NATO Overview – Danger, Uncertainty and Innovation

The Alliance faces vital challenges from disruptive applied sciences and improvements in each typical and hybrid strategies of conflict. Distinguishing between uncertainty and danger can assist to raised put together for rising threats and to direct progressive initiatives to counter them.

The previous a number of a long time have seen the introduction of numerous disruptive applied sciences into warfare, together with some whose results are so in depth that they are often thought-about their very own domains, comparable to cyber- and cognitive warfare. In the meantime, new applied sciences proceed to emerge, ones which, as a latest article in NATO Overview notes, “are already starting to show speculative fiction into actuality.”

For over 70 years, NATO has stayed on the forefront of expertise to make sure the defence of its Allies and the success of its operations

Encyclopedia of NATO Matters: Rising and disruptive applied sciences (October 2021)

NATO has lengthy recognised innovation as an integral part of success in defence and deterrence. The accelerating tempo of technological innovation, the manifold sources from which these improvements come up, and their results upon our geopolitical actuality symbolize challenges and uncertainty for the Alliance.

The previous a number of a long time have seen the introduction of numerous disruptive applied sciences into warfare, together with some whose results are so in depth that they are often thought-about their very own domains, comparable to cyber and cognitive warfare. In cyber warfare, simulation software program can imply the distinction between victory and defeat. © Info Age

However this uncertainty, whereas a trigger for concern, can be harnessed to nice benefit. The bottom line is to make a transparent distinction between uncertainty and danger, and to discover how each of those—danger and uncertainty—can be utilized with the intention to higher put together for rising challenges, establish alternatives, and direct innovation initiatives.

Whereas some view the 2 as basically the identical and use the phrases interchangeably, uncertainty is kind of distinct from danger, each in its character and in its use. In reality, what units extremely profitable entrepreneurs and innovators aside from the remainder of the inhabitants is the flexibility to see and use this distinction as the idea for his or her success. The excellent news is that we are able to be taught from them.

Danger is the likelihood of loss, harm, or different opposed final result. It may be estimated and calculated primarily based on our data of prior outcomes and circumstances. It has been mathematically formulated for the reason that late seventeenth century, notably within the work of Blaise Pascal. Most significantly, it may be managed. Danger may be distributed (syndicated), insured towards, hedged, and decreased. In brief, it may be quantified and managed.

Uncertainty is completely different. It’s not topic to precise quantification. It was solely just lately formalised within the early twentieth century work of the economist Frank Knight. It represents the entire attainable future states of the world at any given time. The upper the uncertainty, the better the variety of attainable outcomes, each constructive and adverse. It’s a supply of discomfort as a result of we can’t predict it, however it is usually a supply of potential worth. Larger uncertainty means better potential, and most of us underestimate the extent of that potential since there are extra attainable future states of the world than we are able to probably comprehend.

Entrepreneurs and innovators see worth in uncertainty since they earn earnings when beneficial properties are appreciably better than is usually anticipated.

If increased uncertainty is doubtlessly good, how then will we profit from it? The reply is to scale back danger as a lot as attainable whereas exploring uncertainty as a lot as attainable (see the diagram, under), to enterprise into areas that may maintain nice potential whereas limiting one’s attainable losses whereas doing so. Skilled entrepreneurs do that instinctively; they create low price “minimal viable merchandise” to check the viability of markets and applied sciences, thereby reducing their danger as they discover the uncertainty inherent out there. They “promote” proposed choices to clients earlier than going to the difficulty of creating them. If solely one of many entrepreneur’s many explorations pays off, then the beneficial properties can vastly exceed the small investments made to find them.


The important level is that danger have to be managed whereas uncertainty is explored, examined, and validated. This requires the entrepreneur to be each a danger minimiser (not a “risk-taker” as is usually assumed) and an “uncertainty-taker” on the identical time.

Though latest occasions present the trendy risks of typical warfare, improvements in hybrid conflict are unlikely to abate and could also be additional built-in into the complete risk spectrum. Just like the entrepreneur, the practitioner of hybrid warfare focuses on excessive uncertainty and low danger actions. In hybrid conflict, outcomes may be good or unhealthy, however since they’re novel or beforehand untried, nobody can predict both means (i.e., possibilities can’t simply be assigned primarily based on historic expertise). If issues go properly, the end result may be extremely beneficial for the aggressor. If they don’t, they’re survivable for the aggressor as long as they have been taken at low danger.

