The EU security-industrial complex

The EU security-industrial complex


Written by: Frances Webber

This report is an indispensable reference manual on the threats posed to citizens by the convergence of neo-con ideology, power and technology in the name of national security.

‘A new kind of arms race, one in which all the weapons are pointing inwards’, the product of a marriage between the imperatives of profit and the irrational politics of paranoia, is the theme of this alarming new report, NeoConOpticon: The EU security-industrial complex. Its title marries Jeremy Bentham’s late eighteenth-century surveillance prison with late twentieth and early twenty-first century ideologies and economics of Western ‘full spectrum dominance’, implying intensive surveillance and militarised policing for ‘a long, sustained and proactive defence of their societies and way of life … keep[ing] risks at a distance while … protecting their homelands’ (according to NATO’s 2008 Grand Strategy for an Uncertain World).

The report is an update on the development of the European Security Research Programme (ESRP), on which Statewatch and the Transnational Institute (TNI) produced an earlier report, Arming Big Brother, in 2006. It details the extent to which the old divisions – between state functions and non-state (private or commercial) functions, between (civilian) policing and the military, and between internal security and (external) defence, overlap, blur and fade. Unusual features of the policy-making process included the presence of representatives of eight multinational corporations on the so-called ‘Group of Personalities’ (GoP) committee from day one, together with EU Commissioners, MEPs, NATO representatives and other officials, and the placing of the programme under the ‘Enterprise’ rather than ‘Research’ directorate of the EU, meaning that industrial competitive priorities and profit were key from the beginning. Hardly surprising, then, that its main demand was for the EU to foster the development of a European security-industrial complex to create the technology to provide security, which should, the committee recommended, be subsidised by EU funds. They got their way. A large amount of EU money has been gobbled up by the security industry since the GoP reported in 2004. By the end of 2006, the EU had funded at least fifty research projects concerned with surveillance. Of thirty-nine security research projects in one programme between 2004-6, the Preparatory Action for Security Research (PASR), nearly two-thirds were led by private sector companies involved in defence. The industry was well represented, too, on the European Security Research Advisory Board (ESRAB), set up by the European Commission in 2005 to advise on the content of the ESRP and its implementation, with no consultation of European or national parliaments on its composition. Again unsurprisingly, the priorities set by the ESRAB for 2007-13 were entirely technology-based. Ethical or civil rights concerns regarding the total surveillance and rapid neutralisation of threats advocated by the Board were to be dealt with as ‘a political challenge’, and the causes of the apparent insecurity addressed by the Board were a matter of sublime indifference. Arms manufacturers and other defence companies run or are involved in a large majority of the projects funded by the EU in 2007-13.

As for the projects themselves, they are terrifying. Nothing and nobody, it appears, can move without being tracked on GPS systems, filmed by CCTV cameras, sensed by radar and acoustic sensors, identified by image or pattern processing technology and, if necessary, disabled or killed by unmanned land, sea or air vehicles. We are familiar with the European Border Surveillance System (EUROSUR), which works with a permanent European Patrols network in the Mediterranean to detect and turn away unwelcome would-be arrivals in Europe, while the e-borders system and requirements for biometrics for visas, backed up by vast global databases, mean that the immigration officer at the port of entry becomes the ‘last line of defence rather than the first’, since undesirable migrants aren’t allowed to board the plane. But the report shows how far and how fast militarised borders have spread – to China, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia and Brunei. It shows the distance the EU has travelled towards ‘full-spectrum’ surveillance of its member states’ citizens, including widespread racial, religious and other profiling, facial, gait and numberplate recognition, email and call analysis, financial, consumer and health data mining to create minutely detailed simulacra. The chapters on critical infrastructure protection and public order policing across the EU demonstrate the speed of dominance and penetration of militarised security, information-gathering and intrusive technology, as the concept of national security spreads ever wider to embrace all sectors of society.

We can’t say we haven’t been warned.

Related links

Download a copy of NeoConOpticon: The EU security-industrial complex (pdf file, 3.1mb)

Download a copy of Arming Big Brother (pdf file, 526kb)

View the NeoConOpticon blog


Transnational Institute (TNI)

NeoConOpticon: The EU security-industrial complex, Ben Hayes, Statewatch and Transnational Institute, 2009.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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