Skip to main content

Belligerent Democracies in the Future of Warfare (My submission for the Future Digital Threats to Democracy competition)

Belligerent Democracies in the Future of Warfare

My submitted vignette to the Future Digital Threats to Democracy competition by the Center for a New American Security and Technology for Global Security (later re-branded as the Institute for Technology and Security). 

September 2019, there was a call for papers to write futuristic short pieces ("vignettes") for a competition - Technology Trends and Democracy: Building a Window to 2030The idea was to harness imagination/intuition in order to assess/predict the complexities which the future might bring.

Two of my ideas were accepted. But I've submitted only one of them - the one written here.

Acceptance e-mail

Written by: Shahaf Rabi (Founding Director of the Israeli Center for the Study of Targeted Killing, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. The text reflects his personal opinions/imagination).

Date: 29 December 2019

The vignette was designed to look like a Wikipedia value page. Only parts of the original embellishments are shown here.

Foreign Policy

Main article: Foreign policy of the Victoria Futurbellum administration

The presidency of Victoria Futurbellum was characterized by undaunted use of force internationally in pursuit of her foreign policy and responses to global events. She fully capitalized the technological leap in artificial intelligence and robotics. Throughout her terms in office, Futurbellum masterfully used the U.S. military’s Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS) around the world for various purposes, without losing sight of what polls reflected the American public supported and opposed.[99]

Surveys showed most Americans soundly supported her for being tough on security threats, exporting democratic values, using LAWS instead of risking soldiers and protecting Americans.[100] Her critics failed to mount successful opposition. They called to ban killer robots, limit presidential powers for waging wars as well as call for complete transparency and oversight over the practice of LAWS because of what they considered evolving American imperialism.[100]

A series of world-renowned scholars provided ample explanations as to what made LAWS so very attractive to Futurbellum. They focused on the interaction between the democratic society and state with regards to war. They concluded LAWS enabled Futurbellum to pursue her foreign policy with minimal opposition – an upgraded version of how drones helped Obama pursue his own with greater ease. This was the product of the exchange of human (soldiers) with capital (LAWS) in combat activities, as their use especially meant avoiding the negative effects of American casualties.[99] Scholars also argued her successful foreign policy helped her gain political fortune and prestige, which then promoted her domestic policies and vice versa.[101]

The consensus among Clausewitzians was that LAWS symbolized redistribution of power between the social dimension and technological dimension in the strategy of war, particularly because during the last centuries the social dimension outpaced the other dimensions.[102][103] Importantly, the social dimension is in its prime in democracies because the leader, along with the rest of the political echelon, depend on their constituents.[101][104][105] Since this same political echelon commands the military, there is no need to physically defeat the military itself. It is possible be victorious via the state-society’s intensive opposition to the hostilities.[103]


Main article: United States’ Eritrea Genocide Intervention

Early in her first term, President Futurbellum quickly intervened and stopped the Eritrea genocide. She stressed America’s responsibility to protect the attacked people. Futurbellum claimed America must intervene unlike past events such as President Clinton’s failure to act during the 1994 Rwanda genocide. She added it remains shameful that Clinton and Congress refused to intervene because they feared their constituents would oppose the potential casualties and the financial costs – particularly because it was thought the genocide could have been prevented rather easily as the murderers mainly used melee and cold weapons to kill their victims.[106]

However, experts doubted if she would have intervened without LAWS because casualty-aversiveness shaped not once U.S. policy.[105] They added the American public became evermore casualty-aversive in these past several decades.[104][107] It was also known the public’s support for the military mission decreased as the number of casualties increased, especially in cases such as humanitarian interventions, also often called ‘wars of choice’. If the public perceived the war as one of choice, as opposed to ‘war of necessity’ (e.g. self-defense) then its willingness to tolerate casualties was much lower.[105]

The U.S. LAWS forces operated in Eritrea for two years. Members of Congress neither expected Futurbellum to seek Congress’ War Powers Resolution approval nor filed lawsuits, unlike Obama’s 2011 Libya intervention.[108][109] They knew the resolution was missing a definition of ‘armed forces’, but that it customarily applied only to U.S. soldiers. Hence, the deployment of LAWS meant no soldier was under threat or considered committed to hostilities. So Futurbellum needed not receive Congress’ authorization. Similarly, her opposition in Congress admitted filing lawsuits was futile as the Court traditionally dismissed such cases, clarifying that if Congress was truly opposing the war then it had the means to resolve the issue.[109]

