The future of modern warfare: How technology is transforming conflict | DW Analysis

The future of modern warfare: How technology is transforming conflict | DW Analysis

Show Video

The world is entering a new age of warfare. A digital revolution is sweeping through   every military force on the planet. Leading the charge is artificial intelligence.   A technology with the power to upend  everything about human conflict.   Including whether humans are involved at all.  And simmering beneath… is a global cyberwar  that has already started and may never end.

Digital technology is transforming all our lives,   so no wonder it's also changing how we  fight. It’s making militaries smarter,   faster, more efficient. But it’s also opening up  the prospect of serious dangers in the future. There's a third revolution of warfare  after gunpowder and nuclear weapons There will be more unpredictability in  how we get to armed conflict, and that   will make the whole world a more dangerous place. Here in Berlin, Germany's foreign minister warns  us: a full-scale tech arms race is underway. We're right in the middle of it. That’s  the reality we have to deal with.  Wir sind schon mittendrin… das ist die  Realität, mit der wir es zu tun haben.

In fact critical technologies are  developing so fast that SOCIETIES   can barely keep up… and ask themselves  the question, is this what we want? So   in this video we're going to zero in on two  risks that are not getting enough attention. First, we'll see how a cyber intrusion against the  command and control systems for nuclear weapons   could set off a terrifying chain of events. You have to worry that it's going to  escalate into something that's like   truly apocalyptic -- civilization ending. Then we'll examine how a recent  war in an obscure part of the world   provided a taste of things to come…  accelerating a race for autonomous weapons.

And how the artificial intelligence behind them   could lead to conflicts that  move at horrifying speed. All of a sudden you have a have  a war that no one really started,   and which could spiral out of control. We'll catch glimpses of a future  where wars can start more easily,  where they can escalate faster,  and where humans can't stop them. Machines are dictating the  conduct on the battlefield.  

Machines are making the ultimate  decisions about life and death. The good news is: it's not too late to make  critical choices. And in the final part   we'll look at what political leaders could be  doing NOW to prevent the worst from happening.  But first… we begin with a scenario that is  not from the future. It could happen today. We're going to England's north York Moors, near  the coast and the windy North Sea. Here we find   what could be the most important places in the  world -- that you have probably never heard of.

Its name is Fylingdales, a British air force  base that's notable not for its planes, but for… …this grey edifice, jutting out of the ground.   They call it the pyramid. But  in fact, it’s a giant radar. It's not the only one.   There's something similar on the other side of  the world, at Clear air force base in Alaska.

And there's another far to the south at  Beale, in the heat of the California desert… There's one hidden in the forest on Cape Cod,   Massachusetts – where America  nudges out into the West Atlantic. And in the frozen north of Greenland,  far above the Arctic Circle,   you'll find that another pyramid looms. These installations are all part of America's  early warning system… powerful radars built to   detect attacks on the US homeland or American  allies. Above all – incoming nuclear missiles. It's a system that reaches out into space, where  dedicated satellites keep watch from high orbit.   Constantly feeding back to the  "command-and-control" apparatus   in charge of America's own nuclear weapons.

This is the nervous system of the western  military alliance. It dates back to the Cold   War but in today's geopolitical tensions, it's  as crucial as ever. Disrupting it could leave   the alliance blind – prone to attack. That was made clear in America's latest   nuclear posture review – essentially the  instruction manual of its most powerful weapons. This infrastructure is so  important, the review said   that if it were attacked, the US might  respond by using nuclear weapons.

As we're going to find out – despite their  critical position at the heart of Western   security, these systems are vulnerable  – to new and unpredictable threats. The first early warning systems were built decades  ago, at the height of the Cold War. Their job:   detecting nuclear missiles coming in from Russia. As they've been updated over the decades,   two crucial things have changed  that make them more exposed. First -- many are no longer focussed only  on nuclear threats. They're multi-tasking.

