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In this issue of the RUSI Journal, we look at a wide range of themes including military health, proxy warfare, artificial intelligence (AI), the challenges facing China in the coming decade, and even how the practice of writing about war experiences has changed with the advent of new technologies. Aware that the ongoing global health crisis is going to have significant repercussions for defence and security in the medium and long term, we believe it is all the more important to explore existing trends and understand the dynamics of conflict, great power competition, ideological rivalries and even technological developments on to which the coronavirus pandemic is likely to add a further layer of complexity and tension.
China’s challenges in the coming decade and how its leaders will choose to address them are important questions in the current climate – even more so given the controversy surrounding the country’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak in late 2019 and early 2020. This controversy touched on both its initial response – how it shared information about the crisis internationally – as well as its subsequent offers of aid to countries all over the world. To really understand Chinese behaviour, however, it is important to take a step back and take the long view of the internal political, economic and social dynamics likely to influence the choices of the People’s Republic of China in its eighth decade. Charles Parton provides a tour de force analysis of the main challenges facing the Chinese Communist Party in the 2020s, both domestic and international.
Looking at the future – even in the short term – technology, and especially AI, are on everyone’s mind as being potentially on the verge of changing the nature of human interaction or, at the very least, the nature of conflict. James Johnson homes in on some of the battlefield challenges that the use of AI may pose to military planning. Actors and their direct and indirect involvement in active conflict are also one of the important dimensions of contemporary warfare. Vladimir Rauta looks at what the war in Syria can tell us about how and why states may choose to use proxies. Elisabeth Braw and Gary Brown focus instead on cyber aggression, another aspect of contemporary conflict that may sometimes be difficult to directly attribute to state actors, and ask if deterrence can be best achieved by targeting the individuals perpetrating the attacks even when a state is sponsoring their actions. Finally, Joe Fossey closes the section on future conflict by asking whether developments in space policy may be a good test for the application of the UK’s Fusion Doctrine.
Antimalarial drugs have also been in the news recently, as doctors struggled to identify and test effective medication against Covid-19. However, even in their originally intended use, many of these drugs have extensive and controversial side effects. Peta Bathie presents a study to examine the effects of Lariam on military effectiveness in the UK armed forces.
Finally, Alisa Miller reflects on how the practice of documenting one’s war experiences – once in diaries, more recently in blogs – has changed in recent years, not simply in the way that individuals choose to share their stories but also in the way others interact with them via online platforms, and discusses the transient nature of these practices. It is a powerful reminder that the tools we use often shape not just the form but also the content of our practices, and, most importantly, influence how we understand, communicate and remember our individual and collective histories.
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