Wars have existed since the beginning of time; it has been a common experience of human existence. Since prehistoric ages, war has been a part of our lives, whether we like it or not. Despite many attempts to abolish war, it still is very much a part of our reality. People have justified wars by calling them necessary evils, a law a nature, but their consequences are too horrifying to be described in words.
Even though wars will continue to be a part of our lives, they continue to evolve, much like every other thing. With time, and with technological advancement, wars have changed forms, they’ve become deadlier, bloodier, costlier, and worse than ever.
Until three hundred years ago, wars were mostly fought by poorly trained, and poorly armed soldiers. Fewer people died, especially when it came to the civilian population. However, as the ‘industrial revolution’ took over the world, wars were ‘modernized’, with the creation of and widespread use of lethal weapons such as the machine gun, aircrafts, and missiles laden with all kinds of bombs, and yes, of course, many weapons of mass destruction were developed. So, through centuries, wars have destroyed millions of lives, homes, each time striking harder than before.
If a war takes place now, or say twenty years from now, do you think the wars will be fought the same way as they were during the World Wars? This will always be a fascinating question in its own terms, but also crucial for countries for making the correct changes in their allied weaponry, military operations, wartime preparations, as well as their defense budget priorities.
When I talk about the future of wars, do you imagine robots operating spaceships fighting these wars? Well, you’re not entirely wrong, in the future, AI will be the future of the world, and most likely, the future of wars too.
However, this is probably too far away in the future, the wars in the near future are going to change too.
During the ‘industrial revolution’, coal and iron ore deposits were one factor in defining the “winners” in terms of economic and geopolitical power. Today, newer models and artefacts of industrial production will also change demand trends, and will give more power to the countries controlling supply and transit, and taking away the power from others.
There is no doubt that these emerging technologies will have the capability for enabling a whole new class of weapons that will severely modify the geopolitical landscape.
Before we discuss this further, let’s take an example, while in the midst of a maritime dispute with Japan in 2010, China restricted the export of ‘rare earths’ that are important for energy storage, permanent magnets, sensors, and computing. The technology sector is embedded with ever more commercial and military value, thus, these key materials will be ‘strategic’, as well as ‘critical’ for the purpose of national security.
The wars that were fought in the last decade don’t fail to remind us that co-option of broadly available commercial technologies may be the ultimate operational threat, for example, the cell-phone activated IEDs in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq.
With science and technology having greater potential than ever, and an increasing reliance on machines, waging a war may seem ‘easier’. In the future, we can expect the speed at which machines take decisions is likely to increase at exponential rates, demanding a new relationship between man and machine. Further, as these cutting-edge technologies become cheaper, it will spread to a wide range of actors. With commercial availability, the proliferation of these technologies becomes widespread and fast, thus, creating more and more peer participants and competitors at the state level and even among non-state actors, making it harder for the broker agreements to stop them falling into the wrong hands.
Even with the way the weaponizable technology has been democratised, there is a margin that empowers non-state actors and other individuals to cause harm and havoc on a massive scale. Furthermore, it also imperils the stability by offering states more possibilities in the form of “hybrid” warfare and the implementation of proxies to create plausible deniability as well as strategic ambiguity. When it becomes technically strenuous to ascribe an attack, being already true with cyber, and becoming a concern with autonomous drones, conflicts can become more susceptible to escalation and lead to unintended consequences.
Various domains of prospective conflict such as outer space, the deep oceans, and the Arctic are all taken as gateways to different kinds of economic and strategic advantages, which are steadily rising via new technologies and materials that can overcome inhospitable conditions present in these regions. Like cyberspace, these are less well-governed than the familiar domains of land, sea and air: their lack of natural borders can make them difficult to reconcile with existing international legal frameworks, and technological development is both rapid and private sector-driven, which makes it hard for governance institutions to keep up.
I’m sure you won’t be unaware of the coronavirus pandemic we’re stuck in right now, a virus that originated in China, has now thrown its shackles all over the world. Now, imagine how much damage a country can do if it deliberately decides to enter a conflict, and it makes the use of biological warfare, after all, it wouldn’t be that difficult with the latest technology.
One of the major objectives of biological warfare is the destabilization and demolition of economic development and solidity. The advent of bio-economic warfare as a weapon of mass destruction can be taken back to the development and use of biological agents against economic victims like crops, livestock and ecosystems. Even more so, such warfare can always take place under the pretexts that such distressing episodes are the product of natural occurrences that lead to outbreaks of diseases and disasters of either epidemic or endemic proportions.
The effortless access to an expansive range of disease-causing biological agents, their remaining undetected by routine security systems, and their simple transportation from one location to another are some of their other attractive features.
Thus, in the present times, even the most technologically advanced military power can no longer guarantee national security. The world is facing many challenges, and the huge advancements in technology need to be protected from falling into the wrong hands, and thus, there is a need to allow the right people and right organizations to implement and manage the emerging and possibly, disruptive technologies.