Peace through Tech Strength: Renewed Security Dilemma of 21st Century

George Washington, the first American President abided by the principle of “peace through strength” and recognized the truth of the dictum in his inaugural address that, “if you want peace, prepare for war”. In the discourse of international politics, security through the military is a pivot of the national power along with the supremacy in diplomatic affairs, information and economics. Peace through strength is a concept associated with realpolitik, suggesting that military power can help preserve peace; similarly, the backing for the argument of having military supremacy is embedded in the claim that it is essential to subdue the existential threats to a nation-state. The role of science and technology is equally deep-rooted in national security, as the advancement in technology provides a competitive edge to one actor; it poses threats to others and increases their vulnerabilities. There is a tacit understanding that the technological advancement is carried out by nations for their military dominance and history is evident that trebuchets, oceanic navigation, gunpowder, mechanical artillery, and atomic bombs etc. were the technological innovations carried out by the nations to enhance their military power and intimidate their adversaries.

There are numerous examples in recent past that supporting the argument, such as German’s naval buildup was a response to Britain’s naval supremacy, the domino effect and proliferation of nuclear weapons was a reaction to the security dilemma nation-states faced from their adversaries, and similarly, the USA space exploration program was a rejoinder to the Soviet Union space endeavours. However, all these technological advancements carried out by nation-states stimulated their competitors for tech innovation, leading to a tech-led arms race. The concept of Revolution in Military Affairs of the US was a response to the Soviets’ Military Transformation Revolution, which augmented the hostilities and animosities of the cold war. There is a clear pattern of spiralling security dilemma from the advancement in science and technology and due to its application in militaries and incorporation in the national power.

End of 20th century was the beginning of new realms of war and conflicts among nation-states, due to technological evolution and its application in military affairs, such as cyberspace, information technology, robotics, space hegemony, digital economy and biotechnology. With the beginning of the 21st century, technology has become a driving force and a defining characteristic of the dominant power. These aforementioned technological innovations and their application in military affairs of countries like the USA, China, and Russia etc. is a perfect example of this case in point. Technologically advanced nations, possessing unconventional weaponry generally become a threat to those who don’t possess such capabilities while also provides a defensive edge to the former one; however; it stimulates the latter one to compete for the former to maintain its sovereignty and status-quo in its territory. In every other generation, humans develop new technologies that alter the nature of warfare and pose fresh challenges for those seeking to reduce the frequency, destructiveness, and sheer misery of violent conflict. Thus, a notion of disequilibrium in the balance of power between actors emerges by one actors’ technological superiority.

Today, a completely new array of technologies like cyber weapons, Artificial intelligence (AI), Robotics, Hypersonic missiles and planes, Autonomous Leather Weapon Systems and space assistance for militaries are being implemented by the nation-states as their force-multipliers and it ultimately has far-ranging consequences for technologically inferior nations. As the former US Deputy Secretary of Defence, Mr Robert Work stated that “we are in the midst of an ever-accelerating and expanding global revolution in AI and machine learning, with enormous implications for future economic and military competitiveness.” The US Department of Defence has allocated a huge sum of resources for the technological innovations like AI, robotics, cyber and autonomous weapons to maintain its leading role as the dominant military power, have a competitive advantage in the battlefield and preserve global peace through technological strength.

Similarly, China and Russia have earmarked huge sums of capital and human resources in the military technological advancement that indicates the beginning of a renewed tech-led arms race. China has introduced a series of defence industrialization and innovation strategies with an objective to “catch-up with the global military-technological state-of-the-art base while leveraging civil-military integration to overcome entrenched barriers to innovation, and to provide advanced weapons platforms, systems, and technologies that would enable the People Liberation Army’s transformation into a digital fighting force for the protection of China’s core national security interests beyond national borders.” Similarly, in 2012 Russia has established Advanced Research Foundation (ARF), which focuses on “R&D of high-risk, high-pay-off technologies in areas that include hypersonic vehicles, artificial intelligence, additive technologies, unmanned underwater vehicles, cognitive technologies, directed energy weapons, and others.” These developments hint towards the competitive strategies adopted by the dominant powers to attain a competitive advantage.

