Is the next cold war a drone-swarm race between US and China?

(Image credit: Illustration by Stephen Kelly / Getty Images)

The latter half of the 20th century was largely defined by a seething Cold War between the United States and what was then the Soviet Union over which global superpower’s influence and agenda would ultimately reign supreme. Ostensibly, that conflict was one of ideologies and politics. In practice, however, it was as much about which nation had the more impressive stockpile of atomic weapons as it was about making the case for capitalism or communism. 

Now, at the start of the 21st century, the United States is locked in what some observers have already described as a new Cold War. It’s again ostensibly between American capitalism and a communist superpower, but this time an ascendent China is seeking to exert its sway over Asia and beyond. Like its predecessor, this Cold War includes military buildup intended to both intimidate and dominate should things heat up. But while the U.S. and Russia spent much of the Cold War perfecting their capacities for large-scale nuclear destruction, advances in robotics and computing have allowed tacticians to think smaller. Now, planners for both militaries are “gearing up for a new kind of warfare in which squadrons of air and sea drones equipped with artificial intelligence work together like a swarm of bees to overwhelm an enemy,” each doing different tasks but operating as a whole, The Associated Press said. 

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Rafi Schwartz has worked as a politics writer at The Week since 2022, where he covers elections, Congress and the White House. He was previously a contributing writer with Mic focusing largely on politics, a senior writer with Splinter News, a staff writer for Fusion’s news lab, and the managing editor of Heeb Magazine, a Jewish life and culture publication. Rafi’s work has appeared in Rolling Stone, GOOD and The Forward, among others.  

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