"None of the big command and control  systems whose existence has been   acknowledged by the US government are used  exclusively for non-nuclear operations." James Acton is one of the world's  leading experts on nuclear security. "That's one example of this phenomenon that I term   the growing entanglement between the  nuclear and the non-nuclear domains."

This idea of "entanglement" is important. It  means that the incredibly sensitive area of   nuclear weapons is no longer separated off in its  own bubble. It's become mixed in with matters of   conventional warfare. And that multi-tasking  means they're more likely to be a target.   In a crisis or a conflict, adversaries could have  a potential incentive to attack these dual-use   command and control assets, these assets that are  used for both nuclear and non-nuclear operations.  

Potentially, they're doing that in order to  disrupt US conventional war fighting…but that   would have the effect of degrading the US  nuclear command and control architecture. So there are more reasons to attack these targets.  And on top of that comes the second big change:   they've entered the digital age, opening  them up to the prospect of cyber-attack. Systems are now relying on digital signals  as opposed to analogue signals, increasingly   relying on things…like IP based operating systems IP-based operating systems: Internet Protocol  that means computer operating  systems with networking capabilities  which creates vulnerabilities, for  example, in the form of cyber-attacks.   Very old-fashioned nuclear command and  control systems that didn't use digital   systems were invulnerable to cyber-attacks.  There was no code there to do the attacking."

Today, cyber-attacks are an everyday event -  we often hear about them on the news. In fact,   some say we've entered a low-grade  cyber-war that will NEVER stop. "You have a mix of state level and non-state  actors constantly probing and attacking   networks around the world. That's just the reality   of 21st century life and something  that we'll have to deal with."

Just about everything and  everyone can be a target.   Recent attacks have hit the US  government, the German parliament,   and Iran’s nuclear programme. And  they're just the ones that we know about. Some of the most serious cyber-attacks  have hit public infrastructure   like those against Ukraine's power grid –  attacks blamed on Russia. That was so grave  

that the United States stepped in to press  charges against the alleged perpetrators. No country has weaponized its cyber capabilities  as maliciously and irresponsibly as Russia." Attacks like that on civilian infrastructure  have become a major public concern.  

But only a small circle of experts are  thinking about how a cyber-attack on   nuclear command and control systems might play  out. Here, the stakes could not be higher. To see what could happen, let's go back  to the English coast and Fylingdales,   the early warning system peering  across the North Sea towards Russia.   In a crisis situation with the  Kremlin, this could be a prime target. "That's so significant because  that radar is the closest US   radar to Russia's biggest concentration of  its nuclear forces. It's the one that would  

get the quickest warning of a Russian nuclear  attack. It's also the most entangled one." Remember that idea of "entanglement" between  the nuclear and the non-nuclear realms Fylingdales is a key example of this, watching  out not just for big nuclear missiles,   but also for conventional weapons. If Russia was firing short-range ballistic  missiles at Europe, Fylingdales could see   those missiles in a way that other US radars  that are further from Europe couldn't. 

So of all the US early warning radars, Fylingdales  is the one that has the biggest Russian incentives   to attack in a crisis or a conflict. And it's the  one that attacks could have the biggest effect   on in terms of degrading US  strategic early warning capabilities. And a scenario where exactly that  happens is all too easy to imagine. It's the near future. We're in Latvia, a  former Soviet republic, now a member of NATO. Protests have broken out among  ethnic minority Russians,   who are accusing the government of discrimination. As the protests turn violent, Russia  begins amassing troops along the border.

Western leaders accuse Moscow  of orchestrating the unrest   as a pretext to invade this  tiny NATO member state. Neighbouring Estonia and Lithuania  – also former Soviet republics   and also now members of NATO,  report a surge in cyber-attacks. Fear spikes across the region.   For the first time since the Cold War, NATO  and Russia are on the brink of direct conflict. As the crisis deepens, the US detects  malicious computer code planted in its   early warning networks at Fylingdales. In the  heart of a system that is on ultra-high alert.

