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Polish security personnel guard a barbed wire fence at the Poland-Belarus border on Nov. 10. Photo: Leonid Shcheglov/BELTA/AFP/Belarus OUT

Two events over the past week — an attempted drone assassination and a partially engineered migrant crisis — show the changing nature of conflicts.

Why it matters: Outright wars between states remain extremely rare, but new technologies and strategies are enabling countries and groups to wage conflict by other, hybrid means.

Driving the news: On Sunday, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi survived an assassination attempt after armed drones targeted his residence in Baghdad.

  • Reuters, citing Iraqi security officials, later reported the attack was carried out by at least one Iran-backed militia, though likely without the sanction of the Iranian government.
  • In Poland, hundreds of migrants tried to storm the border from Belarus in what a Polish security official said was a campaign engineered by the Belarusian government as a "hybrid attack" against Poland.

The big picture: Both events demonstrate the new tools available to wage asymmetric, often deniable conflicts without the use of a single soldier.

  • The U.S. began the global war on terror with a near monopoly over armed drones, but today more than 100 militaries have some level of armed or unarmed drone capability as the technology has become cheaper and more widespread.
  • Drones — which put no soldiers at risk and often bear no identification — are particularly worrying as weapons of targeted assassination, especially as they become more autonomous.
  • German spokesperson Steffen Seibert has said Belarus — which has come under sanctions from Poland and other EU members — "instrumentalizes refugees and migrants" in an effort to destabilize the EU.

Of note: Belarus insists the migrants are merely exercising their rights as refugees, though it's worth noting that hybrid war — a blend of conventional and political warfare — is specifically meant to operate in a gray zone of plausible deniability.

The bottom line: In the future, the fog of war will only get denser.

Go deeper

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Updated Dec 4, 2021 - Technology

A dark view of the future of autonomous weapons

A still from the video "If Human: Kill ( )." Image: Future of Life Institute

A new short film warns of the coming risks posed by the development and proliferation of lethal autonomous weapons.

Why it matters: Drones with the ability to autonomously target and kill without the assistance of a human operator are reportedly already being used on battlefields, and time is running out to craft a global ban of what could be a destabilizing and terrifying new class of weapon.

Women politicians are under siege

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Kevin Dietsch, Stefani Reynolds, and Alex Wong/Getty Images

Women in Congress feel besieged and singled-out amid surging threats against lawmakers at all levels, with some frustrated more hasn't been done to halt the trend.

Why it matters: As record numbers of American women are being elected to public office, their growing political power is being met with death and rape threats, sexist and racist abuse and online disinformation. Collectively, it's discouraged women from running for office.

New report hits DOJ over lack of police shooting data

Demonstrations followed the shooting of Dijon Kizzee by Los Angeles Sheriff's deputies in 2020. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

A new government accountability report says the Department of Justice failed to consistently publish an annual summary of police excessive force data from 2016 to 2020, as required by federal law.

Why it matters: The data is crucial for the DOJ to monitor excessive force cases, and used to investigate law enforcement agencies with patterns of abuse. The DOJ can pivot off it to pursue court action to force reforms.