19 November 2022
Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand announced on 18 November that Halifax, Canada, has been selected by the Federal Government to be the host of NATO's North American regional office for defence innovation. Canada agreed at the Madrid NATO Summit in June to host the North American regional office of the Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic (DIANA). The other offices are located in the UK and Estonia.
The offices are meant to hone NATO's technological edge by working with private sector companies and academics. Their mandate is to engage with both high-tech startups and established companies to solve critical defence and security problems. During the Madrid Summit it was also agreed that innovators participating in DIANA’s programmes will have access to a network of more than 9 Accelerator Sites and more than 63 Test Centres across Europe and North America.
Anand described DIANA as a "crucial initiative" that will be a great fit with Halifax, which is home to several major universities and a burgeoning high-tech sector. The chair of NATO’s Military Committee, Admiral Rob Bauer, said "One of the reasons that the Ukrainian Armed Forces have been successful in pushing back the Russian invasion is their clever use of new technologies". "And we have all witnessed the critical role of technology companies supporting Ukraine. Help has come both from Ukraine's own well-developed tech sector, as well as from big and small international players", he said, adding the private sector is playing a crucial role in the war in eastern Europe. “A few months ago, when we thought of a company like Microsoft or Starlink, we thought of laptops or satellites. Now we think of them [as] companies that help win the war," Bauer said.
Technological innovations constantly change the nature of peace, crisis and conflict. The United States and several key European NATO member states have traditionally placed great emphasis on retaining their technological edge (and often articulate this aim almost as an entitlement), but as this has become increasingly challenged by China and others, the debate around how NATO can stay ahead of the curve has sharpened. In recent years, NATO has identified seven key emerging and disruptive technologies (EDTs): artificial intelligence, data and computing, autonomy, quantum-enabled technologies, biotechnology, hypersonic technology and space. These areas were further elaborated in a March 2020 report by the NATO Science and Technology Organization (STO, a NATO subsidiary body and “the world’s largest collaborative research forum in the field of defence and security”), which provided an assessment of the impact of EDT advances over the next 20 years. Among the report’s conclusions was that disruptive effects would most likely occur through combinations of EDTs and the complex interactions between them.
NATO is working towards a strategy for both fostering these technologies—through stronger relationships with innovation hubs and specific funding mechanisms—and protecting EDT investments from outside influence. NATO is expected to eventually develop individual strategies for each of the seven science and technology areas, but in the short to medium term the priority is AI and data.
To foster greater technological cooperation among NATO, it was agreed at the Brussels Summit in 2021 to launch DIANA and to establish a NATO Innovation Fund. The latter was launched at the Madrid Summit by 22 member states (Belgium; Bulgaria; Czech Republic; Denmark; Estonia; Germany; Greece; Hungary; Iceland; Italy; Latvia; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Netherlands; Norway; Poland; Portugal; Romania; Slovakia; Spain; Turkey and the UK) with the aim of investing €1 billion in developing dual-use emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, big-data processing, quantum-enabled technologies, autonomy, biotechnology and human enhancement, novel materials, energy, propulsion and space.