Summary of NATO's Biotechnology and Human Enhancement Technologies Strategy

  • 12 Apr. 2024 -
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  • Last updated: 16 Apr. 2024 15:19


  1. Biotechnology and human enhancement technologies (BHE) will transform our economies, societies, security and defence in unprecedented and unforeseeable ways.
  2. Biotechnologies use biological processes, cells or cellular compounds to develop new products and technologies. These offer opportunities to enhance our defence and security – including through:
  • Detecting, identifying and monitoring chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threats using AI-enabled bio-sensors;
  • Decreasing strategic dependencies on strategic competitors and potential adversaries by using synthetic biology and bio-manufacturing; and
  • Leveraging unique properties of BHE-enabled materials for military platforms and infrastructure, including those that are stronger, lighter, self-healing, less toxic, more efficient, and/or faster to manufacture than current alternatives.
  1. Biotechnologies may also be used in ways that pose risks to our armed forces, societies and the environment including:
  • Proliferation risks of new types of bioweapons created from accessible biotechnology research, including as fuelled by generative AI; and
  • Unpredictable spread of biological agents with potentially irreversible impacts.
  1. Human Enhancement Technologies are biotechnological and non- biotechnological interventions that enable individuals to operate beyond normal human limits or abilities. Opportunities to leverage human enhancement technologies for our defence and security include improving:
  • Military medicine and rehabilitation of military personnel, leveraging advancements in prosthetics, devices and treatments;
  • Mobility of our operators, especially by using exoskeletons to assist with physically demanding or dangerous tasks; and
  • Cognitive awareness, especially in complex operational environments where human-machine interfaces and fatigue countermeasures can enhance decision-making beyond baseline human capabilities.
  1. Human enhancement technologies also present defence and security risks against which Allies and NATO must safeguard, including strategic competitors and potential adversaries enhancing their forces, or otherwise seeking to degrade Allied forces by exploiting cognitive, physical or technological vulnerabilities, to achieve military advantages.
  2. Against this context, NATO will provide the transatlantic forum for BHE in defence and security, leveraging the potential of BHE while safeguarding against its malicious use by state and non-state actors, in order to maintain NATO’s technological edge vis-à-vis strategic competitors and potential adversaries on matters relating to BHE for transatlantic defence and security.
  3. Our use of BHE technologies must be founded on our norms, values and commitment to international law.


  1. This Strategy outlines steps to:
  • Set out the Alliance’s responsible approach to the development and use of BHE technologies in security and defence, reflecting our shared values, norms and commitment to international law;
  • Foster timely and safe development, adoption and integration of BHE into Allied forces; and
  • Enhance monitoring and protection of the Alliance’s BHE technologies and ability to innovate, while also identifying and safeguarding against threats from adversarial use of BHE.

Desired outcomes

  1. NATO and Allies will responsibly develop and use BHE in support of our three core tasks – deterrence and defence, crisis prevention and management and cooperative security – driving towards various outcomes, including:
  1. The Alliance has robust pathways to operationalise Principles of Responsible Use for BHE in defence and security, in coherence with NATO’s responsible approach to other EDTs;
  2. The Alliance maintains ongoing awareness of scientific and industrial developments in BHE for all aspects of defence and security;
  3. The Alliance’s CBRN defence capabilities are enhanced by BHE technologies, including through capability targets; monitoring of novel proliferation threats from state and non-state actors; and responsible experimentation with BHE- enabled protections against CBRN threats;
  4. Allies, on a voluntary basis, enhance investment and collaboration in biotechnologies that can improve efficiencies of the production of defence relevant materials and capabilities as well as refinement and manufacturing processes involving rare earths and minerals identified as essential for Alliance security and defence requirements, in order to reduce strategic dependencies and bolster supply chain resilience; and
  5. Allies limit undesirable access to biological data by potential adversaries and strategic competitors where this data can be used to develop novel bio- weapons, enable surveillance of groups or individuals or support enhancement of potentially adversarial forces.

Strategic context

  1. The Alliance’s strategic competitors and potential adversaries systematically invest in BHE technologies, including for their military and security benefits. With biotechnological experimentation increasingly less expensive and more available today, novel proliferation risks also extend to non-state actors, including terrorist groups. This proliferation requires stronger monitoring, prevention and civil preparedness tools.
  2. Russia continues to invest heavily into BHE. Russia has also led efforts to undermine global norms against the proliferation and use of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Russia has dangerously increased the spread of disinformation about biological and chemical weapons, including during the war against Ukraine. The Alliance has grave concerns that Russia is considering further use of chemical or biological weapons in the future.

