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Reassurance in the Age of AI

As the adoption of AI in policymaking processes accelerates, leaders will need to reassure partners and rivals more frequently, supplementing traditional diplomatic mechanisms with innovative approaches that capitalise on the unique capabilities of new technologies.

Constructive communication: in a world increasingly shaped by AI, prompt and clear reassurances will be essential for maintaining international stability

Reassurance has always been key to managing interstate relations. Despite viewing Iran as an adversary, the US emphatically denied all involvement in the Israeli strike on Iran’s embassy compound in Damascus in early April. Even former US President Ronald Reagan promptly softened his rhetoric to reassure Moscow when he learned that the Soviets misperceived the Able Archer 83 exercise as a precursor to a nuclear strike.

As AI becomes integral to military systems and decision-making, the importance of reassurance will only grow, compelling states to reimagine their strategies for reassuring both allies and adversaries.

Deterrence is often touted as the key to maintaining peace, but as Thomas Schelling noted, ‘”One more step and I shoot” can only deter if accompanied by the assurance, “And if you stop, I won’t”’. Reassurance, at its core, is about credibly signalling one’s benign intentions to relevant audiences. For states, this means assuring partners of unwavering support and demonstrating to potential adversaries that they need not resort to aggressive actions out of insecurity.

Effective reassurance tends to require a delicate balance of demonstrating resolve and commitment while simultaneously conveying restraint and a desire for peaceful coexistence. In practice, reassurance can manifest in numerous ways, such as high-level diplomatic engagements, public commitments, and arms control agreements.

In the AI era, leaders will need to reassure partners and rivals more frequently as AI-guided decisions could introduce new uncertainties and tension, even in established relationships

For instance, the agreement to resume military-to-military communication reached during the 2023 summit between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping reassures not only the US and China but also other states worried about the possibility of conflict between these two major powers. While the specific tools and techniques employed to reassure may differ based on the context and the actors involved, the fundamental objective remains constant: to enhance strategic trust, reduce uncertainty, and establish more stable and predictable relations.

The future strategic landscape will undergo significant changes as more countries adopt AI in their policymaking processes. By swiftly executing tasks that previously required human reasoning and judgment, these machine learning-driven systems promise to redefine how states interact with one another. Concerningly, the opacity of many AI systems used in military decision-making processesintelligence gathering and even weapons systems will create greater risks of misunderstanding and unintended escalation.

In the AI era, leaders will need to reassure partners and rivals more frequently as AI-guided decisions could introduce new uncertainties and tension, even in established relationships. This need is further amplified by the acceleration of decision-making cycles, which could quickly render previous reassurances obsolete. Consequently, in a world increasingly shaped by AI, prompt and clear reassurances are essential for maintaining international stability. They demonstrate a continued commitment to mutual interests and help mitigate fears of sudden policy shifts or strategic changes.

Leaders will also need to reassure more creatively in the AI era, adapting their methods to the increasingly complex landscape. While traditional diplomatic assurances will remain important, they must be supplemented by innovative approaches that capitalise on the unique capabilities of new technologies such as AI-driven simulations and visualisations to clarify the effects and intentions behind their policies, making complex decisions more intelligible to both allies and adversaries.

By creatively utilising new technologies to enhance the clarity and effectiveness of their communications and adapting existing reassurance mechanisms, leaders can better manage the dynamics of international relations in an increasingly AI-driven world

For example, if Cambodian leaders were to share a realistic, AI-powered visualisation demonstrating that the proposed Funan-Techo canal would pose minimal risks to the ecosystem in the downstream Mekong subregion, this could significantly assuage concerns of neighbouring countries. This type of AI-powered reassurance could be particularly valuable in promoting collaboration on sensitive issues, where clear, constructive communication is crucial to preventing misunderstandings and building mutual trust.

Countries could also establish AI-specific agreements, such as those related to data integrity, algorithmic transparency, and responsible use of AI in decision-making. Moreover, leaders need to explore new forms of confidence-building measures, such as joint AI research projects or transparency initiatives, to foster a shared understanding of the technology's risks and benefits. By creatively utilising AI to enhance the clarity and effectiveness of their communications, while also adapting existing reassurance mechanisms to account for the unique challenges posed by this transformative technology, leaders can better manage the dynamics of international relations in an increasingly AI-driven world.

The rise of AI presents novel challenges for strategic reassurance but also opens up exciting new possibilities. Rather than simply repeating the same diplomatic platitudes, leaders now have an opportunity to leverage the unique capabilities of AI to reassure in more creative, effective and convincing ways. From sharing AI-powered simulations that clarify intentions to establishing new frameworks for AI cooperation that build trust, policymakers will have a new repertoire of tools to draw on. With both pragmatism and imagination, states can harness AI to reinvigorate strategic reassurance in the AI era, fostering a more transparent, predictable and peaceful world – even amid disruptive technological change.

The views expressed in this Commentary are the author’s, and do not represent those of RUSI or any other institution.

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Original article link: https://rusi.org/explore-our-research/publications/commentary/reassurance-age-ai

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