While I’m writing this article, the world is facing the greatest global crisis of our generation. It is worth asking what a globalized world means after the COVID-19 pandemic, and mainly in the context of the defense industry.
Will it feature, as it did until recently, dynamic international trade and financial flows, globally integrated production chains, and an unprecedented flow of people and goods? Or, as many have speculated, will we see more protectionism, with countries protecting their markets and jobs, being more self-absorbed and less integrated? And how will the effects of geopolitical trends, accelerated by the current crisis, unfold in the decision-making of the military segment in a review of strategic plans?
Nonstate actors, unconventional wars, terrorism, nationalism, the connection of organized crime with paramilitary movements, radicalism and rogue states are some of the topics with which we are commonly presented. Entirely unpredictable in nature, these trends have the capacity to cause even more damage, marked by new space and cyber weapons.
Perhaps we will move from open partnerships, shared defense solutions and industrial integration to a more suspicious environment, where countries will develop individual defense responses, only using partnerships that supplement their ability to succeed.
New technologies, communications formats, relationships, economic flows, environmental concerns and geopolitical trends will have significant consequences in our lives. And the repercussions are uncertain.
In this environment, the defense sector will face new threats, such as the even more intensive use of cyber and space technology, autonomous applications, and artificial intelligence to attack, threaten, influence, or defend countries, companies and citizens.
The prospect of cyber conflicts is worrisome. Software overtakes hardware, and the product is an internet of solutions that we can’t truly understand.
This is the new world that the defense industry must understand and ultimately act upon. Industry must seek solutions far beyond the conventional, sometimes even distant from our natural comfort zones, either by doctrine or generational conflict.
This challenge also sparks opportunity, as it enables countries to form programs to protect their critical infrastructure and sensitive data by encouraging unique solutions, using complementary and controlled partnerships when necessary. This can foster the digital economy and technology of the future.
To make it happen, however, a fundamental change to the definition of “defense” is necessary. If we consider the defense realm to be exclusive to the military, these advancements will be limited. The most obvious vector of the defense environment is certainly the military, but the requirements of the post-pandemic world are larger.
The public and private sectors must be coordinated. The integrated efforts of various companies are necessary for supporting the implementation of a cyber protection program. Universities and research centers will also be necessary for fostering knowledge and developing critical thinking throughout countries.
Nations usually define their defense investment priorities based on military policies and geopolitical strategies — considering eventual threats or interests. They should defend their convictions, territory and population.
The defense industry must interact with the world in general, either regionally or globally. Even if we imagine a less globalized world following the pandemic, defense challenges are increasingly global.
Outlining regional defense visions and coordinating scientific and technological efforts — involving public and private agents — around the same strategic purpose can ensure the sustainability of our defense industry.
Jackson Schneider is the president and CEO of Embraer’s Defense and Security division. This essay was first published for Forte de Copacabana 2020.