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  • The world is entering a new age of warfare. A digital revolution is sweeping through  

  • every military force on the planet. Leading the charge is artificial intelligence.  

  • A technology with the power to upend  everything about human conflict.  

  • Including whether humans are involved at all

  • And simmering beneathis a global cyberwar  that has already started and may never end.

  • Digital technology is transforming all our lives,  

  • so no wonder it's also changing how we  fight. It's making militaries smarter,  

  • faster, more efficient. But it's also opening up  the prospect of serious dangers in the future.

  • There's a third revolution of warfare  after gunpowder and nuclear weapons

  • There will be more unpredictability in  how we get to armed conflict, and that  

  • will make the whole world a more dangerous place.

  • Here in Berlin, Germany's foreign minister warns  us: a full-scale tech arms race is underway.

  • We're right in the middle of it. That's  the reality we have to deal with

  • Wir sind schon mittendrindas ist die  Realität, mit der wir es zu tun haben.

  • In fact critical technologies are  developing so fast that SOCIETIES  

  • can barely keep upand ask themselves  the question, is this what we want? So  

  • in this video we're going to zero in on two  risks that are not getting enough attention.

  • First, we'll see how a cyber intrusion against the  command and control systems for nuclear weapons  

  • could set off a terrifying chain of events.

  • You have to worry that it's going to  escalate into something that's like  

  • truly apocalyptic -- civilization ending.

  • Then we'll examine how a recent  war in an obscure part of the world  

  • provided a taste of things to come…  accelerating a race for autonomous weapons.

  • And how the artificial intelligence behind them  

  • could lead to conflicts that  move at horrifying speed.

  • All of a sudden you have a have  a war that no one really started,  

  • and which could spiral out of control.

  • We'll catch glimpses of a future  where wars can start more easily

  • where they can escalate fasterand where humans can't stop them.

  • Machines are dictating the  conduct on the battlefield.  

  • Machines are making the ultimate  decisions about life and death.

  • The good news is: it's not too late to make  critical choices. And in the final part  

  • we'll look at what political leaders could be  doing NOW to prevent the worst from happening

  • But firstwe begin with a scenario that is  not from the future. It could happen today.

  • We're going to England's north York Moors, near  the coast and the windy North Sea. Here we find  

  • what could be the most important places in the  world -- that you have probably never heard of.

  • Its name is Fylingdales, a British air force  base that's notable not for its planes, but for

  • this grey edifice, jutting out of the ground.  

  • They call it the pyramid. But  in fact, it's a giant radar.

  • It's not the only one.  

  • There's something similar on the other side of  the world, at Clear air force base in Alaska.

  • And there's another far to the south at  Beale, in the heat of the California desert

  • There's one hidden in the forest on Cape Cod,  

  • Massachusettswhere America  nudges out into the West Atlantic.

  • And in the frozen north of Greenlandfar above the Arctic Circle,  

  • you'll find that another pyramid looms.

  • These installations are all part of America's  early warning systempowerful radars built to  

  • detect attacks on the US homeland or American  allies. Above allincoming nuclear missiles.

  • It's a system that reaches out into space, where  dedicated satellites keep watch from high orbit.  

  • Constantly feeding back to the  "command-and-control" apparatus  

  • in charge of America's own nuclear weapons.

  • This is the nervous system of the western  military alliance. It dates back to the Cold  

  • War but in today's geopolitical tensions, it's  as crucial as ever. Disrupting it could leave  

  • the alliance blindprone to attack. That was made clear in America's latest  

  • nuclear posture reviewessentially the  instruction manual of its most powerful weapons.

  • This infrastructure is so  important, the review said  

  • that if it were attacked, the US might  respond by using nuclear weapons.

  • As we're going to find outdespite their  critical position at the heart of Western  

  • security, these systems are vulnerable  – to new and unpredictable threats.

  • The first early warning systems were built decades  ago, at the height of the Cold War. Their job:  

  • detecting nuclear missiles coming in from Russia. As they've been updated over the decades,  

  • two crucial things have changed  that make them more exposed.

