Much of the debate over how artificial intelligence (AI) will affect geopolitics focuses on the emerging arms race between Washington and Beijing, as well as investments by major military powers like Russia. And to be sure, breakthroughs are happening at a rapid pace in the United States and China. But while an arms race between superpowers is riveting, AI development outside of the major powers, even where advances are less pronounced, could also have a profound impact on our world. The way smaller countries choose to use and invest in AI will affect their own power and status in the international system.
Middle powers—countries like Australia, France, Singapore, and South Korea—are generally prosperous and technologically advanced, with small-to-medium-sized populations. In the language of economics, they usually possess more capital than labor. Their domestic investments in AI have the potential to, at a minimum, enhance their economic positions as global demand grows for technologies enabled by machine learning, such as rapid image recognition or self-driving vehicles. But since the underlying science of AI is dual-use—applicable to both peaceful and military purposes—these investments could also have consequences for a country’s defense capabilities.