A key NATO line of action risks going almost unnoticed because it is not clearly visible and expressly in the Strategic Concept that the 30 heads of state and government of the member states of the alliance just adopted in Madrid.
But it is implicit in the text of the document that will guide transatlantic affairs over the next decade. This is an initiative to strengthen the commitment of the interest group for science, advanced industry and technology, a crucial means of maintaining superiority in the face of the Russian threat and the challenge of China.
To prevent such a measure from being lost between the 49 paragraphs of the document who determines the future path for NATO, its Secretary General, the Norwegian Jens Stoltenberg, explicitly mentioned his name at the press conference concluding the first day of the Summit of Heads of State and Government that took place in Madrid on 29th June.
The NATO Council has officially endorsed the Defense Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic (DIANA). Its raison d’être is to support the creation of a key community of public and private research teams, start-ups and research centers in the United States, Canada and European countries of the Alliance focused on developing emerging dual-technology organizations.
As expressed in the Strategic Concept, Allies are aware that so-called pervasive and disruptive technologies “entail both opportunities and risks”, that they “change” the nature of conflicts, that they are of growing strategic importance and that they are “key” in global competition between states. NATO therefore understands that “technological primacy is increasingly affecting success on the battlefield”.
Artificial intelligence, the first priority
Which new future technologies does Allianz want to implement? Seven were chosen first, and now there are ten, the first of which is artificial intelligence. Senior NATO officials are concerned about Beijing’s heavy investment in this new area of technology. Not surprisingly, this area is high on the Alliance’s list of priorities.
Next come quantum technologies, big data and advanced computing, Hypersonic technology, bioengineering and improvement of human capabilities, diverse space applications, new propulsion systems, new sources of energy, innovative materials and manufacturing processes as well as vehicles and systems of autonomous land, sea and air forces.
What needs to be achieved is set out in paragraph 24 of the evolving roadmap for the future of NATO. It is about nothing more than “encouraging innovation and increasing investment in emerging and disruptive technologies to maintain our interoperability and military advantage.” It aims to test, evaluate and validate new technologies that address critical defense challenges and contribute to the Alliance’s deterrence component.
One of DIANA’s goals is to create and oversee an innovation ecosystem consisting of approximately 50 test centers to help emerging companies meet the Alliance’s technology needs through competitive funding programs. Specifically, NATO’s new roadmap aims to “accelerate our digital transformation, adapt our command structure to the information age, and enhance our cyber defence, network and infrastructure capabilities.”
NATO Deputy Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges, Dutchman David van Weel, is aware that “innovation no longer comes from the defense sector as it did up to the end of the 20th century”. It comes from areas “where we are no longer present, so we have to reconnect”. The aim is to strengthen transatlantic cooperation in the field of critical technologies and to advance the “Science in the Service of Peace and Security” program, which was launched in 1958 and redefined in 2013.
DIANA: one location in the UK and one in Canada
More than 20 allied nations have decided to pool their resources and invest about €1 billion over the next 15 years in a venture capital fund dedicated to innovation, with grants of up to €200,000. This group of countries created the NATO Innovation Fund, the instrument that will resource DIANA.
The aim of this multi-state fund is to ensure that NATO maintains its technological edge over third countries, particularly China and Russia. Approximately $70 million is invested each year in research into dual-use technologies with the potential for direct application in defense and security systems, equipment or products.
DIANA will have two locations, one in Europe and one in North America. London was chosen as the location for the European site at Imperial College, which applied jointly with the Estonian capital of Tallinn, which has an advanced international center for artificial intelligence and cybernetics. NATO officials expect the London center to become operational later this year, reaching initial operational capability (IOC) in 2023 and full operational capability (TOC) in 2025. Canada was chosen to position the center across the Atlantic.
DIANA and the innovation fund that underpins it didn’t appear out of nowhere at the Madrid summit, it did nine months ago. Meeting in Brussels in October 2021, NATO Defense Ministers agreed to “strengthen the Alliance by promoting and protecting transatlantic innovation” and made the first links to the Technology Accelerator and Innovation Fund, now part of the Strategic Concept.
The European Union is also aware of the technological challenge. With the Strategic Compass adopted in mid-March, an initiative similar to that launched by NATO just over a month ago was launched. Within the European Defense Agency (EDA), Brussels has created the Center for Defense Innovation (HEDI), which also aims to accelerate, test, evaluate and validate new, advanced and dual-use technologies.