OPEN / NSD-S Hub Webinar on Emerging Disruptive Technologies in the Middle East and Africa
On 8 October 2020, NATO Allied Command Transformation and NATO Strategic Direction South Hub co-organized a workshop to share knowledge and develop common understanding on Emerging and Disruptive Technologies (EDT) and their impact on the security agenda in the global South. The goal was to identify opportunities for further cooperation to enhance stability in the South, to understand and identify possible malign usage of EDT and develop a perspective for deterrence, and to build up a network between NATO, partners, and interested organizations in the South. Key insights and recommendations were as follows:
• Technological change has been even more transformative and disruptive for the global South than for Europe and North America. While it brings clear benefits, its risks include an expanded attack surface for cyber-threats.
• EDT dual use provides great opportunities to improve stability and development but also for malign and abusive use.
• The Internet of Things (IoT) and proliferation of “smart” urban and industrial infrastructure creates opportunities and threats for connected cities and populations.
• Autonomous systems have become increasingly accessible to both states and non-state armed groups, while advanced manufacturing enables the democratization of lethal technology beyond the reach of nation-states.
• In the near future, machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), along with genomic editing, human performance enhancement, crypto-currencies, robotics and space systems, will create further double-edged effects.
• Some African and Middle Eastern countries risk becoming “two-speed” societies where access to jobs and opportunity is increasingly tied to technological literacy available only to a minority of mostly urban and male populations.
• Rural populations may experience a technology and connectivity gap, while educational systems may not be producing graduates with appropriate skills and knowledge for the modern, technology-centric economy.
• The legacy media ecosystem lacks integrity and credibility among local audiences, who are increasingly turning to more disinformation-vulnerable channels. As a result, anti-western narratives appear to be gaining over western-friendly narratives and media channels in the region.
• State and non-state actors are constructing “internet assault forces” to influence public opinion, while hostile state actors are using EDT to help them behave in ambiguous or deniable ways.
• COVID-19 may allow for greater authoritarianism in the region and China, with an extensive suite of technologies optimized for social control and state surveillance, may become an increasingly important partner for authoritarian governments.
• A key recommendation is that NATO may wish to focus on an approach of “deterrence through resilience”, building partnerships with like-minded governments in the global South and sharing perspectives and lessons from the Alliance’s recently-renewed emphasis on Article 3 and the Resilience Agenda.
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