FOCUS Winterschool

On 12 and 13 March 2012 the FOCUS Winter School took place at the University of Naural Resources and Life Sciences (and the Hotel Sacher on the 2nd Day). FOCUS is dedicated to security research, in particular future scenario planning in an EU context. Risks, disasters, threats and the underlying human factors were addressed and assessed from both a local and global perspective.


Wolfgang Kromp addressed several risks and enemies in his opening talk. Nature has always been a major threat for society, one that asks for human’s creativity. Alexander Siedschlag emphasised the importance of scenario foresight (there will be sessions and reporting on foresight in the afternoon, as well as on ethics.) The opening was followed by an introduction by participants – with backgrounds ranging from the military over security research to risk engineering.

Afternoon sessions

Risk, energy and human factors from a global perspective

The session focused on the notion of risks and on damage estimation. Generally, it is possible to estimate frequently occurring events. The most difficult thing are events that arise not frequently, but have a very high impact. How many Euros would be the disaster of Tschernobyl monetarised? You can look at these events from a certain aspect, but the whole disaster cannot be assessed in terms of money. There are of course assessment by insurance companies, even though this is questionable from an ethical perspective. Insurance companies are looking at offering products and assessing events with view to their probability.

There are certain risk types without any good chance to assess probabilities (this happened to Cyclop in the Odyssee saga :)). Many big environmental risks like climate change or the change of the Gulf Stream are seen in this context. These disasters are connected to a mistreatment of nature, which cannot be continued.

In the case of a big fire (like former Tokio or Dresden incidents) we would have a noticable impact in the atmosphere, with the sky going dark for a certain amount of time. Europe would have the potential to get away from the distinction foreseen by some 🙂 Dennis Meadows explains some functions of forecasting, and he is very sceptical about our chances. There are two types of forecast possibilities – normative vs. extrapolative. However, we do not want to get to a certain forecast point – in the case of climate change we don’t want to foster further global warming. The secret thus lies in the mixture of these two methods.

There are certain famous scenario groups like the Global Scenario Group or Radermacher, a mathematician from the Technical University of Aachen. These groups calculate a certain future on the basis of assumptions. They give different scenarios, e.g. the “Conventional Worlds” based on evolution. Everything in this scenario is based on evolution, as opposed to the “Fortress World” (degeneration), which is related to a two-class society, where some powerful people “in the fortress”. A third scenario is called “Great Transition”, focusing on real transformation, e.g. the cultural transformation. It is believed that these transformation are more based on our mind than technical changes. One problem these futurists face are, naturally, factors of surprise which are hard to predict, e.g. unexpected natural disasters or big inventions with the power to really change history.

There are also factors for surprise happenings: 7 or 8 factors were identified, and if around 3 of them are true, a civilisation would be in danger. For instance, the Stockholm Environment institute came up with critical uncertainties altering the course of events, like extreme natural disasters, pandemics, wars or breakthrough technologies. The FOCUS project has to check these lists and assess the currency of certain events. Jared Diamond (2005) defined a set of factors causing collapse: environmental damage, climatic change, hostile neighbours, loss of trading partners and the society’s own responses to its environmental problems.

Radermacher believes if a democracy has no sufficiently educated people, the concept will not work, emphasising that the Chinese are doing it very smart in terms of development, so that they will be strong enough to challenge the US in some decades (and that Europe is not aware of its potential).

We always believe in progress of techology, but if the world will be a rather poor place for our grandkids, will this really matter? Whilst the problem is that most people will – especially when being in a threatening situation – always focus on the easiest solution (imagine a person put underwater who is offered two buttons: global sustainability or oxygen :)), we should avoid to get into a decision where our only chance is to choose short-term solutions.

Managing security in global supply chains

Currently there are many challenges for governments in supply chain management. And global supply chains mean a value of 10 trillions, 200 million containers, 50.000 planes and long chains, so we are dealing with a very big animal here! There are some secured places (airports etc.), but generally, we are also talking about a quite open network and infrastructure.

In terms of threats there is not too much news – crimes have been mostly the same throughout the centuries. Inside the FOCUS project, researchers look at 16 different crime areas with view to supply chains (some being covered in this presentation, e.g. drugs, fire arms, trafficking on human beings and crimes against children, counterfeit and pharmaceuticals, environmental crime (like the dumping of waste), sea piracy, terrorism (smuggling of dangerous goods), cybercrime. For instance, the Somali Piracy dosts 8.3 billion USD per year (BBC 2011). In 2010, there were 445 number of piracy (and armed robbery against ships) incidents. When it comes to terrorism, there are several chokepoints (points that are avoided and increase costs in return), which basically leads to doing less businesses in less secure areas. However, such decisions are of course not based on security solely.

We tend to think of counterfeit as something that is done in China etc., but more and more established businesses in Europe are being partically bought by foreign commercial groups. Very often, a product has nothing to do with an heritage or traditional skills – so the counterfeit definition would need to be seriously redefined. Consumers are still paying the same amount for a product that is produced by someone who has no connection to a country. Counterfeit is probably the most difficult problem as it can be 1 to 99% part of the supply chain. When looking at global trafficking in woman and children, businesses are as high as 6.6. billion USD (Latin America total trafficking).

Another interesting fact: Several years ago Angola agreed to dump hazard waste coming from Russia. These containers have been travelling quite a long aware, with nobody ever being aware that their wateres and air were used for this type of transportation. They have been dumped on the ground of Angola for a huge amound of money. This is a serious issue for everyone involved in the transportation, not only the “receiver”.

Supply chain risk management

The strategies you use in supply chain are based on trying to avoid risks. In every supply chain you have a problem and typical risks, as well as people in charge behind the decisions. 🙂 The ISO 28000 is a specification for security management systems for the supply chain, which is applicable to all sizes and types of organisations.

TAPA EMEA is another certification working with the goals to build networks between companies (with view to security standards).

What are the real causes of supply chain vulnerabilities? To secure or not to secure? If supply chains are vulnerable, why is this happening? Are companies investing in security and what factors are determing these costs? A case study presented in the slot investigated the relation of security budget and security incidents (On average, a company is facing around 7 incidents a year).

New security studies (Rachel Suissa)

In today’s globalised setting the challenge of maintaining security is no longer limited to traditional foreign-policy and military tools of the nationstate. Security and insecurity are seen to depend upon social, economic, environmental and ethical models of analysis and tools of action. This premise is differently understood from different cultural backgrounds.

New security concepts can be addressed from different angles – from a foresight or philosophy of science perspective. The core is that after the cold war there is no one discipline. What is the status of new security studies as an epistemological process?

New security studies have other research criteria such as plausibility, differentiation, consistency, decision-making utility and challenge. Decision-making utility is why we do scenario building. Even though the precise visions or scenarios do not come to pass, the very fact of constructing them can influence individual behaviour and collective decision and policy making.

Emerging threats according to the First Annual Report on the implementation of the EU Internal Security Strategy (ISS) are increasing reliance on internet techology, reduced resources to combat internal threats due to the economy crisis and impact of the external dimension of security. However, these are not threats but vulnerabilities. (And whilst the perception of security is the same, the interpretation and politics are not.)

The new security concept presented focuses on supra-national society resilience instead of national resilience (assuming that the sum of the 27 member state’s national resilience is not Europe’s resilience). It was proposed that also cybersecurity is not a new security concept as new security studies are not always about innovations, but about trying to understand the most complicated combination of classical realisations. Virtual threats such as cyberwarfare could thus be understood with classical Clausewitz Strategic Concepts.

After the break, participants reported back from parallel seminars in a plenum discussion.

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