Highlights from the 2018 Raisina Dialogue in India

The number one think tank in India, the Observer Research Foundation, recently hosted their annual Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi (January 16–18). It was a high level gathering of heads of state, ministers and an active collective in the international affairs scene. This theme this year was “Managing Disruptive Transitions: Ideas, Institutions & Idioms”. (agenda)

This article captures some take-aways from the event, and includes the thoughts I shared on the panel “Addressing the Evolving Methods of Warfare”. The Raisina Dialogue was refreshingly candid, pragmatic and utterly honest. Speakers and participants alike did not hold back. One notable example of this was “The Afghan Poser” panel with former Afghani President Hamid Karzai, the video can be found here along with the others.

Take-Aways: Highlights of prominent points of discussion

- The conference was inaugurated by Prime Minister Netanyahu, who delivered a passionate address on types of power needed to achieve prosperity, security and peace. He told the story of Israel’s transformation and how it has overcome being a small nation without natural resources. The three powers he outlined as the powers needed to secure a nation’s future were: (1) military power (he highlighted the importance of intelligence to compensate for their size), which is supported through the second source of power, (2) economic power (he highlighted the importance of education for innovation and economic strength and how Israel educates their population on the important technologies for civilian futures in the Israeli Defense Force training), the third power is (3) political power “the ability to make political alliances and relationships with many other countries”. He concluded by saying that while these three types of power are important, he believes there is also a fourth power à “the power of our values and traditions”. (highlighting the most important value being democracy)

- We are well into the process of shifting from a unipolar to a multipolar world. This is a perspective that was expressed by many of the ministers of foreign affairs, political leaders and military leaders who spoke (including the Israeli Prime Minister). One speaker made the case for moving from ‘multipolarism’ to a more pragmatic and collaborative “multi stakeholderism” approach, which would be more conducive to business. There was an explicit and implicit understanding that the ‘old alliances’ were “irrelevant” and/or “ineffective” for the current market, and rising multipolar powers.

- There was a significant amount of discussion on the state of world order, with the debate being dominated by two perspectives: a liberal world order (which in essence was a world order of democracies) versus a rules based order (where respect for rules was more important than type of political organization).

- Unsurprisingly, there was discussion about protectionism and the rise of “nationalism” as the response to all the woes of the world. The Secretary-General, for the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs in France, Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, was concerned by nations pulling away from the international community and said “Independence does not mean splendid isolation” and offered a positive and proactive alternative “It means choosing your own partner”. Another perspective that reiterates that ‘old alliances’ are not working out like they used it.

- The theme this year was “Managing Disruptive Transitions”, one provocative idea shared by one of the speakers was on fake news, propaganda and information operations. The idea was that these are a form of radicalization in themselves. Bold food for thought.

- The most memorable thought leadership on innovation came from the Head of the Digital India Foundation Arvind Gupta, who also is a senior advisor to Prime Minister Modi on matters relating to AI. Innovation and technology is what he lives, breathes and believes in; and he offered an alternative message to the standard innovation is good for business, good for the nation etc, he elevated innovation to being equal to a public good belonging to the public. With the transformations that technology has made for the Indian people in the past years it is easy to see how innovation is truly more than the financial bottom line. One of the most important and recognized people in India Amitabh Kant (CEO, ITI Aayog) proudly talked of the rivalry between the government and the private sector in India, and their competition to see who can be more innovative. Kant being personally responsible for some of the nation’s biggest digital projects, spoke of the progress that has been made, and said that digital innovation in India is bringing millions out of poverty and into the middle class. He said “[the digital innovation] We are [doing is] changing the world, not like the innovation in Silicon Valley”.

The following represents the thoughts I shared on the panel: “Conflicts, Rights and the Machine: Addressing the Evolving Methods of Warfare”

The theme of the 2018 Raisina Dialogue is “Managing Disruptive Transitions” and we are seeing developments across a wave of disruptive technologies. For example: artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, additive printing, robotics, bio informatics, quantum computing, DNA editing, and brain computer interface (to name a few). These are technologies that have dual civilian and military applications.

