Beyond the Unknown: Anticipating China and Russia's Reaction to U.S. NHI Disclosure

by Ian Q. Calderwood

This paper is a follow up to Strategic Silence: NHI Disclosure and Global Power.

I. Introduction and Assumptions

In light of the potential disclosure from the U.S. government regarding the existence of non-human intelligence (NHI) technologies, the equilibrium of geopolitical power faces potential reconfiguration. In this policy analysis, the goal is to probe potential scenarios in which two significant geopolitical entities—the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation—respond to the U.S. disclosure. Their reactions are anticipated to significantly shape the global narrative around NHI technologies, guide the evolution of international power structures, and impact the international norms and regulations that may be formulated around these technologies.

This paper proceeds under several key assumptions. The primary assumption is the global acceptance and verification of the U.S. government’s disclosure regarding NHI technologies. This global acknowledgment acknowledges the existence of similar programs in other countries, despite the absence of Russian and Chinese public disclosures. A further assumption is that China and Russia’s reactions and strategic orientations will reflect their historical strategic tendencies, current geopolitical orientation, and their perception of the potential transformation offered by NHI technologies. Given the novelty of the situation, these assumptions may not encompass the full breadth of their strategic considerations.

We also proceed under the assumption of relative continuity in the international system, encompassing the ongoing presence of international institutions, alliances, and rivalries. Additionally, we posit that NHI technologies will be perceived as significant transformational factors, carrying enormous potential for collaboration and conflict, in a manner akin to the advent of nuclear technologies in the mid-20th century.

In constructing these scenarios, we acknowledge the inherent uncertainties and complexities that underpin this analysis. These scenarios are not definite forecasts but provide potential frameworks for understanding and planning. They are intended to guide strategic thinking and policy formulation, rather than provide certain predictions. The goal is to foster a comprehensive understanding of potential outcomes and to aid in the development of robust, adaptable policies in response to these uncertain and rapidly changing geopolitical landscapes.

This analysis will also consider the potential for simultaneous occurrence and interplay between various scenarios. We are cognizant of the dynamic nature of the global geopolitical landscape, where nation-states can shift their strategies swiftly, reacting to emerging developments and altering the course of events.

II. Understanding Chinese and Russian Strategic Thinking

The potential strategic reactions of China and Russia to the U.S. disclosure of NHI technologies can be more thoroughly anticipated by examining their historical strategic postures, their approaches to technology adoption, their crisis management strategies, the interplay of political ideologies and national identity in shaping their strategic thinking, and by also delving into their domestic political dynamics and their relationships with other countries.

A. People’s Republic of China

China’s strategic approach over the past several decades is one of balance between assertiveness and measured patience, leveraging its rapidly expanding economic influence to subtly yet persistently reshape international norms and institutions. The Belt and Road Initiative encapsulates this strategy, slowly reorienting global economic dependencies in China’s favor through an expansive network of infrastructure investment and development assistance.

Chinese technology adoption is aggressive, pursuing strategic advantage in emergent technological domains. Indigenous innovation characterizes the domestic technology policy, an approach combining heavy investment in research and development with the acquisition of foreign technology and knowledge. China’s advancements in areas such as 5G, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing indicate that this approach will likely extend to NHI technologies.

When faced with crises, China often exhibits a preference for stability and long-term strategic gains and demonstrates a willingness to adopt unconventional measures to safeguard its interests. Examples include its handling of the South China Sea disputes and its strategic maneuvering in the U.S.-China trade war.

Centralized planning and state control over key sectors, legacies of Chinese political ideology influenced by Maoism and Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, also extend to its approach towards technology. The Chinese nationalism narrative, characterized by the ‘China Dream,‘ fuels the pursuit of technological superiority as a means to restore China’s historical global stature.

Domestically, the Chinese Communist Party maintains a strict control over information dissemination, which will play a crucial role in shaping public perception of the U.S. NHI disclosures. Internationally, China’s relations with countries involved in its Belt and Road Initiative, and its strategic competition with the U.S., may influence its strategy toward NHI technology.

