How is the role and identity of the human soldier defined within the conceptual and actual space of network-centric warfare? In June 2002, the United States National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Commerce (DOC) released a report on the 'Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance' expert workshop held in December 2001. Presenters in the fields of health, national security, education, and cognitive science focused on the implications of the emerging construct of NBIC—the synthesis of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive science that within the next fifty years has the potential to redefine the parameters of human performance and lifespan. Within the national security context, NBIC merges with the U.S. military's conceptual and futures-oriented scenario project termed Joint Vision 2020, and its emphasis on network-centric warfare (NCW). NCW applies concepts such as distributed networking, self-synchronization, and peer-to-peer information sharing in order to maximize--and seamlessly integrate--the physical, informational, and cognitive components of combat power. Of course, the human soldier remains the crucial actor on the distributed front, thus this paper's emphasis on the way in which political, cultural, and technological variables combine in the deliberate construction of the American warfighter as cyborg. Applying the concept of 'narratives of ordering,' this project analyses qualitative data from elite interviews, policy documents, and media reports in order to track the way in which the military (and the policy elite) define 21st century warfare and construct new expectations and identities for the soldiers designed (literally) to fight it. The paper hypothesises that such an order-of-magnitude evolution in human performance expectations will have significant spill-over effects not only on military culture, but on social acceptance of nanotechnology and associated biological and cognitive applications. It will also accelerate the military transformation from large combat forces divided among four primary sub-organizations to heavy reliance on small, technologically dominant groups of multi-tasked Special Forces units. While arguably adaptive in an age of asymmetric warfare, this simultaneous human downsizing and technological upskilling within the United States military will shape American security alliances and the nature of warfare well into the 21st century.
Amy L. Fletcher
Political Science Department, University of Canterbury
University of Canterbury (Private Bag 4800)
Christchurch 8020 New Zealand
Phone: +64 03 364-2987, x 8675 Fax: +64 03 364-2007