James Acton explains what happens next. If you find malicious code in your networks.  It's very hard to know what that code does. It   takes a long time to analyse the code and  understand what the other side is doing.   And this makes it very hard to know whether  this malicious code is just for espionage,   or is also for offensive operations as  well. And in this fast-moving crisis,   the US doesn't know what the code does. It  hasn't yet had a chance to analyze it even  

if that code is exclusively for espionage  purposes. There is a danger that the US   might conclude that it's preparations for  an attack on an early warning system." As the malware spreads, the US also has to work  out who planted it. That's a process called  

attribution. It takes time, and it is NOT easy.  Adding pressure to the fear and deep uncertainty. There's various countries that could have  incentives to launch cyber espionage or prepare   for cyber attacks by inserting malware  against the U.S. early warning system.   You know, North Korea would have an  incentive for doing it. China would have   an incentive for doing it. Russia would have  an incentive of doing it, maybe others, too. Amid all that uncertainty, with the Latvian crisis  ongoing, Russia becomes be the obvious suspect. "I think there is potentially an  assumption in that crisis to assume   that Russia implanted the malware. Even if you  don't know for certain who did it -- Chinese  

implantation or North Korean implantation --  again, in a fast moving crisis in which you   don't have time to do the attribution properly,  may be misinterpreted as a Russian intrusion." So in the heat of this crisis,   under intense pressure, the US has  some enormous decisions to make. Its most sensitive nuclear weapons  infrastructure is under cyber-attack.   It doesn't know what the code  is doing, or who planted it.  

But the circumstances suggest it's a Russian  attack. So the Americans decide to respond   in kind -- with a cyber-attack of  their own against Russia's systems. It then does the same thing against Russia…not  necessarily for an attack at this point, but for   espionage and for signalling purposes and saying,  you know, anything you could do, we can do better.   The problem is that Russia is very worried  about the survivability of its nuclear forces. Now Russia fears that the US is trying  to mess with ITS nuclear weapons.

Discovering cyber intrusions in your  command-and-control system can exacerbate   those fears. You could believe the US  is preparing to attack, preparing to   eliminate the nuclear forces pre-emptively. The two sides are entering a spiral of escalation   that leads towards disaster with a relentless  logic. Russia makes the first move. A lot of their nuclear weapons or missiles  are based on trucks which they would have   to disperse to make them survivable  so that the US couldn't destroy them.   So they may do that because they're  worried about a US nuclear attack.  But that kind of action could confirm the US fear  that they're preparing for nuclear weapon use…   and that that's the kind of scenario that I  think could catalyze nuclear weapon use directly.  

The US then disperses its nuclear forces  that confirms Russian fears that the US   is thinking about using nuclear weapons and  that leads to Russian limited nuclear use. Limited nuclear use. We've gone from a piece  of mystery code in the wrong place to a nuclear   missile launch. Let's do what the  governments can't in this situation - and   slow right down to pick  apart what's just happened.   Because this is how a regional crisis  can turn into a catastrophic war.

In the heat of a crisis with Russia, the US  detects malware in its early warning networks. Fearing it could be Russian code  aimed at disabling its systems,   it retaliates with a cyber intrusion  of its own into Russia's networks. Russia now fears its nuclear  capabilities are being threatened,   and scatters its land-based weapons  to avoid possible attack. When this is picked up by the US, Washington disperses  its own nuclear forces for the same reason.

Fearing an imminent nuclear attack, Russia fires  the ultimate warning shot - a small nuclear   missile against a target that would result in  minimal casualties, like a naval ship out at sea. You can conceive of first use of nuclear weapons  that literally kills no civilians and only a small   number of military personnel. The use of nuclear  weapons against a ship at sea, far from any land,   a military vessel -- you might only kill the  sailors on board that vessel and no civilians." While the immediate damage may be limited, this  crosses the threshold called "nuclear first   use. Whichever side does this, they've  made the situation deadly serious. Once you've crossed that threshold -- once nuclear  first use has happened -- you have to worry that   it's going to escalate into something that's  like truly apocalyptic civilization ending.  

