Opening remarks

by NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană at the European Parliament’s Special Committee of Artificial Intelligence in a Digital Age (AIDA)

  • 04 Mar. 2021 -
  • |
  • Last updated 08-Mar-2021 08:16

(As delivered)

Mulțumesc Domnule Președinte Tudorache,

Chere Madame la Présidente,

Merci pour nous inviter aujourd’hui, thank to our guests today, the honourable members of the two Committees for inviting us and myself here today.

I am delighted to join this great panel, from both sides of the Atlantic, and to discuss an issue of such importance to our common security.

New technologies, including artificial intelligence, big data and autonomy, are changing the way we live and work.

And they also change not only the ways wars are waged and won but the very definition of security.

And today’s developments differ from many previous defence innovation periods, in that they are often dual-use and largely driven by the civilian private sector, which is not the case in the past.

So technology and the world, they’re moving fast. And we must move even faster to maintain our edge.

We must identify, understand and adopt new technologies – at speed and at scale.

While mitigating any risks or advantage potential adversaries and competitors might seek.

This is exactly what we do here at NATO.

At the last meeting in December 2019, NATO Leaders adopted a comprehensive roadmap on emerging and disruptive technologies.

And at last month’s Defence Ministerial meeting, Allies agreed a coherent strategy for its implementation.

It sets out ways to work with partners, academia and of course the private sector, to develop new technologies more quickly, strengthen our industrial base, and protect against adversarial technology transfers.

As part of his NATO 2030 initiative to future-proof our Alliance, the Secretary General of NATO has proposed a NATO defence innovation initiative to promote better transatlantic cooperation on critical technologies.

As the only place that brings Europe and North America together every day, NATO is an important transatlantic forum for collaboration and coordination also on emerging technologies, including on standard setting. 

To support our efforts, I have the pleasure of chairing NATO’s Innovation Board, which brings together senior leaders across the NATO Enterprise.

And our Secretary General has appointed an external, extra-ordinary group of advisors, to provide outside expertise and input to the challenges we all face.

Of the new technologies we are looking at, indeed AI is the most pervasive - especially when combined with other technologies like big data, autonomy or biotechnologies or human enhancement – so AI is the priority for our Alliance.

Russia and China are pursuing the development and adoption of AI at pace, with little regard for human rights and data privacy. And we see with deep concern the hostile use of new technologies. NATO calls out such abuses when we see them, for example last summer, when the whole Alliance condemned publicly destabilising and malicious cyber activities directed against those whose, including hospitals, were working to respond to the COVID pandemic.

So we need to find ways to maximise the undisputed opportunities AI offers, while minimising the risks. This also means protecting our technological developments from adversarial licit and illicit technology transfers. Our adversaries  do not hesitate to use these technologies to undermine our security.

AI will revolutionise the way we defend ourselves, including by enhancing our intelligence analysis and situational awareness.

Not only will it increase the amount and accuracy, it will also free up extra time to interpret rather than identify relevant data.

This will depend on our willingness to share data. And international organisations can play a key role in providing the necessary infrastructure to make data-sharing more effective and, yes, more secure.

The effective use of AI will also require full trust between Allies and also from our public’s opinion. So we need a common framework for the responsible use of AI, based on our democratic values and the rule of law.

With these elements we put ourselves in the position of strength, as democracies and open societies provide the best framework to enable and foster innovation.

We have to put to work the power of regulations.

And the US, in the freshly announced interim national security strategic guidance, coins perfectly, the issue at hand. And they say, emerging technologies remain largely ungoverned by law and norms, designed to center rights and democratic values, foster cooperation, establish guardrails against misuse or malign action and reduce uncertainty and manage the risk that competition would lead to conflict.

We also welcome, the recent proposal launched by the European Union for a new transatlantic agenda for global cooperation with the US, including on new technologies. Nevertheless, the regulatory powers on North America and Europe, the case of NATO are gold standards for security and defence, and the huge power of regulatory power. We have to make sure that we are fostering this innovation together, in concert. Because only together, we will be able to defend, shape and enforce a multinational system of world governance, in the field of new technologies.

So this challenge needs to be tackled in close collaboration between NATO and the EU, as well as individual Member States and Allies.

Fostering and protecting AI developments calls upon the two organizations to strengthen our cooperation and I would remind us all that that we – NATO and the EU - already enjoy a Strategic Partnership.

I welcome the fact that both NATO and the EU have stepped up their efforts on the military use of AI in recent months. We also  have witnessed increased engagement between NATO and the EU, with our Secretary General attending, for the first time, the meeting of the College of Commissioners and the Commissioner Vestager visiting NATO Headquarters recently. Next week I will be co-chairing a NAC-PSC, meaning on exactly the topic of new technologies.

