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Monday, July 15, 2024

Role of emerging technologies in nuclear discourse

Technological developments helped in empowering people, increasing productivity, improving living standards, transforming societies and in medical and scientific domains. In broader terms, emerging technologies in the security domain can be used either to improve or disrupt the enemy’s command and control structure.

We are living in the fourth industrial revolution. On the basis of technological evolution, humanity progressed. Every new or advanced technology has impacted the stature of international security in one way or the other. Although there is no widely agreed-upon definition of “emerging technologies”, they could be simply described as “technologies whose development, practical applications, or both are still largely unrealized, such that they are figuratively emerging into prominence from a background of nonexistence or obscurity.”

Or they can be defined in terms of five main characteristics: 1) Radical novelty, 2) Relatively fast growth, 3) Coherence, 4) Prominent impact, and 5) Uncertainty and ambiguity. Emerging technologies can further be named as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Cybersecurity and Space, Robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D Printing, 5G Technology, nanotechnology, Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS) & hypersonic machines.

Read more: U.S. lowering nuclear threshold, says Russia

Understanding the matter better

As modernization and advancement played an important role in the politics of civilization, the impact of emerging technologies and their relevance in international security specifically the nuclear discourse has become vibrant and lately a topic of intense debate.

The United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, said in 2020 that the rapid advancement of technology is one of the most formidable security challenges we will face this century. Advancements in cybersecurity, AI and hypersonic technologies are somehow impacting the ways we think about nuclear deterrence, crisis stability and nuclear disarmament. This set of emerging technologies at once has produced both challenges and opportunities for the nuclear field. So, it can be assumed that the future of nuclear politics and nuclear deterrence will be dependent on the contours of emerging technologies.

Revolution in the field of nuclear technology brings the global nuclear order into constant flux. It has become certain that the extensive development of new technologies will affect the way of thinking in adopting the tenets of nuclear strategy and deterrence. New technologies with direct military applications are in development, including AI, quantum information technology, hypersonic missiles, directed energy, additive manufacturing, and biotechnology. How exactly these technologies will affect the future of warfare is still uncertain. The interplay of emerging technology in nuclear discourse can be categorized into two schools of thought: technology pessimists and technology optimists.

Technology pessimists are not sanguine about emerging technologies. According to them, these technologies will have destabilizing effects on the international security system. The emergence of new technology brought catastrophe in the shape of the world wars in 1914-1918 and 1939-1945. With the advent of technology, the dynamics of war have changed. Likewise, Nuclear dynamics change with advancement in the spheres of emerging technologies. It is said that with great power comes great responsibility but with advancement in the field of technology states have become more irresponsible in the context of devising policies, strategies, and doctrines.

Technological developments in one way or another are pushing the rival states towards a never-ending arms race. International actors are becoming more anarchic and selfish to avail technological dominance. Research in science and technology compacted nuclear bombs. Speed, delivery vehicles and payload change with the passage of time. The missile has taken its place under the water. Maneuverability has become much easier and timelier. By threatening an enemy’s secure, second-strike capabilities, these new technologies might undermine strategic stability. It can be assumed that with the emergence of new technologies, the chances of accidental or inadvertent use of nuclear technology have risen.

Read more: Russia notifies US of expected nuclear exercises

This does not stop here, however. It would not be justified to become ignorant of the advantages, that emerging technologies bring out. According to the technology optimist, the introduction of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Quantum technology, and Cyber and Machine Learning (ML) in developing the security architecture of international systems are also proving beneficial and responsible for innumerable developments.

Technological developments helped in empowering people, increasing productivity, improving living standards, transforming societies and in medical and scientific domains. In broader terms, emerging technologies in the security domain can be used either to improve or disrupt the enemy’s command and control structure. It can have a stabilizing effect on nuclear deterrence but these stabilizing effects are often ignored in favor of a more alarmist view.

Likewise, the employment of cyber means might also raise questions about the reliability and integrity of nuclear weapon systems. The jamming of communication channels could restrict a state’s ability to launch a weapon or maintain the command and control of systems. Moreover, precision-guided hypersonic missiles and lethal autonomous weapons are the best alternatives to the traditional delivery mechanism. These weapons can be used to strike the enemy’s key military targets with pinpoint accuracy at hypersonic speed.

In addressing the world’s energy, health, and agricultural needs; Nuclear technology is playing an essential role. The revolution in civil nuclear technology impacts every aspect of life and has proven itself as a guarantor of national security, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.

The way forward

The most important feature of peaceful nuclear technology in the energy sector is an environment-friendly, economical, and clean source of energy. Energy experts in Pakistan have emphasized the need to unleash the potential benefits of nuclear technology and reduce dependence on fossil fuels, which are way too costly. Pakistan has been significantly expanding the role of nuclear power as an affordable alternative to fossil fuels to contain its looming energy crisis.

Read more: Pakistan Army assures safety of nuclear assets

At present, countries are best equipped to take advantage of or to mitigate the risks posed by emerging technologies, if they keep on sharing the information with good practices. If technologies are utilized under human intelligence and centralized human control this could become stabilizing, which in turn will help to manage and resolve technology-related critical issues between potential rivals.

However, with potential advantages and disadvantages associated with emerging technologies, there is a need for a global effort to establish a regulatory framework to reduce the risks posed by advanced technologies, more specifically in the military domain. Emerging technologies are fast developing, by creating an environment of responsibilities, the approach can help states to develop a normative-based culture that will be more beneficial and favorable for the international security environment.


The writer is a Senior Research Officer at the Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS), Islamabad. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.