Responsible approach

  1. NATO’s Principles of Responsible Use (PRUs) for BHE in security and defence guide this Strategy, based on existing and widely accepted ethical, legal and policy commitments under which NATO has historically operated and will continue to operate.
  2. These Principles do not affect or supersede existing obligations and commitments, both national and international, particularly those outlined in the Biological and Toxins Weapon Convention (BWC) and Chemical Weapons Convention.

Principles of responsible use

  1. Allies and NATO commit to ensuring that the BHE applications they develop and adopt will be – at the various stages of their lifecycles – in accordance with the following six Principles:
  1. Lawfulness: BHE will be developed and used in accordance with national and international law, including International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law, as applicable.
  2. Responsibility and Accountability: BHE will be developed and used with appropriate levels of judgment and care; clear human responsibility will apply in order to ensure accountability.
  3. Safety and Security: BHE technologies will only be used if they have passed stringent safety procedures, which may include testing and/or trials, meeting applicable standards and/or have otherwise been demonstrated to the best of scientific knowledge to be safe and effective for human use and the environment.
  4. Human Agency: Individuals are not deprived of their sense of judgment and freedom of conscience so that they retain their innate human dignity.
  5. Informed Consent: Human enhancement technologies made available for our personnel will only be used with explicit and informed consent, in line with military health best practices and respect for persons.
  6. Sustainability: BHE technologies will be assessed for potential impact on the environment.
  1. Reversibility, invasiveness and heritability are important variables of select human enhancement technologies that should be considered in the operationalisation of these Principles. They do not represent clear-cut dividing lines to determine acceptable use, but are nevertheless essential considerations.
  2. BHE technologies can impact women and men differently. NATO’s responsible approach to BHE will consider the gender perspective in BHE development and adoption.
  3. To ensure coherence with NATO’s approach to responsible AI, NATO’s AI Principles of Responsible Use should also apply in cases where AI and BHE technologies converge. Regarding biological data, prevailing data exploitation and biometrics policies shall also apply for NATO.

Operationalisation of the principles

  1. To begin operationalising these Principles, NATO, in close consultation with Allies, will concentrate efforts on: risk and impact assessment toolkits; education; and a responsible fast track for select BHE technologies.
  2. NATO will establish a BHE Experts Group as a sub-group to the Secretary General’s EDT Advisory Group. This Experts Group will advise on the operationalisation of NATO’s PRUs for BHE.
  3. DIANA and the NATO Innovation Fund’s activities are guided by NATO’s PRUs for EDTs. These NATO innovation initiatives will help operationalise NATO’s PRUs for BHE by ensuring the conformity of the participating innovators with these principles.

Wellbeing of personnel

  1. BHE technologies can facilitate rehabilitation of former military personnel into wider society. NATO’s responsible use of BHE should actively promote the development and use of technologies that can support physical, social and psychological wellbeing of our military personnel, especially to aid in their integration into civilian life after their service or mitigate the onset of health issues. This should include development and use of “Health Tech” ingestibles, wearables, and embeddables for disorders and maladies where there is documented higher prevalence rates for veterans relative to general populations.
  2. Human enhancement technologies may also entail risks that could adversely impact reintegration into society – including addiction, social isolation, discrimination, or affect changes. These risks must be identified early and continuously mitigated. Allies and NATO should have clear policies that determine whether, and in which conditions, it is acceptable to use such technologies. Appropriate governance for military use of these technologies could require review by medical, legal and policy officials prior to authorised use – with oversight roles and responsibilities clearly defined and as informed by well-documented risk/impact assessments.

Strategic capital

  1. NATO, through DIANA and the NATO Innovation Fund, and Allies are taking steps to ensure appropriate funding to strengthen BHE development in areas critical to defence and security, and to offer trusted alternatives to investments from strategic competitors and potential adversaries.

Protecting biosecurity in the alliance

  1. In light of the risks posed to NATO forces and Allies’ populations by malign employment of BHE, the Alliance must enhance its effort to protect these technologies from acquisition by strategic competitors and potential adversaries, and to protect against their use.
  2. The BWC, adopted in 1972, establishes a broad prohibition on the development, production, stockpiling, acquisition, or retention of all microbial or other biological agents, or toxins whatever their origin or method of production of types and quantities, that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes, as well as weapons, equipment or means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict. In spite of this broad prohibition, potential adversaries may question the full coverage by the BWC of certain emerging applications of biotechnology. Alliance work on BHE must not contradict or undermine the BWC or other related obligations and commitments made by Allies, both national and international.
  3. NATO offers a prime platform to stimulate and promote the defensive use of BHE in convergence with other EDTs. This is all the more important given how AI- BHE convergence heightens proliferation risks, making it more difficult to monitor ways that biotechnologies may be used to inflict harm.