To maintain this engagement I very much welcome the engagement with you today. Beyond that I would also encourage you and your Committees and your members, to cooperate also with the Parliamentary Assembly of NATO, that has a specialized technology Committee which is a high class representation from national parliaments of the Alliance.

This is a way in which we can identify best practices, identify potential synergies including on developing appropriate regulatory framework and setting transatlantic as well as global standards for the ethical use of AI.

By bringing together our innovation ecosystems composed of incredible universities, vibrant start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises - on both sides of the Atlantic - we can foster an environment that ensures Europe and North America maintain our technological edge.

We can ensure the security and prosperity for the almost one billion people that NATO is supposed to defend, now and for the future.

And again, thank you so much for inviting me. I am very, very much personally committed to engaging with the European Parliament, with the EU institutions, with member states, in order to keep this Strategic Partnership between EU and NATO vibrant and useful for both our organisations.

Thank you so very much.

Questions to other panelists

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you very much really a very important topic and important, because it's about our very near future. Of course about current days but about the very near future and my question is maybe for the first speaker from NATO because myself, I see that artificial intelligence is the area in which EU you could and should work together with NATO in defence. Without that I think our adversaries will go forward.

And, speaking about international agreements, I have many doubts, when we see Russia today. They are, of course, more and more out of international and international agreements, or they are not fitting to them, or they are out of them. So it's really very important issue and do you agree that working closely with the transatlantic partners is mutually beneficial and good experiences should be shared among partners to avoid duplication of effort and to progress faster in the field of artificial intelligence that also includes coordination of actions in implementation in defence sector with NATO and strategic partners. Thank you.

Deputy Secretary General : Thank you very much for the question. Of course I couldn't agree more. And I would move the discussion will be beyond current capabilities in the EU. Of course, we know the fact that in NATO we have 30 countries, 30 allies. And for us, keeping North America and Europe together when it comes to new technologies is paramount for two reasons.

Today as we speak, North America and Europe, EU plus the other non EU countries in Europe, we still represent more than 50% of global GDP and we represented today something close to 60% of defence spending in the world.

We still have out of the first 40 universities in the world I think 36,37 are based in the political West.

Looking also to the depth of our financial markets to the fact that our open societies are more conducive for freedom, and the freedom of thinking, freedom of innovation, and also the freedom of free speech, and the fact that our citizens are actively engaging on the ethical and political and moral dimensions of new technologies is something which I think is healthy and not counterproductive.

If I add to North America and Europe, NATO and EU, and US and Europe. Our like-minded democratic partners from all over the world, from Australia, from New Zealand, from Japan, from Korea, from Israel, name it. I see a conglomerate of democracies around the world, because as our colleague from the US, and as the report of the National Commission on AI has said very, very clearly, we are also looking at AI and new technologies, in a way, part of a global competition for the commanding heights of ideas and for alternative propositions of how human society should be organised.

So I'm not saying we should gang up. I'm not saying we should create coalitions or go back to Cold War mentality – it’s just the opposite. But I do believe that if we have still in the world, the dominant voice, us democratic nations, as in Europe, as in North America, us around the world. This is the time to shape a global system of governance including on the responsible use of AI, also when it comes to defence and security. And this is something I think all of us should do.

Nobody's trying to say that here from NATO. I come from Romania like Dragos. I'm a citizen both of EU and NATO. I believe in both with the same intensity, with the same love. But I'm not saying that we should try to use the power of regulation European Union, only as a tool to enhance strategic autonomy or more economic, technological development in Europe which I think something Europe should do.

I also believe we have to join forces with like-minded nations, and national parliaments and European Parliament, and our public opinions and to shape the debate, and also to engage in negotiation with the ones who are not sharing our values.

We are still the dominant force for good in the world. We are still the most important technological and economic and financial issues, but competitors are coming from behind. As the report of the US Congress on AI says that in the next decade China could overcome, even the most advanced NATO countries, which is the US and UK and others in Europe. So I think the time is now to join forces to talk amongst each other, and together, together and not separately, to go together in order to shape the global conversation and a system of norms and rules around the world. You've not as Radek said at the beginning, if we don't do this will be the situation to compete with authoritarian regimes that don’t have no limitations in basically using and abusing of these new technologies to in order to surveil their own populations, and use them in a malign way from cyber to hybrid from AI to robots in a way that will compel us to go and defend ourselves. So I think the time is now for common action. NATO-EU should be the dynamo NATO and EU, US, North America, Canada, and Europe should be the dynamo of a global conversation on this very topical issue.

