In 2021, our multi-stakeholder event sequence ‘Capturing Technology. Rethinking Arms Control’ continues with full steam ahead. Launched in 2019 by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, this initiative is taken forward via regular events on technological trends and their impact on arms control providing a running platform for experts and practitioners to exchange ideas and discuss trends. Insights from these workshops feed into our annual high-level conferences, most recently on 6 November 2020.

We are kicking off the new year with an online workshop on ‘Brain-Computer Interfaces’ (BCI) on 14 and 15 January. Advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) beg the question how the human operator can make safe and reliable decisions with increasing speeds of operation. In this case, managing autonomous weapons systems requires the human controller to process a larger amount of information in real-time. This is where BCI comes in: Allowing the human brain to engage directly with an external device, BCI may enable a number of novel military uses, such as transmitting commands wirelessly or enhancing cognitive performance.

BCI yet carry a range of risks. Operational vulnerabilities include potential points for failure or information leaks. Ethical and legal considerations are also at play: Consent, privacy and personal freedom of the human operator need to be guaranteed while human accountability and responsibility have to be maintained. Finally, BCI are interconnected with other emerging technologies, in particular AI and LAWS, which underscores the need for a holistic approach. This is why engaging early with cognitive enhancement technologies in national and multilateral regulatory frameworks is crucial.

This workshop is bringing together experts and researchers, diplomatic and military policy-makers as well as industry stakeholders. A strong transatlantic perspective is paramount given the potential implications for NATO’s defence posture and capabilities. The workshop is thus taking place with participation from researchers of the RAND Corporation, who have recently published a study on BCI and with experts and military practitioners from both sides of the Atlantic. More broadly, this workshop seeks to contribute to building a joint understanding of the options and risks created by BCI as a prerequisite for tighter transatlantic cooperation in this crucial field.

We are grateful for the ever-growing vibrant community of ‘Rethinking Arms Control’ experts and participants from all over the world. Follow updates on our workshop series and high-level conferences on this website and on Twitter #RethinkingArmsControl



Dear collegues and experts,

following this year’s “Capturing Technology. Rethinking Arms Control” conference on 6 November, we wish to express our gratitude to all the distinguished high-level speakers, the excellent expert contributions and the many participants from all around the globe. We saw a deep and fruitful exchange between high-profile government officials, senior academic experts and top-level industry players on a wide range of issues related to the military use of emerging technologies, global and European security and the prospects for arms control.

The ministerial panel illustrated how the topic of emerging technologies and the future of arms control has arrived at the highest political level. As Foreign Minister Heiko Maas pointed out “If war is an ever-changing chameleon –then we need to look at arms control as a chameleon, too. We need to preserve it, strengthen it –and adapt it to our new age.” Together, the five EU Foreign Ministers launched a joint declaration to “strengthen the role of the EU in promoting arms control for a new technological age”.

The challenges posed by emerging technologies still need to be fully understood, as Minister Ann Linde of Sweden called to attention in her speech: “If we do not keep up, however, the risks are clear: the use of novel weapons systems with unknown and far-reaching consequences, dangerous and costly arms races, increased instability and sensitive technologies falling into the wrong hands.” Even more risks emanate from the potential interconnection between emerging technologies and nuclear weapons, as Minister Tomáš Petřiček of the Czech Republic observed: “Technological advancements also significantly influence nuclear arms control. Hypersonic weapons and other new forms of delivery systems represent a fundamental shift, which must be integrated into any future arms control framework.”

As Minister Stef Blok of the Netherlands reminded the 1000 + listeners in the livestream, political commitment to the existing arms control system is essential: “Over the centuries we’ve built up a robust system that in theory should be able to control the current technological developments in weapon systems. But our system of international law is only robust if the international community shows political backbone.” The European perspective on arms control provides an important basis for this political commitment, as Minister Pekka Haavisto of Finland indicated: “Based on the EU’s unique strengths–our bridge-building role, our extensive network of partnerships, and our uniquely broad external action toolbox –I see great potential for a more active EU role in tackling the challenges of new technologies.”

These key themes were developed further in the subsequent panel sessions by distinguished colleagues and experts from many different countries. Besides involving EU partners, the conference provided a platform for high-level speakers from Brazil, China, India, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, who shared their thinking about tomorrow’s arms control architecture and reminded the audience that the tasks ahead can’t be mastered by single countries or regions on their own: Arms control continues to be a multilateral endeavour that can only be accomplished via multilateral cooperation across the globe.

The expert workshop held on 5 November touched extensively on the many intricacies of emerging technologies in the field of Artificial Intelligence, the need for Confidence and Security Building Measures in new domains such as space and cyber, the prerequisites for a successful multi-stakeholder approach to arms control, and the opportunities of emerging technologies for verification purposes. The topics of these workshop sessions, prepared and conducted by the conference’s six partner institutes, can also be found in the conference reader, along with more insights on strategic stability and Europe’s role in global arms-control. The highly interactive workshop session clearly provided a platform for a multitude of experts to work on one central theme: trust as both an enabler and a result of arms control.

As Ambassador Amandeep Gill has summed up: Trust is an analogue commodity and cannot be digitalised. It is about real actors trusting each other. “Rethinking Arms Control” will follow the advice offered by Izumi Nakamitsu, UN High Representative for Disarmament, to “intensify and sustain regular dialogue to secure our common future” by keeping up the momentum of this initiative.

With best regards,

Team for Disarmament and Arms Control
German Federal Foreign Office

For information on the Berlin LAWS Forum, which was hosted on 01-02 April 2020, please access the rider „Berlin LAWS Forum“.