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Close Encounters of the Third Millennium



On September 6–7, 2018 the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) held a joint conference in Beijing on the impact of AI technologies and autonomous systems on nuclear safety and strategic stability. This is the second event held as part of the two-year SIPRI research project, which is aimed at studying the impact of autonomous systems and artificial intelligence technologies on international relations. The report on the first conference is available on the RIAC website.

The New Race is Inevitable

The Beijing conference focused on security issues in East Asia. The event brought together experts from Russia, China, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea, India and Pakistan, who described their countries’ stances on the use of new technologies in issues related to strategic stability.

An interesting feature of the event was the consensus among the participants that nuclear powers would soon use new technologies (primarily machine learning) to modernize their strategic weapons. Using weak artificial intelligence for early missile warning systems and assessing the probability of a missile launch could give the military command of a nuclear power extra time to decide on a retaliatory strike and its scale. New technologies could also increase the precision of nuclear weapons and the effectiveness of missile defence, improve the security of nuclear facilities, and provide better intelligence information.

At the same time, faster decision-making for one party will inevitably prompt its potential adversaries to search for options for faster nuclear weapons delivery systems. Such an “acceleration race” between nuclear powers potentially poses a significant threat to global stability, since such a race would leave progressively less time to assess whether the threat of an attack is real and whether retaliation is expedient. Ultimately, it is possible that countries will be forced to automate decisions concerning a retaliatory strike, which can have unpredictable consequences. At the same time, weaker nuclear powers will feel vulnerable and could soon yield to the temptation to introduce an automatic retaliatory nuclear strike system (similar to the Soviet Dead Hand (Perimeter) system and the U.S. “Operation Looking Glass”).

The participants in the discussion noted that even machine learning professionals do not always fully understand the way it works. Even though AI technologies are developing rapidly, the “black box” problem, that is, the situation when decision-making algorithms remain hidden from developers, is still relevant. Thus, before entrusting decisions on deploying lethal weapons to artificial intelligence, we need to make AI itself far more transparent. However, a contradiction inevitably arises from the need to combine the comprehensibility of machine learning mechanisms with protecting them from the enemy, since data used by neural networks can be “poisoned” by deliberate manipulation. It is also important to note that, due to the specifics of their work, the military has a much smaller volume of data for machine learning than civil companies working on AI.

The conference attendees also discussed North Korea’s work on artificial intelligence. The participants noted that, despite significant efforts that Pyongyang had channelled into AI, North Korean machine learning projects are still in their infancy and will hardly pose a threat in the foreseeable future.

Autonomous, Lethal, Yours

The conference focused in particular on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS), since they are already actively used by individual countries, primarily by the United States and China. Most conference participants agreed that incidents with the autonomous systems could provoke conflicts between great powers in East Asia. Possible scenarios could include collisions of unmanned vehicles, the loss of control over them, and even theft of an enemy drone.

Such incidents are most likely in the South China Sea, where there are a number of disputed territories to which Beijing lays claim, such as the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands. The United States, in turn, has allied obligations with the Philippines, where it has five military bases. The United States has traditionally maintained a large-scale presence in the region.

Drone-related incidents in the South China Sea are not purely theoretical, as there are recent precedents. In particular, in December 2016, China seized a U.S. Navy underwater drone that was collecting research data in neutral waters near the Philippines. Beijing returned the drone to Washington, but accused the United States of threatening China’s sovereignty. Commenting on the incident, experts noted that China had probably examined the drone thoroughly before returning it.

Other areas fraught with potential collisions of autonomous vehicles are the Taiwan Strait, the waters around the South Kuril Islands, the Senkaku Islands (Beijing and Taipei dispute Tokyo’s sovereignty) and the Liancourt Rocks (controlled by South Korea and disputed by Japan).

In the near future, drone incidents may become more frequent both in East Asia and elsewhere, since border control is one of the most promising areas for the use of unmanned vehicles (both airborne and underwater). In particular, autonomous patrolling of land borders is actively being developed by the European Union.

Even drones that are not armed with lethal weapons can cause a conflict if control over them is lost and they inadvertently cross the border into another state. They could also collide with the autonomous vehicles of another state. Additionally, it is not entirely known how drones operating under different systems will interact when approaching each other.

