The day Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, President Macron’s famous 2019 words – NATO is ‘brain dead’ – crushed under his tracks. President Putin failed to conquer Ukraine. He succeeded in reviving NATO, both geopolitically and technologically.
Evidence of the latter was evident during several days of brainstorming to define NATO’s Quantum Strategy. Your columnists joined NATO businessmen, academics, military suppliers and personnel at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen and at NATO headquarters in Brussels to provide their input on the strategy document, which is to be published this fall.
The alliance thrives on strong justification for its defense goals, with Finland a new member, Sweden in the waiting room and even historically neutral Ireland reconsidering its stance against joining NATO in a consultative forum this month.
What Mark Leonard, Director of think tank ECFR calls ‘The Age of Unpeace’ – submarine attacks to map infrastructure, cyberattacks on national healthcare services that cannot be traced to state actors, political destabilization via social media – are constant reminders from threats.
As a result, NATO has accelerated its move into what it calls Emerging and Disruptive Technologies (EDT), with strategies in everything from AI to Space and Quantum. It aims to leverage the strengths of its confluence to drive innovation and ensure the West and allies such as Australia and Japan maintain a technological advantage, a strategy it has called Foster and Protect.
At the April 2022 meeting of Secretary of State, the charter was approved for the Defense Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic (DIANA) with its initial test center and accelerator site. In addition, 22 member countries agreed to participate in the €1bn NATO Innovation Fund, the first multi-country venture capital fund, which will make the initial investment by the end of 2023.
The US Department of Defense is currently seeking permission from Congress to join. His quasi-threatening words reveal how significant DOD’s strategy sees this area: “Allowing the US Department of Defense to participate in NATO’s DIANA initiative will support the implementation of several important elements of the NATO agenda. Absent any new statutory authority enacted as a result of this critical legislative proposal, the United States will not be able to participate in DIANA or any important, successor, co-funded NATO R&D program.”
An added sense of urgency comes from the recent takeoff in generative AI, set to change the world, amid warnings about its capacity to harm humanity to the point of extinction.
There is a similar narrative with quantum technology. They currently only make a difference at the margins, for example, optimizing the supply chain or preventive maintenance of machines. However, as science advances, and it is estimated $36 billion investment from the governmentplus the private sector stack, the possibility of a radical breakthrough increases.
These range from quantum computers that can crack encryption – problems that collect the most column inches – to quantum sensors that might detect, say, Britain’s Trident Submarine armed with its nuclear weapons.
One of the most exciting aspects of quantum is the crossover between military and civilian use – quantum sensors for situational awareness use the same technology used for medical diagnosis, for example making them advantageous in many different fields. Four industries (automotives, chemicals, financial services and life sciences) are likely to see the earliest impact of quantum computing with profits of up to $1.3 trillion by 2035, when the industries are expected to reach maturity, according to McKinsey.
This harkens back to the civilian benefits derived from DARPA, the US defense think tank that originally created the internet primarily so satellites could communicate. We are only at the beginning of understanding how quantum technology will be used to change the world.
What is clear, NATO and its partners need to focus on four areas in an effort to maintain excellence.
First, support commercial businesses that encourage development. In the US, about $4 billion of public money (excluding covert military investments) is going into the quantum, and almost the equivalent of $3.7 billion is in private funding, while there are more than 310 startups, as well as blue chip giants like Google and IBM involved.
Focus on near-profit to help spread quantum literacy, as well as drive industry funding. Quantum sensing is one of the most promising technologies, with companies from Bosch to Multiverse Computing working on hardware and software respectively. The bombing of the Nord Stream gas pipeline on September 22 is an obvious user case: our current sensors lack the capacity to detect a coin-sized hole where gas escapes from 5 km away. The quantum sensor is likely to be further developed, as well as become an independent backup for GPS. Our infrastructure, including smartphones, depends on global navigation satellite systems and is therefore vulnerable.
Maintain regulatory clarity. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the US is developing a framework for quantum cybersecurity standards, due out in 2024. Regulation from a body like this, or the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA), is the only way to forcing companies to invest in quantum risk reduction because many today refuse to spend money and management time when they lack a sense of urgency.
Finally, use NATO’s soft power to enhance cooperation among friendly nations, either by helping finance international consortia on a quantum basis or simply using its gathering power to bring participants together. Alliances have an important unifying role to play in an era of national industrial competition, with export controls hurting allied members as well as adversary countries.
You can’t plan enlightenment, but that’s what we have at AI. We must be better prepared for the quantum leap, and NATO has a key role to play.
Karina Robinson is CEO of Redcliffe Advisory, Founder of The City Quantum Summit and Senior Advisor for Multiverse Computing. These comments do not represent NATO policy.