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Ethical, legal and moral (ELM) impacts of novel technologies on NATO’s operational advantage – the “ELM Tree”

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System Analysis and Studies

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Disruptive Technology, Ethical, Ethics, Future Operating Environment, Game changers, game changing, Legal, Moral


Novel and emerging technologies applied to the military context are affording Ethical, Legal and Moral (ELM) challenges to NATO operations. The conventions and laws of war and armed conflict have been developed over centuries, but it is now uncertain how these will interact with the use of emerging technologies that will increasingly feature machine to machine, artificial intelligence and machine to human types of conflict.


This activity will address the dimensions, assumptions and potential impacts of technological change on ELM standpoints with respect to NATO’s Operational Advantage. Novel and emerging technologies include, but are not limited to: Automation, Synthetic biology, AI, Robotics, Autonomy, predictive analytics, soldier systems/human augmentation. It will enable us to understand the ELM constraints assumed to be imposed by novel and emerging technologies on NATO operational advantage by developing a conceptual framework that provides situational awareness of ELM risks and issues. This framework will then be tested with operators and subject matter experts through workshops and other activities to develop and explore FOE vignettes. Vignette themes will be focussed on operational case studies designed to test the utility and limits of the “ELM Tree”. The deliverables will be: 1. Baseline of current alliance laws, regulations and policies that affect novel and emerging technology in the military operating environment 2. Initial ELM Tree conceptual framework 3. Vignette set and workshop results to shape final version of ELM tree.


The emphasis of this activity will be on strategic analysis relating to Ethical, Legal and Moral issues in the military context, particularly applied to the use of disruptive technologies. This will be through case studies, historical analysis, scenario and vignette analysis and decision support. These scientific topics will be used to address the ELM impacts of disruptive technologies on NATO’s operational advantage. Example of driving questions that might be used to test the ELM tree as well as the cognitive challenges faced by operators include: • Will technologies develop to the extent that nations are forced to rethink their assumptions on ELM? • How do we identify friend from foe as identity management technologies develop? • What does national doctrine and policy say about the application of new technologies in the military context? • What does meaningful human control of operational targeting look like as technologies evolve? • How does technology affect the policy/doctrine on how we fight? • How can we address assumptions on legal, moral, ethical constraints on operational advantage in the FOE? Case studies (including historical analysis) should be conducted to understand how decision makers have dealt with ELM issues in the past (strategic through to tactical). Information on the state of the art for different technologies now, and where these will be in 20-30 years should be drawn from other sources.

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