Arms Race and Emerging Global Military Trends By Talat Masood

The Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad recently organised a webinar on emerging global military trends and its impact on national security. Eminent speakers from Pakistan and abroad participated and gave their perspective on this very vital subject. As the world experiences rapid technological advances, its impact in the field of defence was inevitable and is significantly influencing the nature of warfare. Indeed, the greatest effect of these rapid developments is pertinent in the context of major powers — the US, Russia, China and major European countries. But with India in the race to compete with China and ambitions of regional hegemon, it is only logical to assume that it would also aspire to stay abreast with these developments and incorporate these in its inventory sooner than later. In fact, India has already contracted major weapons deals with the US, Russia and Israel, stepping up its indigenous capability. Pakistan would make sure that it is not left behind and will have to invest in these technologies despite having a relatively less developed technological and industrial base and despite experiencing a major financial crisis.

There are now multiple centres of power that are influenced by how they perceive their threat and take defensive measures accordingly. This gives rise to other powers reacting, keeping in view the nature of the threat they visualise from these developments. It has been experienced that militarily powerful countries prefer pre-emption as opposed to deterrence. But this is only undertaken when the aggressor is reasonably certain that the opponent is weak and will not be in a position to recover and retaliate. According to experts, building the capability for pre-emption gives a sense of confidence to the aggressor that increases the potential for conflicts.

Modern warfare is being largely influenced by rapid technological advances, and artificial intelligence (AI) is playing a critical role in it. Pakistan, besides getting support from China in this field, is also developing its indigenous capability but this is a field that requires a solid scientific and technological base that developing countries find hard to muster.

Speakers during a Zoom meeting highlighted the impact of information warfare and how non-traditional military trends are influencing warfare. The development of cyber technology has introduced a totally new dimension in warfare. It has the ability to shut down the offensive and defensive systems and the command-and-control systems. Major powers are trying to build effective systems to counter these threats but the threat scenario is getting complex and defensive measures more elaborate. The proliferation of hypersonic missiles has escalated warfare to another level and changed deterrence calculations. National security is now a combination of both soft and hard power where the former is being used more extensively. In essence, national security conceptualisation, as the speaker rightly emphasised, is multidimensional and covers military, non-military, traditional and non-traditional features.

The Russian delegate was of the view that digital technology has grown during recent years and represents 4% to 5% of the global GDP. And civilian high-tech sector has the potential of affecting the security of a state and should be taken seriously. The US would not allow 5G technology developed by China fearing that it would compromise national security. The digital arms race is now another front that major powers would try resolutely to stay ahead. It is in a way an extension of the technology race wherein major powers, while trying to stay ahead in existing technological and scientific framework, would be exploring new frontiers.

Technology determines economic supremacy and provides an edge in defence capabilities. The progress in all these weapon and allied systems is dependent on the strength of the country’s educational, industrial and R&D infrastructure. It is understandable that the US would deny China any access to high cutting-edge technologies, but experience shows that such denial leads to indigenous development and strengthening of a country’s R&D capability. Pakistan developed its conventional and nuclear defence infrastructure when it was under severe US and Western sanctions. Notwithstanding, since the early sixties to date, China’s assistance in the defence field and its role in establishing an industrial infrastructure and providing technical know-how has been invaluable.

It was highlighted by the speakers that “while inter-state and intra-state conflict has been on decline, the space between war and peace is not empty”. Furthermore, lines between foreign and domestic, national and international wars have been blurred. Countries in future warfare will focus on speed, information warfare and AI. Hybrid warfare is what the nations would also be focusing on. The decision-making process will have to be fast, putting extraordinary pressure on the military and civilian leadership. The speaker was of the view that kinetic engagements would be less as the focus is to weaken the enemy through other means and long-term engagements. These tactics we are already witnessing in respect of the US-Russia, US-China and India-Pakistan rivalry. A nation which is democratic, united and has a strong economy along with motivated armed forces would be in a better position to ward off these threats.

In order to counter India’s build-up of integrated offensive and defensive systems, including hypersonic missiles, Pakistan would have to take effective remedial measures. Speakers emphasised the importance of organisational reforms, upgrading command and control structures, developing doctrines compatible with fast-changing technological developments and the introduction of new technologies.

At another level, we witnessed the Taliban seizing power while the Afghan military collapsed despite having the support of the US with modern weapons, intelligence and training. It only confirms how critical the leadership and motivational factor is in times of war and internal conflicts. Victory to the Taliban has come at a huge cost. Thousands of their fighters have been killed and wounded, and the people of Afghanistan have experienced indiscriminate terrorist attacks. The US that had spent over a trillion dollars and lost a few thousand soldiers in Afghanistan is not willing to provide any assistance to the Taliban-led government that is facing the worst economic and humanitarian crisis. These are the ironies and tragedies of conflicts and wars.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 27th, 2021.​

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