No Winners in Arms Race

Bharat Dogra

Recently (on November 11, 2018) a bipartisan congressional panel in the USA expressed serious concern that the US military power may be losing its superiority edge. The panel of highly influential members from the two leading political parties said, "America's military superiority—the hard power backbone of its global influence and national security— has eroded to a dangerous degree,"

Further this panel said, "The US might struggle to win, or perhaps lose, a war against China or Russia. The US is particularly at risk of being overwhelmed should its military be forced to fight on two or more fronts simultaneously."

This is being said by a country's own experts about a nation which has by far been the biggest spender on arms in recent decades. In fact what the USA has been spending in recent years has been greater than the sum total of the expenditure of the next five big spenders on arms and ammunition.

If as this panel has observed (and so have some other experts) even such a high level of spending cannot guarantee security or military superiority, then what is the point of spending so much on arms even from a narrow viewpoint of national security only?

As more and more sophisticated and destructive weapons are introduced, by either the USA, Russia or China, attempts are made by the other two countries to somehow keep pace with this. This is evident, for example, in the latest race for robot, Al or autonomous weapons. These are extremely expensive ventures.

But ultimately what is the net result? As the warning by the US panel says, even the country making the most massive investments on such arms build-up remain insecure, in fact its insecurity perception has been increasing.

There are endless studies of who is outsmarting whom in the arms race, but the more important question of how destructive it is for the entire planet is not asked. The robot arms race in particularly attracts a lot of queries and research, but the more basic issue simply is that robot or Al weapons can be so dangerous that these should not even exist.

In August 2017 as many as 116 specialists from 26 countries, including some of the world's leading robotics and artificial intelligence pioneers, called upon the United Nations to ban the development and use of killer robots. They wrote, "Once developed, lethal autonomous weapons will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at time scales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent population, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways".

The Economist (27 January, 2018) noted in a special report on future wars that the command and control systems of nuclear weapons are becoming vulnerable to hacking by new cyber-weapons or 'blinding' of the satellites they depend on . A country under such an attack could find itself under pressure to choose between losing control of its nuclear weapons or using them.

The USA and Russia have decided not to renew the important Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Due to these and other reasons the threats and risks of actual use of nuclear weapons may actually be increasing in recent times.

There are no winners in this arms race. A time has clearly come to make a very big breakthrough in curbing the arms race, or else the risks posed by the arms race in the near future will be intolerably high. This highly destructive arms race threatens the entire world like never before.

Is this possible without strengthening the peace movement at the world level in a big way? The world has been changing in such ways in recent decades that a world-level peace movement cutting across all narrow boundaries and uniting all people committed to peace with justice has become more necessary than ever before.

Vol. 51, No.36, Mar 10 - 16, 2019