An important line of action taken by NATO risks going almost unnoticed because it is not clearly and explicitly included in the Strategic Concept that the 30 leaders of NATO countries have just approved in Madrid.
But it is implicitly included in the text of the document that will guide transatlantic affairs over the next decade. It is an initiative to reinforce the defence organisation's commitment to science, industry and cutting-edge technologies, a crucial way to maintain superiority in the face of the threat posed by Russia and the challenge from China.
To prevent such a measure from being lost among the 49 paragraphs of the document that defines the way forward for NATO, its Secretary General, the Norwegian Jens Stoltenberg, wanted to bring his name to the fore at the press conference that closed the first day of the summit of heads of state and government held on 29 June in Madrid.
The NATO Council officially endorsed the so-called Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic (DIANA). Its raison d'être is to support the creation in the United States, Canada and the European nations of the Alliance of a significant community of public and private research teams, start-ups and test centres focused on developing emerging dual-use technologies.
As expressed in the Strategic Concept, the Allies are aware that so-called deep and disruptive technologies bring "both opportunities and risks", that they "alter" the nature of conflicts, that they are becoming increasingly strategically important and that they are "key" in global competition between states. Thus, NATO understands that "technological primacy is increasingly influencing success on the battlefield".
What is the package of new future technologies that the Alliance is interested in pursuing? Seven were selected first and now there are ten, the first of which is artificial intelligence. NATO's top brass is concerned about Beijing's significant investment in this new field of technology, so it is not surprising that it is high on the Alliance's list of priorities.
Next in importance are quantum technologies; Big Data and advanced computing; hypersonic technology; bioengineering and human capability enhancement; multiple space applications; novel propulsion systems; new energy sources; innovative materials and manufacturing processes; and autonomous land, naval and airborne vehicles and weapons systems.
What is to be achieved is spelled out in paragraph 24 of the newborn roadmap for the future NATO. It is nothing more than "promoting innovation and increasing investment in emerging and disruptive technologies to maintain our interoperability and military advantage". It seeks to test, evaluate and validate new technologies that address critical defence challenges and contribute to the Alliance's deterrence component.
Among DIANA's objectives is to build and oversee an innovation ecosystem of around 50 test centres to help emerging companies support Alliance technology needs through competitive grant programmes. Specifically, the new NATO roadmap aims to "accelerate our digital transformation, adapt our command structure to the information age and improve our cyber defence, network and infrastructure capabilities".
NATO's Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges, the Dutchman David van Weel, is aware that "innovation no longer comes from the defence sector as it did until 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 critical technologies and to make a quantum leap forward with respect to the Science for Peace and Security Programme that the Alliance launched in 1958 and redefined in 2013.
More than 20 Allied nations have decided to pool resources and invest around 1 billion euros over the next 15 years in a venture capital fund dedicated to innovation, with grants of up to 200,000 euros. It is this group of nations that has formed the NATO Innovation Fund, the instrument that will feed DIANA with resources.
The purpose of this multi-sovereign fund is to ensure that NATO maintains its technological edge over third countries, namely China and Russia. Each year, some 70 million will be invested in exploring dual-use technologies with direct potential application in defence and security systems, equipment or products.
DIANA will have two sites, one in Europe and one in North America. London has been chosen to host the European site, at Imperial College, which has applied jointly with Tallinn, the Estonian capital, which has an advanced international centre for artificial intelligence and cybernetics. NATO officials expect the London centre to begin operations this year, reach initial operational capability (IOC) in 2023 and full operational capability (FOC) in 2025. Canada has been chosen to position the centre on the other side of the Atlantic.
DIANA and the Innovation Fund that underpins it did not emerge out of the blue at the Madrid summit but nine months ago. NATO Defence Ministers agreed at their meeting in Brussels in October 2021 to "strengthen the Alliance by promoting and protecting transatlantic innovation", and put in place the first links to the technology accelerator and innovation fund that the Strategic Concept now embodies.
The European Union is also aware of the technological challenge. The Strategic Compass adopted in mid-March launched a similar initiative to that of NATO just over a month ago. Within the European Defence Agency (EDA), Brussels has created the Centre for Defence Innovation (HEDI), which also aims to accelerate, test, evaluate and validate emerging, cutting-edge, dual-use technologies.