The Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg (IFSH) has recently expanded its research on Arms Control and Emerging Technologies. What are the main topics that you are exploring within this new program?

IFSH Hamburg has a rich history of researching arms control and dual-use technologies – one that dates back to the early 1970s. Now, with the financial support of the German Foreign Office we are able to significantly expand our research and tackle such diverse topics as autonomous weapons, cyber security or artificial intelligence. We just hired eight senior researchers from three different continents. For me, the big question is how to steer the potential impact of those enabling technologies on peace and security in the 21st century, and to do so in a cooperative fashion. Aside from emerging technologies, we are trying to help overcome the deep crisis in arms control policies by developing new concepts for verification and negotiation. My goal is to establish a “Hamburg School” of thought on all these issues so that Hamburg becomes a leading hub for innovative and creative thinking on arms control and emerging technologies.

How would you describe the impact of "emerging technologies" on arms control and non-proliferation regimes?

Ulrich Kühn
Ulrich Kühn is a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the head of the arms control and emerging technologies program at the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg.
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To be honest, we do not know yet. Some technologies, such as additive manufacturing might have a far-ranging impact on work procedures comparable to the assembly line but may also have only marginal ramifications in the realm of nonproliferation. Other technologies such as machine learning might provide the basis for fully autonomous weapons systems that could significantly change how humanity thinks about and conducts war. Then again, certain technologies such as hypersonic glide vehicles might only occupy a niche in military planning. What I do not like is the current hype around emerging tech. Technologies have always emerged and we have seen many technological leaps forward. We have also seen technologies stagnating for decades – AI being one example. Perhaps most importantly, policy-makers are under the false impression that they are coming too late and that there is no time for regulating new dual-use technologies. But that impression is misleading. It took states over 40 years to come up with a regulatory frame for missiles – the Missile Technology Control Regime. Sometimes political processes simply take time.

What are, in your view, the priority steps that the EU should take to contribute to the ongoing efforts to regulate the use of new technologies?

There are a couple of things the EU can do, both in the realm of regulating as well as advancing emerging technologies. The Commission’s Horizon 2020 “Future and Emerging Technologies” programme for instance aims at supporting Europe’s science base by funding specific projects on nanotechnologies, quantum technologies and others. Here, more and sustained funding could help Europe close the gap with players
such as the United States and China. At the same time, export control mechanisms need to be taken seriously. They have to be inclusive and streamlined – and by inclusive I mean industry has to be on board and early on. The difficulty will be finding the sweet spot between regulating the dual-use character of certain enabling technologies and at the same time benefitting from those technologies, in both the civilian and military realms.

This interview was originally published by the EU Non-proliferation and Disarmament Consortium.