NATO defence ministers met via secure teleconference on Wednesday 17th and Thursday 18th February 2021, to address NATO's missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, review progress toward fairer burden-sharing, and discuss the NATO 2030 initiative. Ministers also met with NATO partners Finland, Sweden, and the European Union to address shared security challenges.
"This is our first meeting with the new Biden administration and an opportunity to prepare the NATO summit in Brussels later this year," said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
The NATO 2030 initiative was high on the agenda, and Mr. Stoltenberg presented a set of proposals to defence ministers to begin preparations for the summit. Ahead of the meeting, he outlined the key points of his proposals, which included increasing NATO’s funding for core deterrence and defence activities: "This would support Allied deployments in our battlegroups in the eastern part of our Alliance, air policing, maritime deployments and exercises. Spending more together would demonstrate the strength of our commitment to Article 5, our promise to defend each other. And it would contribute to fairer burden-sharing," the Secretary General said.
Mr. Stoltenberg also proposed a NATO Defence Innovation Initiative, to promote interoperability and boost transatlantic cooperation on defence innovation: Interoperability is the ability to act together coherently, effectively and efficiently to achieve Allied objectives. In order to act together nations need to interact, connect and exchange data and services; they need to have agreed common processes; and their people need to be well trained. Interoperability is an essential component of NATO’s DNA, and ensuring interoperability remains at the heart of Alliance capabilities.
On Thursday, ministers discussed NATO’s missions in Afghanistan and Iraq; the Secretary General stressed that NATO strongly supports the peace process in Afghanistan and has significantly adjusted its presence as part of the process.
The defence ministers also reviewed progress toward fairer burden-sharing. During a press conference ahead of the meetings, the Secretary General announced that 2021 will be the seventh consecutive year of increased defence spending. "Since 2014, European Allies and Canada have contributed a cumulative extra of 190 billion US dollars. Nine Allies are expected to spend 2% of GDP on defence. And twenty-four Allies are expected to spend at least 20% of investment in equipment" he said.
Addressing disruptive and emerging technologies, the Secretary General said "Disruptive and emerging technologies are of great importance for NATO and for all Allies. Many of these technologies have dual use: civilian purposes, but also for military purposes. And we need to make sure that we maintain the technological edge by also making sure that we invest in disruptive and emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, facial recognition, autonomous systems. And especially when you combine all these technologies, it will really impact the nature of warfare and the way we conduct our military operations and mission and different military activities. This is, of course, something we already do. But we need to make sure that we continue and that we keep the pace. Therefore I welcome the fact that NATO Allies are investing more in these capabilities and in emerging technologies. Just the fact that we are able to increase defence spending across the Alliance and that 20 percent of our budgets are now allocated to investments in new technologies, enables us to develop and also to make sure that we have military application of these new technologies. For instance, the drones we just spoke about - the Alliance Ground Surveillance Aircraft - they actually apply a use of disruptive technologies to be at the best state-of-the-art when it comes to how we use new technologies. So, first of all, we need to invest – and Allies are doing that – but we need to make sure that we continue to do so to maintain the technological edge."
As NATO’s Warfare Development Command, Allied Command Transformation ensures the Alliance is continuously designing and delivering the right military instrument of power. Through a complete warfare development cycle, Allied Command Transformation designs and delivers the most efficient military instrument; the Command acts as NATO’s focal point of capability development, launching various initiatives through an emerging and disruptive technologies roadmap in close coordination with Allied Command Operations, NATO's International Staff / International Military Staff, NATO Science and Technology Organization and other interested Agencies.
The Emerging and Disruptive Technologies roadmap extracts a number of activities within selected Lines of Effort that showcase and serve as a way to better understand the potential of emerging and disruptive technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Data Sciences, Autonomy, Hypersonics, Directed Energy Weapons, Quantum Technologies and Biotechnologies & Human Enhancement. NATO's Allied Command Transformation is establishing a new Emerging and Disruptive Technologies organization to look at the field of possibilities offered by these technologies and at their implications in terms of strategy and policy, feeding the NATO Headquarters level, and able to integrate the ‘bottom-up’ findings of the tangible explorations in a strategic view.
The Innovation Hub, led by Allied Command Transformation, performs and covers all the spectrum of capabilities; Open innovation provides a robust incubation environment for military, academia and industry to fast track applications of innovative operational models and emerging technologies. Through the Innovation Hub, Allied Command Transformation leverages open innovation pulling information from civilian world, to the benefit of the Alliance. The Innovation Hub is a both virtual and physical collaborative platform that leads a network of more than 3000 experts worldwide, and a place where experts collaborate and design solutions meeting NATO challenges. By bringing together people with different backgrounds or perspectives, the Innovation Hub generates a better understanding of the issues and fosters modernization. The Innovation Hub, reinforced with an Open Innovation Lab capability, is an ideal space to test hypotheses and solutions and turn ideas into “user centric” Minimum Viable Products.
Allied Command Transformation has also developed a solid collaborative relationship with NATO's Science and Technology Organization. This partnership is materialized with an annual action plan consisting of more than sixty actions carried out each year, and covering Allied Command Operations' requests. Through its Maritime Science & Technology programme of work, executed by the Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation, Allied Command Transformation develops indispensable bricks of knowledge and prototype technologies on which the Allied Nations and NATO can build upon their capability programmes to address maritime main shortfall areas; these key technologies include underwater autonomous vehicles for Antisubmarine Warfare and Mine Counter Measures, secure underwater communication networks, Artificial Intelligence and Big Data for Command & Control and Maritime Situational Awareness, and maritime environmental knowledge.
Through the annual Allied Command Transformation I3 Week (Initiate, Innovate, Imagine), the Command develops innovative thinking to better solve problems in the future. Lastly, NATO, through Allied Command Transformation, conducts various initiatives to capture innovation for capability development, such as the NATO Industry Forum, Chiefs of Transformation Conference, Coalition Warrior Interoperability Exercise and the International Concept Development and Experimentation Conference.