The fact that autonomous weapons and artificial intelligence still belong in the “grey area” of the international law further complicates the situation. A group of UN government experts recently put forward recommendations on resolving this problem at the Inhumane Weapons Convention. On August 31, 2018, the group published a report on the possible principles for regulating autonomous combat systems. In particular, experts propose making humans responsible for the actions of autonomous vehicle at all stages.

Poseidon’s Wrath

Foreign participants in the conference were also concerned by Russia’s unmanned nuclear submarine, the development of which was mentioned by Vladimir Putin in his Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly on March 1, 2018:

“As concerns Russia, we have developed unmanned submersible vehicles that can move at great depths (I would say extreme depths) intercontinentally, at a speed multiple times higher than the speed of submarines, cutting-edge torpedoes and all kinds of surface vessels, including some of the fastest. …

“Unmanned underwater vehicles can carry either conventional or nuclear warheads, which enables them to engage various targets, including aircraft groups, coastal fortifications and infrastructure.”

Later, in July 2018, the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation announced the start of tests on the Poseidon an unmanned underwater vehicle (also known as Status-6). The system is on the 2027 State Armament Programme, and the Russian Navy is expected to have received the weapons by then. According to the media, Poseidon will be able to carry a 2-megaton nuclear warhead.

Some conference participants believe that the use of drones with nuclear warheads could radically change the strategic balance of power and provoke a new arms race. Additionally, if an autonomous vehicle is launched by mistake, the marine environment makes it impossible to make contact with it to abort its deadly mission. However, this is not a new problem: for a long time, nuclear submarines were in the same situation: when underwater, they could not receive orders to abort a launch.

Recipes for Détente

At the conference, working groups also held discussions aimed at developing proposals on mitigating the risks and negative effects that new technologies have on strategic stability.

The participants’ proposals included the following steps:

  • Using new technologies for the mutual monitoring of nuclear facilities.
  • De-alerting.
  • Bilateral and multilateral dialogue between nuclear powers on using AI in the military sector.
  • Parties committing (for instance, in a declaration) to preserving human control of nuclear weapons.
  • Countries exchanging information on national AI research.
  • Continued discussion on the parameters of human control of autonomous systems (supporting the work of the specialized group of UN government experts).
  • Developing a code of conduct for the contingency of a possible incident involving combat autonomous systems and unmanned vehicles.
  • Establishing “hotlines” between countries regarding incidents with autonomous systems.
  • Separating early warning systems from systems that make decisions on launching strikes.
  • Developing safety requirements for autonomous systems, including options to abort missions.
  • Stepping up AI technology exchanges. Greater openness of innovations.

It should be noted that real restrictions on the military use of autonomous systems and artificial intelligence, including for the purpose of improving the effectiveness of strategic weapons, no longer appear to be a feasible scenario. Judging by the reports presented by the conference participants, the arms race in this area has already begun, and the temptation to gain an edge in new weapons is too great for the countries to take general humanitarian considerations into account in anything more than a declarative manner.

The current situation emphasizes the need for the rapid development of a legal framework for the use of autonomous systems and artificial intelligence. It is also highly desirable for the prohibition on the automated use of nuclear weapons to be set forth on an inter-country level, at least in the form of a declaration. Otherwise, minutes “gained” can turn out to be too costly for the whole of humanity.

First published in our partner RIAC

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India’s Sprouting Counterforce Posture



In recent years, the technological advancements by India in the domain of counterforce military capabilities have increased the vulnerability of the South Asian region. While trying to disturb the strategic stability in South Asia, India through its adventuresome counterforce posture against Pakistan is on the verge of becoming a rogue state. Notwithstanding the repercussions, India is voyaging towards destabilization in the South Asian Region.

