NATO urged to better plan for cyberattacks, climate change, hi-tech warfare

20 November 2022

NATO and its Allies were warned Sunday to better prepare for an uncertain future. Cyberattacks, increasingly extreme weather and new warfare technologies like the drones being used in Russia’s war on Ukraine are all likely to be features of the changing security landscape.

In a series of draft resolutions, reports and debates at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s Annual Session in Madrid, lawmakers also discussed ways to help the Alliance maintain its innovative edge and reviewed the lessons learned from two decades of security operations in Afghanistan.

Debate in the Committee on Democracy and Security centred around the spate of cyberattacks since the war, on critical civilian infrastructure in Ukraine itself, like power stations or water pumping systems, but also on European facilities like hospitals and shipping companies.

A draft resolution, drawn up by French Senator Joëlle Garriaud-Maylam and to be adopted during Monday’s Plenary Session, focused on strengthening the cyber-resilience of Allied societies, but also on the need to provide help to Ukraine.

In it, lawmakers urge governments to develop offensive cyber capabilities, impose costs on attackers, enhance their deterrence and defence capabilities and bolster their ability to jointly identify the perpetrators of malicious cyber activities.

They said that given the destabilising nature of cyberattacks, Allies should reserve the right to retaliate against cyber operations below the threshold of what might otherwise be considered the equivalent of an armed attack which would warrant a military response.

That issue was the subject of debate on Saturday in a draft report in the Defence and Security Committee, where lawmakers discussed the challenges of responding to attacks just below and above the threshold of war and weighed what mix of offensive and defensive cyber action might be required to fend off such attacks.

The draft report aims to guide the Assembly, which is NATO’s democratic link to national parliaments, in its approach to cyberspace, a sector “contested at all times” and in which the Alliance reserves the right to use Article 5 in response to attacks.

The text, presented by Greek lawmaker Andreas Loverdos, emphasises that building resilient cyber defences means finding common ground on legal frameworks, jointly attributing and responding to incidents and working with partners - including those like Ukraine that need help.

For Marina Rodriguez, Head of the Cybersecurity and Fight Against Disinformation Unit at the Spanish Prime Minister´s Office, resilience is also about building a united and cross-border approach to protecting information systems and networks – from supply chains to ministries to key infrastructure. “It is not possible to work at only national level,” she said.

The need to better respond to, and prepare for, climate change and its impact on international security was the focus of discussion in the Science and Technology Committee (STC).

In a draft resolution, by Luxembourg parliamentarian Sven Clement, the Assembly noted how global warming fuels instability and powerfully conditions NATO’s planning and operations, particularly as the defence sector remains the world’s single largest consumer of hydrocarbons.

The draft urges NATO member and partner governments to boost energy efficiency and better adapt to climate change, conduct frequent reviews and stress tests of military equipment and critical infrastructure to ensure that they can withstand extreme weather.

The Allies are also encouraged to make climate change considerations a cross-cutting issue in all government budgets and projects and to harness the potential of science and technology (S&T) through research and new applications to better adapt.

A draft report by Clement also urges NATO to prepare for worst-case scenarios by boosting early warning capacities with regards to fragile governance. It recommends the Assembly’s proposal to create a Democratic Resilience Centre at NATO to support such early warning.

The text also appeals to NATO to develop a robust energy transition plan, including the use of renewable technologies, without weakening its collective defence capabilities.

In the Committee on Democracy and Security, a draft special report on adapting to and limiting the impact of climate change by US Congresswoman Linda Sanchez noted that extreme weather makes critical infrastructure vulnerable and forces people from their homes.

The text outlines the civil security implications of climate change, raises awareness about the vulnerabilities of Allied institutions and societies and presents some of the strategies adopted by Allied countries and NATO. It suggests pragmatic measures to bolster NATO’s resilience and prepare it to face the unprecedented future challenges of climate change.

The technological challenges of future warfare were high on the agenda in the STC. Iceland lawmaker Njall Trausti Fridbertsson presented a draft report urging Allies to think outside the box given, in part, the “seismic shift” in the security landscape sparked by Russia’s invasion.

“The war against Ukraine has primarily been conducted in a conventional manner. But we have also seen new technologies or tactics that are likely to be further developed and used in future combat” he said, like drones, satellite data gathering, cyberattacks and disinformation.

The draft report reflects on the forms that future warfare might take, focusing particularly on the likely impact of Emerging and Disruptive Technologies. It also provides a brief overview of NATO’s continuing adaptation process.

A separate draft report, also by Luxembourg’s Clement, looks at ways to boost NATO’s science and technology resilience while improving the Alliance’s competitive edge over its rivals. 

The draft identifies challenges to NATO’s innovation pipeline. They include limited S&T investment and education shortfalls, but also threats posed by adversaries, particularly China and Russia, through economic and scientific espionage. The text suggests ways to address existing vulnerabilities.

Spanish Science and Innovation Minister Diana Morant stressed that beefing up investment is a priority for her government. She said that Spain has put science and technology at the heart of its economic recovery plan and aims to spend 3% of GDP on it by 2030. 

Sunday’s proceedings in Madrid also saw members of the Political Committee review the lessons learned from NATO’s security operation in Afghanistan, contained in a draft report by Turkish lawmaker Ahmet Yildiz as well as the consequences of the withdrawal in August 2021.

The text reviews Allied engagement in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2021 and draws attention to new challenges posed by economic and humanitarian crisis, restrictions on women and girls and the rising threat of terrorism.

“The regime’s continuation of draconian domestic policies, and especially the oppression of women, further deters foreign aid,” it said, warning that “the fallout of the potential implosion of the country could have dire consequences for regional security and beyond.”

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