Questions to other panelists

QUESTION: Thank you very much. I think it's important we all understand we are lagging behind China, behind Israel, behind India, behind the UK, of course behind the US. So I think that EU has a problem lack of political will, as  one that's up to us the politicians to fix that. Secondly, over regulation here just, you know, listening to many voices here, I am bit skeptical, because this tendency of the EU to portray itself as, as an entity you know, obsessed with the rules, instead of the results, does not lead me to the conviction that we would be able to match them.

You know, we are trying to build some kind of a lighthouse, or Garden of Eden here, but the Russians, Chinese are not going to follow us. But that's just my skeptical thoughts. Certainly, it's about the resources. And here is my question both. Mr. Arnaud and Mircea Geona, you know, how much EU would have to raise to match China, let's say in the five years, if EU was allowed that to Arnaud, and to Mircea if we do this, together with the United States and Canada inside NATO, you know, how much we would have to raise on the yearly level additionally, not to allow China to become a superpower. Thank you,

Deputy Secretary General : I am so happy to see you Sasha. Let me say just one point that I believe is critical to this conversation. NATO is a political and military organisation. And in this alliance of ours, 30 nations, 21 members, states of the EU  are also allied members 21 out of 26.  In terms of global defence spending, from the whole of the Alliance, EU member states are spending only 20% of the whole Alliance defence budget, only 20%.

So when it comes to an organisation that has inside politicians and our leaders, that has inside our military commanders and military leaders. An organisation that is doing defence planning with each of the allies, including the 21 member states of the EU that are also allied members every year. Where we introduce in national defence spending and National Defence plans and armaments, plants, the things that we decide together. And when NATO starts to introduce by design for all allies, all 30 allies by design, ethical values, rule of law values, international norms and values, interoperability by design,  NATO is the place to do these things together across the Atlantic. I'm not saying that we should not do things in other formats, but this is a political military organisation. And the standard setting power of NATO is just immense.

Sasha, I don't I think we should spend much more than the 2% that all allies – of GDP –  for Defence that all allies have committed in Wales.

Even today, we can, would be better spending, smarter investment , the smart transition, from traditional deterrence and defence to the new era of defence security and warfighting. NATO is equipped and we are doing this as we speak. We hav ea NATO Summit in a few months from now, one of the most important initiatives of the Secretary General will be to push forward on innovation.

So I do believe that NATO EU, US and Europe, US and Europe, Canada and Europe and all other democratic nations around the world we are just irresistible.

No country alone can face the rise of China successfully, no country alone. We need each other more than ever. And I think NATO is the platform on defence and security, the platform of choice. And NATO and EU, we should work in convergence and not in divergence in coping these things together.

Questions to other panelists

QUESTION: First of all, let me warmly thank you all the distinguished speakers that are here today with us. The insightful introductory remarks are essential for deepening our knowledge and understanding of crucial topics such as artificial intelligence, cyber security and cyber defence. Once we address the challenges and opportunities that emanate from these domains we can look optimistically at the future. However, strategic autonomy does not mean going all the way alone. On the contrary, the EU must reinforce its cooperation with essential partners such as NATO. Therefore, I would like to ask NATO Deputy Secretary General, Dr. Mircea Geona, whether NATO has devoted windows for empowered defence capabilities in the defence planning process. Do you see possibilities for announcing cooperation between NATO and the EU in the capabilities development process, mostly through more concrete alignments between the [inaudible]...capacity development plan CDB and the coordinated annual review on defence. The so called CART.

Deputy Secretary General, CLOSING REMARKS: First of all, thank you for inviting me I learned a lot and I hope we will continue our cooperation. Very briefly, towards the end, I'm also other than chairing the Innovation Board in NATO, I'm also doing on behalf of the Secretary General also NATO-EU a lot. And let me tell you as an asset to our Italian colleagues question, what we have decided together; to engage between NATO EU on top of the already very rich and dense cooperation in the Strategic Partnership between our two organizations. So we decided to work together on; new technologies, on resilience, on space - which has been declared by NATO as an operational domain just one year ag -  on the rise of China. And also I think most importantly, on working together to defend to reinvigorate, and to innovate, the international world system of global governance, from a democratic and free world perspective.

These are the five things that we decided together, Ms. Von der Leyen, Secretary General Stoltenberg. I'm doing this every day with the Commission and I'm ready to engage also European Parliament, because I was a parliamentarian myself, I'm a politician myself in my former incarnations I know how important is to engage with you.

So yes, we can do and we should do much more between NATO EU in any dimension that our leaders will be agreeing upon. I'm all for it 100%, in this effort to bring NATO EU ever closer together.