What's In Blue

Posted Fri 14 May 2021

Arria-formula Meeting on the Impact of Emerging Technologies on International Peace and Security

On Monday morning (17 May), there will be a virtual Arria-formula meeting entitled “The Impact of Emerging Technologies on International Peace and Security”. China is organising the meeting with Council members Kenya and Mexico, and in cooperation with Egypt, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates. Briefings are expected from Izumi Nakamitsu, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs; Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and Officer-in-Charge of the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology; and Vincent Boulanin, Senior Researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The meeting will be broadcast live on UNTV at 10 am EST.

The concept note prepared by the co-organisers ahead of Monday’s meeting describes emerging technologies as “technologies whose development and application are still largely unrealized”, and which fall under at least four categories: artificial intelligence (AI), digital technology, biotechnology, and material technology. It emphasises that over the years, the use of emerging technologies has increased in a wide range of sectors. The concept note outlines several ways in which emerging technologies are being used for peaceful purposes, including the use of unmanned aerial vehicles and signal detection to strengthen the situational awareness and early warning systems of peacekeeping operations.

However, the concept note says that while the spread of emerging technologies has contributed to improvements in many areas, they also carry the potential for adverse effects. The concept note points to the danger posed by the militarisation of emerging technologies, especially if used in the context of terrorism. It suggests that the Council should dedicate more attention to the impact of emerging technologies in the issues on its agenda.

According to the concept note, the objective of the meeting is to expand the understanding of emerging technologies and call on the international community to bolster discussion on their development and application. Another objective is to increase awareness of the impact of emerging technologies on international peace and security and examine efforts to prevent and mitigate potential risks caused by their use.

The concept note invites members to explore the following questions:

  • How to seize the opportunities brought by the rapid development of emerging technologies and how to respond to the challenges posed by their use?
  • How can the Security Council use emerging technologies to better perform its duty of maintaining international peace and security, including through allowing emerging technologies to play a role in peacekeeping, counterterrorism, and non-proliferation, as well as preventing abuse of emerging technologies by elements such as non-state actors who threaten international peace and security?
  • What further steps can be taken to promote a holistic approach of the UN system on the issue of emerging technologies and work out an integrated strategy to bridge the technology gap among countries?

Formal meetings on issues that fall under the umbrella of information and communication technologies, and emerging technologies have traditionally been discussed at the General Assembly. However, in recent years Security Council members have started paying closer attention to these broader issues in the context of international peace and security and have organised several Arria-formula meetings related to this topic. On 28 November 2016, Senegal and Spain convened an Arria-formula meeting on cybersecurity and international peace and security. Cyber threats were also addressed in the context of Arria-formula meetings organised by Ukraine on the protection of critical infrastructure against terrorist attacks on 21 November 2016 and on hybrid wars as a threat to international peace and security on 31 March 2017.  In addition, there were two Arria-formula meetings on topics related to this issue in 2020: A 22 May meeting on “Cyber Stability, Conflict Prevention and Capacity Building” organised by Estonia and a 26 August meeting on “Cyber-Attacks Against Critical Infrastructure” organised by Indonesia.