Attaining security through technological sovereignty

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To meet the new security requirements, Germany needs to adapt its foreign and security policy to go beyond the conventional issues of national security and take account of the importance that technologies have in this field. The availability, integrity and controllability of the latest security technologies are essential building blocks of a forward-looking security architecture for Germany as an industrial nation. In this article, Dr Stefan Mair, BDI Executive Board Member, shares his views on national security and technological sovereignty.

Germany has benefited from globalisation more than almost any other country in the past few years. Its competitiveness and prosperity are based on its participation in the open world order, which is characterized by the freest possible movement of goods and unfettered access to supply and sales markets.

According to a Bertelsmann Stiftung study, between 1990 and 2011, average real income in Germany rose by 1,240 euros every year on account of its international economic relations. Twenty percent of GDP growth in this period is attributable to globalisation. About every fourth job in Germany, that’s around 9 million, is now linked to foreign trade – and this rate is set to increase. Exports constitute 50 percent of German GDP. The ratio of foreign trade to GDP – i.e. the combined share of exports and imports in GDP – averaged a record 76 percent over the past few years.

One major factor triggering this growth was the move towards a free market economy in many of the post-Soviet states and in the large newly industrialising countries in Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia, particularly China and India. Another factor boosting growth was the stable investment environment established in our near neighbours in Central and Eastern Europe, largely connected with their accession to the EU and NATO.

The strengthening of the EU single market and the establishment of the euro area has created a robust and large home market for our businesses. The core Western values of a liberal economic system, the rule of law, democracy and human rights have always guided the actions of all large international institutions including the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation and the International Monetary Fund. For many decades, Germany and Europe were able to rely on the United States as the hegemonic world power to safeguard this world order. Alongside these political developments, new technologies and particularly digital technologies have been a major driver of globalisation. Digital interconnectedness has become an indispensable part of our economic and social lives.

New risks

Yet to the same extent that Germany and Europe have benefited from international economic and political interconnectedness, they are now exposed to new dependencies and vulnerabilities related to security. The security and stability of the current world order is undergoing a transformation that is increasingly calling it into question.

Conflicts within and between countries have already led to political destabilisation in many regions of the world. The crises in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, North and Northwest Africa, right down to Nigeria and, most recently, also in Yemen, in combination with international Islamic terrorism, is putting the underlying values of the Western world to the test. The consequences of this are complex. From an economic perspective, this instability is endangering oil and commodity markets that are of central importance to the world economy and Europe’s major trade and logistics routes. The accustomed influence of Europe to influence events in these regions through its foreign and security policy is increasingly limited.

The economic rise of countries such as China and India is causing a shift in global economic and political power. These countries now have the legitimate aspiration to participate in shaping the world order based on their own values. The example of China shows that this new national self-confidence is then also expressed in a more assertive stance in border disputes with neighbouring countries and in the build-up of military strength. Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and its support of separatists in eastern Ukraine has been the largest challenge to the European peace order since the end of the Cold War. With the spotlight on these crises, the refugee crises in the Mediterranean have escalated almost unobserved and are further evidence of just how much the world order is in disarray, and that Europe cannot seal itself off from these developments.

On top of all this comes the fact that, in a more and more interconnected digital world, businesses, critical infrastructure, public authorities and research institutes are all becoming increasingly vulnerable to cyber espionage and cyber sabotage. These attacks take place across borders and round the clock. The hackers are just as varied as their motives. German industry alone suffers tens of billions of euros in damages each year on account of cyber attacks.

The United States, which has been the dominant power of the international order until now, is increasingly reaching the limits of its political and military power. Experts are already heralding a new era in which US foreign policy plays a reduced role, enabled by a growing independence from energy imports and a pro-isolation sentiment among the population. In parallel, both government and non-governmental international organisations have suffered a huge loss in their influence and power to shape global events.

Europe and Germany, as one of the leading European nations, must find common responses to these developments. The economic and financial crisis and the crisis in Greece have thrown more doubt on the unity of the EU than ever before.

The importance of sovereignty in security technology

Protecting our open and free world order against these risks, together with our allies in the EU and NATO, is a core interest of Germany in its security and foreign policy as a global trading nation. The security challenges we face are not new in themselves. They have been addressed in many policy debates, in political concepts and in individual decisions made on a national and European level.

What has not yet been resolved is the question of how important the availability and controllability of security technology – in terms of technological sovereignty – will be in the future for Germany’s security policy in both the civilian and military sectors. There is broad agreement nonetheless that not only armed forces but also businesses and citizens need to have the latest security technology in order to fulfil their responsibilities, protect themselves and to protect infrastructure, in particular critical infrastructure.

While the federal government always underlines the importance of having national „core capabilities” and „key security technology,” particularly in the defence sector and for secure IT systems, it has not yet clearly defined these terms. The potential relevance of many important fields of technology for our national security has not yet been considered. This include new materials and production processes such as 3D printing, sensor technology, robotics and miniaturisation, energy storage technology, biotechnology, and navigation and geodata systems as the basis for any kind of automated motion. The importance of these technologies is currently only discussed, if at all, in their economic or scientific context. There are no transparent criteria to classify „key technologies” nor are there any clearly articulated objectives on how these will be integrated into industrial policy and what the consequences will then be for the businesses in these sectors.

This needs to be changed. In the opinion of German industry, the fields of technology must be classified according to their relevance for security and the required degree of technological sovereignty in a joint process between industry and government. We need to draw up and implement objectives and measures to promote the identified key technologies. The businesses that develop and produce these key technologies should not be taken out of European competition. Instead, their competitiveness should be boosted with targeted support in the form of research schemes and an innovation-friendly procurement policy.

These businesses need an economically viable home market of a sufficient size to allow for economies of scale in the interests of both the businesses themselves and their customers. They need a modern and forward-looking export policy harmonised at EU level for access to international export markets. There is still no policy for many of the fields of technology relevant for security.

To be absolutely clear: technological sovereignty and viable market structures in Europe is not the same as sealing off the market or technological autarky. In view of the global interconnectedness of economic processes, this is not feasible and would be counter to our interests in any case.

The identified technology systems must rather be measurable and controllable in regards to their security, integrity and reliability, and possibly substitutable with subsystems. This understanding of technological sovereignty is compatible with an open world trade system and the security requirements of Germany as a leading trading nation.


It is not the responsibility of businesses to define German security policy. This is the primacy of government. And yet security policy must be defined on the basis of core values and through a balancing of national interests. This necessarily involves the articulation of social and also economic interests and capabilities. Voicing economic interests and capabilities is the responsibility of industry and the contribution of industry to security policy – especially in the field of technological sovereignty.