Emerging and disruptive technologies

  • Last updated: 22 Oct. 2021 16:21

Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous weapons systems, big data, biotechnologies and quantum technologies are changing the world, and the way NATO operates. These and other emerging and disruptive technologies (EDT) present both risks and opportunities for NATO and Allies. That’s why the Alliance is working with public and private sector partners, academia and civil society to develop and adopt new technologies, strengthen the Allied industrial base and maintain NATO’s technological edge.

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  • For over 70 years, NATO has stayed at the forefront of technology to ensure the defence of its Allies and the success of its operations.
  • At their London meeting in December 2019, NATO Leaders agreed an Emerging and Disruptive Technology Implementation Roadmap.
  • In February 2021, NATO Defence Ministers endorsed a strategy on emerging and disruptive technologies to guide NATO's development of EDT policy in specific subject areas.
  • In March 2021, the NATO Advisory Group on Emerging and Disruptive Technologies issued its first annual report, identifying concrete areas for the Alliance to consider as NATO adopts these new technologies.
  • At the 2021 Brussels Summit, as part of the NATO 2030 agenda, NATO Leaders agreed to launch a civil-military Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic (DIANA) and to establish a NATO Innovation Fund.
  • NATO is also engaging with other international organisations, including the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN), to address emerging and disruptive technologies.

More background information


  • The strategic context – Why does NATO care about EDTs?

    Emerging and disruptive technologies are increasingly touching all aspects of life – from electronics like phones and computers, to everyday activities like shopping for food in the grocery store and managing money in the bank. These technologies are also having a profound impact on security. Innovative technologies are providing new opportunities for NATO militaries, helping them become more effective, resilient, cost-efficient and sustainable. These technologies, however, also represent new threats from state and non-state actors, both militarily and to civilian society.

    To embrace these opportunities and at the same time counter these threats, NATO is working with Allies to develop innovative and agile EDT policies that can be implemented through real, meaningful activities. By working more closely with relevant partners in academia and the private sector, NATO aims to maintain its technological edge and military superiority, helping deter aggression and defend Allied countries.

    Emerging and disruptive technologies are also a key facet of the NATO 2030 initiative, an initiative to strengthen the Alliance militarily, make it stronger politically and adopt a more global approach. NATO 2030 is about making sure that the Alliance remains ready to face tomorrow's challenges. Promoting transatlantic cooperation on critical technologies is a vital component of that work.

  • Innovation at NATO – What is NATO doing about EDTs?

    At their London meeting in December 2019, NATO Leaders agreed an Emerging and Disruptive Technology Implementation Roadmap. The purpose of this roadmap is to help structure NATO’s work across key technology areas, and enable Allies to consider these technologies’ implications for instance for deterrence and defence, and capability development.

    In February 2021, NATO Defence Ministers endorsed “Foster and Protect: NATO’s Coherent Implementation Strategy on Emerging and Disruptive Technologies.” This strategy is guiding NATO’s adoption of and adaptation to EDTs, and it has two main focuses: fostering the development of dual-use technologies (i.e. technologies that are useful in both civilian and military contexts) that will strengthen the Alliance’s edge, while also creating a forum for Allies to exchange best practices that help protect against threats.

    NATO’s innovation activities currently focus on seven key areas, which were identified as priorities in the Coherent Implementation Strategy:

    • artificial intelligence (AI),
    • data and computing,
    • autonomy,
    • quantum-enabled technologies,
    • biotechnology and human enhancements,
    • hypersonic technologies, and
    • space.

    The Alliance is developing specific plans for each of these areas, starting with AI and data, which will be implemented by Allies and by NATO’s Innovation Board. In October 2021, NATO Defence Ministers endorsed the first of these strategies, NATO’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) Strategy. The AI Strategy centres around principles of responsible use for AI in defence and their operationalisation. It also outlines how the Alliance will adapt AI capabilities and protect Allied citizens against their use.   

    At the 2021 Brussels Summit, NATO Leaders agreed to launch a civil-military Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic (DIANA) to foster transatlantic cooperation on critical technologies, promote interoperability and harness civilian innovation by engaging with academia and the private sector, including start-ups. DIANA will include an accelerator programme and test centres across the Alliance, and it will manage a database of trusted sources of investment.