India’s enhanced strategic nuclear capabilities which includes-the development of Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicles (MIRVs), Ballistic Missile Defence System (BMD), Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), supersonic and hypersonic cruise missiles, and acquisition of nuclear-capable submarines- indicate that India is moving away from its declared policy of ‘No First Use’ (NFU) towards a more aggressive, counterforce posture against Pakistan. The BMD and MIRV technology along with the provision of an advanced navigation system under BECA would embolden India to go for the first strike against Pakistan. While having reliance on BMD, as to be sheltered in return. These technological advancements made by India are sprouting a new era of counterforce posture, which would further make the South Asian region volatile and vulnerable to conflicts.

India’s urge to acquire counterforce capability is strongly associated with its doctrinal shift. As the stated posture requires flexibility in the use of nuclear weapons, which fortifies the first strike capability, and thus a deviation in India’s declared policy of ‘No First Use’ (NFU) has become more significant, particularly concerning its impact on regional stability. India’s declared policy of NFU, set out in Draft Nuclear Doctrine in 1999, followed by its first amendment in January 2003 has since then been into hot debates. Pakistan has long doubted the Indian policy of NFU, as the actions and statements by the officials of the latter have always been aggressive and protruding towards the former. India, now, is drifting away from its policy of NFU with the acquisition of counterforce capabilities, particularly against Pakistan. This is further evident from the statement issued by India’s Defense Minister Mr. Rajnath Singh, back in August 2019. It stated “Till today, our nuclear policy is ‘no-first-use’ (NFU). What happens in the future depends on the circumstances.” A change at the doctrinal level is evident in the Indian strategic enclave. Notwithstanding the challenges and repercussions caused by the counterforce strategy and with an attempt to destabilize the nuclear deterrence in the region, India would go unjustifiably low to attain such measures.  

In the same vein, India has been enhancing its nuclear capabilities for strategic flexibility against its regional rivals. By the same token, it wants to attain nuclear dominance, which would ultimately result in chaos in the region. The counterforce capability by India would compel its adversaries to heed towards the preemptive strike, in case of a crisis, out of the fear of the use of Nuclear weapons first by the patent enemy.  Moreover, the counterforce capability pushes the enemy to put the nuclear weapons on hair-trigger mode, which is directly linked with the crisis escalation.  The acquisition of counterforce capability by India would likely provoke a new arms race in the region. This would further destabilize the already volatile South Asian region. The far-reaching destabilization which India is trying to create, just to have an edge on the nuclear adversary, would be back on India’s face, faster than she knew it.

On the contrary, Pakistan has been maintaining a posture of Credible Minimum Deterrence (CMD) and does not claim to have a No-First Use (NFU) policy. Moreover, Pakistan’s nuclear capability is defensive in principle and a tool for deterrence. Given the Indian evolved notions of counterforce preemption, even now Pakistan would be left with no choice but to leave room for carrying out a ‘first strike’ as a feasible deterrent against India. Nevertheless, with the advent of technological innovations, its countermeasure arrives soon, too. Presently, there are two aspects that Pakistan should take into consideration; the growing Indo-US nexus and India’s concealed innovations in the nuclear posture. Though India is far from achieving counterforce strikes against Pakistan’s nuclear targets, concrete steps are required for maintaining future deterrence stability. With that intention, Pakistan might need to look towards its allies for getting hands-on the modern capabilities which includes- advanced communication and navigation systems, sensors, and advancements in artificial intelligence and otherwise, is essential for strengthening its deterrent capability. Pakistan should heed towards the development of absolute second-strike capability; as, what is survivable today, could be vulnerable tomorrow. Therefore, advancements in technology should be made for preserving nuclear deterrence in the future as well.

Summarizing it all, the existence of Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence has created a stable environment in the region, by deterring full-scale wars on multiple occasions that might have resulted in a nuclear exchange. With the revolution in nuclear technology, the threat of nuclear war has emerged again. Instead of going towards the attainment of peace and stability in the region, India has been enhancing its counterforce capabilities. This would likely remain a significant threat to the deterrence stability in the region. Moreover, any kind of failure to maintain nuclear deterrence in South Asia could result in an all-out war, without any escalation control. India, in its lust for power and hegemonic designs, has been destabilizing the region. Both the nuclear states in South Asia need to engage in arms restraint and escalation control measures. This seems to be a concrete and more plausible way out; else the new era of destabilization could be more disastrous.  

