Strategic Governance of Science and Technology Pathways to Security

Principle Investigator

Professor Mary Kaldor

Research Institution

London School of Economics in partnership with University of Sussex

 Project Summary 

This project has been very exciting because it has opened up a whole new vein of research on the social shaping of technology for security.

Professor Mary Kaldor

The Strategic Governance of Science and Technology Pathways to Security project explored the co-evolution of technology and security. It uses the term ‘security cultures’ to describe a specific combination of objectives and practices and investigates how different security cultures open up or close down pathways to technological change and, on the other hand, how different technologies enable or constrain different security cultures.

The project focused on two key areas, Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) and Chemical and Biological Weapons technologies (CBW). These are complemented by additional studies on conventional military systems procurement and geo-engineering. It uses a combination of historical research and case study methods, in particular the CBW research introduced a novel historical approach based on vignettes on specific topics or types of technology.

For the purposes of the project, the four security cultures defined were:

  • Geo-Politics – This is the legacy of the cold war, where the objective is national security and the practices include the deployment of regular military forces so as to deter a future war against a ‘peer competitor’.
  • New Wars – These include terrorism, insurgencies and sectarian conflict.
  • The War on Terror – Although the term is no longer used, this is the objective of using military forces to deal with terrorism and a set of practices that involve intelligence agencies, private security contractors, drones and surveillance.
  • Liberal Peace – This is associated with the dramatic increase in multilateral missions since the end of the Cold War, the objective is global stability and the practices include peace-keepers and humanitarian agencies.

The project generated a number of significant findings. Firstly, IEDs can be considered the paradigmatic weapon of new wars. They are vernacular technologies in the sense that insurgent groups opt for the simplest possible route to functional, effective IED development and deployment based on the available resources at their disposal. When new technologies, such as ICT-based triggering devices, are integrated, this is in tactical pursuit of a context-specific relative advantage. Drones, in turn, can perhaps be regarded as the paradigmatic weapon of the War on Terror.

Research on the evolution of drones shows how the events of 9/11 and the associated shift of responsibility from the military to intelligence agencies opened previously unavailable pathways for drones technology. Their use has a potential to generate self-perpetuating conflicts that reinforce the security culture associated with the War on Terror.

Studies of the role of social media relating to Syrian human rights activism, Colombian police and reporting on the chemical attacks in Al Ghouta show that its impact is profoundly ambiguous. On the one hand, it facilitates the work of human rights groups in documenting human rights abuses, while on the other hand it offers easier routes for abusive governments to identify dissidents and promulgate disinformation. In the case of the Colombian police, the use of ICT may help make possible a shift from a highly militarised security culture towards more community type forms of policing. And, a study of social media reporting of the chemical weapons attack in Al Ghouta, Syria, shows that such reporting provides a flood of unverifiable information that feeds into competing narratives which confuses rather than clarifies.

Studies of CBW also suggest that the emergence of new wars and the war on terror may increase the perceived utility of some CBW technologies, and could thereby undermine the taboo on the use of these technologies institutionalised in the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The research raises a number of conclusions for policymakers and practitioners, including that technology policy needs to be related to possible security cultures and in particular, there needs to be a shift from incremental change within the dominant geo-political culture that currently dominates R&D and defence budgets towards technologies relevant for human security and humanitarian missions.


To date, the project team has produced 28 papers covering case studies as well as general introductions to technology and security, social media and CBW. They are currently collating these papers with a view to publishing them as a journal issue and a two-volume book. They are also producing two further books on IEDS and on the social shaping of drones technology. Their findings have also been presented to experts at DSTL.

Contact Information

For further information email Professor Kaldor at