    NATO Leaders also agreed to establish a NATO Innovation Fund, to which Allies can contribute on an opt-in basis. The fund will invest in start-ups working on dual-use emerging and disruptive technologies in areas that are critical to Allied security. At the meeting of NATO Defence Ministers in October 2021, 17 Allies launched this multinational initiative, which will be up and running by the 2022 NATO Summit in Madrid.

    NATO Advisory Group on Emerging and Disruptive Technologies

    The NATO Advisory Group on Emerging and Disruptive Technologies is an independent group that provides external advice to NATO on how it can optimise its innovation efforts. The Group, established in July 2020, consists of 12 experts from the private sector and academia across the Alliance who have led cutting-edge research, developed EDT policy and managed innovation programmes. These experts provide their recommendations to NATO’s Innovation Board.

    So far, the Group has provided four core recommendations to NATO: improve technology literacy throughout the Organization; establish a network of Innovation Centres; design and facilitate new financing mechanisms for innovation with private sector entities, both small and large; and create innovation partnership initiatives with external EDT stakeholders from industry and academia.

    The Advisory Group will continue to provide concrete short- and long-term recommendations on NATO’s approach to emerging and disruptive technologies.

    NATO’s Innovation Board

    NATO’s Innovation Board is chaired by the Deputy Secretary General and brings together high-level civilian and military leadership from across the Alliance. The purpose of the Board is to look at new ideas from outside of the Organization, provoke discussion, foster adoption of best practices and secure cross-NATO support for changes that will help NATO innovate. This includes receiving recommendations from the NATO Advisory Group on Emerging and Disruptive Technologies.

    Other NATO innovation bodies

    Other NATO bodies are also invested in the Alliance’s innovation activities, and are driving technological development and adoption across NATO. Allied Command Transformation (ACT) leads capability development for NATO and Allied militaries, and is currently working on a large range of EDT-related projects, including on unmanned autonomous vehicles, military-grade blockchain applications, and artificial intelligence in military decision-making. NATO’s Science and Technology Organization (STO) also supports numerous EDT-related research projects, including on augmentation technologies for improving human performance, autonomous transport and medical systems for casualty evacuation, and space weather environmental modelling. NATO’s Science for Peace and Security Programme (SPS), the Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation (CMRE), and the NATO Communications and Information Agency (NCIA) are also key nodes in NATO’s innovation ecosystem as the Alliance adapts to and adopts EDTs.

    NATO’s focus on EDTs is strongly linked to cooperation with partners in the public and private sector, academia and civil society. Given that many defence applications of EDTs are developed by or with the private sector, engagement with industry – especially start-ups – is key.

  • Evolution

    NATO has been supporting innovation, both in Allied armed forces and in its own capabilities, since it was founded more than 70 years ago. However, the new wave of emerging and disruptive technologies is creating rapid and large-scale changes – not only in everyday life, but also in security and defence. The timeline below lays out recent milestones in the development of NATO’s EDT policies.

    December 2019 – NATO Leaders agree an Emerging and Disruptive Technology Implementation Roadmap.

    July 2020 – NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg establishes the Advisory Group on Emerging and Disruptive Technologies. The group consists of 12 external experts from the private sector and academia, from countries across the Alliance. These experts provide advice to NATO’s Innovation Board on the adoption of new technologies.

    September 2020 – The NATO Advisory Group on Emerging and Disruptive Technologies presents recommendations to NATO’s Innovation Board, including on innovative technologies that NATO should be pursuing as a priority.

    February 2021 – NATO Defence Ministers endorse NATO’s Coherent Implementation Strategy on Emerging and Disruptive Technologies.

    March 2021 – The NATO Advisory Group on Emerging and Disruptive Technologies publishes its first annual report, on 2020, providing four key recommendations for NATO: improve technology literacy throughout the Organization; establish a network of Innovation Centres; design and facilitate new financing mechanisms for innovation with private sector entities, both small and large; and create innova­tion partnership initiatives with external EDT stakeholders from industry and academia.

    June 2021 – At the 2021 Brussels Summit, NATO Leaders agree to launch a civil-military Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic (DIANA) and to establish a NATO Innovation Fund.

    October 2021 – NATO Defence Ministers endorse NATO’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) Strategy. Seventeen Allies launch the NATO Innovation Fund.