And so the real goal for me is  to prevent any first use at all. We've just seen how a cyber intrusion can  escalate mercilessly into a nuclear conflict   that nobody wanted. Where things could go from  THERE is the stuff of nightmares. But there   are things the world could do now to prevent  such a disaster from happening in the future.   We'll look at those later. But  first… let's leave this realm of   scenarios and return to the real world  – and a war that has already happened.

It's late 2020 and war has broken out  in a place the world had forgotten.   A festering conflict has erupted  into full-scale fighting. Ground zero is Nagorno Karabakh… a  disputed region in the Caucasus mountains,   fought over by two former Soviet  republics: Armenia and Azerbaijan.

This looks like a textbook regional war – over  territory, over ethnic and national pride. Fought   while the rest of the world is consumed by the  pandemic, it doesn't get that much media coverage.   But for those who are paying attention,  it is a glimpse of future wars. You can find it right here, in the propaganda  pumping out from the start of the war. Azerbaijan's border patrol posts this video on  its YouTube account just as the conflict begins.

The lyrics are a rush of jingoistic fever,  with a mantra: "hate" for the enemy. But look carefully, and you'll see what makes  this conflict a watershed in modern war. Watch out for these trucks in the background. In this shot you can just about see what's inside. Then a launch, in slow motion. What emerges is not a rocket or a missile:  it has wings that are beginning to unfold   just before the video cuts away.

We can see enough to identify what this is. It's what's called a "loitering munition" from  Israel's state-owned defence manufacturer,   IAI. Its model name: the "Harop." The company's promotional videos show  what "loitering munitions" can do. Once launched, they fly – autonomously  – to a target area, where they can wait,   or "loiter" in the sky for hours, scanning  for a target – typically, air defence systems. Once they find a target, they don't drop a  bomb, but fly into it, to destroy it on impact.

It's earned them the nickname "kamikaze drones." In the war over Nagorno Karabakh,   these weapons didn't just make for good  propaganda. They made a real difference. Azerbaijan had spent years  investing in loitering munitions.   Analysis by a US think tank  showed that they had more than   200 units across four different models –  all of them sophisticated Israeli designs.

Armenia only had a single, domestically  made model with a limited range. "The really important aspect of the conflict  in Nagorno Karabakh, in my view, was the use of   these loitering munitions, so-called kamikaze  drones, these pretty autonomous systems." Ulrike Franke is one of Europe's  leading experts on military drones. They also had been used in some  way or form before, but here,   they really showed their usefulness,  militarily speaking, of course. It   was shown how difficult it is  to fight against these systems. As Azerbaijan celebrated victory,  you could even call Nagorno Karabakh   the first war that was won -- in  part -- by autonomous weapons.

Little wonder the Harop was on show that day.  And other militaries were paying attention. Since Nagorno Karabakh, since the  conflict, you could definitely   see a certain uptick in interest in loitering  munitions. We have seen more armed forces   around the world acquiring or wanting  to acquire these loitering munitions. The Nagorno Karabakh war amounted to a showcase   for autonomous weapons technology. With  a clear message: this is the future. 

It's a future that is coming at us fast. Ever  more advanced models are coming onto the market…   Designed to hit a wider range of targets… The manufacturer IAI even markets one of its  models with the slogan… "fire and forget." Fire and forget… think about that. Already,  today, autonomous weapons are being used to   find a target over long distances and  destroy it without human intervention.   And this revolution is just getting started  – turbocharged by artificial intelligence. In the United States, a major report  from a "national security commission"   on artificial intelligence talks  about AI enabling a "new paradigm   in warfighting" – and urges massive  amounts of investment in the field.

