International Relations and the Impacts of Artificial Intelligence and Biotechnology

Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and biotechnology are poised to profoundly transform international relations in the coming decades. As these dual revolutions progress, the global order faces disruptions, competition, and uncertain futures. AI and biotech each enable immense opportunities for human development along with risks like authoritarian surveillance, cyber warfare, and bioviolence. Navigating this complex terrain and governing technology responsibly poses acute challenges for international cooperation and institutions.

States now compete in a realm defined by rapid disruption where advantages are temporary and norms ambiguous. Values debates around ethics and precaution further divide world powers’ visions. Non-state actors from tech firms to terrorists are also gaining alarming capabilities. While the challenges appear daunting, opportunities exist to forge new partnerships, demonstrate leadership, and bend the arc of change toward prosperity. By assessing key impacts, pressure points, and policy responses, constructive pathways may emerge through the turbulence. With wisdom, foresight and courage, global society could steer these revolutions toward human progress, though success is hardly guaranteed.

The Rising AI Revolution

The rapid evolution of artificial intelligence presents the first revolution reshaping international affairs. While AI has oscillated through hype cycles since its origins in the 1950s, real-world capabilities have now crossed key thresholds. According to Stanford University’s 2021 AI Index Report, AI is matching or exceeding human performance in areas like computer vision, natural language processing, and medical diagnosis (1). Venture funding of AI startups has jumped over 16 fold since 2011 exceeding $40 billion last year (2). The head of AI at Intel describes the field advancing more in the past 5 years than the preceding 50 combined (3).

Underpinning this progress is the computing power to train complex machine learning models on vast datasets. AI also benefits from smarter algorithms, more labeled training data, and custom silicon like graphical processing units. Cloud computing democratizes access to AI services while lowering costs. Clever techniques like transfer learning apply models trained in one domain to accelerate development in others. While still flawed in many ways, applied AI is reaching precarious levels of operational capability.

Two factors make AI’s impacts inherently international. First is the technology’s borderless nature. AI systems can be instantly transferred or accessed remotely across the planet once created. Machine learning models are highly portable digital assets. This allows leading AI powers like the U.S. and China to export their technologies abroad, spreading influence. Second, the global race for AI leadership is intensely competitive. Investing in AI talent and innovation is now a national priority worldwide given the perceived geopolitical stakes. International student flows into AI research centers and corporate lab hiring have become proxy battles for future advantage. The contrasting values of democracies and autocracies around using AI for societal good versus social control also raise tensions. As an epochal technology controlled by a few actors, AI is inherently geopolitical.

The Biotechnology Revolution

Alongside artificial intelligence, biotechnology is undergoing its own breakneck transformation through tools like CRISPR gene editing, synthetic biology, and mass genetic sequencing. As capabilities trickle down to do-it-yourself biohackers, the possibilities span both miraculous and sinister. Gene editing rectifies genetic disorders but could also customize pathogens. Synthetic viruses built from digital DNA help vaccine development but might enable biowarfare. AI itself is revolutionizing biotech by accelerating drug discovery, vaccine design, and enabling at-home CRISPR experimentation (4).

Bio-risks now pose a catastrophic threat to civilization on par with nuclear weapons and climate change. A genetically enhanced pathogen released into the populace or crop system could devastate societies. Advances like CRISPR greatly ease editing viral strains to increase lethality, defeat medical countermeasures, and traverse global transport networks. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists warns humanity has entered a time of compounded bio threats (5). Even absent malicious intent, an accidental lab release of enhanced pathogens remains possible. Experts estimate the annual chance of accidental escape at 1-2% for lab facilities working on contagious viruses (6). Like AI, biotech uniquely connects domestic decisions to international risk.

At the same time, biotechnology promises miraculous advances improving human health and prosperity. Gene therapies can eradicate diseases and extend lifespans. Bioengineered crops bolster agricultural yields and resilience. Biomanufacturing enables growing materials sustainably. Driving biotech innovation while mitigating risks presents governments an ethical balancing act. Prevention demands international coordination given the dual-use nature and proliferation risks of biotech tools and knowledge. As countries weigh priorities, deep divisions again emerge over development versus security. Global cooperation and collective foresight are essential for navigating turbulence ahead.