In the 21st century, China, Russia, and the United States continue to pursue the development, acquisition, deployment and exercising of new technologies as means to create advantages and influence events or the strategic choices of their competitors. As the US secretary of defence, Michael Griffin said, “our adversaries are presenting us today with a renewed challenge of a sophisticated, evolving threat, we are in turn preparing to meet that challenge and to restore the technical overmatch of the United States armed forces that we have traditionally held.”

Connectivity through cyberspace is becoming pervasive and it has created an entirely new domain of warfare by way of ‘cyberspace’ and put warfare on the cusp of an epochal shift from the conventional to an information-based virtual contest. The nascent domain of cyber warfare has far-fetched implications for the national security, the safety of critical infrastructures and digital life of civilians, which is why great military powers like China, Russia, UK, Israel, India and USA etc. are improving their offensive and defensive capabilities in the realm of cyberspace and instituting the cyber armies or cyber commands. Application of cyberspace in militaries result as the force multiplier and provides a competitive strategic advantage to the militaries in terms of informational supremacy, lifting the fog of war, and augmenting their conventional military power. Developing countries like Vietnam, South Korea and India are enacting cybersecurity policies and establishing national cyber defence systems by overcoming their technical competence and raising public awareness about cyber threats. These developments pose a serious threat to the national security of Pakistan, as a recent report by ISPR stated that “an intelligence Agencies have identified a major cyber-attack by Indian Intelligence Agencies involving a range of cybercrimes including deceitful fabrication by hacking personal mobiles and technical gadgets of government officials and military personnel”. Such incursions redouble the need for securing our national cyberspace from the asymmetrical threat. It also highlights the dire need of the country to start exploring the potential of these technologies for securing the national interests of Pakistan. Thus, it is essential for developing countries like Pakistan to shore up their cybersecurity through formulating a comprehensive cyber strategy and incorporating the domain in their national security edifice.

Although AI and Robotics or mechatronics are different fields, their symbiotic models are the outcome of 21st-century high-end technology and they are in practice in battlefields. Before the debate of the incorporation of these screen-age technologies in military affairs, a brief overview is necessary. Vision 2020 and 2025 of US military included the incorporation of AI for offence and defence purposes, which highlights the significance of technology in military affairs. AI or machine learning is the considered central to fourth industrial revolution and fusion among physical and digital technologies, but for case in point, its offensive and defensive incorporation are concerned which is revolutionizing the military affairs. Assimilating AI with ballistic and theatre missile defence systems, its application in situational awareness and target recognition, integration with battlefield healthcare robots, and in logistical support during a combat operation signifies the strength a single technology can bring for a nation’s military force.

In a broader sense, the determination underlying the use of AI and Robotics are automation and autonomy in that automation which is also term as ‘cognification’ of the machine. In the military domain, automation can lead to efficiency and autonomy of robots bring on precision in targeting for defence and offence. Contours of prevailing military innovations of technology also illustrate an inkling of the practice of robots in the battlefields but in the near future, a battlefield will be a ditgital encounter.

Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS) and surveillance systems operating on AI algorithms remained the cause of disagreement in the scholarship of Social Sciences in the 21st century. Big-data sets are now used for strategic analysis to draw patterns and coefficients for military assistance using AI algorithms. Network-based surveillance programs like US National Security Agency’s ‘Prism’ or Israeli Defense Forces ‘Pegasus’ or China’s manifestation of AI in police goggles for face recognition are the practical examples where nations use AI for defence and strategic purposes. America’s Future Combat System of vehicles and Britain’s Future Rapid Effect System are particularly relevant here. The tanks they are to replace, the Abrams and Challenger 2, respectively, have proven too unwieldy in places like Kosovo in 1999.

