PS21 Event Writeup “Changing Face of Conflict 1”

Monday, March 19, 2018

At the inaugural event of the ‘Changing Face of Conflict’ series, kindly hosted by Bob Seely MP, PS21 assembled a panel of experts with diverse backgrounds and experiences. The discussion considered the growth of hybrid warfare, the effect of changing technology, as well as artificial intelligence and changing norms.

Bob Seely MP opened by sketching out how Russia had embraced a variety of forms of non-traditional warfare to pressure the West, noting that a similar degree of innovation might now be required to combat it.

Veerle Nouwens, Asia Studies Researcher at RUSI pointed to the implementation of information operations, which includes “legal warfare” through the challenging of international law, particularly by China in the South China Sea. Nouwens outlined how the EU was experiencing a fracturing of unity over China, akin to that of ASEAN, as a result of increased strategic influence operations. As an example of China’s successful use of unconventional tactics, Nouwens noted the increased militarisation of Chinese activity in the South China Sea, evidenced by the installation of weapons on newly built artificial islands.

King’s College London lecturer Samir Puri said that the world was going through an era of major reconfiguration of power, although that was in itself not new. Puri said the US was moving from being the undisputed champion of the world to one that was very much disputed. Pointing to Russia, China and Iran in particular, he said US adversaries were working very deliberately to identify the thresholds for US military reaction and to take all action they could short of that level. Puri advocated for a need to be diplomatically smart, with new responses needed for actions he described as “accepted but not tolerated.”

Adam Maisel, US Army reservist and co-founder of the Dagr Group, said the US and its allies had been left asking themselves if they understood what modern war and peace really looked like. After several decades of technical dominance, he said, US forces would likely need to learn to deal with much more capable enemies who could largely deny powerful US platforms, such as aircraft carriers, access to strategic regions such as the South China Sea. To win, it would need to lose old lazy assumptions, such as over US aerial dominance, and recruit and train people who could fight in dynamic environments.

Major Kitty McKendrick, British Army Fellow at Chatham House researching the implications of Artificial Intelligence for defence and security, said that US superiority has been traditionally linked to their technological advantage. In terms of AI, McKendrick saw two big risks: the strategic overmatch by a competitor with less control and fewer ethical considerations and the marginalisation of the human in the battlefield. The impact of AI, according to McKendrick, could also change how states conduct foreign policy.

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