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Time for reflection

October 2023 update from Wilton Park Chief Executive, Tom Cargill.

Khan Yunis

The events that we have seen, and which are unfolding at speed in Israel and Gaza are heartbreaking. They are a stark reminder of the consequences of not achieving peace.

The failure to anticipate the deadly attack by Hamas on 7th October has seen thousands killed or injured and represents a catastrophic blow to security in the region, and for the people of both Israel and Palestine.

The role of technology in guiding and mediating decision making has become so ubiquitous that the importance of people and human thought, imagination, and engagement may be neglected. Former Head of MI6 Alex Younger recently suggested that Israeli authorities may have suffered from a failure of imagination, similar to that which took place before 9-11, in not considering that a large-scale attack by Hamas was possible.

There seems to be a pattern of events in recent years where technology has not helped, and in some cases hindered, major decision-making by governments in advanced economies by creating a false sense of security and certainty. Part of the answer may be that technology can both support, but also smother critical thought. Today there is often less opportunity or requirement for the casual conversations, changes of pace, reflective pauses, or deliberate non-sequiturs from which people often draw inspiration. These are all qualities which we believe are critical for effective policy development and which are the focus of our unashamedly human-centric collaborations.

This is not to downplay the role of technology, which is undoubtedly having huge impacts across all areas of our lives, but to suggest we reconsider how we use technology as a springboard and not a crutch. In a world travelling at high-speed, taking the time for critical thought and deliberation is becoming more important, not less, and knowing when to do so is vital.

Human rights and new and emerging technology

Technological change is accelerating. The development of new and emerging technologies, including Artificial Intelligence, biometrics and neuro-technologies, have profound implications for the enjoyment of human rights.

There are positive opportunities, as technology can be harnessed to support the enjoyment of human rights. On the other hand, there are complex risks to human rights associated with these technologies. These range from targeted persecution of vulnerable and marginalised groups and technology-facilitated gender-based violence, to the development of new security technology to target human rights defenders and civil society. In parallel, there are concerns about the ways in which autocratic regimes are influencing the development of and exporting technologies globally.

Multilaterally there is also increased focus on the implications of technology for the enjoyment of human rights. Numerous initiatives are developing across different parts of the multilateral system, including at the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly, UNESCO, the Council of Europe and the OECD Global Forum on Technology. The relationship between human rights and technology is likely to be a key theme of negotiations on a UN Global Digital Compact, due to conclude at the Summit of the Future in 2024. While the increasing focus on the importance of human rights in the emerging technologies agenda is welcome, there are risks of fragmentation and inconsistencies in approach. This event will provide an opportunity for senior policy makers to discuss the implications of new and emerging technologies for the enjoyment of human rights and to identify pathways to ensure that the design, development and use of technologies are consistent with and safeguard human rights.

This invitation only meeting will convene up to 50 senior policy makers including governments, multilateral and regional bodies, industry, civil society and other human rights experts and will take place two weeks before the UK hosted AI Safety Summit.

Development and climate change
Future of Global Health initiatives

Changes in demographics and disease burden, climate change, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and funding challenges created by political and economic shifts all underscore the need for changes in how the global health financing system supports low- and middle-income countries and their progress to universal health coverage (UHC).

This event, which convened global, regional and national health stakeholders, was an inflection point in the Future of Global Health Initiatives process. Participants aligned on five strategic shifts to 2030 and beyond and made progress in identifying and prioritizing short-term actions to achieve them, ahead of a dialogue on 26 November in Lusaka in the margins of the Conference on Public Health in Africa and UHC Day in December.

How can Multilateral Development Banks evolve to drive a rapid climate transition?

As delegates arrived in Marrakech for World Bank and IMF Annual meetings in early October, we convened the latest in our series of meetings on reform of the Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs), this time asking ‘How can the MDBs evolve to drive a rapid climate transition?’.

Gathering representatives of both client and donor countries, including several of the World Bank’s Executive Directors and senior advisers, the participants discussed practical strategies to enable the banks to mobilise far larger investments in the global public goods required to transition the global economy from fossil fuel dependency to a clean-energy future – all without diluting the banks’ core focus on poverty reduction.

A roadmap for ending ‘sextortion’

Andrea Pizziconi of Girls First Finance discusses how to address the global crisis of girls and young women being pressured into having sex for education and career opportunities.

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Future War, Strategy and Technology

NATO and other liberal democratic allies must tackle a set of critical questions related to future war, strategy and technology, including identifying the emerging and disruptive technologies (EDT) that will have the most offensive and defensive military utility, and the impact such technologies will have on military strategy, doctrine, concepts, tactics, training, education, and personnel.

How should such technologies be developed and procured and what parameters should inform such choices?

In taking forward the development and exploitation of EDT, critical new relationships must be forged between the private sector (industry and academia), government, and the military for optimum improvements in security and defence. This conference brought together leaders, commanders, institutions, experts and industry from across the democratic world to take part in an immersive research engagement on these questions.

As events over the past two years have demonstrated, the stakes could not be higher in identifying the most effective combination of capabilities for deterring and defending against potential adversaries. A core conclusion from the discussions is that NATO needs a high-level, holistic “grand strategy” for technological innovation and EDT adoption. By 2035, the planning horizon for the conference deliberations, high technology is likely to constitute a distinct element of deterrence and defence rather than just an enabler as it is now considered. AI and other new technologies may change the balance of power, becoming an element in and of itself that influences adversaries, providing multifaceted ways to attack their will and capabilities.

At the same time, technology development and adoption must proceed hand in hand with many other elements of defence, including manufacturing, materials, people, and resilience. It is critical to recognise that strategic shock often arises from incorrect intelligence assessments.

Maximising benefits of peaceful nuclear uses

Exploring ways to maximise developing states’ access to nuclear technology for energy, health, industry and food security is key to advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but this needs to done in ways that are commensurate with prudent nuclear security.

This is not, however, an either/or choice but potentially a productive synergy, and earlier this month we convened a conference in partnership with National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to further explore this. The conference builds on our recent work on peaceful nuclear technology and the SDGs.

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Looking ahead
What will it take to end gender-based violence? Rethinking pathways to preventing violence at scale

Next month we’re hosting the next event in our series of dialogues supporting the implementation of the FCDO’s International Women and Girls Strategy and global campaign – Rights, Freedom, Potential – aiming to drive conversation and deliver progress on the empowerment and rights of women and girls around the world in the context of growing global threats and shocks.

November’s event, What will it take to end gender-based violence? Rethinking pathways to preventing violence at scale, recognises the field of preventing gender-based violence is at a critical point and that despite decades of mobilisation and robust evidence that gender-based violence (GBV) is preventable, the issue of violence is still not on the agenda at the highest political levels. Under discussion will be the concrete opportunities and strategies urgently needed to drive a step change in ending GBV.

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