By Ian Roxborough
“Toys for peace” was the underlying theme of a presentation on the second day of the 8th Tides tech demo at Fort McNair. Dr. A. Walter Dorn, who researches peacekeeping at the Canadian Forces College talked about how changing technology is providing peacekeepers with a wide range of new – and cheap – tools for monitoring and surveillance. He drove a terrestrial robot through the audience and flew a quadcopter overhead. I have just checked on Amazon: you can buy one for $35 and up. The kind of motion-triggered lights that are common in suburban homes, baby monitors, and a range of toys and gadgets that are now widely available can be used to solve the peacekeeper’s dilemma: how to protect the force while monitoring events in a conflict environment. Clearly we have moved from a situation in which the basic technology is the human eyeball to one in which all sorts of cheap devices enable much better situational awareness. As Dr. Dorn says, there is “a truly amazing revolution in technology.”
There followed a lively discussion about whether to distribute these devices to the local population, with some in the audience wondering whether troublemakers and adversaries might be equipped with similar drones and robots. Dr. Dorn stressed that these toys were not a magic bullet: in the end the issue was one of dealing with human conflict and of staying ahead in a rapidly changing technology environment. With the rate of technological change, we can’t afford to be complacent. But we can be optimistic. Surely more transparency – enabled by the off-the-shelf toys and devices – would be a force for good. Want to know more? Dr. Dorn has just published Air Power in UN Operations: Wings for Peace, and his earlier book. Keeping Watch: Monitoring Technology and Innovation in UN Peace Operations, lays out the basics.