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University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


PET: Danish research needs protection in the global technology race

Security policy — Russia has a growing need for military technology, China wants to become the global leader in a number of key technological areas, and Iran has a continued interest in nuclear technology in particular. We live in a world where the fight for knowledge is becoming an increasingly important part of security policy.

In Denmark, endeavours to protect knowledge have already become an integral part of the daily activities at several research institutions and technology-intensive companies. With major investments in quantum technology, biotechnology and artificial intelligence, Danish research plays a central role in the global knowledge race and in the development of the key technologies of tomorrow.

Importantly, the so-called »critical technologies« not only have major civilian potential; they also have military and geo-political implications.

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This calls for a discussion of how, as a society, we prevent Danish research from being misused by non-like-minded states to build military capabilities. We need to address the role and responsibilities of Danish research institutions in protecting critical knowledge. Everybody involved in developing or otherwise dealing with critical technologies is part of the global fight for knowledge, whether they like it or not.

Danish research is at the leading edge and carries a special responsibility

We are currently witnessing increased competition in the global race for technological supremacy. This race especially concerns the so-called disruptive technologies. EU has identified artificial intelligence, quantum technology, biotechnology and semiconductors as the four most disruptive technologies that require special attention and protection.

These technologies have the potential to turn existing business models upside down, and in a military context alter the nature of war, rendering existing military strategies and advanced military equipment obsolete. In practical terms, the political analysis is therefore clear and simple: States that are frontrunners in developing the technological solutions of tomorrow will also become the most economically and militarily powerful. Therefore, with Denmark’s role as a technological pioneer follows a major responsibility for ensuring that Danish technology does not fall into the hands of authoritarian states which can use the technology against Denmark or our allies.

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As anyone who has seen the film Oppenheimer is aware, the technological race between states is not a new phenomenon. But unlike previously, it is no longer the states themselves and their  »usual« security institutions – the diplomacy, the intelligence services and the military – that occupy the most important roles in the management of critical technologies. The centre of gravity has shifted, and today, research institutions and private companies have become key actors in the race for technological supremacy. Who universities and companies decide to collaborate with can therefore have a major impact on our security.

Security starts with the individual researcher

In Denmark, we need to exploit the full potential of our knowledge and innovation, but it is also essential that we are aware of the security-related implications of our research – also in an early phase.

PET has a close dialogue with Danish university managements, and we welcome this collaboration. However, we need to stay focused on engaging with researchers and institutions who are closest to the development and who have the deepest insight into the full potential of the technologies. But securing Danish research is not a job solely for PET. That’s why we launched a research-security campaign across the five largest universities in Denmark. Together with the universities, we need to draw attention to the security challenges facing Danish research institutions.

The threat from foreign states against Danish research and innovation is real

PET is responsible for countering espionage. But the task is broader than that: We need to make sure that Danish universities and companies have the necessary skills to deal with the new challenges. We see an increasing need for advice and dialogue at research institutions and companies. This, of course, also creates new demands on us as an intelligence service. We need to provide Danish research institutions with adequate knowledge about the relevant risks as well as the potentially problematic international partners. And we need to support the institutions in creating their own security organizations.

The threat from foreign states against Danish research and innovation is real, and it is a fundamental condition of the world order that we all have to deal with. It challenges our common perceptions of roles and responsibilities for protecting our common security. That is why it is essential that we all – authorities, businesses, universities and students – work closely together to protect our knowledge, and thereby our common future.