AI & International Security: Escalating Pressures

The weaponization of artificial intelligence threatens to destabilize great power relations and strategic stability by overturning conventions of warfare. While AI touches every domain, its outsized impact on military affairs will force difficult debates about autonomy, human control, and machine ethics. Precursors like drone swarming foreshadow AI-enabled warfighting systems that react at computer speeds without human intervention. The anticipated shift toward AI-directed weapons alters the processes and risks of escalation.

Autonomous capabilities will spread rapidly given incentives for military adoption. Commanders utilize AI to coordinate drone swarms, target weapons, guide missiles past defenses, and more. Offense also drives adoption since allowing adversaries unilateral AI capabilities represents immense risk. Computational speed conveys decisive advantage in modern battle networks. Potential flashpoints like the South China Sea could see autonomous systems engage reflexively before diplomats restrain conflict. Even as humans maintain nominal control, automated systems interacting at machine speeds could spark uncontrolled escalation.

AI also expands avenues of hybrid warfare and cyber conflict short of open war. Deepfakes undermine public trust and foment disorder by disguising identities in fake videos. Microtargeting and social botnets manipulate opinions and voting behavior based on stolen personal data. Surveillance systems identify dissidents for authoritarian targeting. Retaliatory actions in the information sphere risk volatile tit-for-tat exchanges. Setting norms around AI manipulation and political interference poses dilemmas given regimes’ intrinsic interests in social control. Preventing AI escalation pathways demands applying foresight across every domain.

On the nuclear front, AI adds new risks of miscalculation over early warning and command systems. Adversaries may attempt cyber strikes against nuclear command, control, and communications. Manipulating data flows and indicators could induce false alarms and prompt retaliation. Nuclear decision timelines are already compressed. At machine speeds, outside hacking and spoofing risk catastrophically breaking fragile stability. Even as AI bolsters some defensive systems, its vulnerabilities necessitate reviewing doctrines predicated on human control. Avoiding this AI “fog of war” requires norms for nuclear resilience and strategic clarity. With nuclear tensions already acute, securing arms control against AI risks is imperative.

AI Arms Races: Shifting Power and Cooperation

The unfolding AI revolution is transforming the balance of power among nations through economic competitiveness, military capabilities, and technological dependence. Countries leading in AI accrue advantages in growth, productivity, weapons systems, and surveillance capacities. These shifts are intensifying AI arms races as rivals compete for preeminence. However, cooperative pathways remain possible through developing shared interests, norms, and standards. Responsible competition need not become zero-sum dominance.

The United States and China represent two poles of intensifying AI rivalry. The U.S. retains leads in elite research and commercial AI, but China is ascending rapidly through massive data collection, intellectual property acquisition, and central planning via its “civil-military fusion.” Beijing leaves nothing to chance in its quest for AI leadership. Billion-dollar AI initiatives like Made in China 2025 document the all-of-nation approach. All sectors marshaling AI for economic and military enhancement makes bifurcating civilian and military AI difficult (7). China’s projected large power radar detection system and Deep Panda cyber espionage evince surveillance and data harvesting imperatives (8).

However, the U.S. and China share interests around cyber stability, competitive coexistence, and norms against automation tipping to open warfare. Analogues exist in past U.S.-Soviet arms races balancing competition with coexistence. Joint technical standards, ethical guidelines, and arms control mechanisms offer paths for great power cooperation. Rather than monolithic blocs, industries within each nation heavily collaborate already. Google stores data in China’s cloud while Chinese firms export globally. Shared commercial and healthcare advances demonstrate constructive partnership even amid security dilemmas. Avoiding bifurcation into separate AI stacks benefits all sides. While complex, AI competition need not descend into irreconcilable Cold War hostility.

Regional and smaller power dynamics also complicate AI’s diffusion. India resists domination by either U.S. or Chinese AI given internal needs and non-alignment traditions. The EU centers ethics and regulation in its “Brussels effect” approach to AI governance. African nations recognize AI’s potential but fear perpetuating colonial data and standards dominance. Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, and Turkey anchor rising multipolar nodes in the AI ecosystem. Managing great power competition will require appreciating perspectives from these pivots. The interconnected AI marketplace will resist binary bifurcation. Constructing zones and networks of cooperation around shared interests offers a path to prevent unchecked rivalry.

Bio Violence & Bioterrorism: Catastrophic Risks

Alongside AI, advances in biotechnology are democratizing abilities to manipulate pathogens and human biology. This exponentially increases risks of a rogue bioattack or accidental pandemic. Such high consequence events occupy the domain of catastrophic terrorism and hostis humani generis enemies of all humanity. The extinction gravity of biothreats necessitates collective security, though incentives to defect are strong. If states view bioviolence prevention as “someone else’s problem” global civilization grows vulnerable to apocalyptic risks.

