Future Trends for Transatlantic Security

  • Petr Boháček
  • 14.12.2018 07:33

There is no need to rehash the long list of developments that have undermined European security in the last few years and led to the expansion of European integration into this sensitive area. What is, however, needed is a constant reevaluation of the direction the European foreign and security policy takes. This text does not aim to offer an exhausting dive into the many complex issues it touches on, but rather it hopes to connect them in a narrative pointing to the main obstacles in strengthening Transatlantic security – its asymmetrical nature, European weakness and fragmentation. This second out of four parts will discuss industrial and warfare trends and their impact on defense spending.

The shifting weight of world politics away from the West is accompanied by field-changing trends in technology. Among these is the empowerment of non-state actors, the transformation of the technological and scientific monopoly or an overall decreasing hi-tech dominance of Western militaries that used to offset the quantitative advantage of their adversaries. All these shifts have implications for the way we think about defense and security.

The CDP process comes out of four different strands including current shortfalls in achieving the Level of Ambitions (A), assessing CSDP’s lessons learned (D), identifying collaborative opportunities between Union members based on existing capacities and plans (C) while Strand B, developed by the EDA, includes long-term planning for the 2035+ period, detecting future capability requirements, technology trends and research activities. Besides increasing global instability, higher demand for raw materials and shifting boundaries between war and peace, these trends include an ageing population and increasing costs of social welfare that will put a strain on public finances with likely impact on defense spending.[1] Finding new ways to invest more in technologies with defense value will be important in years to come. To address this, the following chapter will firstly look into the relationship between civilian and defense technology and then point to growing defense reliance on space assets.

Reversing the Relationship between Defense and Civilian Technology

In the past, the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Research and Development Corporation (RAND), and other military research institutions as well as massive investments nearing 5% of all spending for the space program provided the source of knowledge for the commercial technology boom epitomized by the internet companies, Silicon Valley and the technological dominance of the American economy. Military technology, including the space program as the handmaiden of the US armed forces[2], as a side-effect provided massive progress and benefits for civilian society. However, this relationship has flipped as market forces and commercialization have become the main movers of the economy and innovation globally.


"It is no longer the civilian sector that is dependent on military technology, but militaries who are instead growing more dependent on private technology and commercial providers."


The research and development budgets of many private companies are bigger than those for defense in many European countries. It is no longer the civilian sector that is dependent on military technology, but militaries who are instead growing more dependent on private technology and commercial providers.[3] In the space sector, the reusable launch vehicles with extensively increased payloads are granting SpaceX an extremely valuable capability that can provide strategic superiority over adversaries in space.[4] This is described as a spin-in effect in which the dynamic changes from the militarization of civilian space technologies to an increasing dependence of the military on these civilian technologies.[5] Further, the CDP 2035+ outlook describes how commercial integration is connected to the increasing prevalence of modular design or a system-of-systems approach over the traditional platform-centric approach.[6]


"The Buy American approach (strongly promoted by the Trump administration) adopted to cater to these trends, however, reduces the economic rationale of defense spending and presents obstacles to the consolidation of European defense industrial base."


All these trends present new challenges for education, research or defense planning and financing approaches to supply the role historically exclusive to government institutions. Defense capabilities are thus not solely defined by the size of defense spending but, based on the aforementioned, increasingly by a complex interplay between industrial, research, investment and acquisition strategies across civilian and commercial spheres. That is also why the client relationship between the US and Europe now proves ineffective. With the new unilateral US administration, the key benefit of the Transatlantic security partnership is moving from its geopolitical and value bond to the sale of American weapons to European partners, ultimately weakening its utility. The Buy American approach (strongly promoted by the Trump administration) adopted to cater to these trends, however, reduces the economic rationale of defense spending and presents obstacles to the consolidation of European defense industrial base.[7]  Also, US equipment frequently comes up as more expensive and with many unequal offset policies, which might make evolving Chinese, Russian or other alternatives more attractive. Moreover, technology transfers are highly unfavorable for Europe as the US offset policies are strictly bilateral with restrictions on use and production. This ultimately hampers the creation of a European industrial policy, a precursor for Europe becoming indispensable for US security.

