The lessons of history
This article was produced in association with Northrop Grumman
How can Britain and its allies confront the military and security threats of the modern age? That is the question at the heart of this collection of pieces by leading security experts and analysts, and they address it at a time of exceptional uncertainty. Russia’s role in international affairs remains antagonistic and China continues to grow if not as an adversory to the west, then certainly as its rival. The possibility that North Korea might develop a nuclear-armed missile is perhaps the most startling of these threats.
In his book The Rise and Fall of American Growth, Robert Gordon, the US economist showed how improvements in economic conditions can be brought about by sudden technological leaps. The same is true of the ability to wage and deter war and the development of nuclear arms was one such advance. Though they brought enormous moral dilemmas, nuclear weapons side-stepped the precepts of what came to be called “conventional” warfare. Rather than going head-to-head with the massed Soviet tanks in Eastern Europe, the west had developed a technology that fundamentally undermined their strategic value.
The politics and strategic calculations of the twentieth century were dominated by the physics of the atomic nucleus— can the information technological revolution dominate the twenty-first to a similar extent? Implicit in the articles that follow is the view that yes, it can; in fact, it’s already happening.
The race is on to develop new ways of obtaining and analysing data on a huge scale, to create new, highly secure communications technologies, unmanned and even autonomous military systems and precision munitions to target the enemy. But new technology brings with it new vulnerabilities. Military networks are open to cyber-attack. If an army depends on complex global positioning systems, then the ability to destroy the satellites that make such systems possible becomes a newly-significant military capacity. The military must also train a very new kind of soldier to make use of the latest systems—that in itself is a very great challenge.
And then there is the possibility that China might outstrip the west in developing these new capabilities. If so, it would be a cruel irony-: the west’s rivals would have learned the lessons of its history better than it had itself.
How can Britain and its allies confront the military and security threats of the modern age? To answer this question, Prospect commissioned The new world of security, a special report by leading security experts and analysts.
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