STUTTGART, Germany — As the NATO alliance looks to the next decade, it must commit to developing new disruptive and emerging technologies while avoiding any “technological gap between allies,” its leader said Feb. 15.

The 30-nation-strong military alliance places “great importance” in cutting-edge technologies, and welcomes that members are boosting investments in those areas, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in a virtual press conference before meeting with member nations’ defense ministers later this week.

But those technologies must be interoperable, and NATO needs to develop common standards across the alliance, he added. “We need to make sure that when different allies have more and more advanced capabilities — aircraft, battle tanks, ships, drones, whatever it is — that they can communicate, that we don’t end up with a new technological gap,” he said.

“Everything related to interoperability and NATO standards has always been important for NATO,” he continued. But as governments around the globe are looking to boost their arsenals with high-tech weapons, it has become even more important for the alliance to develop common standards, “to make sure that our forces are interoperable in the light of disruptive and emerging technologies.”

NATO also has the chance to be the standard bearer and develop guidelines for the ethical use of new systems, Stoltenberg said. “I strongly believe that we should also look into how NATO can be the platform to address ethical aspects of these technologies.”

Some NATO watchers have called for the alliance to develop a strategy dedicated to emerging and disruptive technology investment. Stoltenberg reaffirmed the need to focus on those areas, specifically citing artificial intelligence, quantum computing, facial recognition technology, and autonomous systems.

“When you combine all these technologies, it will really impact … the nature of warfare and the way we conduct our military operations,” he said.

Twenty-four allies have committed to putting 20 percent of their defense spending toward new equipment and technologies, Stoltenberg noted. That being said, “we need to make sure that we continue [to invest], and that we keep the pace,” he added.

Stoltenberg wants to launch a NATO defense innovation initiative under the forthcoming “NATO 2030” concept to that end, he said. Through this initiative, the alliance would “preserve our technological edge” by working more closely with the private sector and with startup companies on both sides of the Atlantic, he said.

The NATO chief plans to propose what he would like to see in the NATO 2030 strategy to defense ministers this week, ahead of the forthcoming summit later this year. He did not reveal a date for the event.

Among several issues, he is calling for a boost in NATO funding for “core deterrence and defense activities” to support deployments on the alliance’s eastern flank and exercises, and to contribute to “fairer burden-sharing.” He noted that European allies and Canada contributed a cumulative $190 billion to the alliance since 2014, and that nine members are now expected to spend 2 percent or more of their GDP on defense.

Stoltenberg also wants “clearer and more measurable” national resiliency targets, along with an annual review of vulnerabilities in the alliance’s critical infrastructure and technologies, including any stemming from foreign ownership.

Vivienne Machi is a reporter based in Stuttgart, Germany, contributing to Defense News' European coverage. She previously reported for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defence Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2020.

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