Parliamentarians emphasise importance of NATO’s Science and Technology network for COVID-19 response, address emerging technologies in urban warfare

06 July 2020

Video of the meeting can be found at the bottom of the page

NATO’s Science and Technology (S&T) network is making an active and important contribution to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, parliamentarians learned during an online meeting of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s Science and Technology Committee on 6 July. Presenting a draft report on the role of science and technology in addressing the health crisis to the Committee, Kevan Jones (United Kingdom), chairperson of the Committee, provided a short overview of NATO’s efforts on this issue. 

S&T, particularly emerging and disruptive technologies, are of crucial importance in the fight against the coronavirus. They will also play a pivotal role in tackling future pandemics.  Robotics, biotechnology, Big Data and Advanced Analytics (BDAA), and Artificial Intelligence are already used to good effect in the current pandemic and will become even more important to mitigate, or ideally prevent, future pandemics. 

NATO promotes sophisticated projects through the active involvement of its S&T community.  NATO has launched several initiatives to support international efforts to help tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. NATO’s S&T network, the world’s largest collaborative research forum in the field of defence and security, helps to speed up the process of generating resilience and make it more effective.  

However, while recognising the important role of technology in overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic, Kevan Jones cautioned that “we must also not ignore the considerable ethical, legal, and policy issues that arise with the rapid advancement of these technologies”.  

Increasingly easy access to and reduced costs of technology could allow almost anyone to set up a bio-engineering laboratory in a backyard or basement. To prevent misuse of these technologies, existing regulations and safeguards must be evaluated and updated, if necessary. Mr Jones called upon his colleagues to have “a substantive public discourse on how emerging, disruptive technology should be used”. Delegates agreed that parliaments should, and will, play an important role in this discourse.  

The draft report also includes a number of recommendations to increase the capacity of NATO’s S&T network. To strengthen resilience against future pandemics Allies should, among other things, seek to expand its existing S&T network by strengthening cooperation with other organisations – particularly with the European Union – and develop a dialogue between NATO and international organisations on resilience, S&T, and civil emergency planning, Mr Jones suggested.  

NATO Parliamentarians also discussed a draft report by French parliamentarian Philippe Michel-Kleisbauer on technology as an enabler for successful urban combat operations.

Urban areas represent the most complex operational environment for military forces. Urban warfare is characterised by three elements that pose problems for military operations: terrain, infrastructure, and population, with the latter being the most important.   

“The protection of the civilian population and the prevention of collateral damage are priorities for NATO forces”, according to Mr Michel-Kleisbauer. He noted that NATO formally reaffirmed its commitment to respect the rules and principles of international humanitarian law in December 2019.  

“The best way to limit casualties among the armed forces and civilians is through training and exercises”, the rapporteur said and added that Alliance members are adapting their existing training facilities to the urban environment.   

While training and technological advances are mitigating the risks to civilians and avoiding collateral damage, unconventional armed groups also benefit from commercially available technology. Equally important is their ability to organise, mobilise, communicate, and recruit through social networks, he said. Therefore, the control of information and cyberspace is increasingly important in urban warfare, he stressed. NATO members must therefore consider ways to control the proliferation of technologies – including those from the private sector – that could be used by non-state actors in urban combat. 

“Alliance members should make greater use of NATO's scientific and technological community to promote the development of new technologies to increase combat capabilities in urban areas”, Mr Michel-Kleisbauer concluded.  



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