EU report puts technology at core of security agenda

16 Mar 2004

Information technology has been identified as a key requirement for any Europe-wide security initiatives and a new report has recommended a research programme with a minimum annual budget of €1bn to develop security systems.

The report, titled ‘Research for a Secure Europe’, has been prepared by the Group of Personalities (GOP) for Security Research. The 22-person body is co-chaired by EU Commissioners Philippe Bousquin and Erkki Liikanen and includes security industry leaders, MEPs, research heads and defence officials. The group’s role is to propose principles and priorities of a European Security Research Programme (ESRP) in line with the EU’s foreign, security and defence policy objectives.

The new report is the culmination of six months’ work in developing a EU Security Research Programme and the contribution that it could make to addressing new security concerns. According to the report, the current security environment has been created by geo-political, social and technological developments. Now more diverse, less visible risks and vulnerabilities require a “comprehensive European security approach”. This approach would address security-related needs within and beyond EU borders, combining civil and military resources.

The proposed ESRP envisaged in the report would fund the development of security systems and products to ensure the protection of EU Member States against security threats on the one hand and the success of EU peacekeeping missions and international security programmes on the other.

To that end, the report has identified technology as a key requirement in securing Europe over the next 10 years. “Technology itself cannot guarantee security, but security without the support of technology is impossible. It provides us with information about threats, helps us to build effective protection against them and, if necessary, enables us to neutralise them.”

To achieve this requires state-of-the-art know-how, contributions from the high tech industry, a strong knowledge infrastructure, appropriate funding and an optimal use of resources. The report claims that while Europe possesses world-class research institutes and a strong industrial base to address security requirements, the institutional and political structures have been slow to take the necessary initiative.

Recommendations in the report centre on the benefits of multi-purpose aspects of technology and the EU is urged to take advantage of these. “In order to stimulate synergies, it should look at the ‘crossroads’ between civil and defence applications and foster cross-sector transformation and integration of technologies. Its focus should be on interoperability and connectivity as key elements of trans-border and inter-service co-operation. A core of architectural design rules and standards should be worked out at an early stage,” the report states.

Global Positioning Systems and the internet are two examples cited in the report as technologies with uses in both commercial and defence environments. “As a result, the technology base for defence, security and civil applications increasingly forms a continuum,” the report says. “Across this continuum, applications in one area can often be transformed into applications in another area.”

This is particularly true for defence and security, it argues; although the armed forces and various security services will always have their specific needs, there is an increasing overlap of functions and capabilities required for military and non-military security purposes. Examples of the latter include in border police, coast guard and emergency response teams. This often allows the use of the same technology for the development of both security and defence applications, the report suggests.

Several weaknesses have been identified in the report, which would appear to indicate that the road to improved security will not be an easy one. These deficiencies include the lack of specific schemes for security research at the EU level; limited co-operation between EU Member States and a lack of co-ordination of national and European efforts.

According to the report, the ESRP should not replace, nor duplicate Member States’ efforts, but instead support and complement them. A Community-funded ESRP as proposed in the report would have a minimum annual budget of €1bn. In line with the EU’s objective of raising research spending from 1.9pc to 3pc of EU average GDP by 2010, ESRP funding would represent an addition to that provided under the EU Research Framework Programme and national and other intergovernmental sources. This spending level, it is thought, would bring combined EU, national and intergovernmental security research investment closer to that of the US.

By Gordon Smith