This isn’t all about autonomous weapons –  there are many other areas of the military   which will be using artificial intelligence. One area where we see a lot of AI-enabled  capabilities is in the realm of data analysis.   We are gathering so much data in military  operations. Another area, which I think is  

quite promising, but also still relatively  removed from the battlefield is logistics.   AI can definitely help to make this more  efficient, cheaper, better, easier, all of that. And fuelling all of this is an intensifying  global competition, which spans all the   way from these more prosaic fields to the  autonomous weapons we’re looking at today… The Chinese and the Russians have  made it very clear that they intend   to pursue the development of autonomous weapons Martijn Rasser, a former analyst at the CIA,   covers emerging weapons technology at  Washington's leading defence think tank and they're already investing heavily in the  research and development of those systems. It's not just the superpowers piling in. Britain's   new defence strategy also  puts AI front and centre. And as we've already seen, Israel is a  leader in the autonomous weapons field.

In fact, wherever you look, countries  of all sizes are jumping in.   No wonder there's talk of  this becoming an arms race. Germany's foreign minister Heiko Maas is  clear that that arms race is already underway. We're right in the middle of it. That’s  the reality we have to deal with.

If anything, this might go  deeper than an arms race AI is here to stay. And there is a belief  among the major powers that this could make a   difference on the battlefield in the future.  So they are frenetically investing in it. Indian Diplomat Amandeep Singh Gill is  the former chair of the UN government   experts' group on lethal autonomous weapons And this is a race, in a sense, which cuts across  the military and the civilian fields, because   there's also the sense that this  is a multitrillion dollar question.   It's about the future of resilient economies. That is what sets this new era apart from  arms races of the past. During the Cold War,   the development of nuclear weapons was driven  purely by governments and the defence industry.  

Beyond power generation, there wasn't much  commercial use for nuclear technology. Today, AI is rapidly entering our everyday  lives. It might even unlock the phone in your   pocket when you hold it up to your face.  This emerging ubiquity of AI important.   Because it means that developments  in AI cannot be contained – they   are bound to bleed across between civilian and  military fields -- whether we like it or not. AI is by definition dual use or multi use, it  can be used in all kinds of ways. It really  

is an enabler more than the technology. There  is a whole range of applications of artificial   intelligence in the civilian realm, from health  care to self-driving cars to all kinds of things. It means that something as innocuous as  a new year's celebration in Edinburgh   or St Patrick's Day in Dublin… can be  powered by similar swarming technology   to what the Indian army showed  off on its national day. In fact,  

swarming is one of the hottest areas of  autonomous weapons development right now. The US Navy has released  footage of early demonstrations.   Here, fighter jets drop over  100 tiny drones in mid-flight. Once they're out there, it's almost impossible  for the human eye to keep track of them. The whine of their motors -- almost  the only sign of the threat in the sky. 

Experts say they will make  highly effective weapons. You could take out an air defense  system, for example, by -- just   you throw so much mass at it and so many  numbers that the system is overwhelmed.   This, of course, has a lot of tactical  benefits on a battlefield. And no surprise,   a lot of countries are very interested  in pursuing these types of capabilities.

Not least the head of the body  advancing the US army's modernisation,   as he explained in an online think tank forum. Most likely drone swarms are something you're  going to see on the battlefield – on a future   battlefield. I don't think it's a matter  of if – as a matter of fact, I think we're   already seeing some of it – it's a  matter of when we begin to see it. And feeding the momentum of this potential  arms race - in order to fight these weapons,   you need these weapons.  Humans don't have a chance.

When you're defending against a drone swarm,  a human may be required to make that first   decision. But I'm just not sure that any  human can keep up with a drone swarm. This issue of speed gets us to a critical  emerging danger of autonomous weapons... The weapons we've seen so far are  capable of a high degree of autonomy.  

But they wouldn't be impossible for humans  to control. Even a "fire and forget" weapon   needs a human to fire it, and they're still  operating in a way that we can pretty much grasp. Now let's think ahead, a decade or two into  the future. That's a decade or two of rampant   technological development - and adoption  - of increasingly autonomous weapons. I think what is very likely that in  20 years' time we will have swarms   of unmanned systems, not even necessarily just  airborne drones -- it can also be ground systems,   surface vessels, etc. So different units operating  together and carrying out attacks together,   which does indeed require quite a  high level of AI-enabled autonomy To fight these systems, you will need these  systems. Because human beings are simply too slow.

