EU’s AI military strategy poses ‘threat to Europeans’

The arms programmes of the EU, currently driven by digitalisation and artificial intelligence (AI), pose “a threat to the populations of Europe” as they fuel a military escalation of latent conflicts among major powers, according to a new report.

“On the EU level, there is serious rearmament with autonomous systems happening, and this clearly anticipates [a] global conflict,” political scientist Christoph Marischka from the German Peace Movement Network, and author of the report, said on Friday (15 January).

“This is not about crisis management, it is about war in a near future,” he warned, adding that these new forms of arms also have the potential to generate entirely new forms of surveillance and propaganda within Europe.

The advantages offered by progress in image-recognition and machine learning can notably increase military operational capacities – ranging from optimisation of logistics to autonomous weapons systems that can identify and attack a target with no human intervention.

The study, commissioned by The Left in the European Parliament, reveals the role that AI plays in the bloc’s defence strategy, described by Marischka as a hype “propagated by industry and (venture) capital to mobilise public funds for their profits”.

The European Commission approved last June the first 16 projects of new military technologies, which will benefit from €205m EU financing.

These include algorithms to handle swarms of drones, airborne electronic attack capabilities, unmanned ground vehicles, high-precision missiles and cybersecurity reinforcement.

“The EU’s armament policy means unmanned and autonomous systems will be used in large numbers and often in swarms on land, air, sea, space and cyber in the future,” said Marischka, arguing that actively promoting these developments “will change the nature of war and people’s daily lives, increasingly blurring the distinction between conflict and peace”.

Ahead of the commission’s legislative proposal on AI, expected in early 2021, leftwing MEPs have urged a stop to this “arms race,” calling on the EU executive to regulate or even a complete ban on autonomous weapon-systems and cyberwar.

“The escalation in armament does not just mean swarms of drones and killer robots, but it threatens to undo the difference between war and peace, civilians and combatants. The risk of a gradual loss of control is real. International law will then become meaningless,” warned German MEP Özlem Alev Demirel.

“What sounds like science fiction could become a reality very soon, that is why we need to be extremely critical,” she added.

Meanwhile, more than 60 civil society and rights groups have called on the commission to establish “appropriate limitations on the use of AI-based technologies” to ensure that their uses are safe, legal, and do not discriminate.

Since the inauguration of Donald Trump, US officials been vociferous in calling on their Nato allies to increase spending and investment on their own defence capabilities.

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Elena Sanchez Nicolas