What is the Role of Technology in International Conflicts?

What is the Role of Technology in International Conflicts?

International conflicts show up in different shapes and over widely varying issues.

Let’s take the example of the international conflict over the construction of nuclear power plants and nuclear waste transport in West Germany that triggered an anti-nuclear campaign for the first time in 1980. The conflict intensified and garnered a lot of attention.

Later in 1984, West Germany started its first nuclear waste transport to its storage in the northern village of Gorleben amid nationwide protests.

The controversy went on until 1989, when West Germany decided not to build nuclear waste reprocessing plant in Wackersdorf. Instead, it relied on its plants Sellafield in Britain and La Hague in France.

Fast forward to 2011, unified Germany announced to close all its nuclear reactors by 2022. They stated that the nuclear technology was “too dangerous” and referred to the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.

Now, technologies are used to settle such international conflicts. In another nuclear-related conflict, undeclared nuclear activities of Iran were traced in 2003, and prompted the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to begin an investigation. 

After a tussle that went on for more than a decade, Iran got into a nuclear deal with the UN Security Council in 2015 to restrict its nuclear activities. Meanwhile, the US, the UK, and the UN kept using advanced technologies to monitor Iran’s nuclear projects.

The Role Technology Plays in International Conflicts

Undoubtedly, the character of conflict today is changing, further complicating the practice of mediation.

The most common causes of international conflicts are encroachment into another country’s territory, violating international law, increasing regional tensions, illegal economic gain, and conflicts over scarce natural resources.

There are several real examples of ongoing international conflicts, such as the conflict between Israel and Palestine, the India-Pakistan conflict over the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and the latest conflict between Russia and Ukraine and the eventual breaking out of war.

Besides, conflicts remain the main driver of terrorism, with over 99 percent of all conflicts and violence being related to terrorism occurring in various countries. 

Most of the deadly attacks that took place in the past in the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Nigeria, and Syria have been the result of conflicts. 

Technology has a crucial role to play in minimizing conflicts. However, when the same technology goes to the wrong hand, it intensifies conflicts. 

In recent years, automated technologies such as robotics and AI tools have been developed and applied in conflict settings. These technologies work in different forms, including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), drones, and other unmanned vehicles on land or underwater. 

There have also been proposals to use lethal autonomous weapons (LAWs) against extremist organizations. However, it has raised concerns over developing such hi-tech weapons since those could identify and engage specific targets without human intervention. Considering the risk involved, the UN Secretary-General has called to prohibit fully autonomous weapons by international law with the consent of more than 30 nations.

The UN, various governments, and private organizations have also been using technology to resolve conflicts at the community level. For example, New York-based group Shared Studios created a virtual reality portal a few years back. The portal allowed the attendees virtually transport themselves to Germany, Mexico, Afghanistan, or Iraq to interact with young peacemakers. 

In another example, the USIP Academy used technology to create and provide online courses for the practitioners of international affairs, which helped peacemakers spread all over the world and change the course of violent conflicts in their respective communities to nonviolent types.

What the Future Holds

High-tech digital domains are likely to rule the future and play a critical role in reducing conflicts. Technologies, including Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, quantum computing, blockchain, advanced robotics, various autonomous systems, the latest generation of biotech and genetic engineering, will be decisive in conflict scenarios. 

Emerging technologies are gradually transforming our lives. However, except for a few instances, such as cyber issues and drones, the impact of these technologies is still about potential futures rather than real scenarios. They focus more on the potential of technologies in the future. The line between these two possibilities still appears to be blurry.

These are some of the ways how modern technology may play a role in resolving conflicts and establishing peace. From robots to detect landmines to drones that deliver food and medicine to hard-to-reach conflict zones, futuristic technologies have much potential usability. 

In the current scenario, communications technologies are also providing new and unique scope to extend the reach to individuals and communities affected by war and violence can support the initiatives to create and propagate global narratives for peace.