This is what potentially may drive  an arms race that -- some actors may   be forced to adopt a certain level  of autonomy, at least defensively,   because human beings would not be  able to deal with autonomous attacks   as fast as would be necessary. So  speed is definitely a big concern here. And that could have fateful  consequences for how wars begin. We could find ourselves in a situation where  because of this this problem of speed and   autonomous systems having to be countered by  other autonomous systems, we could find ourselves   in a situation where these systems basically  react to each other in a way that's not wanted We've already seen something like  this on the financial markets.   The "flash crash" of 2010 wiped more than  a trillion dollars off the US stock markets   in just minutes. It was driven by  trading algorithms feeding off each other  

in a dizzying spiral. How it happened  is STILL not fully understood. In a flash crash, trading can  be halted to prevent disaster.   The risk with a "flash war" is that  there might be no pulling back. If the beginning is bad enough, it may not  even matter any more that the original event   wasn't supposed to be an attack  in the first place. You could have   a situation where the counterattack  is so bad that you end up in a war. Now, think back to Nagorno Karabakh -- a  regional war where autonomous weapons may   have tipped the balance. In a future  world with the risk of "flash war,"  

places like this could face even  more instability, even more conflict. We are moving in the world into a world where   systems will be more autonomous. But we need  to make sure that we minimize the risk of   unwanted escalation, of lethality decided  by machines without any human control. But how do we do that? How do we prevent  the worst? As we’re about to find out   the world is struggling to find a way We've just seen glimpses of a  future that nobody could want.  Of war spinning out of control. Even erupting out of nowhere.

These are not the nightmares of science fiction.  They're highly plausible outcomes of the rapid   technological development that’s happening now.  There is no way to stop the technologies we've   seen in this video. And we probably wouldn't want  to. There are many positive applications that   will come out of them. The urgent challenge  is to find ways to keep them under control. My fear is that there will  be more unpredictability   in how we get to armed conflict, so the  pathways to getting to the battlefield   won't be clear to policymakers. So they will  not understand fully the risks of certain  

actions or certain happenings, and that will  make the whole world a more dangerous place. Amandeep Singh Gill was at the centre of  United Nations efforts to try to get a   grip on autonomous weapons… a process that  critics say is on the brink of failure. This is where it all happens… The UN buildings  in Geneva. It’s here that delegates from UN   member states gather with experts and NGOs to  talk about the future of autonomous warfare. This process is part of what's called the UN  Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.  

A diplomatic tongue-twister launched in the  1980s to try to regulate non-nuclear weapons   that were deemed so dangerous that they  need special attention. Things like land   mines and blinding lasers. In 2014, lethal  autonomous weapons made it onto the agenda. It has been very slow going. The process has  yielded a set of " guiding principles" – saying   that autonomous weapons should  be subject to human rights law,   and that humans must have ultimate  responsibility for their use. But these "guiding principles" have no force…  they're just a basis for more discussions.  

For campaigners calling for a  ban, that's not good enough. We do get frustrated by the  delays that have happened   and the delay in moving from discussions  to actual negotiations of a new treaty.   The main problem with this forum is that it  operates by consensus. So meaning any one state  

can block progress and block that shift  from discussions and negotiations. Bonnie Docherty lectures on human rights  at Harvard Law School - and is also a   spokeswoman for the “Campaign to Stop Killer  Robots” – a high-profile coalition of NGOs.   She has mapped out principles  for an international treaty. The overarching obligation of the treaty should  be to maintain meaningful human control over the   use of force, and where it should be a treaty  that governs all weapons operating with autonomy   that choose targets and fire on them based  on sensor's inputs rather than human inputs. That idea of keeping "meaningful human  control" is broadly echoed by many countries,   but only 30 states support the campaign.  They're mostly smaller nations but include   one giant in the form of China. But  Beijing's true position is blurred.

