Dr. Peter Diamond is a member of the Liberal Studies faculty at New York University and is currently Assistant Dean for Faculty Development and Program Advancement. He is the author of Common Sense and Improvement: Thomas Reid as Social Theorist (Frankfurt, 1998) as well as numerous articles and book chapters on the moral and political thought of the early modern and modern eras. In recent years he has taught courses on nationalism and multiculturalism, just war theory, cultural membership, democratization, and the ethics of war and peace. He received his Ph.D. in the history of political thought from The Johns Hopkins University.
"Robots and the Temptations of Risk-Free War"
In the wake of 9/11, we Americans had little difficulty shrugging off our post- Vietnam reluctance to use force and to send American troops around the world. We’ve also been willing to spend countless sums on the military in general and robotics in particular. A core part of this massive post-9/11 research and buying spree has been new technologies, with a particular focus on anything unmanned. We’ve justified our use of such advanced technology by assuring the world that, as President Obama proclaimed in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, unlike our adversaries, we “bind ourselves to certain rules of conduct” when we fight. As an administration official explained, drones enable us to minimize civilian casualties and to obtain the best intelligence for planning operations. I intend to challenge these assumptions; particularly the claim that robotic weapons improve our chances of fighting a just war. Relying on Hannah Arendt’s profound and far-sighted meditation on the nature of modern warfare, I will argue that our increasing reliance on robotic weapons is a mistake made possible by our having confused the use of violence with our possession of power. In fact, they are conceptually and practically distinct: violence depends on instruments to inflict damage and destruction on people and things; power consists in collective action, and relies primarily on speech to establish and maintain institutions to bring about collective ends. From Arendt’s standpoint, violence and power are opposites, with the former threatening to overtake and destroy the latter, particularly when technology magnifies the destructive effects of instruments and distances perpetrators from victims. Indeed, her analysis of violence suggests that we reexamine the comforting illusions created by our increasing reliance on robots to wage risk-free war.