B. Russian Federation

Inherent in Russian strategic thinking is a deep-seated sense of geopolitical insecurity, driving an assertive, and at times aggressive, foreign policy to protect its perceived sphere of influence. Evident in its interventions in Ukraine and Syria, alleged meddling in various Western nations‘ electoral processes, and its recent large-scale military operation in Ukraine.

Russia’s approach to technology adoption often prioritizes military applications, striving to maintain parity or achieve superiority in areas essential for national security. This strategy is evident in its pursuit of nuclear, cyber, and space technologies, suggesting a likely security-centered perception of NHI technologies.

Russian crisis management strategy regularly exploits crises as opportunities to advance its geopolitical interests. This approach was clear in its annexation of Crimea during Ukraine’s political turmoil, demonstrating a willingness to escalate conflicts to secure advantageous negotiating positions or to create strategic ambiguity.

A resurgence of nationalism tied to a nostalgic ideal of Soviet strength characterizes Russian political ideology under Putin. This nationalism, often manifested in assertive foreign policies, is reinforced by the Russian Orthodox Church, fostering a sense of exceptionalism that often justifies its geopolitical maneuvers. Coupled with an ingrained suspicion of Western intentions, Russia may react to U.S. NHI disclosure with particular skepticism and strategic caution.

In terms of domestic politics, Putin’s near-total control over the Russian media landscape will play a pivotal role in shaping public perception of the NHI issue. Internationally, Russia’s strategic partnerships, particularly those under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and its adversarial relations with NATO countries, will influence its strategic calculations vis-à-vis NHI technologies.

III. Assessing Beijing: Strategic Projections for China’s Response

In assessing Chinese responses to U.S. NHI technology disclosures, it’s essential to establish our foundation on the bedrock of China’s historical strategic approaches, norms, and identities. We must also keep in mind the complex interplay of geopolitical and domestic considerations, and the unique challenges posed by the NHI element (and the rumored treaties surrounding it). Consequently, the following scenarios present a blend of possible actions and orientations the Chinese administration may take.

  1. The Middle Way: Selective Disclosure and Strategic Ambiguity

Given the gravity of the U.S. disclosure and the allegations regarding China’s involvement in NHI retrieval and reverse engineering programs, complete silence from China would be a surprising and potentially unwise choice. It would risk casting China as a passive actor or even a potential technology laggard in the emerging global narrative.

In response, it is most likely that China will deploy a strategy of selective disclosure, revealing enough to maintain its image as a global power engaged in these groundbreaking developments. The specific contours of this disclosure could be tailored to serve China’s strategic imperatives. China might choose to confirm the existence of its NHI program, potentially even disclosing some advancements or capabilities that can be safely shared without compromising national security.

Strategic ambiguity could play a key role here, allowing China to control the narrative without committing to specific details about the extent of their NHI-related advancements. They may select to spotlight certain facets of their NHI program, such as its peaceful intent or the potential societal benefits, while keeping a lid on the specifics of technological progress. This approach will maintain a degree of mystery and provide flexibility for future actions.

  1. Scripting the Discourse: Narrative Framing and Norm-Setting

A more proactive, yet nuanced, stance China could adopt is seeking to influence the international narrative surrounding the NHI and shaping the norms associated with it. Given the power dynamics inherent in controlling the discourse, it’s likely China will take strides to avoid the narrative being completely U.S. dominated.

Utilizing its growing diplomatic clout and leveraging its influence in multilateral institutions, China may initiate discussions around the governance, ethical implications, and legal aspects of NHI and related technology. It could emphasize principles that align with its broader strategic interests, such as the non-militarization of NHI technology or the equitable distribution of benefits arising from it. In this context, rumored treaties could serve as leverage points, influencing the direction and tenor of the discussion.

  1. Playing the Power Game: An Aggressive Stance

While a more aggressive stance is less likely, considering the generally cautious approach China has adopted in its international relations, it cannot be ruled out entirely. Several conditions might trigger a bolder response from China. For instance, if it perceives that the U.S. disclosures or subsequent actions constitute a violation of existing treaties, or if it feels that the U.S. is unfairly monopolizing the benefits or the narrative of the NHI phenomenon, it might react more assertively.

China could do this by positioning its own advancements in the NHI field as superior, or by leveraging the U.S. disclosures as evidence of American aggression or a threat to international stability. However, such an approach carries significant risks, including potential backlash and the escalation of tensions, and would thus only be likely under specific and challenging circumstances.