China has called for a ban on, or expressed  support for a ban on USE, but has not,   to my knowledge, expressed support for a ban  on development and production. We believe that   you need to prohibit development as well as  use of these inherently problematic systems,   because once things are developed,  the genie is out of the bottle. And the other great military powers aren't  keen at all on those sorts of limitations   either. Russia is accused by  many of taking any opportunity   to thwart the Geneva talks. But there  are plenty of other objectors too. Russia has been particularly vehement in its  objections… Some of the other states developing   autonomous weapon systems such as  Israel, the US, UK and others have   certainly been unsupportive of a new treaty and  have expressed varying degrees of support for   actually continuing discussions. So those  are some of the roadblocks that we face.

As things stand, the US is  highly unlikely to support a ban.   Rather, it has set out its own principles,  which include human involvement. A ban on autonomous weapons systems is  essentially infeasible just because the technology   is out there. The Department of Defense has been  very clear about its commitment to ethical uses  

of these technologies, where right now the  position is that a human being has to be on   the loop or in the loop when those weapons are  used so that it won't be fully autonomous in   the sense that there won't be any human  interaction with these weapons systems. But the reality is that the US, China and Russia   are competing so intensely in all areas of AI  technology that it’s questionable whether any   of them would sign up to a treaty that  significantly limits what they can do. The large powers will have will  always have agendas. They want   freedom of manoeuvre. They think that they need  to have agency over technology development.   And sometimes they've been very sceptical  of the role of international organizations,   multilateral forums in understanding  and regulating technology.

Aside from the lack of interest from crucial  players… the challenge of tackling an intangible   technology like AI with the traditional tools  of “arms control” is genuinely difficult. A lot of the old ways of arms  control and arms control treaties   don't work anymore and don't apply anymore to  these systems, because we are to put it bluntly,   we're talking about software rather than hardware.  So a lot of arms control systems in the past   basically were about allocating a certain number  of systems. You were allowed one hundred warheads  

of this type and you were allowed one hundred  heads of this type. And we're basically counting.   You can't do this with the A.I. enabled  weapon systems that we were talking about,   because it doesn't matter what it looks  like from the outside. But what's in there. Germany has been quite active in trying  to navigate around these problems…   its foreign minister says that  the world has to find a way Just like we managed to do with nuclear weapons  over many decades, we have to forge international   treaties on new weapons technologies Heiko Maas is a member of Germany’s   social democrats and has been a  vocal advocate of arms control. They need to make clear that  we agree that some developments   that are technically possible are not  acceptable and must be prohibited globally. In fact the German government has laid  out its intention - in the document that   underpins the current coalition. It says "We reject autonomous weapons systems  

that are outside human control. We  want to prohibit them worldwide." That sounds pretty clear. But even this is  complicated. Germany for instance does not   support the Campaign to Stop Killer  Robots. It says there’s a better way.

We don’t reject it in substance –   we’re just saying that we want others to be  included the global controls that we would need   to ensure that autonomous  weapons systems don’t come into   use… So military powers that are  technologically in a position   not just to develop autonomous weapons but  also to use them. We need to include them. So this isn't just a debate about the  rights and wrongs of autonomous weapons.   It's also a debate about PROCESS. On the one hand, Germany says an agreement it  only worth anything if the big countries are   on board - they want that elusive  consensus in the Geneva process.  

On the other, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots   says the matter is too urgent to wait. They say  there's just time for one more round in Geneva. We feel that if states don't take action  by that point, that they should consider   strongly they should move outside of the  Convention on Conventional Weapons and   look at other options. So they could go to the UN  General Assembly to negotiate a treaty. They could   start an independent process, basically a  forum that is not bound by consensus, but is   guided by states that actually  are serious about this issue   and willing to develop strong standards  to regulate these weapon systems. There’s precedent for this… with land  mines, for example. In the 1990s,   the Geneva process couldn't find consensus.   Instead, more than 100 countries broke away  to create a ban called the "Ottawa Convention.