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A pig in a poke of Lithuanian Armed Forces



The proverb “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link” perfectly reflects the situation in the Lithuanian armed forces. It is it unclear how the army will carry out its tasks, if everything that happens there runs counter to common sense.

The conscription took place in Lithuania. The recruits once again were revealed by an electronic lottery on January 7, 2021. 3,828 recruits were selected from the list of 38 thousand conscripts aged 18 to 23.

The idea of using electronic lottery in such a serious procedure arises a lot of questions among Lithuanians. Young people are suspicious of this method and fully admit the possibility of corruption. Nobody could check the results and so nobody could be blamed for random selection. The more so, the armed forces could get weaker recruits than in case of using usual ways of choosing among candidates. So, the army buys a pig in a poke.

This approach to recruitment in Lithuania results in presence of those with criminal intents and inclinations. Сases of crimes committed by Lithuanian military personnel have increased. Incidents with the involvement of military regularly occurred in Lithuania in 2020.

Thus, a soldier of the Lithuanian army was detained in Jurbarkas in October. He was driving under the influence of alcohol. A Lithuanian soldier suspected of drunk driving was detained also in Siauliai in December. Panevėžys County Chief Police Commissariat was looking for a soldier who deserted from the Lithuanian Armed Forces and so forth.

Such behaviour poses serious risks to public safety and leads to loss of confidence in the Lithuanian army in society.

Lithuanian military officials have chosen a new way to discourage young people from serving in the army, which is already not popular.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” The ministry of defence decided to run a photo contest that would reflect service in the country’s armed forces. It is doubtful that such pictures will attract to the army, but the real situation is provided.

Usually, popularization is the act of making something attractive to the general public. This contest served the opposite goal. Look at the pictures and make conclusions.

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Fatah-1: A New Security and Technological Development About Pakistan’s Indigenous GMLRS



Islamabad: It seems like 2021 has been a good start for Pakistan specifically with regard to stepping up its missile testing. On the 7th of January, the Pakistan military has successfully conducted a purely indigenously developed missile test flight known to be Fatah-1. As stated by various reports, Fatah-1 is an extended-range Guided Multi-Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) which itself is a developed variant of the guided MLRS family.

According to the recent statement given by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) about the newly developed rocket, it was stated: “The weapon system will give Pakistan Army capability of a precision target deep in the enemy territory.” Director-General of Pakistan Army, Media Wing, major general Babar Iftikhar on 7th January tweeted: “Pakistan today conducted a successful; test flight of indigenously developed Fatah-1, Guided Multi Launch Rocket System, capable of delivering a conventional Warhead up to a range of 140 km.”

Defense analyst Mr. Syed Muhammad Ali also stated in his capacity: “the new system was very fast, accurate, survivable, and difficult to intercept”. A video was also shared by ISPR on their official website, in which the missile launch can be seen while being fired from the launcher however, the details on when and where the test flight has taken place, along with the specification of the rocket system are yet to be announced.

Currently, Pakistan Army owns a wide range of Short-Range Ballistic Missiles (SRBM), Medium-Range Ballistic Missiles (MRBM), Battlefield Ballistic Missiles (BBM), Rocket Artillery, and Surface to Surface Cruise Missile (SSCM). In the previous year, Pakistan had also maintained prime success in conducting the Ra’ad-II cruise missile and Ghaznavi surface-to-surface ballistic missile (SSBM). Besides, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) on 30thDecember made apt progress when it comes to the national air defense arsenal as it was announced that PAF is beginning the production of the State-of-the-art JF-17 Thunder Block 3 fighter jets, at the same time acquiring the 14 dual-seat Jf-17 aircraft.

According to various reports, the JF-17 Thunder Block 3 will be said to have a new radar operational capability which will be far better in the practical domain as compared to the Raphael aircraft acquired by India. Whereas, the exchange of 14 dual-seat aircraft, manufactured with Pak-China cooperation were also given to the PAF which will be used for extensive training.

The recent successful testing of Fatah-1 has been considered to be another milestone for Pakistan as it tends to be a fitting response to the recent developments in the conventional capabilities carried out by India and also to India’s Cold Start Doctrine.

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