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In this part, we go through the three factors that act as prerequisites for triggering the race to develop weapons, and the need to maintain them. It is important to note that these factors are interconnected—the absence of one or more can drastically affect the advancement of an arms race, potentially leading to the end. This allows us to measure their causality, to make better forecasts when considering the X-risks.



Evolution in all species is widely accepted as the result of natural selection through competition.[1] The most pervasive and potent type of competition can be seen in nature in the form of sexual selection. Usually, males compete to secure mating partners as they are active for mating far longer than females. As a result, we see the physiological modeling of males for battles. They compete for the shot at reproduction and the one with superior weapons wins. However, roles can be reversed if the primary selection process is altered from the beginning. 

In Jacana birds, females are the aggressors—bigger bodies equipped with attacking weaponized spurs. They fight for nesting space with other females and mate with multiple males who tend to the broods. This is because, unlike most species found in nature, Jacana females have shorter turnaround times than males. 

African elephant females are fertile for less than one percent of their lifetime from a very early age. They go through a gestation period of two years and then another two years, where they tend and protect the young ones. Compare this to a male elephant with a turnaround time of less than a day. This gives rise to fierce competition in males with long ivory tusks ready for battle. Naturally, the ones in their prime rule the battlefield. An observational study found that 53 out of 89 male elephants never get to mate at all. This high degree of competition gives rise to huge weapons(tusks) in elephants. These weapons are not cheap. Males invest a large amount of resources to grow huge bodies to carry such weapons. The same study found that only males 45 years old and above succeed in mating with females. To reach the prime of their battle capacity males have to compete for decades with the might of older generations. This drives the new generation to produce larger weapons(which is already favored by the bloodline of prior victors.) As a result, the few males with the biggest weapons end up mating with a majority of females, and the rest of the males back out.

Economic Defensibility:

While reproductive selection processes provide a massive push, weapons growth settles when one or more favorable factors alter the direction of natural selection. Dynamic changes can even push the growth in the opposite direction. The cycle continues through the course of the evolution of a species, but reproductive competition never ceases. Hundreds of elephant species, of mammoths with tusks extended up to sixteen feet have been found to exist. Most of these species are now extinct, leaving just the two, as huge weapons took a heavy toll that was not economically feasible with the changing times.

The defensibility of a resource can lead to a battle with an opponent or even multiple opponents. The fight to mate is not the only battle for the male species. Similarly, for females, being potent for reproduction is not the only measure for choosing males. Resources like food, territory, sunlight, etc are decisive. Protection of females carrying the broods or along with young broods is especially important at the time of feeding. If a resource is available in limited quantities, it leads to a higher economic defensibility. Efficient use of resources calls for good weapons and when rewards are high enough, even extravagant weapons can be cost-effective. This is especially true in the case of small animal species as they spend their entire lifetime in one environmental condition, coexisting and fighting with countless others.

This concept is seen in the case of Beetles. A particular species, called the Harlequin Beetles, has a set of forelimbs spanning over sixteen inches in males. The females require freshly fallen fig trees to lay their eggs deep into the decaying wood to supply food for larvae. The males protect the chosen spots while the females lay their eggs. Another species called Dung Beetles have distinctively large horns in males. They collect dung balls as their main food resource from fresh animal drops and deliver them to the tunneling females. A male has to fight off rival males while rolling the balls to the destination. These tunnels are strategically designed to act as a choke point so a female can take the balls unencumbered from enemy attacks. The male is left with the guard duty on the other side of the tunnel. Another strategy involves the female stacking numerous dung balls while the male beetle fights for the ownership of the tunnel. Both scenarios are favored to match the male in an enclosed setting, with a single opponent to fight over the burrow. 

This leads us to the final factor…


A one-on-one duel is often seen as an outcome rather than a requirement in the arms race. The conditions leading to duels play a critical role in directing the advancement of weapons, both in animal and human warfare.

Tunnels and cave-like burrows are the most widespread forms of engagement in battle with small animal species. From shrimps, crabs, and wasps to even a particular Asian frog species that develops advanced fangs and spurs to engage in duels in burrows. Even in large confrontations, facing all opponents is unlikely. The restricted confines of a tunnel align battles so that they necessarily occur in a series of duels. Although, we can not say that chaotic battles are absent from nature. When rivals scramble in the chaos, the outcome becomes less predictable and the value of weapons diminishes—It is observed that chaotic fighting species did not have advanced weapons. (Tree)Branches follow the same linear law and work like an inverse tunnel; species guard their territory, resources, or access to females by blocking the passage and confronting the challenger directly. Battle on branches, common in species like rhino-beetle, horned chameleon, etc, are responsible for the development of their sophisticated weapons.

Dueling models go way back in human conflicts and warfare. European knights, Samurais, and Gunslingers—these are the prime examples that come to our mind, as we indulge in the aesthetic of their weapons. The logic of duels works just as well for large entries like ships, planes, and nation-states. Naval battles were prominent at the dawn of human warfare. For hundreds of years, wooden ships ruled the seas as each small boat carried a few dozen warriors exchanging blows on either land or water. The dynamic changed with the introduction of battering rams to the ships entering a one-on-one duel with one another. This triggered the ships to grow larger and larger as several modifications paved the way for history's greatest arms race in naval warfare.

In light of competition and economic defensibility, duels act as a tipping point for weapons enhancements. The role of competition is deeply rooted in the principle of survival of the fittest. From the knights engaging in bloody matrimonial sports to nations expanding territory into fertile lands, as the civilization prospered the need to compete kept the weapons race actively growing. If we compare it to the modern age, competition acts as the first seed to existential risks, as individual nation-states consistently strive to possess the upper hand in upcoming warfare. The utility of any kind of resource is inversely proportional to its scarcity. To obtain and retain a constant supply of existing resources, or even for an alternative, the primary ladder of competition is always laid out to reach the dueling stage.

In the next part, we'll see how advanced weapons act as deterrents and how individuals cheat to affect the dynamic of the arms race...


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The details about the elephants and beetles were fascinating! I had never heard of these things before. The strange thing is that pondering about all the situations of elephants and beetles, I came to the conclusion that survival is a war in itself. It is almost discouraging to think that you need to struggle so much for elementary needs. It makes you feel the resources are scarce. And here I am, thinking until now that, for most living creatures, the planet was abundant in resources. I guess I was naive, haha. Or perhaps, I'm exaggerating now. 

That aside, if I'm thinking of it at a more philosophical level, I could say life is precious because all living things are fighting for it, and is strong because most of the living creatures survive.

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