Global Security Challenges in 2023: The Indian view

  • Security
  • 1 Years ago
  • 3 min read
India,  Security,  challenges

© NatStrat

Sundeep Waslekar
Sundeep Waslekar - President, Strategic Foresight Group

While geopolitical threats from Pakistan and China are bound to remain India’s primary security challenges in the 2020s, it would be wise for the country to be prepared for new challenges on the horizon. These include threats arising from emerging technologies, climate change, terrorism, and economic fault lines.

The growing application of emerging technologies by advanced countries including the United States, Russia and China in their militaries is bound to dominate the global threat scenarios in 2023 and beyond. These technologies are Artificial Intelligence (AI), cybertechnology, space technology, and biotechnology.

"The risk of either accidental or intentional use of emerging technologies in a war of the 2020s is quite real."

The application of AI in early warning systems can be manipulated, while the AI application in NC3 (Nuclear command, control, and communications), which is currently ambiguous, can be dangerous. At the same time, the use of AI in biotechnology has given rise to the risk of a new generation of biological weapons of mass destruction. If AI is used in nuclear weapons, their early warning and delivery systems, and new types of biological weapons, the human race could become extinct, along with other life forms, in a global war.

AI refers to the ability of machines to mimic human behaviour using machine learning and automation. It processes huge amounts of data at tremendous speed. As a result, time for decision-making is reduced significantly. Another characteristic of the military use of AI is stealth - making it difficult to detect threats, particularly cyber threats to command-and-control systems.

The dual capability of biotechnology has three dimensions. The first is gene-editing with CRISPER CAS 9 which enables scientists to modify genes before the birth of a child. If it were to be used for gene-line manipulation, an entirely new type of population could be created. The second is synthetic biology which enables scientists to produce life in a laboratory. Thus, a new kind of pathogen can be created with artificial intelligence, with properties either beneficial or dangerous for humankind. The third is creating a chimera which enables scientists to blend human genes with the genes of other species, giving birth to a new kind of life. Scientists are experimenting with these three types of innovations with a view to service humankind by eliminating certain types of disease and creating sources of human organs which are currently in short supply. However, there is a risk of some of these experiments going wrong and resulting in the generation of biological weapons or a Frankenstein, either by intent or accident.

"India needs to undertake a comprehensive audit of its AI, biotechnology and cybertechnology capabilities."

The combination of these technologies will give rise to new types of weapons and threats in the 2020s including hypersonic missiles which determine their own trajectory to evade radars, lethal autonomous weapons which can destroy radars, unmanned submarines capable of launching nuclear attacks from a submerged position, swarms of drones, cyber-attacks against nuclear facilities, cyber-attacks for the manipulation of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) systems, the production of deadly pathogens and biological agents, among others.

The risk of either accidental or intentional use of emerging technologies in a war of the 2020s is quite real. The danger of such a war very quickly expanding to the whole world and destroying human civilization is inconceivable but real. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has been reiterating that humanity is one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation.

In order to respond to these threats, India needs to undertake a comprehensive audit of its AI, biotechnology and cybertechnology capabilities. It is necessary to initiate such an audit immediately and create a process of monitoring progress on a continuous basis. Simultaneously, it will be necessary to monitor developments with regards to emerging technologies and their application to the military in other countries. Second, India should also carefully assess its options if a future war between China and the United States extends to the lower geosynchronous orbit leading a path to Star Wars. If China sees India as the US ally, whether it will use A-Sat weapons against Indian satellites is a question to be examined before a crisis occurs. Third, India should carefully evaluate its options in advance, if nuclear weapons, especially in combination with AI, are used in the Ukraine war, the Korean-US discord, and the China-US conflict. These are the three potentially most dangerous hotspots in the world. A serious scenario planning exercise needs to be undertaken by the National Security Council Secretariat, involving the Integrated Defence Staff, Ministry of External Affairs, and the Cabinet Secretariat. India also needs to examine if it can play a useful diplomatic role in ending the Ukraine conflict, which is the most immediately plausible theatre of conflict, as the main protagonists are not on talking terms. India has very wisely pursued a neutral stance which provides it equidistant from the United States and Russia. The chairmanship of G-20 can provide India the moral authority for undertaking such a mediation endeavour. Fourth, India needs to work towards a new global treaty to prohibit the use of emerging technologies such as AI for production or operation of the weapons of mass destruction. Currently, such a regime regulating the use of emerging technologies does not exist. India should not take any unilateral measures in this regard. However, India should certainly use its political capital for a global diplomatic initiative with an objective to create a universal non-discriminatory and comprehensive agreement. If India does not take the lead, it faces the risk of a discriminatory regime being imposed by the big powers.

The efforts to create a new regime for preventing destructive uses of emerging technologies is not a naive proposal. It is in the interest of states to aggrandise their interests. It would be therefore natural to think in terms of expanding India’s capabilities in the military application of emerging technologies, in tune with India’s growing economic and political footprint, rather than making efforts to shape a beneficial and benign international global security architecture. However, it is also in the interests of states that humanity survives and does not become extinct because of wars managed by algorithms and machines. If there is no humanity, there are no states. Therefore, saving the world from future wars of extinction is a pragmatic necessity and not a Utopian dream.

(Exclusive to NatStrat)


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