How can we best conceptualize AI and military technological change in the context of nuclear weapons? The concept of ‘strategic stability’ emerged in the latter half of the twentieth century, and despite being theoretically and politically contested to this day, it has proven a useful intellectual tool for analyzing the potential of new, powerful, and technically advanced weapons undermine stability. The concept entered into the nuclear lexicon during the early 1950s and is inextricably connected to the strategic thinking and debates that surrounded the ‘nuclear revolution,’ including: how a nuclear war might be fought, the requirements and veracity of credible deterrence, the potential risks posed by pre-emptive and accidental strikes, and how to ensure the survivability of retaliatory forces. In short, strategic stability provides an over-arching theoretical framework for understanding the nature of security in the nuclear age.
Artificial intelligence and the future of warfare offers an innovative and counter-intuitive study of how and why AI-infused weapon systems will affect the strategic stability between nuclear-armed states. The book demystifies the hype surrounding AI in the context of nuclear weapons and, more broadly, future warfare. It highlights the potential, multifaceted intersections of this and other disruptive technology – robotics and autonomy, cyber, drone swarming, big-data analytics, and quantum communications – with nuclear stability. Anticipating and preparing for the consequences of the AI-empowered weapon systems is, therefore, fast becoming a critical task for national security and statecraft. The book considers the impact of these trends on deterrence, military escalation, and strategic stability between nuclear-armed states – especially China and the US. Surprisingly little research considers how AI might affect nuclear-armed states’ perceptions of others’ intentions, rational choices, or strategic decision-making psychology. The book addresses these topics and more. It provides penetrating, nuanced, and valuable insights grounded in the latest multi-disciplinary research. The book draws on a wealth of political and cognitive science, strategic studies, and technical analysis to shed light on the coalescence of developments in AI and other disruptive emerging technologies. It sketches a clear picture of the potential impact of AI on the digitized battlefield and broadens our understanding of critical questions for international affairs. AI will profoundly change how wars are fought, and how decision-makers think about nuclear deterrence, escalation management, and strategic stability – but not for the reasons you might think.
This book advances the case for narrow AI as a fundamentally destabilizing force, which could increase the risk of nuclear war. It explains how, left unchecked, the uncertainties created by the rapid proliferation and diffusion of AI into advanced weapons systems will become a significant source of future instability and great power (especially US–China) strategic competition. It conceptualizes recent technological developments in AI with the broader spectrum of emerging technologies – robotics and autonomy, cyberspace, hypersonic weapons, 5G networks, and quantum communications – and analyzes the impact of these trends for future warfare between nuclear states. Anticipating and preparing for the consequences of AI has already become a critical – yet underappreciated – task for international security, defense planning, and statecraft.
Will the use of AI in strategic decision-making be stabilizing or destabilizing? How might synthesizing AI with nuclear command, control, and communications early warning systems impact the nuclear enterprise? The compression of detection and decision-making timeframes associated with the computer revolution is not an entirely new phenomenon. During the Cold War, the US and Soviet Union both automated their nuclear command-and-control, targeting, and early warning detection systems to strengthen their respective retaliatory capabilities against a first strike. Technologies developed during the 1950s paved the way for modern undersea sensors, space-based communication, and over-the-horizon radars. Moreover, many of the systems and concepts introduced in the 1960s are still in use today.
How might AI-augmented drone swarming and hypersonic weapons complicate missile defense, undermine states’ nuclear deterrent forces, and increase the risk of escalation? How might AI-augmented unmanned systems effect escalation, deterrence, and conflict management, when fewer human lives are perceived to be at risk? The proliferation of a broad range of AI-augmented autonomous weapon systems – most notably drones used in swarming tactics – might have significant strategic implications for nuclear security and escalation in future warfare. Unmanned autonomous systems could be deployed in complex missions in hitherto inaccessible and cluttered environments, and aerial and underwater drones in swarms might eventually replace intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear-armed submarines for the delivery of nuclear weapons.
How might AI-augmented intelligence gathering and analysis systems impact the survivability and credibility of states’ nuclear-deterrent forces? Technologies such as AI, machine learning, and big-data analytics associated with the ‘computer revolution’ have the potential to significantly improve the ability of militaries to locate, track, target, and destroy a rival's nuclear-deterrent forces without the need to deploy nuclear weapons. Thus, AI applications that make survivable strategic forces such as submarines and mobile missiles more vulnerable (or perceived as such), could have destabilizing escalatory effects, even if the state in possession of these counterforce capabilities did not intend to use them. This chapter argues that AI will likely soon overcome some of the remaining technical barriers to reliably and accurately locate and track submarines. Thereby, eroding the deterrence utility of stealthy Ballistic Missile Submarines and making use-them-or-lose-them situations more likely to occur.
The hype surrounding AI had made it easy to overstate the opportunities and challenges posed by its development and deployment in the military sphere. Many of the risks posed by AI in the nuclear domain today are not necessarily new. That is, recent advances in AI (especially machine-learning techniques) exacerbate existing risks to escalation and stability rather than generating entirely new ones. While AI could enable significant improvements in many military domains (including nuclear weapons), future developments in military AI will likely be far more prosaic than implied in popular culture. The book’s core thesis is deciphering, within a broad range of technologies, proven capabilities and applications, from mere speculation. After an initial surge in the literature related to AI and national security, broadly defined, more specificity in the debate is now required.
What is AI, and how does it differ from other technologies? What are the possible development paths and linkages between these technologies and specific capabilities, both existing and under development? This chapter defines and categorizes the current state of AI and AI-enabling technologies. It describes several possible implications of specific AI systems and applications in the military arena, in particular those that might impinge on the nuclear domain. The chapter highlights the centrality of machine-learning, and autonomous systems (or ‘machine autonomy’), to understanding AI in the military sphere and the potential uses of these nuanced approaches in conjunction with AI at both an operational and strategic level of warfare.
Why does the US view China’s progress in dual-use AI as a threat to its first-mover advantage? How might the US respond to this perceived threat? This chapter considers the intensity of US–China strategic competition playing out within a broad range of AI and AI-enabling technologies (e.g. machine-learning, 5G networks, autonomy and robotics, quantum computing, and big-data analytics). It describes how great power competition is mounting within several dual-use high-tech fields, why these innovations are considered by Washington to be strategically vital, and how (and to what end) the US responds to the perceived challenge posed by China to its technological hegemony. The chapter uses the International Relations concept of 'polarity' (the nature and distribution of power within the international system) as a lens to view the shifting great power dynamics in AI-related strategic technology.
Will AI-augmented technology increase the risk of military escalation between great military rivals? This chapter argues that diverging Sino-American views on the escalation risks of co-mingling nuclear and non-nuclear military technologies – long-range precision strike missiles, missile defenses, cyber offense, hypersonic weapons, autonomous weapon systems, and nuclear command, control, and communications – will exacerbate the destabilizing effects caused by the fusion of these capabilities with AI applications.