Those that have interaction in hybrid warfare due to this fact work scrupulously to scale back their danger by making certain deniability (e.g., through non-state or quasi non-state actors); by the dedication of small models or expendable assets (e.g., specialised models); by way of low-cost technical means (e.g., drones, cyber); by the deployment of covert or hard-to-discover actions (e.g., infiltration, cognitive warfare campaigns); and related means. These are employed with an perspective akin to a beneficial coin toss: “Heads I win, tails I don’t lose a lot.” Such progressive strategies even have a bonus over established rivals who could not anticipate them.

One counter-approach to unconventional strategies is to create circumstances which can be the alternative of the excessive uncertainty, low danger place that’s helpful to adversaries. Responses to hybrid campaigns ought to concentrate on rising danger for adversaries by making their strikes predictably extra pricey, whereas decreasing their potential to use uncertainty by proactively decreasing their choices. In different phrases, by irritating their use of the innovation “candy spot.”

NATO and members of the Alliance know tips on how to handle the dangers inherent in creating giant protection platforms and applications; ministers of protection and protection contractors are fairly good at it. What the Alliance wants now could be to learn to higher discover uncertainty, which is a special self-discipline.

 Drones have become the new normal in hybrid warfare. © Daily Excelsior

Drones have turn out to be the brand new regular in hybrid warfare. © Day by day Excelsior

NATO must work inside the innovation ecosystem to encourage experimentation and funding in unsure areas. It must encourage a willingness to fail, to deal in ambiguity (versus possibilities), and to make investments the place the payoff is totally unknown (and should by no means come) within the hope of getting outsized outcomes from a few of its initiatives. Such encouragement doesn’t try to change institutional danger aversion. It’s not risk-taking however “uncertainty-taking” that’s wanted.

Go forward and make errors. Make all you possibly can. As a result of that is the place you will see that success – on the far facet of failure.”

Thomas Watson, Sr. IBM Chairman and CEO (1914–1956)

Sure examples from trade could show instructive. 3M, a producer of over 60,000 merchandise in a number of trade sectors, actively encourages staff to make errors. It invitations staff to commit about 15% of their time to what it calls “experimental doodling.” 3M’s enterprise mannequin succeeds by inventing fully new, market-changing choices. Unpredictability and failure typically result in pioneering improvements. Reportedly, Google applies an analogous technique by encouraging staff to spend 20% of their time on tasks that present no fast promise however may gain advantage the corporate sooner or later. The coverage produced Gmail, AdSense, and Google Information. The multinational IBM can also be identified for fostering such a tradition.

At current, NATO innovation efforts have focused on seven areas of rising and doubtlessly disruptive applied sciences, together with information, synthetic intelligence, autonomy, house, hypersonics, quantum, and biotechnology. Whereas these are prone to be vital sooner or later (since most are already vital at current), it could be smart to increase the exploration into further areas of uncertainty.

The target of NATO innovation ought to be to encourage the triple helix of presidency, trade, and academia to have interaction in explorations of unsure applied sciences that go far past these at the moment envisioned. The Alliance ought to try to create a broad portfolio of innovation areas, a few of which can at the moment be thought-about extra akin to science fiction than science truth, and discover applied sciences the place the uncertainty is so nice that alternatives can scarcely be imagined, and analysis is due to this fact tougher to encourage and to sponsor.

 At present, NATO innovation efforts have concentrated on seven areas of emerging and potentially disruptive technologies, including data, artificial intelligence, autonomy, space, hypersonics, quantum, and biotechnology. Pictured: The Air Force’s AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon. © National Defense Magazine

At current, NATO innovation efforts have focused on seven areas of rising and doubtlessly disruptive applied sciences, together with information, synthetic intelligence, autonomy, house, hypersonics, quantum, and biotechnology. Pictured: The Air Power’s AGM-183A Air-Launched Speedy Response Weapon. © Nationwide Protection Journal

NATO is doing a few of this already. Its Allied Command Transformation, Innovation Hub, and Innovation Workplace have interaction tutorial establishments and personal ventures in pushing the bounds of what’s attainable. The Innovation Fund and the Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic (DIANA) are different notable examples. However these efforts will solely achieve success if they’re given the liberty to discover, and at occasions, to fail. In response to Rob Murray, Head of NATO’s Innovation Unit, the Alliance ought to encourage “all components of the innovation ecosystem to discover uncertainty and to genuinely drive ahead innovation, even when which means making some errors. This can require a freedom to function that’s not often exercised within the public sector.”

Danger and uncertainty are completely different. By extra fervently exploring uncertainty whereas concurrently decreasing danger, the Alliance can place extra bets on a wider vary of alternatives than at current. Its goal ought to be to find the surprising, and to take action whereas sustaining the flexibility to “surge” assets into these areas that show to be most related and impactful within the unsure future.

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