The Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 disaster is a poignant reminder of the randomness of fortune and misfortune. But it also serves as a prelude to an emerging security environment marked by irregular warfare, proliferated high-end technology and complex economic and energy dependencies that will complicate decision-making among allied nations and confound coherent approaches to grand strategy.
Indeed, the tragedy has underscored the challenges of a new era in which the line between state and nonstate actors is increasingly blurred. From Syria to Iraq, Gaza to Ukraine, nonstate militias and separatists wage shadow wars using sophisticated technologies that were formerly the monopoly of states.
This new era is particularly apparent in the case of Flight 17, allegedly downed by a Russian SA-11 surface-to-air missile fired by Ukrainian rebels. The downing, which killed all 298 people aboard, is a reminder that small groups -- often exhibiting less restraint than state actors -- can acquire high-tech weaponry of great lethality and precision, which can be deployed so quickly people may not have time to make measured decisions.
As technology continues to progress and spread, this challenge will become even more acute. With the proliferation of unmanned and, particularly, autonomous systems that will reduce the role of human input, it will be even easier to imagine senseless acts of irreversible killing, either to achieve a political cause (terrorism or insurgency) or out of sheer happenstance and miscalculation. Once missiles and armed drones strike their target, neither the casualties nor the consequences can be undone.
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