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Technology, terrorists and climate change exacerbating global instability

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Climate change, technology and terrorism are contributing to an increasingly volatile world, according to the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

The new MoD report, The Future Starts Today, attempts to identify the kinds of challenges facing the UK in the decades ahead.

It warns of an increasing risk of the use of nuclear or chemical weapons and the potential for “new areas of conflict”, including in space and cyber space.

It also examined the possibility of “human enhancement”, including “gene editing, physical and cognitive prosthesis and pharmaceutical enhancement”.

Their development over the next 30 years is likely to offer “profound expansion of the boundaries of human performance” and “the application of these technologies and the integration of human and machine on the battlefield present opportunities to enhance military capability”.

This follows comments from a senior British Army officer last week, who said that robots could join humans on the battlefield in future conflicts. 

The willingness to adopt these technologies could confer a competitive advantage over adversaries, but “moral, ethical and legal thresholds” would need to be clearly defined, the report states.

It also suggested that a “hybrid” approach could go beyond military or economic attacks and open up “new arenas of conflict, including in space, cyber space, sub-oceanic and, potentially, augmented and virtual reality”.

Defence secretary Gavin Williamson said: “This report makes clear that we are living in a world becoming rapidly more dangerous, with intensifying challenges from state aggressors who flout the rules, terrorists who want to harm our way of life and the technological race with our adversaries.

“Identifying these threats means we can continue to build an armed forces that can stay ahead of them.”

The document is the sixth edition of the Global Strategic Trends report and has been developed by the MoD’s thinktank the Development Concepts and Doctrine Centre, along with partners in Sweden, Australia, Finland, Germany, France and the Netherlands.

It said: “Whilst it is envisaged that humans will continue to be central to the decision-making process, conflicts fought increasingly by robots or autonomous systems could change the very nature of warfare, as there will be less emphasis on emotions, passion and chance.”

In a bleak assessment, the use of weapons of mass destruction is also more likely because of increased access to the technology.

It states: “The number of nuclear-armed states could rise and increasing investment in tactical nuclear weapons and electromagnetic pulse weapons will increase the risk that nuclear weapons are used.”

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