Experts concurred, Congress’ Power of the Purse, for example, provided it means with which it shaped the defense and foreign policy. Congress can be very restricting or unrestricting regarding both the amounts and the authority to control the funds Futurbellum very much needed to carry out her policy. They added Congress usually restricts the budget due to political interests and power struggles.[110] After all, Congress members are politicians, and all they want is to be re-elected. Thus, they act according to what they believe will make their constituents vote for them.[111] They go to great lengths in order to gain political fortune.[112] Consequently, public opposition to war eventually leads to congressional opposition. Indeed, Congress members voted on several resolutions involving Futurbellum’s ability to operate in Eritrea.[113]

In reviewing the resolutions Congress did and did not pass regarding the Eritrea intervention, it was clear their priority matched the public’s opinion as was shown via polls – avoiding casualties. Five days before Futurbellum ordered U.S. forces to fight in Eritrea, the polls reflected how Americans strongly opposed sending soldiers. Additional polls soon followed, unequivocally reflecting Americans’ steady opposition to any form of endangering soldiers there.[100] Hence, Futurbellum was able to pursue her policy with LAWS as no casualties meant that Congress did not feel compelled to end her intervention.

Many then argued that Futurbellum and Congress members alike evaded the public’s sensitivity to casualties thanks to LAWS, and therefore, they did not need to fear the political costs which accompany the deployment of soldiers into hostilities. In turn, Futurbellum did not need to convince Americans that operating where she wished to was good enough of a reason to risk the lives of American soldiers, or worse, the loss of their lives.[109]


In her first term, Futurbellum supported Israel’s LAWS deployment within the Gaza Strip as a part of its campaign to neutralize Hamas and other Gazan organizations. Critics argued she wanted to benefit AI improvement for the U.S. LAWS forces via the acquired knowledge of the IDF at the expense of the Palestinians, as happened in several years’ time in Iran.[100]

Her insistence for elections in Gaza proved counterproductive, officially illegitimated the losing Fatah-Palestinian Authority to return to rule the Strip. This stalemate resulted with renewal of Israeli occupation and the population’s complete civilian management.[114]

Middle East

During her second term, Israel’s “Northern War” erupted following the joint U.S.-Israeli targeted killing of Qasem Soleimani. Iran responded via Hezbollah in Lebanon and its Syrian proxies. The Syrian military was soon forced to join into the war, and thus ended the short relative calm there.

However, the resumed fighting threatened another massive wave of refugees towards Europe, including Lebanese and millions of displaced Syrians in Lebanon.[115]

EU leaders feared another refugee crisis, serving as fuel for right-wing parties and extremists. Another concern was being susceptible once again for Turkish blackmail to stop refugees,[116] especially after the United Kingdom permanently stationed large LAWS force in Cyprus in order to hamstrung Turkey’s annexation.[117]

President Futurbellum convinced the EU countries to fund NATO’s LAWS forces, and to create safe zones which halted the flow of people.

Russia, which wanted NATO out of Syria, deployed its LAWS, causing some clashes in a somewhat unsuccessful attempt to hasten their withdrawal. Eventually, Futurbellum, EU leaders, Putin and others passed UN Security Council resolution settling the situation. It included a decision to equip UNIFIL with LAWS to forcefully enforce the demilitarized area.[118]

Meanwhile, Futurbellum countered Iran by occupation of its Gulf shoreline territories with LAWS following the renewal of Iranian attacks on shipping lanes.

Also, U.S.-Saudia Arabia intensified their assault against the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen.[119]


President Futurbellum inherited the war in Afghanistan, as did her successor. She brought back nearly all U.S. soldiers, replacing them with almost 100,000 LAWS. In her last three years in office, not a single American died there. The media and the public paid minimal attention to the war.[120]

The SomeUSMediaOutlet leaked transcripts of her discussion concerning Afghanistan during her lame duck period:

Like us, democracies mainly engage in asymmetric conflicts nowadays. There is no clear path to victory in such conflicts. It is difficult to define and to achieve goals.[105] The non-state actors also prolong the conflict to increase the financial costs and the number of casualties – soldiers and civilians alike.[103] This makes it even harder for leaders to satisfy the public by presenting achievements.[105] However, LAWS changed the situation, making shifts in public opinion rarer and mild. That is, manageable.

It’ll be the next administration’s job to continue emphasizing the purpose of our presence there, match the messages to the public, repeat the actions’ legality explanations,[101][105] LAWS obedience with the laws of armed conflict,[105][121] and particularly the efforts to avoid hurting civilians.[100] Americans must ceaselessly be reminded that Congress’ various oversight committees review the activities and emphasize LAWS as the best alternative.[105][121][122][123]

As learned, mindful, limited transparency[108][109][124][125] helps minimizing public opposition which in turn leaves for the next president a far easier task to persuade only a handful of Congress members inside specific committees in order to continue to operate.[109][126]