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Conflict increasingly blurs military and civilian dimensions as technology plays a more prominent role. Countries may now have to include public backlash in their war calculus. Globalized information means states can be culturally and economically isolated, and subjected to widespread international condemnation, at a scale never before seen - as the case of Russia following its invasion of Ukraine demonstrates. Though the inter-state conflict in Ukraine is conventional, states are increasingly losing their monopoly on war and violence, and often find themselves fighting non-state actors and ill-defined foes. Both state and non-state actors utilize overt and covert actions spanning the social, economic, and technological domains. Iran reportedly uses a network of Shia militias across the Middle East to exert influence and indirectly confront other countries, for example; Hezbollah is seen as Iran’s senior surrogate and a primary vector of influence, used against Israel and in the Syrian Civil War. Similarly, Russia has reportedly used hacktivists to influence US elections. Non-state actors also delegate to the surrogates they cooperate with, creating a complex web of actors difficult to understand or control. For example, Hezbollah is believed to provide training, technological, and operational support to other non-state actors such as the Houthis in Yemen. Technology is changing conflict in myriad ways. The increased prevalence of autonomous weapons and drones has altered the human, political, and economic costs of war. Meanwhile advances in neuro-technology are enabling human-machine combinations, with enhanced soldiers likely to appear on battlefields in the near future. Autonomous weapons raise serious ethical questions; soon they may be able to identify, select, and kill human targets with little or no human oversight. This creates a legitimate concern that they will fall into the hands of malicious actors. In fact, the algorithms behind automation can be easily copied and diffused around the world, and the low cost of easily-accessible drones is already enabling smaller players to inflict significant damage on traditional armed forces. For example, it is estimated that the Islamic State flew more than 300 drone missions in one month alone during the battle for Mosul in 2017. With the possibility of full autonomy looming, these attacks could become even more destructive and render traditional air defence systems ineffective. More importantly, the prospect of full autonomy implies potential technological surrogates - which could play a decisive role in future wars.

The Transformation of Warfare


International Security