  • First -- many are no longer focussed only  on nuclear threats. They're multi-tasking.

  • "None of the big command and control  systems whose existence has been  

  • acknowledged by the US government are used  exclusively for non-nuclear operations."

  • James Acton is one of the world's  leading experts on nuclear security.

  • "That's one example of this phenomenon that I term  

  • the growing entanglement between the  nuclear and the non-nuclear domains."

  • This idea of "entanglement" is important. It  means that the incredibly sensitive area of  

  • nuclear weapons is no longer separated off in its  own bubble. It's become mixed in with matters of  

  • conventional warfare. And that multi-tasking  means they're more likely to be a target.  

  • In a crisis or a conflict, adversaries could have  a potential incentive to attack these dual-use  

  • command and control assets, these assets that are  used for both nuclear and non-nuclear operations.  

  • Potentially, they're doing that in order to  disrupt US conventional war fightingbut that  

  • would have the effect of degrading the US  nuclear command and control architecture.

  • So there are more reasons to attack these targetsAnd on top of that comes the second big change:  

  • they've entered the digital age, opening  them up to the prospect of cyber-attack.

  • Systems are now relying on digital signals  as opposed to analogue signals, increasingly  

  • relying on thingslike IP based operating systems IP-based operating systems: Internet Protocol 

  • that means computer operating  systems with networking capabilities 

  • which creates vulnerabilities, for  example, in the form of cyber-attacks.  

  • Very old-fashioned nuclear command and  control systems that didn't use digital  

  • systems were invulnerable to cyber-attacksThere was no code there to do the attacking."

  • Today, cyber-attacks are an everyday eventwe often hear about them on the news. In fact,  

  • some say we've entered a low-grade  cyber-war that will NEVER stop.

  • "You have a mix of state level and non-state  actors constantly probing and attacking  

  • networks around the world. That's just the reality  

  • of 21st century life and something  that we'll have to deal with."

  • Just about everything and  everyone can be a target.  

  • Recent attacks have hit the US  government, the German parliament,  

  • and Iran's nuclear programme. And  they're just the ones that we know about.

  • Some of the most serious cyber-attacks  have hit public infrastructure  

  • like those against Ukraine's power grid –  attacks blamed on Russia. That was so grave  

  • that the United States stepped in to press  charges against the alleged perpetrators.

  • No country has weaponized its cyber capabilities  as maliciously and irresponsibly as Russia."

  • Attacks like that on civilian infrastructure  have become a major public concern.  

  • But only a small circle of experts are  thinking about how a cyber-attack on  

  • nuclear command and control systems might play  out. Here, the stakes could not be higher.

  • To see what could happen, let's go back  to the English coast and Fylingdales,  

  • the early warning system peering  across the North Sea towards Russia.  

  • In a crisis situation with the  Kremlin, this could be a prime target.

  • "That's so significant because  that radar is the closest US  

  • radar to Russia's biggest concentration of  its nuclear forces. It's the one that would  

  • get the quickest warning of a Russian nuclear  attack. It's also the most entangled one."

  • Remember that idea of "entanglement" between  the nuclear and the non-nuclear realms

  • Fylingdales is a key example of this, watching  out not just for big nuclear missiles,  

  • but also for conventional weapons.

  • If Russia was firing short-range ballistic  missiles at Europe, Fylingdales could see  

  • those missiles in a way that other US radars  that are further from Europe couldn't. 

  • So of all the US early warning radars, Fylingdales  is the one that has the biggest Russian incentives  

  • to attack in a crisis or a conflict. And it's the  one that attacks could have the biggest effect  

  • on in terms of degrading US  strategic early warning capabilities.

  • And a scenario where exactly that  happens is all too easy to imagine.

  • It's the near future. We're in Latvia, a  former Soviet republic, now a member of NATO.

  • Protests have broken out among  ethnic minority Russians,  

  • who are accusing the government of discrimination.

