The original standoff range, when the balled fist was the major weapon, was very likely arm’s length. Over the millennia, besides making weapons more lethal, man has sought to lengthen the range of rocks, spears, and so on, culminating in the airplane, the long-range missile, and software viruses, each giving him the ability to outmaneuver his opponent and strike him at will. I say this not to lessen the importance of other factors, such as skill, courage, and reflex, but all else being equal, the first military to adapt a “lengthened knife” or spear to its warfighting apparatus gained a clear advantage over its enemies.
The time when only a few states had access to the most dangerous technologies has been over for many years. Dual-use technologies circulate easily in our globalized economy, as do the scientific personnel who design and use them. As a consequence, it is more difficult for us to track efforts to acquire, for nefarious purposes, these components and technologies.
–Annual Threat Assessment of the Director of National Intelligence for the Senate Armed Services Committee, 27 February 2007
According to the director of national intelligence, the biggest threat is technology invention and diffusion and the ability of our adversaries to “live on the exponential technology curve,” unlike the U.S. military, which is encumbered by the weight and drag of its bureaucracy and infrastructure. Nimble adversaries can leapfrog a century of science thanks to the diffusion of technological knowledge and access to weapons and materials largely as a result of the Internet and the explosive growth of the Google and eBay economies. Ominously, unanticipated changes in the character of war can be major pivot points in political history as well.
Richard Hellie, in his book Warfare, Changing Military Technology, and the Evolution of Muscovite Society, describes how migrating from the bow and arrow to the musket not only led to victory in warfare, but also resulted in a reordering of political power. From 1450 to 1725, Russia experienced two revolutions as a direct result of military threats made possible largely by the full-scale introduction of technological advances. The first threat was from the Tatar light cavalry, and the second was from the Swedish infantry. The replacement of the light bow and arrow with the musket changed the nature of warfare from resource control to territorial control. Russia quickly reordered its society into a very rigid, caste-like system and was able to defend itself against threats from Lithuania, Poland, and Sweden.
We live in an epoch unparalleled in human history, when “virtually anything of value is offered in today’s global marketplace—including illegal drugs … machine guns and rocket launchers, and centrifuges and precursor chemicals