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17 March 2023

Recommended Innovation Articles (and Commentary) 17: ‘Cyberneticizing the American War Machine: Science and Computers in the Cold War’ by Antoine Bousquet

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Original post can be found here: https://benzweibelson.medium.com/recommended-innovation-articles-and-commentary-17-cyberneticizing-the-american-war-machine-8407ac7c4d29

Today’s article is again in our continued focus area on AI, decision-making in military affairs, complexity and how militaries perceive innovation and culture. Last week’s article (an Australian occasional paper for their defense forces) was by Dr. Peter Layton, and like Peter, I have known this author, Dr. Antoine Bousquet for many years now. Antoine now teaches at the Swedish Defense University in Stockholm, and his exceptional book “The Scientific Way of Warfare” has a brand new second edition out- available online. His article, “Cyberneticizing the American war machine: science and computers in the Cold War”, is available here but does require library access:

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14682740701791359?journalCode=fcwh20

In this article, Antoine outlines how the American military (and I would extend this to NATO, most allies and partner nations and beyond) pursue a particularly technologically rationalized frame for warfare. The rise of cybernetics is profoundly significant to how post-WW2 military services and forces began to impose a rationalization of reality and war… which would shape major events such as Vietnam, the Cold War, as well as movements such as Effects Based Operations that would thrive in the 1980s-1990s in particular. This is where ORSA comes into play, and also how it can be misapplied and abused to focus on things that defy such cybernetic structuring.

For those that study decision-making models and methods such as ‘Mission Command’, the rise of cybernetics is an important movement that today still acts as a ‘ghost in the machine’ where EBO and a desire to operate in ‘closed system loops’ is quite pervasive in military affairs- even when branded under moniker of ‘mission command’ in current doctrine and how our militaries assume all professional military education (PME) ought to unfold logically therein. Hence, many of the existing tensions and paradoxes in Mission Command as well as schools of interpretation on “what it really means” are unavoidably nested in this cybernetics movement that today still manifests in many ways from the micro-tactical to the grand strategic. Frequently, we are blind to this, as we focus more on how to color within the lines and not toward who is directing the lines and forcing us to comply with such convergence before we pick up a crayon.

While this article goes into the history of Vietnam and the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union, how many of these patterns continued to demonstrate in military operations that ultimately led to the horrific and spectacular fall of Kabul? Or to how current events are unfolding in the Ukraine, or perhaps with respect to tensions with Taiwan and China? Are we still thinking and acting with the long shadow of Cybernetic Warfare influencing our theories, belief systems, models and methods?

Thanks for reading, and be sure to subscribe if you like this series and want to receive an email when new ones come out most every week. Follow me on Twitter if you want to see what I am reading and researching now, and on LinkedIn for related content on design, strategy, complexity, and war philosophy.

If you missed last week’s article and commentary, here it is:

https://benzweibelson.medium.com/recommended-innovation-articles-and-commentary-16-fighting-artificial-intelligence-battles-1d8e7c88d6e

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