Driving Forces and Amplifiers
The Forum’s year-long consultations on international security identified seven key driving forces of change in the international security landscape (see Box 2.4). They are highly interconnected, each interacting with and affecting the others. From the seven, two stand out as warranting more detailed discussion: technological innovation and natural resources and climate management. They are not only drivers in their own right, but also significant amplifiers of the others.
Box 2.4: The Seven Driving Forces of International Security
Technological innovation: Emerging technologies create challenges, but also opportunities to solve them.
Resources, climate management and security: Tensions are raised by growing competition over access to resources including energy, water and food.
Efficient governance: Corruption and lack of transparency or rule of law limits the progress of development and destabilizes societies.
Geo-strategic competition: Shifts in economic and political power and weakened mutual trust lead great powers to compete for influence, often creating competing spheres of influence.
Demographic shifts: Countries may struggle with bulges of youth or elderly populations, or with rapid influxes of migrants.
Social cohesion and trust: Fuelled by inequality, feelings of social exclusion, mistrust and marginalization threaten social stability.
Hybrid and asymmetric threats: More complex threats, indistinct adversaries and “black swans” are arising from a more interconnected world.
Technological Innovation and International Security
From longbows to gunpowder, nuclear weapons, airplanes and drones, the history of international security is also the history of technological innovation,16and the history of humanity is defined by war, and war by the people who fight it and how they fight it.17The Fourth Industrial Revolution will profoundly affect our security, physically and virtually. Previous industrial revolutions have advanced human development but they also precipitated violent transfers of power. Technological innovation will continue to influence how conflicts arise, who fights them, where they are fought and how they are settled.
Some ways in which new technologies will impact international security in the coming 15 years can already be anticipated: for example, improved capacity to 3D-print weapons from digital templates and new possibilities for biological and chemical weapons. However, technologies are fusing in increasingly unpredictable ways, and potential nefarious uses are not always immediately apparent. Even if they were, innovation quickly outpaces the capacity for regulatory oversight. Breakthroughs in a range of technologies – from robotics to nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, genome sequencing, human advancements or meta materials – could destabilize security and shift balances of power.
Until recently, the ability to inflict large-scale damage required either armies of people or sophisticated equipment, such as nuclear weapons, effectively available only to states. With the Fourth Industrial Revolution,18large-scale damage is possible for small groups and even individuals working from home computers or labs. Existing tools to prevent the escalation of disputes – treaties, conventions, or doctrines such as “mutually assured destruction” – are of questionable use when destructive capacity is no longer limited to a handful of entities with broadly similar resources, tactics and interests in preventing escalation.
The internet has opened a new frontier in warfare: everything is networked and anything networked can be
hacked.19The “dark net” has become a trading place fuelling insecurity. Every future conflict will have a cyber element, and some may be fought entirely in cyberspace. Given that attack is easier than defence in cyberspace, this will dramatically change how the entire security apparatus prepares for potential breaches. Physical distance no longer offers protection; many technologies are dual-use; much critical infrastructure is privately owned; and attacks are easy to disguise given the challenges of attribution. Social media is already a significant tool in hybrid warfare,20offering a new means for all sides to a conflict to conduct cy-ops and psy-ops,21including scare tactics, recruitment and fundraising.22
The seabed and space are both also likely to become increasingly militarized, as more and more actors – state and commercial – have gained the ability to send up satellites or mobilize unmanned underwater vehicles capable of disrupting fibre-optic cables and satellite traffic. Off-the-shelf quadcopter drones are already being used by gangs to spy on and attack rivals. Autonomous weapons, capable of identifying targets and deciding to open fire without human intervention, will become increasingly feasible, challenging the laws of war.
Natural Resources, Climate Change and International Security
Climate change is expected to amplify existing security problems and create new ones. As explored in Part 1, the world will increasingly feel its effects: extreme weather events including prolonged high temperatures and droughts, freak storms and floods, and rising sea levels threatening coastal cities and island countries are expected to occur more frequently and at greater scale, touching many countries, especially those already grappling with poverty, fragility and ineffective governance.
The likely impact of climate change on food security, explored in depth in Part 3, is another channel of impact on the international security landscape. As wells dry up, crops and fisheries fail, and people lose their livelihoods, simmering tensions between social groups are more likely to boil over into community violence. Armed non-state actors, including insurgencies and terrorist groups, will be able to leverage this new source of insecurity as an additional grievance on which to build their narratives, finding new recruits among those made destitute.
Stresses on water and food could contribute to rising tensions among states. Trade may be interrupted by the hoarding of commodities, local populations can object to foreign control of arable land, and arguments may erupt over rights to draw water from rivers and aquifers that cross borders.
Interstate tensions are also likely to be stoked by an increase in migration into countries less affected by the changing climate. Environmental stresses will accelerate migration across borders and also to cities, putting additional stress on urban infrastructure in many countries. Cities will need to find new tools and policies to manage security risks.