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Report | 22 March 2021

Emerging and Disruptive Technologies, Multi-domain Complexity, and Strategic Stability: A Review and Assessment of the Literature

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Brad Roberts |Director of the Center for Global Security Research, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Emerging technologies Global Security

Introduction by Brad Roberts

Over the last couple of decades, Russia, China, and the United States have been engaged in the increasingly competitive pursuit of the military benefits of emerging technologies. Over the last decade, there has been an explosion of work on these “emerging and disruptive technologies” (EDT) by universities and think-tanks. This work is aimed principally at understanding the risks associated with these technologies (and with competition for and with them) and how to reduce and, where possible, eliminate those risks. The insights generated by this work are of rising interest to policymakers seeking to respond constructively to a new era of major power rivalry and to the perception of a rising risk of war in Europe or Asia.

Thus, it is useful now to take stock of what has been learned by the community of university and think-tanks experts. Toward that end, the Center for Global Security Research (CGSR) conducted a survey of the literature and prepared an annotated bibliography, which became available in February 2021 at the CGSR website. It used English-language materials available at the end of 2020. This paper goes beyond the bibliography to characterize and assess the literature in policy-relevant terms. Both the bibliography and this paper were crafted as inputs to a joint project with the European Leadership Network with the aim of creating a baseline of common understanding about emerging disruptive technologies and their risks so that we can explore in a more informed way implications for crisis management and possible risk reduction measures.

The paper begins with initial observations about scope and contents of the literature, as these informed the development of our methodology in various ways. It then explores what has been learned about the impact of EDTs and multi-domain complexity (an addition explained below) on strategic stability. Toward that end, it develops a taxonomy of core propositions in the literature bearing on specific elements of strategic stability. It closes with a summary of observations about the literature and of possible next analytical steps.

Read the paper here.

The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security policy challenges of our time.