Sharp changes are afoot throughout the globe. Demographics are shifting, technology is advancing at unprecedented rates, and these changes are being felt everywhere. How should we develop strategies to deal with this emerging new world? We can begin by understanding it.
When looking at the security environment, we are reminded of President Reagan’s approach to dealing with a complex and dangerous world. The first order of business was to be realistic about the world around you. Then you had to be strong in all senses of the term—military, economically, politically, and in national spirit. Finally, as you went out into the world, you had to set your objectives—know what you want—and focus on that agenda. It was a wise, and ultimately successful approach.
Emerging innovations within today’s most cutting-edge science and technology (S&T) areas are cited as carrying the potential to revolutionize governmental structures, economies, and life as we know it; others have argued that such technologies will yield doomsday scenarios and that military applications of such technologies have even greater potential than nuclear weapons to radically change the balance of power.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution will provide insurgents and terrorists with capabilities that, until very recently, were the preserve of large, powerful, wealthy states. The convergence of new technologies will provide them access to relatively cheap, long-range, autonomous weapons. To define the problem this presents to the United States, this paper will first explore the technologies—powerful small warheads, autonomous drones, task-specific artificial intelligence, and advanced manufacturing—that are providing increased range, numbers, and lethality for dramatically lower cost today.
History informs and rhymes, and the admonition of Isaiah Bowman is as valid today as it was in 1946. A participant in the World War I peace conference in Paris and the president of the Johns Hopkins University, whose Applied Physics Laboratory produced breakthrough innovations during World War II and the Cold War (and today), Bowman understood international challenges and appreciated the role of technology in defining national power. He also understood that it is not one sector or particular endeavor that underpins national security—it is the collective responsibility of society.