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European Defence Agency is Ready to Pursue Artificial Intelligence in Defence

22 July 2021

Consensus on the regulation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in defence has hardly been achieved throughout the European Union (EU). Indeed, many EU states are strictly opposed to AI in defence, whereas others have mildly advocated for and promoted research and development (R&D) in AI (Stauffer, 2020). The European Defence Agency (EDA) held a workshop on ‘Defence Applications of Artificial Intelligence’ in the last week of June 2021 (European Defence Agency, 2021), during which experts from all member states (MS) came to discuss R&D of AI in defence. Indeed, this is a prominent topic this year, as R&D of AI is considered the future. Many third countries such as China and the US have already dedicated significant time and resources into R&D of autonomous weapons and are even said to produce this technology (Chan, 2019).

Notably, the EDA’s intention with creating this workshop was to begin developing a Strategic Research Agenda on AI in defence and investigate whether recent AI developments could prove to be advantageous for EU defence and security capabilities (European Defence Agency, 2021). Thus, the workshop’s goal was to understand and define AI and identify its enablers and obstacles, resulting in a comprehensive plan that includes scenarios of AI applications in EU defence systems. The keynote speaker at the EDA led workshop was Dr Evangelos Ouzonis from the EU Agency for Cybersecurity. His main arguments concerned the cybersecurity challenges of AI defence technology, claiming that cyberattacks are carried out in a variety of systems, however, if this were to occur in AI defence systems, it could prove to be extremely dangerous and have dreadful consequences (ENISA, 2020). The second keynote speaker, Sergio Albani from the EU Satellite Centre, spoke about geospatial intelligence, known as GEOINT, as well as how it, in combination with AI algorithms, would greatly benefit the EU’s security and defence competences (European Defence Agency, 2021).

The EDA conducted a similar workshop in 2020, during which they focused on the AI industry (European Defence Agency, 2020). Within this workshop, three particular defence areas were identified which were projected to be the most affected by AI application, namely multi-sensor fusion, predictive maintenance, and simulation (European Defence Agency, 2020).

AI and the consequential development of lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWS) is a prevailing subject for the EU and its MS. Indeed, MS are active participants in discussions and meetings at the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (Kayser et al, 2019). Within these meetings, consensus has been achieved on the fact that, to comply with both ethical and legal norms, there must be a necessary level of human control within LAWS. This is particularly crucial in order to have safeguards in case potential situations, such as unforeseen behaviour by AI systems, cyberattacks, or even interference from third parties, occur (Lebreton, 2021).

In turn, these states advocate for urgent development of policies and laws to regulate this field. On the other hand, the EU and its MS have recently shown their interest in becoming more strategically autonomous and increasing their defence capabilities (Youngs, 2021). Despite these defence objectives, they have shown that developing LAWS and applying AI in defence systems is currently not considered a viable option for the EU. However, if other third states begin developing LAWS and incorporating AI into their defence systems, the EU and its MS might be forced to follow suit.

On the one hand, AIIB’s foundation was a response to the reluctance of advanced economies, notably the US and EU, to increase China’s voting rights in Western-dominated multilateral financial institutions; the AIIB has been framed as a paradigm of Beijing’s strategy to shape global norms and values in line with its national interests. On the other hand, by championing AIIB, the PRC has sought to portray itself as a responsible great power capable of providing development in its region and beyond with innovative approaches in line with the needs of developing countries. For instance, by rejecting political conditionality, the PRC has shown no concern involving undemocratic countries in BRI, or offering loans that Western countries would only grant if specific standards are respected. Finally, the bilateral nature of the Memoranda of Understandings between China and other countries to join BRI is a cunning move from Beijing as, particularly when dealing with EU member states, it reduces negotiation power as compared with that of the EU countries jointly negotiating under a common framework, contributing, therefore, to undermine a shared EU approach towards China. 

Written by Rita BARBOSA LOBO, Legal Researcher at Finabel – European Army Interoperability Centre


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