The shifts and advancements in technology and their exploitation have become a new reality on a global level. These trends have a transformative effect in the security and defense sectors as well. These transformations and developments have stirred both challenges, but also opportunities for NATO and partner countries.
The role of technology is multifold. On the one side of the spectrum, cutting-edge technology has facilitated the emergence of new and unprecedented threats. It has its downsides that allow the terrorists or other non-state actors, as well as some non-NATO states (Russia and China), to utilize the new technology for their own purposes (e.g. to exploit personal data, to gather and misuse information, to acquire new methodologies and technologies against NATO and its partners, etc.).
On the other side of the spectrum, advanced technology and particularly AI technology has the potential to detect cyber intrusions, predict terrorist acts, to contribute the development of better systems for surveillance and reconnaissance and to assist the process of developing more effective responses to downplay the vulnerabilities to potential threats. This creates the need for NATO and its partners to develop strategies to catch up with the new fast-pacing trends of utilizing modern technologies.
The Western Balkans cannot be observed separately from global trends. As the threats to security are becoming more sophisticated, the strengthening of the defense and security systems depends highly upon the countries’ ability to keep abreast with the global trends and technological developments. The Western Balkan countries cannot employ effective measures without anticipating novel challenges and adjusting their capabilities in terms of the new and innovative technology in order to intercept the novel threats to security.
For some of the Western Balkan countries, the overall inexperience, limited research body and lack of sufficient understanding of how to implement the disruptive and cutting-edge technology for security purposes creates restrictions and weaknesses in the processes of tackling the contemporary challenges. There are numerous challenges for the military leadership in the Western Balkan countries in the context of the rapid developments that require important steps by NATO and partner countries in adjusting their capacities to the demands of the new security reality.
In that regard, the Euro-Atlantic Council of North Macedonia in cooperation with the Atlantic Council of Bosnia & Herzegovina hosted an Advanced Research Workshop (ARW) supported by the NATO SPS program entitled: “Practical Applications of Advanced Technologies for Enhancing Security and Defense Capabilities: Perspectives and Challenges for Western Balkans”.
The ARW was held in a hybrid format (limited to the presence of the core team only) and the lectures were conducted online from the period of 14th to 17th October 2021.
The primary objective of the ARW was to explore the primary applications of advanced technology (including AI and autonomous technology) for security and defense purposes, to raise the level of awareness and understanding among the key stakeholders regarding the practical potentials and main challenges of implementing advanced technology for purposes of strengthening the defense systems in Western Balkans, and to pitch the premises for the development of strategies for regional cooperation between public institutions, academia and private actors.
The workshop has brought together experts and decision-makers from relevant state institutions from the Western Balkan Region, NATO- and partner countries and provided a platform for discussion and exchange of best practices. The lectures were held by military and civilian experts employed in the institutional and CSO sector, administrative staff, young researchers and young professionals in the field of social sciences (security, politics and law) predominantly from Western Balkan countries, including from Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia.
The event was opened with welcoming addresses by the high-level officials, such as the Prime Minister of the Republic of North Macedonia, Mr. Zoran Zaev, Mr. James Appathurai, NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs and Mr. Ismet Ramadani, President of the Euro-Atlantic Council of North Macedonia/Advisor of the PM. The Head of the NATO SPS Program, Dr. Deniz Beten, announced the lectures, by saying: “This workshop is an excellent occasion to continue the Programme’s efforts to promote greater understanding of the threat environment and responses in the region from the technological angle. It will explore the primary applications of advanced technology for security and defense purposes, from technical, political, legal and ethical point of views. Thus, this platform today is essential in bringing stakeholders from the region together to mitigate risks and embrace opportunities presented by advanced technologies, which will no doubt benefit many more partners and allied countries in future.”
The official working part of the ARW began with the first priority, focused on the political and strategic aspects of developing AI technology in the region of Western Balkans, the opportunities for cooperation between NATO and partner countries, and the possibilities for regional joint efforts and initiatives.
The priority of the next session or the second priority considered the technical and military aspects of AI. First, the participants were introduced to principal advanced technologies and applications in the field of security and defense, and then it proceeded in the context of their practical application in the cyber-defense domain.
The last priority of the ARW (the last session) concerns legal and ethical challenges for NATO and partner countries that can emerge in the process of employing AI and other advanced technologies.
The main goal of the ARW and of this book is to promote greater understanding and dialogue on the topic of AI in defense and security sectors in the Western Balkans. As such, the course and the book are investigating the role of AI and boosted cooperation between NATO and partner countries in the area of countering terrorist and cyber threats through the implementation of advanced and AI technology. It also promotes legal, policy and technical considerations and the development of joint preventive mechanisms by raising awareness, stimulating discussion and expanding knowledge regarding the role of advanced technology in the fields of security and defense.
May the workshop and the present book serve and be another effective contribution for the institutions and other relevant subjects in the Western Balkan region, for developing better regional capacities, promoting greater understanding on the topic and raising possibilities for future regional initiatives.
Co-Director of the Advanced Research Workshop Secretary General of Euro-Atlantic Council of North Macedonia