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Opportunity and risk as Norway embraces defence research

As Russia prompts security fears, steering group advises greater collaboration between civilian and military research.

June 11, 2024
Ceremony of changing of Royal Guards near the Royal Palace, Oslo
Source: iStock/klug-photo

Norways increasing appetite for interaction between civilian and military research following Russias invasion of Ukraine could present both opportunity and adversity for scholars, leading academics have said.

The Research Council of Norway, the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment and the Norwegian National Security Authority recently published a?, commissioned by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Defence, aimed at making the countrys research sector more accessible to the defence sector.

Among the measures proposed are an increase in the number of researchers able to carry out classified or restricted work; the establishment of a system aimed at identifying dual-use opportunities; the creation of a portfolio within the research council responsible for military research; and increased coordination between government ministries. The steering group also suggested the establishment of an arena for knowledge collaboration that would span the military and civilian sectors.

Jan-Gunnar Winther, pro-rector for research and development at UiT The Arctic University of Norway, told?Times Higher Education?that an increased overlap between the sectors would raise a lot of possibilities, but also some challenges.

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There has been quite a division between research for military and civil purposes in the past, he said. But there is a general understanding in Norway that we would like to use all parts of society to make it more robust and more resilient.

It will take time for us to fully understand the consequences of a neighbour to Norway being different from what we thought it was, he added. I expect there will be a lot of discussions; there will be voices that are critical.

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By engaging with military and dual-use research, Dr Winther said, researchers and institutions could benefit from increased resources at a time when most sectors, excluding defence and health, anticipated funding cuts.

On the other hand, academics would probably require security clearance to participate in protected research, he noted, while they must also grapple with the ethical issues raised by military research.

Tormod Heier, professor of military strategy and operations at Norwegian Defence University College, told?㽶Ƶ?that blurring the divide between civilian and military research may undermine the independence of the research field, because more and more research is securitised.

The credibility of research rests on independence, and when researchers are introduced to very secretive organisations like the defence sector, they cannot necessarily maintain transparency regarding methods and sources, he said. That might undermine their impartiality and their critical distance to the power structures that they are meant to investigate independently.

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Some researchers, however, might find the prospect exciting, he noted: They would get access to a lot of empirical data that they cant necessarily access through open sources.

Norway is not alone in rethinking its approach to dual-use research amid the Russia-Ukraine war. In Germany, where researchers have maintained a stringent divide between the military and civilian sectors in the wake of the Second World War, a government advisory body recently called for this stance to be fundamentally reconsidered. The European Commission, meanwhile, has signalled that the successor to Horizon Europe could facilitate the funding of dual-use research.

Research, Dr Winther said, is one of the tools that societies and nations have to strengthen their resistance. I would think the same discussions will pop up in most countries.

emily.dixon@timeshighereducation.com

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