Human civilisation is at a new moment of transition across social norms, economics, governance, and the environment, and is facing the dawn of a new era of inter-planetary human migration (to Mars). In the future, historians will look to the first half of the 21st century to tell the story of how these changes started and unfolded through five domains of conflict. These domains touch on the unravelling of governance structures in need of modernisation; rising tension between supranational entities exercising sovereignty in their digital lands while challenging traditional Westphalian models of sovereignty based on physical land; the democratisation of arms, both physical and digital; human commerce, security, and migration in outer space; and environmental constraints affecting human survival on earth.

The first quarter of the 21st century has seen tremendous change thanks to the internet reaching critical mass, and accelerated technological advancements across several key fields of science, namely computer science, Artificial Intelligence (AI), nanotechnology, batteries, biology, and physics. The convergence of these technologies has exponentially furthered our knowledge, capability, and understanding of our DNA, microbiome, solar system, renewable energy capture, social sentiment, industrial design, and much more.

With technological change comes social change and a shift in the organising systems that oversee how our communities are governed. Today, we can feel the tectonic plates shift under the grounds of our socio-political and economic norms. As in the past, technological change came with an unsettling period of confusion and conflict until the new organising systems emerged. Today, we are in the middle of the eye of the storm of this shift and there is much confusion and conflict as the world comes to terms with new technology, social norms, evolving values, and competing new power structures.

This paper highlights five emerging domains of conflict that will characterise the remainder of the first half of the 21st century. They are:

Nation-State governance tensions: Conflict derived from democracy’s need to modernise its value proposition and autocracy’s modern struggles with control;

Environmental constraints: Climactic changes are forcing migration, exacerbating conflict and resource scarcity, and fanning the flames of ‘environmental nationalism’;

Continued friction with pervasive supra-ntional tech governance structures: The friction between supra-national corporate governance and sovereign state governance will increase with Web 3.0 and the spatial web. Distributed Autonomous Organisations (DAOs) and cryptocurrencies will also challenge governance structures with parallel economies and organising systems;

Non-State interest-based arms: The marketplace for organised corporate mercenaries or crowdsourced voluntary conscripts offering financial means, technological offensive capabilities, or traditional kinetic violence which can be leveraged in the cause of an interest-best conflict is growing; and

Contentious space: As more entrepreneurs pursue and develop commercial interests in space, there will be tension between countries and companies to regulate and create standards. Separately, space weapons continue to threaten peace in space and debris pose threats to a congested environment of vital space assets.

A common thread that weaves through these emerging domains of conflict is that they all challenge the Westphalian model of state sovereignty that has been the core foundation of the modern international system. As technology, space, and climate challenge the limits of state sovereignty, there is more at play than just emerging domains of conflict but the prospect of a new power shift in the way states have organised themselves. How this prospect unfolds and what it will morph into remains unknown, however, the broader emerging domains of conflict discussed in this paper help us understand this new picture that is emerging.

This paper can be accessed by clicking here

The article has been authored by Lydia Kostopoulos.

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