Increasingly dangerous capabilities are reaching non-state actors. Genome editing kits leveraging CRISPR-Cas9 are available commercially for a few hundred dollars. Community labs provide open access wet lab environments where biohackers create innovations like glow-in-the-dark yeast but also off-label CRISPR experiments. Youtube videos demonstrate DIY genetic engineering techniques. If current observation holds, biotech abilities long reserved to advanced labs will continue proliferating. This forces policymakers to consider bioviolence risks along a spectrum from lone wolves to terrorist cells.

State-level bioweapon programs also endure despite international conventions. North Korea is suspected of maintaining an advanced bioweapons project in violation of treaties (9). Russia retains historic inventories and sophistication. Even full compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention is inadequate given covert programs and dual-use techniques for attributing biowarfare engineering. Advances like gain-of-function research that enhances natural pathogens’ transmission risk being coopted for weapons. With rapidly expanding capabilities, the temptation for research to drift toward the dangerous and prohibited is ever-present. Verifying compliance and preventing dangerous use necessitates global cooperation.

Most treacherous are apocalyptic risks of engineered pandemics inflicting suffering on par with nuclear war, if not human extinction. Natural contagions already reveal societies’ fragilities. Adding genetic enhancements to increase lethality, defeat modern medicine, and burn through populations could devastate civilization over weeks or months. No nation has defenses adequate to safeguard against sophisticated bioviolence. This extreme asymmetry means a single malign actor could wreak terrible harms. Even without malicious intent, accidental releases of dangerous lab specimens like enhanced bird flu are becoming likelier. While not inevitable, engineered pandemics may rank among civilization’s most pressing threats in need of prevention.

AI & Biotech for Socioeconomic Growth

At the same time, both AI and biotech offer dramatic opportunities to uplift human development. Applying these technologies to expand economic inclusion, healthcare access, and environmental sustainability fosters global cooperation. AI and biotech revolutions need not devolve into arms races if their benefits become universal public goods. This depends on building equitable governance and knowledge systems that serve all humanity. The legal concept of a “common heritage of mankind” suggests how to elevate science beyond zero-sum national agendas.

Economically, AI promises to boost productivity, efficiency, and customization across every industry. Its applications in agriculture, manufacturing, and the service sector are forecast to create trillions in growth. Nations leading in AI capitalize fastest, enabling advantages in knowledge economies and innovation. But spreading access to AI’s benefits remains critical to avoid imbalances. Many countries lack basic digital infrastructure and skills foundations. Public-private partnerships between advanced and developing nations can aid technology leapfrogging through smart investments and governance reforms. Rather than intensifying divisions, AI development can close gaps by connecting every nation to the modern world.

Biotechnology similarly bolsters medicine, agriculture, and environmental sustainability in ways lifting up humanity collectively. Gene therapies that cure disease and regenerate tissue will make many lives longer and healthier. Bioengineered crops enhance food security and resilience to climate change. Bio-based materials reduce reliance on plastics and fossil fuels. As costs fall, distributing biotech solutions globally provides hope where needs are greatest. Advanced nations have vital roles transferring knowledge and aiding governance frameworks in the developing world. Neither AI nor biotech automatically uplifts humanity. But equitable governance and sharing create possibilities for exponential advancement.

Techno-Democracy vs. Techno-Authoritarianism

Diverging political ideologies shape how states employ AI and biotech internally – imperatives extending into geopolitics. Democratic traditions concentrate on empowering individuals with technology while respecting rights and freedoms. The techno-democratic approach asserts AI and biotech should serve citizens, augment lives, and remain approachable to common understanding. This fosters transparency, oversight, and decentralized progress. However, techno-authoritarian regimes utilize the same advances to concentrate control and repress populations. Unlimited surveillance, predictive policing, mass propaganda, and biometric monitoring produce tech dystopias.

As capabilities grow more intrusive, diverging political models split global powers. Debates over AI ethics and gene editing rules exemplify the core disputes. Facial recognition bans in the EU contrast China’s unchecked smarter city expansions. China’s social credit system, DNA collection, and AI-enabled targeting of Uighurs offer case studies in automated repression. Russia promotes civilizationalist ideologies against “cyborgization” and human enhancement while pursuing military projects for biological, chemical, and robotic weapons (10). The dichotomy creates problems for collaboration on shared interests like arms control. Values-driven techno-democracies must determine where pragmatism overcomes principles in relating to techno-authoritarians.

