Skip to main content

15 November 2019

The shortcomings of relying on technology and other 'surrogates' to fight modern-day battles

Twenty-first century conflict is increasingly relying on substitutes – technological or human – to wage wars but this is a short-term approach which can mean loss of control, a new book warns.

A drone flying

Many people think of wars as fought by one group of people against another but today many use ‘surrogate’ solutions such as armed drones, cyber propaganda or arming rebel groups to bear the burden of war.

Dr Andreas Krieg, a fellow of the Institute of Middle East Studies and lecturer in the School of Security Studies, says the use of this approach in Libya, Syria and Yemen shows that the delegation to surrogates in war is only a short-term solution at best.

In the long run, the overreliance on surrogates means that state patrons eventually lose control over surrogate performances and conflict outcomes,” he said.

“The paradox is that warfare by surrogate appears to be the only way to deal with issues that are too urgent to ignore, but not urgent enough to allow for large deployments of own troops.”

Dr Krieg and Dr Jean-Marc Rickli explore the opportunities and pitfalls of this phenomenon in their book Surrogate Warfare: The Transformation of War in the Twenty-First Century

The book, was featured at a seminar on 13 November organised by the Department of War Studies and the Institute of Middle Eastern studies and attended by King’s staff, Visiting Professors, and a range of external guests.

Dr Krieg was accompanied by two other panellists, Anas El Gomati, founder and current Director General of the Tripoli-based Sadeq Institute, and Michael Stephens, Research Fellow for Middle East Studies and Head of RUSI Qatar.

Dr Krieg explains that warfare by surrogate is a concept familiar to the British Government.

“The idea that more can be done with less has triggered a debate to redesign force structure in the UK to allow for rapid deployments with small British footprints and much of the burden of war being externalised to local human and technological surrogates.”

The book has received positive feedback from the military and foreign policy community as well as NGOs working on post-conflict resolution. Moving forward, Dr Krieg hopes his research trigger further exploration of surrogate warfare, which is currently covered on a variety of undergraduate and postgraduate modules.

He said: “The concept of surrogate warfare has now been registered but needs to be better understood to make sure that 21st century warfare in its complexity is still manageable.”

The event was recorded, and you can listen to it here.

In this story

Andreas Krieg

Senior Lecturer School of Security Studies