Growing Importance of Space Assets

Disruptive technologies dominate the debate on future warfare development, ranging from artificial intelligence to biotechnology, cyber robotics or social weapons. Next to air-to-air refueling interoperability and airlift capabilities EU ISS analyst Daniel Fiott points to the need for the development of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capacities as key EU capability shortfalls.[8] NATO has also repeatedly highlighted the dependency of NATO operations and missions on space-based assets for the ISR systems, including for Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), Infrared (IR), Electro-Optical (EO), ELINT and SIGINT satellite data and services,[9] but also for the overall functioning of military equipment.[10] The CDP’s Strand B on future needs anticipate growing demand for ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) to provide quick and effective decision-making, requiring access to a resilient network of military, civilian and commercial satellites or other communications nodes for global reach and use of space-based assets. The need for improved physical hardening, mobility and cybersecurity for space-based assets, including the use of clusters of micro- and nanosats, and new launch technologies to ensure European access to space is also mentioned as one of the identified requirements by the CDP.[11]


"All space security is civilian in nature but all civilian space security systems have dual-use."


This reliance makes space security a critical area. However, space security traditionally implies mainly non-military Situational Space Awareness (SSA) that includes topics such as orbital space debris, space weather, space surveillance and tracking (SST) or near-earth objects (NEO). From a policy, technical and practical perspective these issues are inseparable. Capacities to monitor, track, catalog and in the case of NEOs or space debris, remove, deflect or destroy, items in space for safety would be a military asset providing strategic superiority. SST can be used to track ballistic missiles or reentry of space objects to Earth for air defense systems or substitute the sensors of the AWACS system.[12] However, both the European Space Agency and the European Commission authorities have signaled that all civilian systems could be used for defense.[13] Spacecraft with tools to remove orbital debris including unfunctional satellites would logically be also able to remove any other civilian or non-civilian satellite. Further, any technology powerful enough to deflect a potentially hazardous object (asteroid/comet) would have similar game-changing military applications. But in its original purpose, all space security is civilian. This further underlines the importance on investment into civilian assets and technologies to ensure security. Further, the dual-use approach can be helpful in overcoming national sensitives in the defense sector and in allowing for a deepening of cooperation. It could also be a good tool to address European defense spending impotency, deterioration of defense capacities and rising strain in public finance.

Reflecting on the growing reliance on space-based assets and EU ambitions, the NATO Summit in July 2018 has as one of its outcomes delivered an agreement to develop a NATO Space Policy.[14] Further, the European Union 2016 Space Strategy and its growing space budget in the Multiannual Financial Framework very much put the Transatlantic space policy on the security agenda.



The next part of the series will be published next week.

This paper was prepared for the Association for International Affairs within the project „Future of the Czech security and defense policy and the role of NATO and the EU“, which is supported by Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung. The paper does not reflect the views of Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung. This publication is supported by NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division. The full version can be found here.


[1] RAND Europe. Exploring Europe’s capability requirements for 2035 and beyond, prepared for EDA. 2018, 13.

[2] A central idea of Neil de Grasse Tyson, Accessory to War: The Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Military (W. W. Norton & Company, 2018).

[3] RAND Europe. Exploring Europe’s capability requirements for 2035 and beyond, prepared for EDA. 2018, 28-25.

[4] SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell confirmed that the company would launch space weapons to defend the United States at the Air Space Cyber 2018 symposium on September 17, 2018. https://spacenews.com/spacex-president-gwynne-shotwell-we-would-launch-a-weapon-to-defend-the-u-s/

[5] Ulrika Mörth, “Competing frames in the European Commission – the case of the defence industry and equipment issue,” Journal of European Public Policy 7, no. 2 (February 2011): 173-189.

[6] The ineffectiveness of the platform-approach, meaning the reliance on a specific fleet of tanks, aircraft of vehicles purchased every 15-20 years, originates in its difficult employability, adaptation, automation, integration, and communication.

[7] Jean Belin, Jean, Keith Hartley, Sophie Lefeez, at all. Defence Industrial Links Between Eu and Us, ARES, 2017, 44.

[8] Daniel Fiott. EU Defence Capability Development Plans, Priorities, Projects. Paris: EU Institute for Security Studies (EU ISS), 2018, 4.

[9] NCI Agency. NATO BiSC Space Working Group Report on NATO’s Approach to Space. 13.3. 2014.

[10] Report SCI-238-SM Specialists Meeting on NATO Space Dependencies (AC/323(SCI-238)TP/544). Science and Technology Organization, 10. 1. 2018.

[11] RAND Europe. Exploring Europe’s capability requirements for 2035 and beyond. prepared for EDA, 2018, 15.

[12] Philippe Brunet, Statement at the Security and Defense Subcommittee at the European Parliament, 15. 5. 2018.

[13] Thomas Hoerber, “Framing in European Space Policy,” Space Policy 43, no. 22 (February 2018): 3.

[14] NATO Brussels Summit Declaration, Brussels, 11.7.2018.

About author: Petr Boháček


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