Conference & Workshop

“2020. Capturing Technology. Rethinking Arms Control”

Berlin, 05/06 November 2020

Concept-Note

In 2020, global security dynamics are marked by increased complexity and uncertainty. The unknown potential of new technologies and new military domains, the emergence of new global actors, the return of great power competition and the crisis of multilateralism, further aggravated by the ongoing global pandemic, are among the key characteristics of this difficult security and arms control environment.

Responding to this complex global outlook, the conference “2020. Capturing Technology. Rethinking Arms Control” will provide a platform for high-level experts to engage in a frank exchange of views on new technologies and their implications for global security and arms control. Given the intense interplay between different technologies in shaping tomorrow’s military capabilities and the future of conflict, the conference will touch on a wide range of developments in AI, quantum computing, biotechnologies, missile technologies, cyber, and outer space.

The conference will build on the findings of the inaugural conference in March 2019 and on the ongoing series of related workshops and side-events. Held during Germany’s presidency of the European Union the conference will also invite to discuss Europe’s future role in arms control and in tackling the impact of new technologies.

Conference contributions will be designed to approach the complexities of current developments by

  • fostering a common understanding on how introducing new technologies into weapons systems and the emergence of new players will change military capabilities, threat perceptions and global security dynamics,
  • exploring approaches for new arms control options with the potential to increase global stability and security and involving all actors and stakeholders relevant in this new environment.

Following the ministerial opening session on 06 November, two high-level panels will address key political questions: One of them will discuss approaches to the military use of new technologies adopted by China, Russia and the US and how these impact global security. The other high-level panel will focus on Europe‘s security interests and how Europe can best contribute to global stability and to shaping an effective future arms-control architecture.

On 5 November, one day ahead of the high-level conference, expert representatives of science, industry, military and diplomacy are invited for the “RAC2020 Workshops” to discuss options for arms-control in four parallel, highly interactive break-out sessions, dealing with the following topics:

I. Arms control in the age of military AI: challenges and opportunities

Few technological developments are expected to have as profound an impact on military affairs as artificial intelligence. Functions relying on AI are likely to be part of most future military systems. This prospect is raising hopes but also concerns. Widespread adoption of AI could not only challenge the role of humans in warfare but also generate destabilizing dynamics for international peace and security. This raises the question of if and how arms control can address these challenges? This break-out session will move beyond the ongoing discussion about lethal autonomous weapons systems. It will explore how different arms control approaches can govern the development and future use of military AI. Can compliance with IHL be ensured “by design”? Can IHL-compatibility be “programmed”?

II. How on earth can we trust each other? Confidence and Security Building in new domains

The new technologies transforming future weapons systems are inherently dual-use: They hold great potential for improving machine performance in the civilian domain, which must be fully harnessed, as well as the military domain. At the same time, these technologies might be misused to disrupt, damage and destroy. Behavioural approaches to arms-control take this into account by avoiding placing limits on technologies per se. Instead, certain harmful, disruptive uses are defined and restricted in order to ensure compatibility with IHL and to promote responsible behavior. This break-out session will discuss how behavioural approaches can be strengthened and make an effective contribution to confidence and security building – by making use of, but also by thinking outside our traditional box of arms control concepts and instruments.

III.  Head hunting for tomorrow’s arms control – working together with industry & science

The innovation ecosystems driving much of the research and development (R&D) in new technologies that are militarily relevant have long blurred the civilian-military divide. Because of the leading role assumed by civilian science and industry in spearheading R&D in the new technology domain, the significant amount of R&D spending that occurs in the civilian technology sector, and the inherently dual-use character of many of the technologies under discussion, any effective future arms-control architecture must reach beyond the traditional group of stakeholders. In an exchange with representatives of industry and science, this break-out-session will explore how effective multi-stakeholder-solutions to arms-control ranging from responsible innovation by civilian players to ensuring IHL-compatible use by states in conflict-scenarios could look like and what needs to be done to develop and strengthen the links between stakeholders.

IV. New opportunities to build trust and ensure compliance: Using emerging technologies for arms control and verification

Verification is key to ensuring compliance with and effectiveness of arms control provisions. If successful, it provides trust and confidence between states and strengthens stability. Technological breakthroughs not only translate into new military capabilities. They also present new opportunities for establishing novel verification tools, which are required to address the particular arms-control challenges presented by new technologies. Examples are the availability of big data, better processing algorithms and a general focus on software. They enable both civil society and state actors to make new contributions to existing and emerging verification challenges. This break-out session will deepen our understanding on how exactly verification can benefit from new technologies when collecting and processing data, for instance via open source intelligence. It will also address ways to overcome physical access problems during the present global pandemic.

Format: “Capturing Technology. Rethinking Arms Control” will bring together diplomats, military officials, business leaders and expert scientists from all continents in a “track 1.5” setting. The meeting will take place in a virtual format due to travel restrictions related to the global health pandemic. At this point it is planned, that both the ministerial panel and the high level panel on Europe’s role could be held as physical panel discussions at the Foreign Office’s broadcasting studio with the audience following via livestream on www.rethinkingarmscontrol.de.

Partner-Institutes: The German Federal Foreign Office is pleased to work with the following institutes (tbc) as partners of this conference: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP, Washington D.C.), Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique (FRS, Paris), the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg (IFSH), the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS, London), the Stockholm Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR, Geneva).

Contact: Please contact RAC2020@diplo.de with any questions you may have.