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NATO defense ministers are meeting in Belgium to chart the course for the alliance as it modernizes and adapts to a world dominated by strategic competition, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said during a news conference in Brussels today.
The alliance must maintain the technological edge over any competitor, he said. This is the first in-person defense ministerial since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III is attending the two-day meeting.
"We must keep our technological edge," Stoltenberg said. "Future conflicts will be fought not just with bullets and bombs, but also with bytes and big data. We see authoritarian regimes racing to develop new technologies — from artificial intelligence to autonomous systems. So, we are taking further steps to 'future-proof' our alliance."
Stoltenberg announced that the alliance will launch the NATO Innovation Fund at the ministerial. The fund will have over a billion dollars to support the development of dual-use emerging and disruptive technologies, in key areas for allied security.
The fund is tied to the Defense Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic — or DIANA — that heads of state agreed to at the Brussels summit in June. DIANA will have headquarters in Europe and North America and a network of test centers and accelerator sites "to harness civilian innovation for our security," the secretary general said. "Many allies have made offers to host these facilities and some of them will be in place next year."
Carrying on the high-tech theme, the defense ministers will agree to field the alliance's first-ever strategy on artificial intelligence to integrate the breakthrough technology to areas such as data analysis, imagery and cyber defense, he said. He stressed that the strategy will lay out the principles of safe and responsible use of the technology in accordance with international law.
Russia remains the greatest disturber of the peace in Europe, and the Putin regime announced the closure of its mission to NATO and of the NATO offices in Moscow earlier this week. "We regret this decision, which does not promote dialogue and mutual understanding," Stoltenberg said. "But NATO's policy remains consistent, and we remain open to dialogue, including through the NATO Russia Council. At the same time, we will continue to assess how we can further strengthen our deterrence and defense."
Alliance officials must ensure the right plans, capabilities and forces are available to protect member nations. "We will also review progress in our response to the challenge from Russia's nuclear-capable missile systems," he said. "In 2018, NATO allies determined that Russia had developed and deployed missiles in breach of the [Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces] treaty, which led to the demise of the treaty. Since then, Russia has further increased its arsenal of missiles and is developing hypersonic systems."
These Russian missiles are a threat to security worldwide. "We will not mirror Russia's actions," Stoltenberg said. "But we will maintain strong deterrence and defense."
The alliance's Nuclear Planning Group will consider how to keep the nuclear deterrent safe, secure and effective, while remaining committed to arms control. "NATO's goal is a world without nuclear weapons," the secretary general said. "But we do not believe in unilateral disarmament. A world where Russia, China and other countries, like North Korea, have nuclear weapons, but NATO does not, is simply not a safer world."
The ministers will also discuss the 20-year war in Afghanistan and look for ways to ensure the country cannot become a safe haven for terrorists. "Allies have the capabilities to strike from far away against terrorist threats," he said. "We will also hold the Taliban accountable for their commitments on terrorism, human rights and safe passage. The international community has economic and diplomatic leverage over the Taliban."
He said the alliance is looking at the experience in the country, and the ministers will launch a lessons-learned process, he said.
"Looking ahead, we must continue to stand together in the fight against international terrorism," he said. "And in the margins of this ministerial, we will hold a meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh [or the Islamic State group]."
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