What does military Artificial Intelligence tell us about the European Union’s actorness?

Europe of Knowledge |

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Justinas Lingevicius

The emerging AI policy of the European Union (EU), new financial instruments and institutional entities dedicated to boosting emerging technologies including AI, suggest that the EU approaches technological developments strategically and aims to play a role in their international development and regulation. However, the EU position on military AI – the wide-ranging issue of future security with multiple potential effects and forms of application – appears diluted in the emerging EU AI policy due to different institutional priorities. This mixed position thus raises the question of what the discussion on military AI suggests about EU actorness.

I analyse this question in my new article ‘Military Artificial Intelligence as Power: Consideration for the European Union’s Actorness’ (Lingevicius, 2023) released in the special issue ‘Responsible AI of Military Applications’ of the Ethics and Information Technology journal.


Military Power Europe and Military AI

Discussion of EU actorness focuses heavily on the ‘Europe as a power’ debate and the different definitions proposed: what are the leading characteristics of the EU and its external positioning and action. Despite a number of variations, my article puts forward three definitions: Normative Power Europe, Market Power Europe, and Military Power Europe. Interestingly, the overview of these definitions in the context of the ‘Europe as a power’ debate reveals that Military Power Europe, seemingly associated with standing armies and coercive interference, is not specifically introduced but rather mentioned in contrast to the others. Therefore, my article introduces the definition of Military Power Europe based on discussions of military AI in the EU. To do that, four categories are formulated as being at the core of the definition: ways of action, self-definition, preferred international engagement, and the role of the military.

The combination of discursive elements within these categories shows that the definition of Military Power Europe involves a normative model of governance, preferred multilateral international engagement, and the perceived EU role of norm-promoter. At the same time, military AI is associated with future power referring to advanced defence capabilities, readiness, and preparedness to address security challenges, including the possibility of the battlefield. The article therefore argues that, alongside normative proposals, there are evident desires for militarisation and a considerable role for the military in the EU. In this way, despite its initial exclusion from the emerging AI policy and diverging institutional positions, military AI is a part of the discussion and thus a part of the EU’s emerging AI policy.


Normative and military EU actorness

Over and above the ‘Europe as a power’ debate with its conceptual considerations, the introduced Military Power Europe definition also provides additional insights into (re)discussing EU actorness itself. For example, what is the relationship between technology, security, power and different policies or even political concepts such as digital autonomy? What is the security environment, what actions does it require and what new trends does it set?

The article shows that the discussion on military AI brings different characteristics to EU actorness: normativity in terms of governance and the desire for international influence as well as competition and military advancement as a response to perceived security concerns. In other words, the EU has been positioned as a military power concerned about its capabilities and readiness for the future effects of military AI. Therefore, the article joins those (for example, Hoijtink, Muehlenhoff, 2020) challenging the understanding of EU actorness based merely on civil/normative definitions. This dive into the EU’s inter-institutional discussion on military AI suggests that the military appears to be not only a matter of security (for example, the Common Security and Defence Policy) but also part of the EU’s ambitious digital agenda. Having clarified this complexity, both the Military Power Europe definition and EU actorness in the context of military AI could be further elaborated and investigated through other digital policy initiatives (data, cybersecurity, robotics), and their relation to the military or security, particularly in the light of the EU’s ambitions on autonomy and sovereignty.

Finally, the analysis focused on military AI reveals a sense of urgency where the mix of long-term future scenarios and currently existing challenges such as cyber-attacks are interlinked. For interpretative research, this brings additional characteristics to the way the discussion is constructed – searching to define itself in the context of technological uncertainty and (re)producing inter-institutional disagreements on how the EU is expected to perform and respond to emerging global challenges.


Justinas Lingevicius is a PhD candidate at Vilnius University, Institute of International Relations and Political Science, Lithuania. This article is the result of a one-year fellowship at the Charlemagne Prize Academy (Aachen, Germany), mentored by Dr. Inga Ulnicane (De Montfort University, UK).



Lingevicius, J. (2023). Military artificial intelligence as power: consideration for European Union actorness. Ethics and Information Technology, 25(19). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10676-023-09684-z

Hoijtink, M., Muehlenhof, H. L. (2020). The European Union as a masculine military power: European Union security and defence policy in ‘Times of Crisis´. Political Studies Review, 18(3), 362-377. https://doi.org/10.1177/1478929919884876