The character of war is experiencing changes, particularly in the operating environment, with new technologies being incorporated in it.

The U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) has offered the Multi Domain Battle concept which captures these changes. Before the battle space was understood and organized in time, over geographic space, and by warfighting domain (ex: land, air, sea, space, and cyber).

- Time was understood to be a period in which conflict started and ended.

- Each geography had its own unique problem sets, which were to be addressed within the area of that particular geographic space.

- In this sense, a domain was contested in a certain geographic space, during the period of a certain amount of time.

Now, all domains are continuously contested, at all times, and geographic space is truly no longer a one geography at a time fight. The battlespace has expanded, there is more data than before, and less time to understand, process and fuse it into actionable intelligence. The effects of cyberspace, electronic warfare and information increase the ranges in which an adversary can have an effect on its target, which changes the concept of fixed geography. More proxies, surrogates, and super-empowered individuals and/or groups have increased the number of actors and added more complexity. Arguably, the greatest complexity is that conflict is now occurring almost exclusively below the threshold of war.

So where do disruptive technologies fit in?

The internet of things is not just for our smart homes, smart farms, and smart cities. It is also for the military. With increasing military Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem, such as:

- Unmanned autonomous aerial and underwater vehicles becoming a part of the connected family.

- Sensors also feeding in data

- Automated systems communicating with other machines (M2M)

- and artificial intelligence providing decision support to commanders and soldiers alike. It is important to note that the more we rely on data from artificial intelligence to support our decisions, the more it will become a decision support infrastructure. And we are going to have to be careful that it is not hacked or compromised.

The nucleus of all the moving parts will be the combat cloud.

What about AI & Robotics?

Lately there has been a lot of interest in lethal autonomous weapons systems, and sensationalist speculation of its wide spread use, and the dangers of uncontrollable AI. While there has been an increase in new technologies, and we are already operating at a higher tempo, this does not mean that commanders have increased their risk appetite in the battle space to use unpredictable weapons. And this is because the bottom line hasn’t changed, commanders are still responsible for mission success. This is something that gets lost in the sensationalist discussion.

Depending on the circumstance, autonomy may not be the preferred choice, as it would be ineffective to use unmanned autonomous systems too far away from friendly force protection and communication, because they can be jammed and rendered useless through electronic warfare. This goes back to mission assurance and achieving the effects the commander wants, in efforts to further political leadership objectives.

However autonomous systems operating in cyberspace may pose a greater concern when unintended and unforeseen 2nd and 3rd order effects take place at the speed of cyber. In this regard, a space of ‘unknown unknowns’ is the employment of artificial intelligence in and through cyberspace. The employment of these technologies will depend on a commander’s trust in the system to reliably operate as expected. For now, this remains elusive for exotic fully autonomous weapons systems.

How do we go about addressing exponential and disruptive changes?

With a growing population getting online, the demonetization of technological means, and ubiquitous online education we are witnessing the collective intelligence of the world advance progress in technology, this is resulting in exponential improvement and change. There are ways in which we know they will be employed, but there are also unpredictable and creative convergences that we have yet to see.

The best way to address these new changes is through mental resilience and to practice feeling uncomfortable with the unknown. Or practice getting used to feeling uncomfortable all the time, both methods work.

Panel picture at Raisina Dialogue. Sir General Chris Deverell, Commander Joint Forces Command, UK joined the panel as well.

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Dr. Lydia Kostopoulos’ (@LKCYBER) work lies in the intersection of strategy, technology, education, and national security. Her professional experience spans three continents, several countries and multi-cultural environments. She speaks and writes on disruptive technology convergence, innovation, tech ethics, and national security. She is an advisor to the AI Initiative at The Future Society at the Harvard Kennedy School, participates in NATO’s Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Program, is a member of the FBI’s InfraGard Alliance, and during the Obama administration has received the U.S. Presidential Volunteer Service Award for her pro bono work in cybersecurity. www.lkcyber.com

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