NATO hunts for military startups against China and Russia

NATO hunts for military startups against China and Russia

The Diana program is launched, to recruit advanced defense technologies, and an innovation fund worth 70 million dollars a year. No preventive stop to killer robots

Military controls the arrival in Brussels of American President Joe Biden for the NATO summit (photo Pool / F.Andrieu / Agencepeps / Ipa) Like the goddess of Latin mythology from which it takes its name, the next NATO mission, Diana, will also go hunting. Of startups and defense technologies, to be exact. The Organization of the North Atlantic Pact, which links the United States and 29 European countries, does not live on diplomatic relations alone, it is the line to the upper floors of Brussels after the trip of American President Joe Biden to the old continent to reconnect frayed relations from his predecessor, Donald Trump. If the goal is, as the tenant of the White House has established, to contain the expansionist aims of China and Russia, it is necessary to update the defense of the NATO allies to technologies capable of coping with the development of the Dragon and the cyber incursions of related groups in the Kremlin.

This is what Diana will serve, a program baptized in the very last meeting of the Atlantic pact. It will be "an accelerator of startups and innovative companies", in fields ranging from artificial intelligence to quantum computers, explains David van Weel, NATO assistant secretary general for emerging security challenges in a press presentation. To fuel the plan, the organization will also launch an innovation fund, with an endowment of 70 million dollars a year and an initial horizon of 15 years.

Lost prestige

NATO's goal is to ignite Diana's engines in 2022, to make the program and the innovation fund fully operational in the following year. There is a report, presented in March by a group of 12 experts recruited by NATO itself to prepare for the technological challenges of the future, which urges the allies to update their defenses. Among the risks of the future, for example, the Financial Times cites the fact that China may use artificial intelligence to coordinate attacks. For this reason, the secretary general of the organization, Jens Stoltenberg, in an interview with the same newspaper stressed that "for decades, NATO allies have dominated in the technology segment. But this is no longer so obvious ".

A discourse that is particularly true for Europe, outclassed by the digital champions of the United States and China. Not only at the civilian market level, but also at the military level. According to a recent report by the US Center for American Progress, near the White House, "European forces are not ready to fight with the equipment they have," Politico reports. This is the reason why NATO wants to change direction soon, adding an ad hoc plan to explore new frontiers, finance startups and support innovative research, alongside normal calls for the purchase of technologies from defense multinationals.


“Diana will have two offices, in Europe and North America”, says van Weel, and will use a network of existing centers to test and validate research projects. NATO wants to immediately catch up in critical sectors for the armed forces such as artificial intelligence, big data and quantum computing. Subsequently, attention will also focus on space defense, supersonic engines and bio-engineering to increase the capabilities of the human being. "We have to be ready to make the right move at the right time," says van Weel.

Diana will have to foster the exchange of innovation and collaboration between the two sides of the Atlantic. But also the flow of funds towards the projects considered to be the most interesting and sensitive. To do this, NATO will create a sort of "reliable and secure marketplace to bring together startups, scaleups and private investors and prevent the illicit transfer of military technology," explains the assistant secretary general. In other words, the Organization will raise a security perimeter around the projects of its interest. The investment, for example, will not be open to everyone, but only to accredited operators, considered safe and included in a white list. In this way, "companies linked to countries that are not in the alliance or that have a good track record will be blocked," says van Weel. A screening will be carried out to prevent governments like those of Russia and China from getting their hands inside the ecosystem of military innovation that the alliance intends to cultivate.

The choice of startups

Delle startup the Diana program wants to replicate even the most agile approach. NATO and nations will express governance, indicate investment guidelines and place chips. At least 70 million dollars a year for 15 years for the innovation fund alone, to which other resources can be added. The selection of startups, acceleration and financing will instead be in the hands of market operators with a solid track record. Van Weel thinks of subjects like Inqtel, which has 500 investments in progress and supports governments, starting with Washington, in technological development.

This more agile model must also reward speed, choice of projects and resource allocation. It is not yet clear how startups will be able to apply, but NATO is ready right now to collect adhesions.

Ethical dilemmas

Diana will also have to set product standards and ethical directives on which the allies agree. A method to try to compose divisions on 5G made in China, banned in the United States but admitted under scrutiny in the European Union. However, at the moment the alliance seems to want to keep itself out of the hottest topics. Like killer robots, aka autonomous weapon systems. Just in these days he has been discussing an independent UN report on Libya, from which drone attacks against the troops of General Haftar without a human command emerge. Precisely the degree of autonomy of these machines is a controversial and discussed aspect, as Luca Sambucci, an expert in artificial intelligence, recalls in his newsletter.

And it is also the line of NATO, at least according to the answers of van Weel to Wired. "We will establish principles of responsible use of technology, but not binding and without any preventive prohibition", explains the expert: "Behind the definition of killer robots there are many different technologies, which we want to study to have an artificial intelligence that can be explained ". Before deciding whether to impose a blockade or not, NATO wants to allow startups and research centers to examine all technologies and evaluate the possible repercussions.

Alliance under stress

Of course this will be one of the most divisive aspects within the alliance. On the one hand, the European Parliament at the end of January voted in favor of a ban on autonomous weapon systems. "The decision to select a target and take legal action using an autonomous weapon system must always be made by a human being, who exercises full control and judgment", is the position of the community hemicycle, which pushes because the Commission also have this standard recognized by the United Nations. In the same days, however, as Reuters reports, a committee of experts, led by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, suggested to the United States Congress not to ban artificial intelligence-activated weapons, because they would make fewer mistakes than a human being.

In general, according to the international campaign to stop killer robots, 30 countries and 140 non-governmental associations oppose these technologies. Even the ethics committee of the Norwegian government's wealthy Global Pension Fund, which reinvests the royalties from oil extraction, has suggested considering a ban on autonomous weapons. A divergence of views that puts stress on an alliance already worried by the growing leadership in the East.

As the Mercator institute for China studies, a German observatory on China, writes in a report on the one hundred years since the founding of the Party Chinese Communist, July 1, 1921, “national security will be the dominant paradigm of China's international relations. With the prospect of Xi's "security first" (Jinping, Chinese president, ed) that permeates institutions and interactions with China, international counterparts may be surprised at the increased intransigence in exchanges and cooperation ". Starting with technology, the main weapon of the Chinese Communist Party of the third millennium, Merics acknowledges. Diana will have to outrun the Dragon.

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China Quantum computer Cybersecurity Europe Artificial intelligence Joe Biden Russia startup United States globalData.fldTopic = "China, Quantum Computer, Cybersecurity, Europe, Artificial Intelligence, Joe Biden, Russia, startup, United States"

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