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Review: Russo-Ukrainian War: The Private Sector & Emerging Technology, Dr Hugo Rosemont (22/01/24)

The CCW Emerging Threats Group convened on January 22nd, 2024, to discuss The Private Sector and Emerging Technology. The session was led by Dr Hugo Rosemont of King’s College London and offered a perspective on the breadth and depth of private company involvement in defence and national security. Discussions focussed on how the Russo-Ukrainian War has highlighted the influence of global tech giants and the private sector within international security and defence.

Industry Contributions

The Russo-Ukrainian War has demonstrated how power dynamics between states and private companies are evolving, especially with the emergence of global tech players. The AI Safety Summit 2023 saw key global figures like Kamala Harris and Rishi Sunak meet with industry leaders like Elon Musk due to their immense global power within the field. Private actors are increasingly significant to governments due to their knowledge, data, expertise and technology, which may benefit countries’ militaries. These public-private dynamics can significantly impact the strength of a nation’s military and national security. In Ukraine, we have seen the country benefit from privately owned technology like Starlink and Microsoft. Private players offer cross-border links, specialist expertise, and technology, helping provide strategic advantages in warfare that governments may not be able to match. However, it is worth noting that whilst emerging technologies and capabilities should be capitalised on, traditional methods still remain significant to defence mechanisms.

Commercial Diplomacy

A significant segment of the talk focussed on commercial diplomacy. This is where countries look to promote and protect their interests by fostering trade agreements and business partnerships with firms in strategically significant industries. A longstanding example in warfare is BAE Systems involvement in UK defence. In recent years, we have seen increasing meetings between tech companies and defence ministers to respond to shifts in the character of warfare. Many have questioned whether states should have more control. Efforts such as DIANA (Defence Innovation Accelerator of the North Atlantic) by NATO have helped leading researchers, and entrepreneurs develop technologies that can be regulated and owned by alliances and militaries to keep citizens safe and secure. However, many large private tech companies still have resources which states would like better regulation and access to. This led the group to conclude that states need to better regulate and engage with private actors moving forward.

Finance

One central concern governments face is the lack of investment in military research and expansion. With many investors looking to improve their ESG rankings, many investments in the defence industry have been limited. In order to enhance security and prevent individual companies from monopolising the market, financial regulations may need to be altered for the West to develop efficient and effective modern defence capabilities. With a potential lack of private actors in this field and a need for governments to incorporate softer skills into their defence strategies, arguably, legislation both around investments and companies’ capabilities needs to be reviewed. This would greatly help encourage more widespread conversations and diverse discussions in this field.

Key Takeaways

Rosemont’s presentation identifies some major takeaways about the future of public-private relations. With Ukraine highlighting the requirement for blended approaches utilising both traditional capabilities and digital transformation, governments need to look at how to reboot their mechanisms and defence systems. Defence discussion and information sharing surrounding technology should occur across departments, not just be refined to the Ministry of Defence. Modern warfare has expanded to include major private actors but also evolved around data and analytical infrastructure, so it is vital moving forward that governments engage with private actors to create broader two-way dialogues.

Looking Ahead

Our next session is with James Galkowski (Silicon Valley Defence Group and Bondi Partners) on the 29th of January, discussing “Accelerating Defence: Techno-Security Rivalry, AUKUS, & the US Presidential Election”. The session will be the first of our AUKUS events led by our research associate, Samuel Murison. This series explores the Advanced Capabilities Pillar (Pillar II) of the trilateral strategic partnership between Australia, the UK and the US, looking specifically at collaboration and development across advanced military capabilities. We will also be releasing our annual report in the upcoming weeks, so please keep your eyes peeled for this document.

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