But the great powers didn't sign.  And more than 20 years later,   the US, Russia and China still  haven't joined the Ottawa Convention. It's a dilemma, isn't it? So you can  do away with the rule of consensus   and then you can have results  quickly, but they will not   have near universal support at the very least,  they will not have support from the countries that   are developing these capabilities. But through  the rule of consensus, you force those countries   to engage. So I think it's a choice that the  international community makes in these forums. So the world doesn't agree on what to do about  autonomous weapons. And it can’t even agree on  

HOW to agree on what to do about them. In this  situation, is there any prospect of a solution? In the end we may end up with rules or norms  or indeed agreements that are more focused   on specific uses and use cases rather  than specific systems or technology. So   where you basically agree, for example, to use  certain capabilities only in a defensive way,   or only against machines rather  than humans or only in certain   contexts. But as you can imagine, implementing  and, first of all, agreeing to that and then   implementing that is just much harder than  some of the old arms control agreements. Compounding this is the rock-bottom level  of trust between the major powers right now.   US-Chinese talks in Alaska in early 2021  descended into a bitter round of accusations.

When there is lack of trust, you tend to attribute  all kinds of intentions to the other party   and you tend to overestimate what they might  be doing and overshoot in your own response.   Today, frankly, the developments on the technology  front are actually adding to the mistrust. Preventing the kind of cyber disaster  we looked at earlier would REQUIRE the   great powers to cooperate. But as a first step,  there are things they could do independently. I think states need to think very carefully  about how their cyber operations could be   misinterpreted, in order to fully analyze  the benefits and risks before conducting   them. I think countries should adopt a rule that  before launching any cyber intrusions against  

nuclear command and control, including dual  use assets, including the stuff that's both   nuclear and conventional, that should have to  be signed off on by a Secretary of Defense or   a head of state as a way of ensuring  these things are not routine. Beyond that, the best we could  hope for might be a behavioral norm   agreed between the US, Russia and China –  that they would not launch cyber intrusions   against nuclear command and control systems. The idea would be that if you detected  another state in your network,   the deal was off and you could  go after their network. And so   in this way, you'd hope to enforce this  agreement through mutual deterrence.

But remember that problem of entanglement – of   systems involved in nuclear  and non-nuclear operations. That's going to make it potentially very  difficult to define what command and control   assets are included in this kind of pledge  and what command and control assets are   excluded as part of this plan. I mean,  you'd have to have some pretty kind of   difficult and sensitive negotiations that  I don't think states are ready for yet.

As the US, China and Russia slip deeper  into an era of "great power competition,"   the challenge will be to carve out areas  like this -- where they can put mutual   interest above the visceral drive to be on  top. THAT is the spirit of "arms control. You don't make arms control agreements with  your best friends and allies. You always,   by definition, you know, try to negotiate  them with your enemies. And this isn't  

exactly new… I don't I don't think  it's impossible that these players,   which are already opponents and may eventually  become even more adversarial, can come together   and agree on certain minimum requirements  simply because it is in everyone's interests. For Germany's foreign minister, the  whole world has responsibility here. The world must take an interest in the fact that  we’re moving towards a situation with cyber or   autonomous weapons where everyone can  do as they please. We don’t want that.

Climate change serves as an ominous  warning of what can happen when humanity   sees a common threat on the horizon  but FAILS to act in time to stop it. The Rio Summit kicked off the UN’s process of  talks to tackle climate change way back in 1992  It took 23 years to get to the Paris Agreement And it’s clear even THAT wasn’t enough  It's already too late to  prevent much of the devastation   that scientists predicted from the start. With the scenarios we've just seen --  the warning signs are just as clear,   and if anything even more urgent.

2021-06-05 14:08

Show Video

Other news