However, shared technologies also create leverage for democratic nations. Export controls on dual-use AI and biotech slowauthoritarian capabilities and deny abuses. Magnitsky sanctions imposed for human rights violations exert economic costs for techno repression. Transparency and inventor rights dilute authoritarian usage of techniques developed in free societies. Liberal Advanced democracies collectively adhering to ethical norms places pressure on repressive regimes dependent on accessing global innovation ecosystems. Revelations of abuses embarrass accomplices in industry and academia prompting pullouts. While democracies must balance strategic interests, their technologies accord influence over authoritarian choices short of conflict. Using access selectively steers regimes toward addressing ethical concerns while sustaining engagement.

Governing the Age of AI & Biotech

Fundamentally, navigating turbulent times ahead will necessitate new modes of leadership, cooperation, and foresight. Neither fatalism nor isolationism serves the world’s needs. Revitalizing collective security, articulating bold visions, enacting principled stands, and expanding dialogue offer pathways to build coalitions addressing shared risks. Because technologies heed no borders, their impacts demand global governance. With courage and wisdom, global society may sustain security and liberty despite the rising storms.

International organizations require modernizing to reclaim legitimacy and efficacy. The UN Security Council suffers paralysis given great power divides. Bureaucracies like the WHO and OPCW are under-resourced relative to their mandates. Revitalizing leadership will require budgetary, organizational and membership reforms to empower action. Resolution starts with refocusing agendas on humanity’s pressing challenges like climate change, nuclear weapons, and pandemic threats. No single bloc can constrain technologies unilaterally. But updated institutions entrusted by all sides can verify behaviors and adjudicate disputes. Reforming and empowering international governance rebuilds commonly held lines of defense.

Responsible technology competition should also be encouraged between advanced nations and partners. The European Union’s new AI regulations, for example, attempt raising the bar on transparency and ethics while fostering innovation (11). Rather than shielding domestic firms, open markets and healthy rivalry spark continual improvement. Diversified technology hubs dilute single points of failure. Collaborating to spread emerging science globally ensures broader shared interests. Alongside overarching institutions, smaller-scope both cooperation on focused initiatives sustains ties. Not all partnerships need encompass the entire world.

Finally, integration between communities of experts and policymakers must be strengthened to inform complex decisions. Diplomats, scientists, technologists, military strategists and civil society groups each offer vital perspectives.regular exchange through forums like the Global Engagement Center inoculate decision-making against blind spots. Red teaming proposed policies and assumptions tests validity. Holistic assessment provides missing context on consequences and constraints for all stakeholders. Technological change demands intellectual humility. Broadening inputs and expertise makes governance dynamic and reflective.

The transformations underway in AI, biotech and adjacent fields are jarring in scale, scope and complexity. An age of exponential change strains capacities to adapt. But the challenges are not beyond overcoming through fellowship, moral courage and human ingenuity. With collective effort, thecoming turbulence can be harnessed toward freely chosen, equitable progress benefiting the entire human family. There exist grounds for hope if the world’s nations so choose.


  1. Stanford University. (2021). Artificial Intelligence Index Report 2021.
  2. Crunchbase. (2021). Global AI Funding Report 2021.
  3. Knight, W. (2017). AI progress is faster than Moore’s Law. MIT Technology Review.
  4. Jiang, F. et al. (2017). Artificial intelligence in healthcare: past, present and future. Stroke and Vascular Neurology, 2(4), 230-243.
  5. Maher, H. (2021). A Time of Compounded Risks. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 77(1), 15-19.
  6. Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. (2018). Alternate Perspectives on Pathogen Escape Risks.
  7. Allen, G. C. (2019). Understanding China’s AI Strategy
  1. Feng, E. (2021). China’s ‘Big Fund’ for domestic chip development could match U.S. CHIPS Act spending. CNBC.
  2. Stanton, J. et al. (2020). North Korean Biological Weapons: The Known and Unknown. RAND Corporation.
  3. Klochikhin, E. (2012). Russia and the Challenge of the Biotechnological Revolution. Carnegie Moscow Center.

11.European Commission. (2021). Regulation of Artificial Intelligence Act.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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