Impacts of Artificial Intelligence in Foreign Policy


By GP Acharya (KATHMANDU, 11 July 2019) – The technological revolution, known as third industrial revolution, has made ground-breaking effect in the geo-politics of the late 20th century. The digital revolution, biggest ever geopolitical revolution in human history, has been increasing the productivity of global economy, changing the perceptions of humankind and influencing the global politics, today.

However, the smaller the supercomputers in size and faster the microprocessors function, the more complex geopolitics and tech war the world is witnessing. With the digital revolution; the threat perceptions, both from state and non-state actors, have also been changed. The more the states adopt their gamut of intelligence operations, the higher the foes use advanced technological weapons.

As claimed by Joseph Nye, “Democratization of technology is leading to the privatization of war”, the bitter experience is 9/11 attack in the US where non-state actors threatened the most powerful state in the world. Meanwhile, China and Russia adopted “the diplomacy of sympathy” following the 9/11 attack where as the US engaged in “the diplomacy of aggression” in Iraq which remained the worst ever foreign policy failure in its history. Subsequently, Iraq invasion created greater space to the emergence of supplementary terrorist groups including the IS which is consequently costlier now to the entire world. Meanwhile, Bin Laden, the mastermind behind 9/11 attack, was traced and killed by the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) navigated drones. Since then, AI has been widely used in military and security which has ultimately brought radical change in foreign policy.

The US-Iran relation has been deteriorated after Iran shoot down the US drone spying above the Iranian space. While, President Trump’s last minute decision of withdrawing the “go ahead” order to strike against Iran, by embracing AI responsibly and uttering that “the lives of hundreds of Iranian civilians outweighs the cost ($131 million) of unmanned US-drone”, must be admired. This shows, Missile and AI technology are gradually balancing the power between the rivals. For instance, the power balance between US-North Korea is due to the strength of missile technology while the use of autonomous weapons (inbuilt automated AI devices) potentially changing the US-Iran balance of power. Whereas, US-China power is balanced or counter-balanced by the pursuit of AI and tech supremacy.

Tech Supremacy

The states that are capable enough to marshal the power of AI would be dominating the world politics, economy and diplomacy. The states are less likely to win the battle without the use of AI, today. This is why some countries have massively invested on AI and Nano-technology. Since, AI can play predictive roles on geopolitics- forecasting of elections, economic performance and foreign policy decision making- provided the quantity of data. AI can make intelligent guesses on best possible future course of actions. AI machines are programmed based on optimization and verification algorithms which help perceive a sequence of information around the political spheres. AI systems can predict future events that may offer opportunities for foreign policymakers to forecast opponent’s positions and tactics, and can help model complex negotiations in international affairs.

More likely, states will design high skilled AI machines and designate AI Diplomats, AI Foreign Minister and AI Military for diplomacy and defense someday. These intelligent machine diplomats will be representing the nations and negotiate on the table on behalf of the respective states. AI diplomats would play a significant role in foreign policy decision making because they act rational and can think several steps ahead than human. More importantly, they are not guided by political ego and never advise wrong policy to the Government

Meanwhile, the world is witnessing modern day bi-polar tech and trade politics between the US and China. However, the US-China rivalry today differs from that of US-Soviet in the past and is largely at virtual world, space, sea and on tech and trade. Relatively, China’s technology and goods are cost effective and competitive because of lower cost of production, coherence in regulations and bureaucratic policies. The Chinese tech companies are motivated for self reliant innovation following the US ban on Huawei. Accordingly, tech giant Alibaba has aimed to develop a super-fast quantum computer by 2020.

Politically, China is adopting Marxist approach where as the US is gradually becoming a realist. Diplomatically, China is espousing soft power whereas the US has adopted coercive strategy. But economically, both the nations are enjoying liberalism. And, technically, China is aiming for Algorithmic Governance. For china, technology companies are the main sources of economic dynamics and soft power. That’s why China has invested massive on AI and Face Recognition Technology assuming that surveillance and control remain on their system. China has maintained its own satellite server for data security and cost saving where as Russia, Brazil and some other developed countries are even depending on foreign internet companies to maintain servers in their countries.

Chinese bureaucrats and technocrats believe that information and data security are essential components for their national security. As China is aiming for high tech authoritarian future with the goal of algorithmic governance, it is developing competitive applications like image and voice recognition to make their surveillance system stronger. This shows China’s concern in national security and the long run vision of adopting tech policy.

China has already installed 200 million surveillance cameras around the nation which is four times higher than America is having right now. AI has been a national research and development priority and which is now the part of China’s national security and defense strategies. They have initiated “military-civil fusion” where academic and commercial organizations are working closely with military on AI projects. According to the Department of Defense, China is in the process to deploy AI-powered drones and automated submarines in large numbers in Asia to counter American Tech hegemony. For this, China has conducted operation test for 119 drones in 2017 to demonstrate its tech capability. Data shows that China’s 80 percent of GDP growth is determined by the application of new technology where as only 20 percent is driven by traditional labor and capital. Since, China is marshalling the power of AI; it hits the top of the list in controlling the economy, technology, diplomacy and politics.

Policy Framework

Perhaps, the world will witness greater threat from AI weapons that will be induced more from non-state actors than the state actors. The UN-Security Council must think in advance to articulate actionable laws regarding the use of AI technologies under the norms of existing international law and human rights. The checks and balances on the surveillance activities need to be brought within the domain of international diplomacy. Global policy about AI driven surveillance, security, public diplomacy on AI ethics and global data policy framework must be instrumented through the global institutions. Equally, states need to be quite aware of the potential threats and opportunities of the applications of AI. Yet, the political leaders must use their sense of intelligence to bring drastic effect in foreign policy decision making.

Acharya is a researcher and analyst who holds an M.Sc. in Computer Science,  M.Sc. in Statistics, completed M.A. in International Relations and Diplomacy, and studied MPhil in Management.

Twitter: @GPAthinker

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