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Report | 13 November 2023

UK thinking on AI integration and interaction with nuclear command and control, force structure, and decision-making

This paper compiles and analyses the British literature on the UK’s perception of military and nuclear applications of AI and their impact on strategic stability and NC3. The paper assesses the UK’s debates on strategic opportunities and risks, examining the development of AI-enabled systems in defence and NC3. It also explores risk mitigation measures identified by scholars and the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD), with a particular focus on the concept of ‘safe and responsible AI.’

The review draws from various sources, including official documents such as the UK’s ‘Defence AI Strategy’ and the ‘Ambitious, safe and responsible: our approach to the delivery of AI-enabled capability in Defence’ policy paper. Additionally, it incorporates insights from the UK NGO communities, official statements, and other openly available documents and papers related to AI and strategic stability.

In particular, this paper seeks to:

  1. Analyse the UK’s official stance on AI integration in military and nuclear systems;
  2. Collect and analyse open-source UK literature that focuses on the integration of AI in military systems, with a specific emphasis on NC3 and decision-making systems;
  3. Examine the UK’s role in mitigating risks associated with AI and its military applications;
  4. Analyse how the internal debate on AI unfolds within the UK, including how it swings or aligns between official sources and independent experts;
  5. Explore additional measures that the UK can adopt to address a broader risk reduction perspective, specifically considering nuclear implications.

The paper offers recommendations for unilateral measures that the UK can take, as well as multilateral initiatives within the P5 framework, to address the risks associated with AI in nuclear decision-making:

  • The UK should continue to invest in R&D, especially in understanding the interpretability of AI models.
  • The UK should continue to promote public-private partnerships to address the AI skills deficit within the public sector.
  • The P5 could formulate a collective pledge to preserve human involvement in critical decision-making processes concerning nuclear weapons systems.
  • P5 states should progress beyond merely issuing high-level principles about the military applications of AI and concentrate on their practical implementation. A joint effort to devise tangible norms and guidelines regarding the safe and responsible use of AI in NC3 systems could be a strategic move.
  • The P5 states should prioritise investments in AI education and training programs for operators and decision-makers in the defence realm.

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The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or all of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security policy challenges of our time.

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