“Unmanned vehicles are ubiquitous in both visions of the transformed military and the most recent armed conflicts.” As a semi-autonomous robot, UAV acted as the cornerstone of the current revolution in military affairs and added precision and ease for land, naval and air power at the same time. Their manufacturing cost much less than alternatives and it can be built in any size depending on the ambit of use. Moreover, it could be equipped with any sort of sensors or payloads and used in dangerous environments or terrain. A UAV was designed by the United States can keep flying for one year and a similar project of 5 years is also in progress. UAVs ability “to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance” increase its significance in integration to the military.


In its relation to networks, where robotics meet AI and Cyberspace, drones can be used for autonomously attacking networks or targeting a specific type of vehicle or perform other-directed actions. In Gulf War 1991, UAV was used for the first time in the battlefield and its success led it widespread adoption of technology as seen in Operation Iraqi Freedom where ten different types of UAVs were used later. “These were praised for enabling time-critical strikes in Iraq against surface-to-air missile (SAM) launchers, their support vehicles, and a large number of enemy tanks.” Being an inspiration for militaries of the world in modernization and advancement, US military is now looking forward to developing autonomous and semi-autonomous robotic systems of offence and defence, such as it was stated that F-35 is the last manned combat vehicle of US military and its future models will be unmanned.

Robotics is the significant constituent of the 21st-century militaries and its manifestations in military doctrines, tactics and strategies are adding value to the overall transformation occurring from cyber and outer space.

Although the race to reach outer space and land on the moon is a half-century-old saga but it has a completely different side, which explicates the ambit of these outer-space missions as “future military operations.” In terms of tech innovation in military affairs, outer space is an addition of the fifth realm in the battlefield, next to land, airspace, and water and cyberspace, therefore it is deemed as a critical component of modern joint warfare. An interdependence between all types of armed forces was believed to be the modern doctrine and outer space (due to its far-fetched advantages in the military) is a crucial component of this symbiosis. States consider it as a “decisive factor and force multiplier in military operations against a rival state.”

Satellites were a revolution for military forces due to myriad reasons but with the pace of time pace of technology also changed and in 21st century, we at a verge of nuclearizing space because its militarization has already been started, such as the development of killer satellites and spy satellites. By this pace, and US President Trump aspired, there will be military forces out in the space with weapons of mass destruction.

Contemporary role of outer space in the transformation of military affairs is significant because it provided militaries with geographic imagery and assisted in mapping at first, but now it provides a real-time live feed of any place all around the globe and satellites are equipped with high-resolution lenses that they can capture the footage of a paper lying in a parking lot and this kind of assistance to land, sea, air or network-centric military operations will turn war ground into a video game.

According to an analyst “the coming military revolution will witness the militarization of space, with warfare occurring in space as well as on land, at sea and in the air.” With the emergence of platform threats also emerge (as mentioned before in terms of cyberspace and cyber warfare), same is the case with outer space. Space operations could vary from simple information hack to satellites jamming signals and others to knock out rival ones but there are speculations that these threats will grow in near future and satellites will be laser-equipped at some point in time.

The space race began in times of Cold War and satellites were sent to enhance communication system, missile-launch alarming system, radar, GPS, signals and weather forecasting that complimented the planning and operational phase of militaries. However, modernization in space in terms of military affairs could be assessed by the development of Ballistic Missile Defence Systems (BMD), Antisatellite weapons (ASAT), surveillance and espionage competencies are an area of concern.

However, India is the only developing country getting ahead in this space race. Its ambitions to secure its presence in outer space was realized when it launched dozens of satellites in the year 2018. Besides, the United States while having a nuclear deal with India also agreed to bolster the space competencies of the country. This is not merely a secondary deal but it is part of India’s military tech advancement agenda, which in the present day could not be completed without having outer space capabilities.

It has also been speculated by military analysts that the civilian space programs of India can open any backdoors for the military and security and key purpose of this modernization was depicted as the establishment of C4ISR capability. If changing the strategic balance and alliances of the region’s three nuclear powers are observed this militarization seems inevitable and in the near future. A chain-reaction or domino effect, similar to Nuclearization of this region, is at the verge of occurring wherein great power competition of USA and China, India becomes insecure in domains of cyberspace and outer space and started revolutionizing its military. This domino effect doesn’t end with India’s militarization but it instigates insecurities for Pakistan whose primary adversary is perceived as India, but due to inadequacy abilities, Pakistan relies on China’s assistance in the matter.

