Dual-use technologies for conflict prevention and peacebuilding

Cristian Barbieri, Jenny Berglund and Yannick Arnaud

7 February 2018


Although dual-use technologies might appear to be the exclusive domain of military experts, in fact they permeate our daily lives. The most common dual-use technology is the internet, which was originally developed for military purposes, and which has revolutionised our means of communication. Despite the significance, implications and possible uses of dual-use technologies in the European Union (EU), however, conflict prevention and peacebuilding still lack proper attention from EU institutions and key stakeholders.

Among the instruments that can be exploited for conflict prevention and peacebuilding activities, dual-use technologies are gaining attention in scholarly and technical debates. Born as spin-offs of military projects, dual-use technologies are now developed in both the military and the civilian domain and operate in a vast number of fields, ranging from biology to security.

The EU has followed two parallel tracks on the development of dual-use technologies, linked to their possible different (benevolent or malevolent) uses. After the initial approach that led to the securitisation of this issue and focused on the control of dual-use technologies exports, in the past decade the EU has encouraged research into dual-use potentials to promote economic growth and to support Europe’s defence industry. For instance, the development of the European Defence Action Plan (EDAP) in 2016 and the subsequent European Defence Fund, launched in 2017, have clear dual-use implications.

The path towards a sort of hybridisation of European research with the increased connection of civilian and military sectors seems to have been traced. However, there is still no clear vision of how to use these technologies. A comprehensive understanding is necessary to ensure proper coordination when it comes to dual-use technologies and their use in the framework of the CSDP, including EDA activities, Horizon 2020, PADR, and upcoming EC initiatives such as the European Defence Industrial Development Programme and the European Defence Fund (EDF).

The EDF aims to provide strong economic and growth impetus, but its implications for the conflict prevention and peacebuilding sector are also evident: programmes launched with EDF funding should thus be coordinated with the strategic planning of the European External Action Service (EEAS) to create synergies. The EDF is expected to finance research projects on defence, which can include dual-use technologies, with a strong potential for the interoperability of military systems with those of police and security forces, law enforcement and border control agencies. The EEAS, DG Growth and the European Defence Agency (EDA) (the latter two being responsible for the implementation of the EDF) could jointly propose the promotion of inter-force table-top exercises, including both police and military officers.

Satellites and RPAS – examples of the exploitation of dual-use technologies in conflict prevention and peacebuilding

Satellites and Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) are the two dual-use technologies in which the EU is seeking to enhance its research efforts the most. In fact, the political willingness to develop satellites and RPAS, as demonstrated by various Council Conclusions (inter alia 2013, 2016 and 2017), has been accompanied by practical actions through the deployment of funding research opportunities, as illustrated by the EDAP. However, a lack of coordination among the different EU institutions and agencies is still present and may result in the duplication of projects.

Member States collectively own a significant number of RPAS and have developed common projects on satellites under the EU SatCen umbrella, also revealing a frequent deployment of such assets in military missions. On the civilian side, while satellites have been used to support Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) civilian missions, RPAS have not, and their lack of use is mainly for political reasons. The lack of reliance upon these technologies in CSDP missions such as EUMM Georgia, EUAM Ukraine and EULEX Kosovo particularly represents a missed opportunity. Dual-use technologies could have been exploited in CSDP missions, namely for supporting border management, restoring public order and conducting investigative tasks.

Enhanced exploitation of dual-use technologies would not require much investment, given that most assets are already owned by Member States. Nevertheless, other serious issues should be considered. In particular the political implications related to the use of such technologies in EU missions emerge at both the local level, where the host state’s consent for the management of such technologies is needed, and at Member State level, where, for instance, the German and Swedish cases have flagged concerns about privacy and data protection. Moreover, what is needed from the EU is a policy on the utilisation of dual-use technologies in conflict prevention and peacebuilding – a policy that achieves complementarities and synergies between military and civilian assets.

Policy recommendations for the utilisation of dual-use technologies

  1. The EU should continue to promote inter-institutional funding opportunities to avoid a duplication of effort and spending. In particular, the future of projects awarded under the EDA defence research framework should follow the dual-use approach. Additionally, the EU still lacks a clear policy regulating dual-use technologies in conflict prevention and peacebuilding activities. The EU should coordinate programmes launched through the EDF funding stream with the strategic planning of the EEAS. The latter should couple and complement the efforts of the EDF through the funding of related training activities for police and other law enforcement agencies, to ensure that security actors exploit the interoperability of dual-use systems.
  2. The EU should take advantage of the potentiality of satellites and RPAS in conflict prevention and peacebuilding by supporting pooling and sharing activities, both among Member States and within CSDP missions, and by standardising procedures. Specifically, synergies and exchanges of capabilities between military and civilian missions should start in situations where military and civilian staff already work side-by-side, such as in the Sahel region. Moreover, the pooling and sharing of RPAS devices in civilian conflict prevention and peacebuilding could start with the utilisation of older models still operating (Harfang and RQ1, for instance), and which are about to be replaced by newer models in the military sphere.
  3. Finally, with a focus on satellites and particularly EU SatCen, bridging functions between EU institutions and Member States, and among existing and future military-civilian earth observation systems, should be further explored and enhanced to facilitate access to earth observation data to address needs related to security and defence in the EU.

Related Deliverable

DL 2.4
Report on dual-use technologies

Authors: Barbieri, C., J. Berglund and Y. Arnaud
Institution: Istituto Affari Internazionali

Published: 30 January 2018

[PDF, ~1.5MB; click to access]



Photo details

Title photo caption: Demonstration of the flight of the drone helicopter equipped with a camera

Title photo credit: EC Photo/Jennifer Jacquemart

About the Author

Cristian Barbieri

Cristian Barbieri is a former EU-CIVCAP Staff Member. This profile represents his biography at the time he worked for the project.

Jenny Berglund

Jenny Berglund joined the EU Satellite Centre in 2002, where she is currently holding the post as Capability Development Officer, supporting the management of the Capability Development Division in the operational and strategical coordination.

Yannick Arnaud

Yannick Arnaud has worked as a Copernicus Project Officer of the Capability Development Division at the SatCen since 2015. With more than 9 years of experience working in the geospatial domain, he has been involved in several European-funded R&D projects in the field of security and space.

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