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Emerging Threats and Opportunities

Soldier in foreground with night vision and aircraft in background with lights glaring


From the latest edition of PRISM, and building upon earlier examination in this forum on the ethics involved in the employment of explosive weapons in urban areas, an article exploring the ethics of acquiring disruptive technologies. Disruptive technology is defined in this paper as AI, Autonomous Weapons and Decision Support Systems, and its importance lies in the paper's recognition that Western militaries may have little choice in proceeding with the acquisition of such capability. The author notes that: 'Objections to their use [AI weapon systems] tend to cluster around the themes that such weapons introduce a “responsibility gap” that could undermine international humanitarian law (IHL) and dehumanise warfare in ways that are morally unacceptable.’ Consequently, the paper seeks to inform rules and frameworks on this assumption that acquisition will proceed despite the ethical challenges we identify with disruptive technologies.

The Information/Cyber Domain 

From the NATO StratCom Center of Excellence (CoE), Mapping Extremist Communities: A Social Network Approach. As described by this report, the CoE approach maps extremist networks, exploring 3 areas:

  1. Emerging open-source narratives
  2. Connections between media platforms
  3. How extremism is no longer tied to monolithic entities

This report amplifies a general disaggregating effect, expanding upon the franchise model certain extremist groups have been pursuing over the past decade. It may also talk to opportunity in future battlespaces where self-motivated online entities might perform information functions in support of GOAS objectives (the example of Anonymous illuminating IS entities suggesting what this potential might look like).

Irregular Warfare and Terrorism 

From the Combating Terrorism Centre at West Point, an article in the CTC Sentinel examining the impact of the targeting of Qassim Soleimani upon Iranian-backed militias in Iraq. Late in the article, it also considers aspects of how this disruption to the IRGC-QF might apply to other proxy wars, such as Yemen. This article is just one component of the January 2020 edition, with a similar article examining ‘What’s next for Iran’s Quds Force.’ Broader articles in this edition are also of interest as a Longer read, including ‘Lessons from the Islamic State’s ‘Milestone’ texts and speeches’ and ‘Islamic State’s Strategy of Civilian Control’, both of which offer highly useful insight into the nature of Islamic State’s strategy.

From the Institute for the Study of War, a very short article and timeline which serves as a useful summary of the issues presented by this forum over the past month, graphically demonstrating the phases of consideration by respective parties and the points of escalation. With this graphic, we will soon wrap up the discussion of the breadth of the Iraq/Syria case and in subsequent weeks, shift focus to explore other cases.

Major Power Competition  

From the Atlantic Council, a short-article analysis of last year’s Abqaiq attack in Saudi Arabia. The relevance of this piece being the consideration needed for Australia’s critical infrastructure vulnerabilities in the event of major power competition, particularly against competitors with ballistic and cruise missile precision-strike capabilities. A warning signal about the proliferation of such conventional deterrence capabilities to non-state actors was the 2006 employment of a C-802 anti-ship missile by Hezbollah against an Israeli patrol craft offshore, in a masterful information operations action by Hassan Nasrallah. An additional data point lies in the Houthi engagements of US, Saudi and Emirati vessels from 2015 onward. It is, therefore, reasonable to expect such long-range strike capabilities as a ‘new normal’ as part of our future warfighting philosophy – particularly against airports.

A Regional Worldview 

From the Lowy Institute, an article examining Malaysia’s political situation following their recent election of Muhyiddin Yassin, replacing Mahathir Mohamad as Prime Minister. The article argues the likelihood of increasing Islamisation of Malaysian politics. This conclusion is of note in examining this development in the context of Malaysia’s significant engagement on mobile devices (in the top 10 nations globally, according to NATO STRATCOM COE), 70 million Facebook users, and residual Islamic State presence (this being an article from the Jakarta Post suggesting Islamic State may seek to increase its presence in South-East Asia).

Defence innovation  

From the Principles of War Podcast, a four-part series, each of approximately 30 mins exploring the Battle of the Bismark Sea, and the innovation employed by the 5th Air Force within that conflict. Each of the 4 podcasts takes slightly different angles, and so while there is some overlap, the aggregate picture is told in an entertaining manner.

Longer reads 

Note the comments under Irregular Warfare and Terrorism section regarding the utility of the January 2020 edition of the CTC Sentinel as this week’s Longer read. Indeed, one of these articles is a summary of the book, ‘The ISIS Reader’, which charts the strategy of Islamic State over its various manifestations.

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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