Strategic Upheaval, Overhyped, or Something in Between?

Recent commentary has sounded the alarm on the ability of so-called “emerging” technologies to tilt the balance of terror and complicate strategic stability calculations. Indeed, from the longbow and gunpowder to the tank and nuclear weapons, technological innovation has revolutionized and redrawn the borders of the battlefield. The same will be true of the range of new capabilities on the horizon, not least those in the space and cyber domains. But how are these new technologies distinguishable from that which came before them—in qualitative and quantitative terms? And how can we measure the impact of these technologies in a way that is not alarmist, but rather, allows us to systematically evaluate them on their potential for disruption?

Comparing the impacts of heterogenous technologies side by side (especially across two domains) can be challenging; it is the policy equivalent of comparing apples with oranges. This becomes especially apparent when we consider the numerous and wide-ranging ways in which emerging technologies have the potential to complicate strategic stability. They could, for example, provide new ways to use or stop the use of nuclear weapons (e.g., AI for missile defense could significantly change the deterrence calculation). They might blur the boundary between nuclear and non-nuclear infrastructure (e.g., the dual-use nature of satellites might increase the potential for misidentification or unintended escalation). They could create new vulnerabilities within existing systems (e.g., new technologies might enable cyberattacks on civilian infrastructure). And more fundamentally, they might even change the game (i.e., the technology, and its proliferation to new actors, could make attribution more difficult).

 

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