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Prioritizing Science within the Alliance

Security and stability go further than defending against military threats. To reduce NATO solely to its military function would overlook the spirit of the Treaty itself and the principles that originally united Alliance members. Discussions and debates about Article 5 of the Treaty are often the most popular and require repeated affirmations–and rightfully so. But this excludes the other 13 articles, two of which particularly underpin opportunities for nonmilitary cooperation of Alliance members as a means of strengthening ties.


Article 2 of the North Atlantic Treaty promotes collaboration between members through their economic capacities. Dubbed the “Canadian article,” it is broad enough to be understood as advocating for friendly relations between members by allowing cultural and military aspects to be linked to one another. Nonmilitary cooperation is further corroborated by Article 3, which seeks to encourage members to collectively develop their abilities to resist armed attack by consolidating military capacities and civil preparedness. Through cooperation and collaboration, NATO’s goals for stability and security are exercised. But through what medium?


Scientific inquiries and innovative research provides a platform for connecting networks of scientists from member and partner countries on multidisciplinary projects; and in the process, complements the military and political dimensions of NATO. The scientific dimension of NATO, Science for Peace and Security (SPS), is a manifestation of these ongoing efforts.


The NATO SPS Programme combines scientific innovation with multilateral cooperation in order to meet growing security risks. Some of these challenges include defence against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) agents; cyber security threats; energy security and environmental security concerns. The human and social aspects of security, like the inclusion of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which emphasizes and recognizes the role of gender in the security process, falls within this scope.


Linking civil society with NATO’s core objectives, the SPS Programme provides grant funding and opportunities for collaboration between member and partner states. This has the benefit of bringing together a global scientific community that contributes to practical results. One project, for instance, supported the clearance of unexploded weapons in Montenegro and the development of a telemedicine system for emergency situations. As remnants of war, unexploded ordnance poses a safety risk because they can not only detonate, but also contaminate the environment. Chemical runoff, like perchlorate, can seep into the water supply and contaminate it. Perchlorate is a chemical used primarily in the manufacturing of explosives, and easily dissolves in water. For pregnant women, high levels of perchlorate consumption in long durations from water supplies has been considered a neurodevelopmental risk factor for the fetus. Other research acknowledges the limited amount of data to conclusively rule out risks for human consumption and fetal health.


Telemedicine takes advantage of technology by translating its modern communication capabilities for assessing and treating patients in real-time from remote locations. Medical specialists can advise on-location personnel on diagnoses and treatments without the issue of distance barriers. Access to medical services in times of emergency has the potential to transcend beyond medical care for military service members. The NATO SPS Programme holds that telemedicine and its advances can be leveraged for civilian use during times of crises, where medical access may be restricted.


Telemedicine feasibility depends on the use of medical kits for first-responders and their ability to connect to medical specialists in different locations. The portability of these kits and their potential for further innovation can revolutionize the way medical care is provided in times of emergencies. This wouldn’t be the first time that technology for military use has been a testing bed for civilian use.


Auto-injecting pens, like the EpiPen, found their origins in military use. The American military was interested in developing an apparatus that could inject an antidote to counteract biochemical nerve agents–which it accomplished. Soon after, the technology crossed-over into civilian life in the form of the EpiPen to treat allergic reactions. GPS too, for example, was developed by the US military during the Cold War era prior to being adopted into civilian life and being ubiquitous in technological applications.


The application of innovative technologies for military and civilian life are part and parcel of promoting peace and prosperity. Through the NATO SPS Programme, scientists from member and partner countries have the opportunity to work together and serve dualistic purposes, while strengthening diplomatic ties.


Photo: “VRSS-1 – Satélite Miranda a 1:25 (-X, -Y, -Z)” (2012) by Stelios Nikas via Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0


Disclaimer: Any views or opinions expressed in articles are solely those of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the views of the NATO Association of Canada.