Immortality lies just over the horizon... projectiles can soon be controlled telepathically... invisibility is possible... human skin can be made bullet-proof... the genome’s lock can be picked... genetic modification can give people pan-immunity – these are just a sprinkling of the headlines from the world of science. It would appear we are on the threshold of unprecedented scientific and technological breakthroughs. They could turn many of our traditional understandings on their head and change societal patterns that have been in place for thousands of years, above all the hierarchies and equilibriums in human society.

The question this raises in the context of international relations is quite a fundamental one: how will these changes affect the relations between countries (civilizations, cultures, continents)?

Drawing on history, we can argue that previous breakthroughs in science and technology did not fundamentally change the behavioural patterns of countries. The focus is still on national interests. Of course, the nature of these interests has changed over time, and the battle is no longer over dynastic succession or monarchic prestige. The existence or absence of interests and needs dictates whether influential countries will intervene in a given place. It also determines what and whom smaller countries appeal to for securing their place in the sun and what and whom they try to avoid at all cost.

The question of whether there will be major changes in international relations as humanity’s knowledge and skills enter a new age is actually a question of whether science in the palpable future will make the world better, safer, freer and fairer.

In spite of the discoveries waiting to be made, there is no reason for excessive optimism. The conventional wisdom that countries always become richer and the poor poorer seems unshakeable. Immortality and panaceas may be achieved, but at least in the near future they will be available to only the few or the very rich. It may be possible to cloak people in invisibility and make skin bullet-proof, but the dizzying price of such technologies will allow only the elite forces of the wealthiest countries to use them.

But still: the world is far from finished. And like a train passing stations, international relations continue their ceaseless progress from one event to the next.

Mart Helme