Heavy American weapons in the Baltic, new Russian ICBMs etc. etc. Let us hope this is just ritual and routine, and that the cold war will not cool further. But not least the continued conflict in Eastern Ukraine still risks aggravating matters between East and West.
Another major risk comes from the increased conflicts on the Internet. Espionage, hacker attacks, sabotage.
As said in more posts we are now in the age of modernity, a phase which is characterized amongst other things by a competition or fight between big nations for world hegemony. In all civilizations this competition has taken place in two spheres:
2) Public opinion
But in our case between these two a third is added:
3) The Internet or Cyberspace.
The internet can be seen as a sphere between the two other spheres. Part of it is used for information and propaganda for and by people and politicians and is thus important for the sphere of public opinion. But in addition to this and even more importantly it forms a separate arena of real and direct power. It has got widespread use for the executive functions: government, central and local administration, police, surveillance just to mention some. The countless more technical uses in public and private control-systems can be seen as part of this sphere as well. Extremely important is the role of electronic communication in money transfer. Of course the Internet is also used directly in the military sphere for communication and ntelligence gathering.
So Cyberspace is directly involved in the two traditional spheres, public opinion and military. And it has assumed a heavy role in executive functions, administration and control. Therefore it is reasonable to say that it has begun to constitute a new third sphere. All this gives the Internet a paramount importance in interstate competition.
Conflicts in Cyberspace risk destabilizing inter-state relations with the possibility of provoking countermeasures of the same sort or even military. I will argue that this together with other factors could break a two centuries old pattern of conflict in the Western civilization (today including of course China and to a great extent Russia).
As said in other posts, during modernity - or with other terms the Warring States period or Time of Troubles - conflicts and wars are seemingly unavoidable on the way to victory of one power. Often wars have been more frequent in the second half of modernities.
This happens in different ways in different civilizations. In some cases permanent wars, in others shifting with peace. In old Rome (Greco-Roman civilization) the wars were both external and internal and they were more or less permanent, especially in the last century before Augustus. In the modernities of old China (500-221 BC) and of both Mesopotamian civilizations (ca. 2000-1700 BC and 850-540 BC) wars were interspaced by periods of peace, but very frequent. In the second Chinese modernity during the Song dynasty (960-1279) wars were seldom untill the assault by the Mongolians.
Obviously the pattern of war and peace is not static through modernities. As said wars often get more frequent and violent through modernities, but idiosyncratic events and developments can have decisive effects in altering patterns. In the last decades of the second Mesopotamian modernity things became much more peacefull because of the fall of Assyria in 609 BC. In our case 1914 could have marked a general shift to a far worse long period of brutal wars, but this in its turn was stopped by the emergence of the terror balance.
This post deals with present developments in our case which could potentially alter the known pattern into a less peaceful and stable phase. That longest possible periods of peace and predictability are desirable should be self-evident.
In our case not only because of global costs of technological wars, we have seen a pattern of often big wars with long breaks of peace in between. It has functioned this way in our whole modernity since the French revolutionary wars. But the typical increase in the frequency of wars in the second half of modernities has been limited by the above factors, the terror balance and the cost of modern warfare.
Only in the 3. world have wars been more frequent, here including the many proxy-wars.
Now IT makes low-scale hostilities possible with costs, that are lower than those involved in military means. But as hinted at above it has negative consequences:
1) it gives permanent instability and unpredictability causing global harm, not least economically.
2) it gives risk for military retributions.
Therefore the development could break the pattern of seldom wars with long periods of peace in-between seen since 1789 in the northern hemisphere. Replacing it by more or less permanent low scale conflict with increased risk of more IT and even military conflicts. The Western pattern of war/conflict and peace would be altered a third time after the changes in 1914 and 1945.
Internet conflicts thus have the same effects as the other recent newcomer: Interventions by both sides in conflicts in important countries in the northern henisphere like Ukraine. Both have a destabilising and risk-creating effect.
(The intervention in ex-Yugoslavia was less of a problem because primarily one side intervened and essential interests of the other side was not felt threatened.)
In sum presently the two main destabilizing factors are 1) IT warfare and 2) two-sided interventions in important North hemisphere countries.
The last seem difficult to handle without mutual trust and agreement on spheres of interest. But a code of cyber-conduct is needed and possible. The details of this must be negotiated, but it may include at least permission to spy and prohibition of sabotage. Thus the Sino-American talks on this subject must be applauded.
Unfortunately future conflicts may not be avoided, but as hoped in this post they should continue to come with long distances in time. Hopefully and probably they will have a less traditionally military character. Even without a terror balance the costs of wars would be unacceptable because of the price of modern trchnological warfare, the loss of life and the economic consequences in the global trade.
The military sphere is increasingly supplemented by the new third Internet sphere. Only few countries make themselves clear how much they have made themselves dependent on the Internet and how much the control of this through soft- and hardware is already centralized in a few countries. Through this web countries can be subjugated almost as much as earlier through occupation. The disclosures by Mr. Snowden and presently from WikiLeaks on NSA activities in Germany show how European governments and parliaments are enmeshed in the American web. Moreover today the dependance on the Internet is so heavy that it is almost completely impossible to break out or establish clear lines of defense.
The activities of the NSA in countries like Germany and France are not only intelligence gathering. They are also and perhaps more a de facto control of parts of the affected countries.
The wide usage of the web explains the importance with which internet control is regarded by the big players. Because of the costs of both non-conventional and conventional military wars Cyberspace could replace the field as the major scene for decision of power on the globe. Who wins in the end might be the country which enmeshes most of the world in its web of Internet, software and hardware.
But the costs of cyber-wars in a globalized world are also high enough to make a code of conduct desirable.