaries and civilians have blurred, and the starting and ending points of wars have become ambiguous. These factors can escalate conflicts and make it difficult to de-escalate rapidly escalating situations. Understanding how this dynamic unfolds is crucial for effectively managing and mitigating conflicts.
The changing face of warfare in sociotechnical systems demands a reevaluation of our understanding of Total War. The war in Ukraine has served as a laboratory for these transformations, with technology and information playing a pivotal role in the conflict. By comprehending the intricate relationships between people and technology, we can better navigate the complexities of modern warfare and prevent conflicts from spiraling out of control. As future conflicts continue to evolve, the study of sociotechnical systems will become even more critical for planners and strategists.