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The news that China has tested a Hypersonic ‘vehicle’ will unnerve many in the smoking circles of the Pentagon. For the rest of us, it probably doesn’t matter, or at least it doesn’t with me. I’m generally relaxed about the rise of China as a counterweight to American superpower. While there are undoubtedly things to be wary of, the Chinese (if history can inform us) are a peaceful tribe, prone more to creativity than warfare.

And Hypersonic weapons have already been tested of course, by the US and arguably Russia too. They are only a small part of a coming revolution in military affairs which promises such exotic concepts as nano-weapons, satellite missiles, space-based nuclear warheads, and (perhaps most significantly of all) killer robots.

‘Killer robots’ might sound a lot like bad (and let’s be honest – British) science fiction, but it is much, much closer than people realise. The impact robotic warfare will have on human history will be considerable. The first civilisation to develop robotic armies could be set to dominate the planet for hundreds of years.

Bio-technology may also prove decisive, transforming the battlefield, and perhaps removing it entirely. Whole populations may one-day become prey for deliberately engineered viruses, unstoppable and untraceable. By such principles, China could be wiped out in an afternoon, and the US in a morning.

But then again China is not an enemy in my mind, so let’s focus instead on the (more vital) technological divide between the West and the Muslim world.

In ‘The River War’, Winston Churchill famously wrote that “(Islam) has spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.”

How strong remains the defence of Western scientific advantage?

In many ways, the Western technological edge has never been so impressive. Our fighter jets are massively superior to those manufactured in the Muslim world. We have (collectively as a civilisation) over 14 aircraft carriers. The Muslims world has none. Our militaries have bases in the Muslim world, while the Muslim world (officially at least) has no such bases on our territory. Only Pakistan and (arguably) Saudi Arabia are known to possess nuclear arms, while under the Nato nuclear-sharing policy, all Western countries are protected by a combined stock of thousands of warheads. Our navies are bigger and more extensively positioned. Our soldiers are better trained, and more experienced. Finally, we also have the most refined missile technology and guiding systems in the world.

But with all this said, the Muslim world has something we don’t have; namely, an almost inexhaustible supply of human capital. Should they desire it, the Muslim world could raise an army of 400 million of men of fighting age. The West would struggle to reach 200 million.

In the future, this disparity will widen considerably, leaving the West more exposed to what military strategists call ‘saturation’, the concept of overcoming the qualitative edge of an opponent by the means of quantitative strength (100 tribesmen with spears could by this theory overcome a troop of ten soldiers armed with assault rifles etc…).

Many of the sayings of Winston Churchill, read in a modern context, have an eerie feel to them. The man was prone to an extraordinary prescience, and the excerpt quoted above continues to inform us to this day. If we want to preserve our freedom from more barbaric and numerous foes, technology – the nurture of our past (and the investment in our future) innovation – matters immensely.

D, LDN.

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