  • As the protests turn violent, Russia  begins amassing troops along the border.

  • Western leaders accuse Moscow  of orchestrating the unrest  

  • as a pretext to invade this  tiny NATO member state.

  • Neighbouring Estonia and Lithuania  – also former Soviet republics  

  • and also now members of NATOreport a surge in cyber-attacks.

  • Fear spikes across the region.  

  • For the first time since the Cold War, NATO  and Russia are on the brink of direct conflict.

  • As the crisis deepens, the US detects  malicious computer code planted in its  

  • early warning networks at Fylingdales. In the  heart of a system that is on ultra-high alert.

  • James Acton explains what happens next.

  • If you find malicious code in your networksIt's very hard to know what that code does. It  

  • takes a long time to analyse the code and  understand what the other side is doing.  

  • And this makes it very hard to know whether  this malicious code is just for espionage,  

  • or is also for offensive operations as  well. And in this fast-moving crisis,  

  • the US doesn't know what the code does. It  hasn't yet had a chance to analyze it even  

  • if that code is exclusively for espionage  purposes. There is a danger that the US  

  • might conclude that it's preparations for  an attack on an early warning system."

  • As the malware spreads, the US also has to work  out who planted it. That's a process called  

  • attribution. It takes time, and it is NOT easyAdding pressure to the fear and deep uncertainty.

  • There's various countries that could have  incentives to launch cyber espionage or prepare  

  • for cyber attacks by inserting malware  against the U.S. early warning system.  

  • You know, North Korea would have an  incentive for doing it. China would have  

  • an incentive for doing it. Russia would have  an incentive of doing it, maybe others, too.

  • Amid all that uncertainty, with the Latvian crisis  ongoing, Russia becomes be the obvious suspect.

  • "I think there is potentially an  assumption in that crisis to assume  

  • that Russia implanted the malware. Even if you  don't know for certain who did it -- Chinese  

  • implantation or North Korean implantation --  again, in a fast moving crisis in which you  

  • don't have time to do the attribution properlymay be misinterpreted as a Russian intrusion."

  • So in the heat of this crisis,  

  • under intense pressure, the US has  some enormous decisions to make.

  • Its most sensitive nuclear weapons  infrastructure is under cyber-attack.  

  • It doesn't know what the code  is doing, or who planted it.  

  • But the circumstances suggest it's a Russian  attack. So the Americans decide to respond  

  • in kind -- with a cyber-attack of  their own against Russia's systems.

  • It then does the same thing against Russianot  necessarily for an attack at this point, but for  

  • espionage and for signalling purposes and sayingyou know, anything you could do, we can do better.  

  • The problem is that Russia is very worried  about the survivability of its nuclear forces.

  • Now Russia fears that the US is trying  to mess with ITS nuclear weapons.

  • Discovering cyber intrusions in your  command-and-control system can exacerbate  

  • those fears. You could believe the US  is preparing to attack, preparing to  

  • eliminate the nuclear forces pre-emptively.

  • The two sides are entering a spiral of escalation  

  • that leads towards disaster with a relentless  logic. Russia makes the first move.

  • A lot of their nuclear weapons or missiles  are based on trucks which they would have  

  • to disperse to make them survivable  so that the US couldn't destroy them.  

  • So they may do that because they're  worried about a US nuclear attack

  • But that kind of action could confirm the US fear  that they're preparing for nuclear weapon use…  

  • and that that's the kind of scenario thatthink could catalyze nuclear weapon use directly.  

  • The US then disperses its nuclear forces  that confirms Russian fears that the US  

  • is thinking about using nuclear weapons and  that leads to Russian limited nuclear use.

  • Limited nuclear use. We've gone from a piece  of mystery code in the wrong place to a nuclear  

  • missile launch. Let's do what the  governments can't in this situation - and  

  • slow right down to pick  apart what's just happened.  

  • Because this is how a regional crisis  can turn into a catastrophic war.

  • In the heat of a crisis with Russia, the US  detects malware in its early warning networks.

