STOCKHOLM - SIPRI has launched a new film capturing insights from global actors on how developments in technology have altered the nature of warfare and have opened cyberspace and outer space as potential new battlefields of the future.

The film is based on discussions recorded during the 2021 Stockholm Security Conference (SSC 21) which centred on the topic ‘Battlefields of the Future: Trends of Conflict and Warfare in the 21st Century’. The conference brought together leading experts and representatives from the political, military, academic and diplomatic communities, as well as civil society.

Better understanding and adaptiveness needed to address complex battlefields

Evolutions in military affairs combined with the accelerated pace of technological developments have enormous implications for security and pose challenges to international humanitarian law (IHL).

The scale of new technologies across different fields such as biotechnology, digital technology, cybertechnology, machine learning, robotics and space adds to the sense of uncertainty and urgency to understand, act upon and manage those new technologies. These developments, and the resulting disruption and destruction, could have profound human costs, which raises the important question of how to prevent and mitigate them.

These trends are further exacerbated by the impact of urbanization on the future of conflict, geopolitics and the environmental crisis, as well as on the more traditional types of warfare that are continuing or re-emerging in several parts of the world.

These complex developments require a better understanding of changes to the domains of land, sea, air, space, cyber and information. They also demand more integrated approaches with new partners, as well as new skills and competences.

There is enormous room for creativity and innovation to prevent and navigate war and conflict outside the traditional concepts. ‘The earlier we look at technological developments and their potential for military use in warfare the more likely it is that we can come up with new norms, new rules and regulations to shape the future, rather than technology shaping our future,’ says Dr Sibylle Bauer, Director of Studies, Armament and Disarmament, at SIPRI.

Space security is not exempt from geopolitics and strategic stability on earth

Space activities have also evolved considerably over the past few decades and are being used for both civilian and military purposes. Contemporary strategic armament dynamics contribute to the accelerated militarization of outer space. This has implications for nuclear risk reduction and arms control and raises questions of how IHL could apply to conflict in space. The clarification of rules under IHL can aid in preventing a potential armed conflict in outer space.

‘There is a need to introduce new measures to minimize the scope for accidents and miscommunications because these can lead to dangerous miscalculations, amplify tensions and further drive arms race behaviours,’ says Nivedita Raju, Researcher on Outer Space issues at SIPRI.

Need for integrated approach to protection of civilians

Discussions during the conference also focused on the operational needs, legal considerations, and technological opportunities and challenges of urban warfare. ‘There is a need in conflict settings for a federated approach where not only the armed forces and other governmental agencies, but also international organizations and non-governmental organizations play a part in a more integrated approach to protection of civilians,’ says Dr Ian Anthony, Director of the SIPRI European Security Programme.

SIPRI interviewed Ambassador Rüdiger Bohn in connection to SSC 21 on the topic of battlefields of the future. Ambassador Bohn is Deputy Federal Government Commissioner for Disarmament and Arms Control, Federal Foreign Office, Germany, which sponsored SSC 21.

About the Stockholm Security Conference

The Stockholm Security Conference is an annual meeting that brings together key stakeholders to discuss global security challenges and how to respond to insecurity. The conference gathers representatives from government, academia, business, the military and civil society, in a joint endeavour to explore the multiple dimensions of security in the world. In previous years, the conference has focused on themes such as secure cities and risks posed by emerging technologies. Browse through past years here.

About SIPRI’s films

SIPRI produces a variety of videos to cater for different viewing preferences and serve as an alternative platform for providing insights on peace and security. Events are a core component of SIPRI’s outreach, and live streams and recordings of SIPRI’s conferences and seminars are produced on a regular basis.

To watch the film, visit: