SIPRI conference looks at conflict and warfare trends


Last week over a thousand global participants convened virtually for the sixth annual Stockholm Security Conference with the theme “Battlefields of the Future: Trends of Conflict and Warfare in the 21st Century”.

Thematic sessions explored current developments in technology opening cyberspace, outer space and the mental space as potential new battlefields of the future.

Major General Darrell Amison, director of the United Kingdom’s Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre, provided an overview of the main drivers of insecurity. These include geopolitical and geo-economic shifts, data vulnerability, the pervasiveness of information, and the growth and concentration of populations. Transnational threats, the rise of non-state actors, violent extremism and organised crime are also main drivers. He pointed to climate change and sustainability as cross-cutting, amplifying threats that interact with one another.

“We need to think of societal resilience in a much broader sense than simply defence resilience,” the two-star general said.

Dr Cordula Droege, chief legal officer and the International Committee of the Red Cross’ legal division, spoke about ongoing urbanisation and conflicts in cities and middle-income countries. She called for states to take more preventative measures to protect civilians. She emphasised the link between new warfare technologies and the vulnerabilities of populations and how, in cities, advanced technologies exacerbate implications for critical infrastructure.

Dr Renata Dwan, Chatham House deputy director and senior executive officer, drew attention to the fact that “technologies have not changed why we fight but changed the way we fight”.

The destructiveness of war currently witnessed is faster, centres on precision, accuracy, sustainability and connectivity. There is a new trend measuring technology not only in destructiveness but also with information as a weapon. Looking forward, she pointed to a need to understand convergence of technologies – when nuclear meets cyber – as well as the worrying trend of non-state actors accessing more of these technologies as they become cheaper.

“We can take seriously the importance of not racing to technology and we can take seriously the need for new ideas. We need to think about the intersection of issues outside the security domain and, most importantly, we need to apply a human dimension when dealing with complex battlefields,” SIPRI director Dan Smith said in his concluding remarks.