  • Fearing it could be Russian code  aimed at disabling its systems,  

  • it retaliates with a cyber intrusion  of its own into Russia's networks.

  • Russia now fears its nuclear  capabilities are being threatened,  

  • and scatters its land-based weapons  to avoid possible attack. When this is

  • picked up by the US, Washington disperses  its own nuclear forces for the same reason.

  • Fearing an imminent nuclear attack, Russia fires  the ultimate warning shot - a small nuclear  

  • missile against a target that would result in  minimal casualties, like a naval ship out at sea.

  • You can conceive of first use of nuclear weapons  that literally kills no civilians and only a small  

  • number of military personnel. The use of nuclear  weapons against a ship at sea, far from any land,  

  • a military vessel -- you might only kill the  sailors on board that vessel and no civilians."

  • While the immediate damage may be limited, this  crosses the threshold called "nuclear first  

  • use. Whichever side does this, they've  made the situation deadly serious.

  • Once you've crossed that threshold -- once nuclear  first use has happened -- you have to worry that  

  • it's going to escalate into something that's  like truly apocalyptic civilization ending.  

  • And so the real goal for me is  to prevent any first use at all.

  • We've just seen how a cyber intrusion can  escalate mercilessly into a nuclear conflict  

  • that nobody wanted. Where things could go from  THERE is the stuff of nightmares. But there  

  • are things the world could do now to prevent  such a disaster from happening in the future.  

  • We'll look at those later. But  firstlet's leave this realm of  

  • scenarios and return to the real world  – and a war that has already happened.

  • It's late 2020 and war has broken out  in a place the world had forgotten.  

  • A festering conflict has erupted  into full-scale fighting.

  • Ground zero is Nagorno Karabakh… a  disputed region in the Caucasus mountains,  

  • fought over by two former Soviet  republics: Armenia and Azerbaijan.

  • This looks like a textbook regional warover  territory, over ethnic and national pride. Fought  

  • while the rest of the world is consumed by the  pandemic, it doesn't get that much media coverage.  

  • But for those who are paying attentionit is a glimpse of future wars.

  • You can find it right here, in the propaganda  pumping out from the start of the war.

  • Azerbaijan's border patrol posts this video on  its YouTube account just as the conflict begins.

  • The lyrics are a rush of jingoistic feverwith a mantra: "hate" for the enemy.

  • But look carefully, and you'll see what makes  this conflict a watershed in modern war.

  • Watch out for these trucks in the background.

  • In this shot you can just about see what's inside.

  • Then a launch, in slow motion.

  • What emerges is not a rocket or a missileit has wings that are beginning to unfold  

  • just before the video cuts away.

  • We can see enough to identify what this is.

  • It's what's called a "loitering munition" from  Israel's state-owned defence manufacturer,  

  • IAI. Its model name: the "Harop."

  • The company's promotional videos show  what "loitering munitions" can do.

  • Once launched, they flyautonomously  – to a target area, where they can wait,  

  • or "loiter" in the sky for hours, scanning  for a targettypically, air defence systems.

  • Once they find a target, they don't dropbomb, but fly into it, to destroy it on impact.

  • It's earned them the nickname "kamikaze drones."

  • In the war over Nagorno Karabakh,  

  • these weapons didn't just make for good  propaganda. They made a real difference.

  • Azerbaijan had spent years  investing in loitering munitions.  

  • Analysis by a US think tank  showed that they had more than  

  • 200 units across four different models –  all of them sophisticated Israeli designs.

  • Armenia only had a single, domestically  made model with a limited range.

  • "The really important aspect of the conflict  in Nagorno Karabakh, in my view, was the use of  

  • these loitering munitions, so-called kamikaze  drones, these pretty autonomous systems."

  • Ulrike Franke is one of Europe's  leading experts on military drones.

  • They also had been used in some  way or form before, but here,  

  • they really showed their usefulnessmilitarily speaking, of course. It  

  • was shown how difficult it is  to fight against these systems.

  • As