  1. Harmony and Cooperation: A Collective Approach

The least likely scenario, given China’s historical preference for strategic autonomy, is that it might opt for a cooperative response. If the terms of any existing treaties encourage collaboration or if China perceives substantial benefits in global cooperation on NHI issues, it might choose this path.

Under this scenario, China would openly share its findings and cooperate with the global community to steer the narrative towards mutual development, shared benefits, and enhanced stability. This could also involve active participation in or even leading global initiatives to establish international norms and frameworks around the interaction with NHI and the use of related technology.

China’s strategic response to U.S. NHI disclosures will likely be a complex interplay of historical behavior, evolving geopolitical realities, and the specificities of the disclosed information. We anticipate that China will endeavor to maintain its strategic autonomy while seeking to secure its position within the new global narrative. In the subsequent section, we will shift our focus towards Russia, the other key player rumored to have significant involvement in NHI programs.

IV. Navigating the Kremlin: Strategic Projections for Russia’s Response

In interpreting the prospective Russian responses to the U.S. disclosure of Non-Human Intelligence (NHI) technology, we must view the situation through the prism of Russia’s historical strategic doctrines, contemporary geopolitical considerations, and their unique security-focused lens. The apparent internal upheavals, especially the recent Prigozhin-triggered instability, coupled with external tensions manifested in the ongoing Ukrainian conflict and escalating tensions with NATO, add additional layers of complexity to Russia’s strategic calculus. The four prospective responses we outline take these intricacies into account and aim to provide a comprehensive, if necessarily speculative, analysis of Russia’s possible strategies.

  1. Asserting Power: Proactive Disclosure and Narrative Control

In the face of significant internal and external challenges, the most probable response from Russia would be a proactive and assertive disclosure of its involvement with NHI technology. Russia’s historical narrative has often been characterized by resilience and triumph in the face of adversity. Leveraging this narrative could serve dual purposes: rallying domestic support by bolstering national pride and establishing Russia as a major player in the NHI discourse, capable of contending with the U.S. in this extraordinary domain.

An assertive disclosure could entail acknowledging Russia’s ongoing engagement with NHI retrieval and reverse engineering, possibly accompanied by a display of some advancements to lend credibility and weight to the disclosure. However, in alignment with the Russian tradition of strategic information management, we anticipate that the disclosure would be carefully calibrated, with precise control over the level of detail divulged.

Moreover, seizing the narrative baton would enable Russia to frame the NHI issue in a manner aligned with its strategic imperatives. For instance, Russia could position the NHI technology as a harbinger of a new era in human evolution, emphasizing its potential for addressing pressing global challenges such as climate change, energy, and health crises. Such a narrative could help to consolidate Russia’s image as a global technological leader while offsetting criticisms pertaining to other geopolitical issues.

  1. The Shadow Puppeteer: Denial and Discreditation

While an assertive disclosure seems most probable, we cannot rule out the potential for Russia to adopt a more obfuscating strategy, leveraging its history of sophisticated disinformation campaigns. Under this scenario, Russia may respond to the U.S. disclosure with outright denial or discreditation. The intent would be to inject confusion into the global narrative, creating doubts about the authenticity of U.S. claims and undermining its credibility.

For instance, Russia might question the genuineness of the disclosed NHI artifacts or suggest alternative explanations for the phenomenon that the U.S. attributes to non-human intelligence. Simultaneously, Russia could leverage its state-controlled media outlets to amplify these narratives, both domestically and internationally.

However, such a strategy carries substantial risks. If further evidence emerged that conclusively corroborated the U.S. claims, Russia’s denial strategy would backfire, causing significant damage to its international standing and credibility. Moreover, if Russia is indeed engaging in NHI technology retrieval and reverse engineering, as alleged, a denial strategy could jeopardize its position in the evolving global discourse on NHI.

  1. Capitalizing on Chaos: Exploiting the Disclosure for Geopolitical Advantage

Another possible response from Russia involves utilizing the U.S. disclosures as a geopolitical lever. This aligns with Russia’s historical pattern of capitalizing on international developments to further its strategic agenda. Under this scenario, Russia might criticize the U.S. for purportedly weaponizing NHI technology or accuse it of instigating a new arms race, thereby destabilizing global security.

