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Is there a proxy war today?

July 25, 2018 | Expert Insights


A proxy war is an armed conflict between two parties, either countries or factions, which is taking place on behalf of parties not directly involved. Generally there will be a long term relationship between the all those involved and often competing ideologies. They are often a way of furthering national interests without it escalating to an all out war between two very powerful countries. The warring parties will often be funded, armed or even advised by the external forces.

War historians have seen examples of these kinds of conflicts dating back into the Middle Ages. Some medieval states such as the Byzantine Empire used proxy warfare as a foreign policy tool by deliberately cultivating intrigue among hostile rivals and then backing them when they went to war with each other. Other states regarded proxy wars as merely a useful extension of a preexisting conflict, such as France and England during the Hundred Years' War, both of which initiated a longstanding practice of supporting piracy which targeted the other's merchant shipping.

The Cold War was known for the extensive use of proxy wars. One such proxy war was the Race for Space between the USSR and the USA during the Cold War. The technological superiority required for such dominance was seen as necessary for national security, and symbolic of ideological superiority. The Space Race spawned pioneering efforts to launch artificial satellites, uncrewed space probes of the MoonVenus, and Mars, and human spaceflight in low Earth orbit and to the Moon.


            Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel first articulated the idea that rapid advances in artificial intelligence will define the next generation of warfare. In 2014, this was a concept known as the “Third Offset Strategy”.

The United States and China currently dominate the world of artificial intelligence, but used very different approaches to get there. While the US’s academic system has generated and incubated the research that made today’s AI possible, China’s government has pledged billions in funding and offered the technology its full-throated support.

A new report published on Wednesday and provided exclusively to CNN by Work and Govini, a data and analytics firm that conducts government analysis, warns that the US military must now decide if it wants to "lead the coming revolution, or fall victim to it" amid emerging challenges from China and Russia.

Fortune‘s most substantial argument for why China is winning the A.I. race? “structural advantages” like “data, computing power, and competent engineers.”

The fact that China’s surveillance state has nearly unparalleled powers (especially when compared to the rest of the industrialized nations with countries ostensibly participating in the A.I. race) gives companies working in the A.I. sector there a proving ground for development unlike any other in the world. That’s to say nothing of the fact that Chinese capitalism’s biggest actors (i.e. massive private sector entities) are also incentivized (i.e. compelled by the Chinese government) to work hand-in-hand with the Chinese government’s interests if they want to have any chance to further up the economic food chain.

The fact that China is a country open to automated monitoring, censoring, and identification of its citizenry — gives China an advantage in the race for A.I.

One of the development resources China has is unobstructed access to data. But is it at a moral cost other competing nations would be so willing to obviously incur. And given a choice, won’t their citizens push back against it? 


Our assessment is that While DOD and Silicon Valley have recently invested in AI research and development, relying on American commercial research and development is not going to be enough. We feel that the White House and Pentagon must determine the extent to which the US will ramp up research and development in technologies associated with artificial intelligence.