For a country having geography like Pakistan with a hostile neighbouring adversary India, it is an alarming situation for Pakistan because India’s defence budget graph is hiking every year with its rank in arms export and it’s indigenous conventional and non-conventional military build-up programs. According to a most celebrated scholar of Security Studies, Scott Sagan theorizes that in an anarchic world order states acquire nuclear weapons to safeguard their countries; both Pakistan and India are nuclear powers and hail the idea of nuclear deterrence for protection of their homelands due to absence of any central authority, which tend to regulate the state of affairs.

India’s intentions to purchase nuclear weapons were exposed first in 1974 but it intended to protect their sovereignty after the defeat in 1962 Sino-Indian war. Few scholars also render India’s move as general lust for power, however, others assert that it was due to “the primary pressure from India’s nuclear and defence scientists who want to prove, against most evidence to date, they are world-class. But for Pakistan, the primary driver appears to be a fear of India’s superior conventional force”. Given that, Pakistan was unaware of India’s intentions to acquire nuclear capability at first and when it was publicized Pakistan was compelled by fear to respond to this arms race. Hence, Pakistan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons was to deter its nuclear adversary and to avoid the security dilemma.

The spiralling tech-led arms race between India and Pakistan developed an irreversible nuclear threat for the whole region and beyond, which is also known as “security paradox’. In this situation, both actors tend to increase their security through tech innovation and its application for their armament which results in the form of regional insecurity. This arms race encourage other states in the surrounding for the proliferation of weapons and military buildups, which at the end of the day results in the decline of former’s security.

India’s military shopping spree and its defence partnerships with technologically advanced nations like the USA, Israel and Russia are spurring a security dilemma for Pakistan and it is also the underlying reason for increased stockpiling of nuclear warheads and advancement in the delivery capability systems. Indian agenda to modernize their military is more advance than Pakistan and due to its Make in India 2025 initiative and undertaking of spending $100billion on defence makes Indian military advancement and application of aforementioned emerging technologies in the military affairs is inevitable in near future.

“Advanced military technology, including modern combat aircraft and ballistic and cruise missiles, are deployed alongside rising defence budgets of India.” This tech-led armament is in line with 21st century’s modernization in networks, space and robotics, which also advances the Indian conventional military capabilities.

According to a study, to technology-led military modernization especially in case of India is spiralling into a security dilemma for Pakistan in particular and region in general, which is paving a path for the vertical as well as horizontal armament and tech-led military modernization of both countries. It was also deduced that this dilemma is sprouting numerous other vulnerabilities for Pakistan and diminishing the significance of nuclear deterrence due to asymmetry in warfare.

Morgenthau, the chief proponent of the realist school of thought in the discipline of International Relations also claims that states only serve their national interests, and notions of socially constructed norms and legal rubrics don’t serve to restrain the sovereign states from fulfilling their self-interest which is the root cause of this anarchic world order. Therefore, it is understandable that there is a persistent existential (security) threat faced by all nation-states in this setting.

Although to some, peace is merely a utopia, the struggle to sustain peace is as old as the first human settlement. Since the beginning of human civilization, mankind has experienced myriad existential threats in form of external risks stemming from non-human sources like volcanic eruptions and cyclones etc. but the other threat to human survival is posed by the coercive use of science and technology such as atomic or hydrogen bombs and other weapons of mass destruction. The idea of gathering national and military power and deterring the foes by employing advance technologies is a misstep in the human progression, as we discussed above, and it leads to the mutual security dilemma instead of reassurance. It is apparent that the proliferation of these technologies is destabilizing strategic environment and contributing in an “unending arms race”.

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Awais Siddique
About Awais Siddique 5 Articles
Assistant Editor TAT and Digital Editor at Melange International Magazine