These criticisms could be leveraged to erode international support for the U.S., create divisions among Western alliances, and build alliances with countries that share similar concerns. For instance, Russia might intensify its outreach to non-aligned nations, portraying itself as a champion of international stability in contrast to the“reckless” U.S. pursuit of NHI technology.

  1. Reluctant Cooperation: A Pragmatic Alliance

The least probable, yet not entirely dismissible, scenario is that Russia might opt for a cooperative response. The conditions necessitating this approach would likely involve the perception of significant risks or rewards stemming from the NHI technology.

Should the NHI technology’s potential power become apparent and if this power is seen to pose an existential risk to Russia or to global stability, Russia might consider international cooperation as the most prudent approach. However, even under these conditions, we expect any cooperative overtures from Russia to be meticulously calculated to protect and advance its interests.

Russia’s strategic response to the U.S. disclosure is unlikely to be monolithic and fixed. Given the multifaceted complexity of global politics and the unique challenges posed by the NHI phenomenon, Russia’s strategic response is expected to be multifaceted. It could encompass a blend of various strategies, modulating between them as circumstances evolve. Therefore, while we have discussed these scenarios separately for analytical clarity, in reality, they might unfold concurrently or alternately, or even amalgamate into a hybrid strategy. The nature of Russia’s multi-pronged approach would be dictated by a complex interplay of domestic exigencies, international pressures, and the shifting sands of the NHI narrative. Constant vigilance and adaptability will be required to anticipate and respond to Russia’s moves.

V. Conclusion: Uncharted Territory in the New Strategic Landscape

We find ourselves on the precipice of an epochal shift in global politics and security dynamics. The imminent potential U.S. disclosure of its Non-Human Intelligence (NHI) retrieval and reverse engineering programs and subsequent allegations of similar programs in China and Russia have thrust the international community into a realm of unprecedented strategic complexity. These developments have the potential to rewrite the rules of geopolitical competition and cooperation, testing the agility and adaptability of our strategic frameworks and policy responses.

The scenarios laid out have drawn on historical precedents, normative behaviors, and the unique strategic cultures of China and Russia. We posit that China is likely to adopt a blend of selective disclosure, narrative framing, and strategic ambiguity, leveraging its increasing diplomatic and informational capabilities to navigate this new terrain effectively. Simultaneously, Russia, ensnared in its own domestic and regional complexities, may deploy a combination of public denial or downplaying, strategic distraction, and leveraging these developments for geopolitical advantage. This analysis has underscored the fluidity and volatility of the new strategic landscape, with each scenario intertwining with others in intricate and unpredictable ways.

While our study provides an initial understanding of the landscape, it is essential to underscore that we are dealing with a dynamic, evolving situation. Unpredictability will be a defining feature of this new strategic epoch. This calls for strategic agility from U.S. policymakers, the ability to adjust and recalibrate strategies in real-time as events unfold and new information becomes available. To this end, we strongly recommend a proactive approach to strategic anticipation, scenario planning, and capacity building in policy circles.

In terms of immediate policy implications, it is clear that managing the narrative and the discourse surrounding NHI and related technologies will be a strategic imperative for the United States. China’s potential attempts to frame the discourse, Russia’s possible efforts to leverage the situation, and the overall narrative control will significantly influence how this situation evolves. This puts a premium on strategic communication, diplomacy, alliance management, and multilateral engagement.

The need for international norms and governance frameworks concerning NHI and associated technologies is another clear conclusion from our study. Given the potential for a multiplicity of actors to possess and develop these technologies, the absence of agreed norms and rules could lead to heightened risks and instabilities. This underscores the importance of initiating international discussions on the governance of NHI technologies and forging consensus on key principles.

Finally, we recognize the necessity for more in-depth analysis of the policy implications, potential consequences, and strategic responses associated with the scenarios discussed in this paper. As the next step in our research, we will embark on a detailed investigation of these issues, the results of which we will present in a follow-up piece. This forthcoming analysis aims to provide policymakers with concrete recommendations to navigate this new strategic frontier effectively and ensure U.S. national as well as global security interests are robustly protected.