Jens Stoltenberg’s Hot NATO Leadership with EDT Development Programs

  • Due to the important implications of emerging and disruptive technologies (EDTs) in altering the trajectory of future warfare, Stoltenberg has placed EDTs development at the top of his agenda.  
  • By integrating EDTs into NATO, Stoltenberg wants to put NATO at the forefront in the global race for technological supremacy, which acts as a strong deterrent to its adversaries. 
  • The advancement of EDTs is an effective tool for Stoltenberg to consolidate NATO’s integrity. 
DoD photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Nicole Mejia / (CC BY 2.0)

Why is Stoltenberg hot?

Answer: Due to the important implications of emerging and disruptive technologies (EDTs) in altering the trajectory of future warfare, Stoltenberg has placed EDT development at the top of his agenda. 

In a global race for technological supremacy, Jens Stoltenberg has been placing significant importance on the integration of emerging and disruptive technologies (EDTs) into NATO. NATO’s EDT strategy mainly focuses on nine priority technology areas: artificial intelligence (AI), data, autonomy, quantum-enabled technologies, biotechnology, hypersonic technologies, space, novel materials and manufacturing, and energy and propulsion. These innovative technologies are expected to exert profound impacts on global security. While they provide opportunities for NATO to improve its military capabilities and interoperability among member states, such technologies also pose new threats from hostile states and non-state actors. Hence, it is important for Stoltenberg to prioritize the development of EDTs in NATO’s agenda. While Stoltenberg himself doesn’t make strategic decisions which are rather agreed upon by NATO member states, his chief responsibility is to steer the process of consultation and ensure the systemic implementation of such decisions within the Alliance.  

The first concrete action of Stoltenberg and NATO is the adoption of the EDT Implementation Roadmap in December 2019, which acts as a guideline for member states in nine key technology areas. Since the publication of the roadmap, Stoltenberg has been actively pushing forward the EDT development, which can be seen in the timeline of NATO’s EDT policies. Significant commitment can be exemplified in the launching of the Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic (DIANA) and the NATO Innovation Fund, which seeks to promote collaboration among defense personnel, scientific researchers, and technology companies in terms of EDT advancement. At the Madrid Summit 2022, Stoltenberg reiterated the importance of EDT development and incorporated it as one of NATO’s core tasks in the 2022 Strategic Concept.  

What is driving Stoltenberg? 

Answer: By integrating EDTs into NATO, Stoltenberg wants to put NATO at the forefront in the global race for technological supremacy, which acts as a strong deterrent to its adversaries. 

Strengthening NATO’s military capabilities is one the main reasons that drive Stoltenberg’s EDT agenda. Due to the radical implications of EDTs in revolutionizing warfare, he is well aware that maintaining technological edge and putting NATO at the forefront of the race is important to the organization’s first core task of collective deterrence, and if necessary defending against armed attacks against any one of its members. NATO’s military capabilities bolstered by EDTs would therefore enhance its deterrence, especially with main competitors such as Russia and China. 

The Russian invasion in Ukraine earlier this year just heightens the need for Stoltenberg to ramp up the speed of the EDT development among the Alliance. Admittedly, the military power of 30 allied countries in NATO is more significant than Russia’s, not to mention the severe impacts resulting from sanctions imposed on Russia after the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of Ukraine. As Russia’s conventional forces are unlikely to challenge NATO, Putin might resort to the advancement of EDTs to offset such conventional inferiority of Russian militaries. This is because a breakthrough in EDTs would level the playing field  with NATO in conventional conflict, alleviating pressure to resort to nuclear weapons . As Putin tries to bridge the capability gap with NATO, Stoltenberg needs to preempt Russia’s military advantage by not only constantly building up nuclear power and conventional arms forces but also achieving EDTs superiority. 

Although there is a lack of concrete data regarding China’s military expenditure, the US Department of Defense reported that China has sought to reduce reliance on foreign technology and reaffirmed its commitment to dominate the EDT landscape in the 2017 National Artificial Intelligence Plan. While China already possesses operational hypersonic weapons which are disruptive because of their speed and maneuverability, the American hypersonic weapons program might not be fielded before 2023. Although Russia’s adoption of EDTs is a concern for NATO, Chinese investment and leadership ambition in the landscape is a more significant driver behind NATO’s EDTs agenda. While Russia’s EDTs capabilities and conventional arms forces are far weaker than NATO’s, China’s remarkable progress in EDT development is posing a grave concern for Stoltenberg and the Alliance. With China’s quest for homegrown disruptive technology and its continued cooperation with Russia after the Ukraine war, Stoltenberg and NATO for the first time declared China as a security challenge in the 2022 Madrid summit. To counter the military and technological rise of China, it is hence essential for Stoltenberg to maintain NATO’s frontrunner status in the EDT-proliferated landscape. 

Who is changing Stoltenberg‘s temperature?

Answer: The advancement of EDTs is an effective tool for Stoltenberg to consolidate NATO’s integrity.

In 2019, NATO’s integrity was under threat when President Trump suggested several times that the United States should leave the alliance. At the same time, Trump unexpectedly withdrew American troops from military operations in Syria without consulting other member states. Later in an interview, president Macron called NATO “brain-dead” and cast doubt on the legitimacy of Article 5. In addition, tensions between Turkey and the other allies in 2020 also posed a threat to NATO’s cohesion. As a member of the alliance, Turkey’s military aggression and unilateral decisions in Syria without cooperation and consultation with NATO undermined the organization’s unity.

Amidst the member states’ doubts on NATO’s long-term relevance, Stoltenberg accelerated his agenda in developing EDTs, with major progress being recorded over the past two years. To date, NATO Defense Ministers have endorsed the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Strategy, the Data Exploitation Framework Policy, and the Autonomy Implementation Plan, which are the first three out of nine priority technology areas in the EDT agenda. Although the primary purpose of this acceleration is to maintain NATO’s technological edge, Stoltenberg also sought to hold NATO and the West together by pushing the member states to adopt the EDT agenda as a priority. The timeline of NATO’s EDT agenda since then has shown a constant pace of progress with a range of EDTs initiatives and strategies adopted. It would be hard for NATO to achieve that consistency without a strong collaboration from member states. That sense of NATO integrity was even more important when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine broke out in February this year. 

In addition, by pushing forward the EDT agenda, Stoltenberg wants to leave an enduring legacy in NATO before the end of his term next year. Successfully putting NATO at the forefront in the global race for EDTs supremacy would be one of the major landmarks for Stoltenberg after a decade of work and commitment at NATO.  

 What does this mean for you?

Answer: Citizens of member states should expect a trend toward defense expenditure increases, national government’s strong emphasis on STEM education to develop technical human capital, and a heightened engagement of NATO with relevant partners in academia and industry. 

Citizens in NATO’s member countries should expect a ramp up in their national military spending to meet the 2% defense investment guideline, especially after the war in Ukraine. Apart from building up nuclear power and conventional arms forces, a large portion of investment would be allocated for EDT development programs to align with NATO’s roadmap in maintaining the organization’s technological edge. Secondly, as technical human capital plays a central role in advancing EDTs, the allied countries would strongly focus on enhancing technical literacy of the population via STEM education and entrepreneurship, which would be facilitated by DIANA and NATO Innovation Fund. This would be a contributing factor to the development of a future workforce with high levels of technical competence. Finally, as NATO seeks to promote engagement with relevant partners in academia and industry, talented individuals equipped with deep technical skills would be in higher demand. This is essential as most cutting-edge technologies are now in the hands of private tech companies rather than defense institutions; NATO cannot integrate AI into military operations without the tech sector’s active participation.

Quynh Dinh

Writer & editor