Transatlantic Risk Governance: New Security Risks

December 6, 2012

On December 6, 2012, the American-German Institute (AGI) and the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) co-hosted the workshop “Transatlantic Risk Governance: New Security Risks,” which was generously supported by the Transatlantik-Programm der Bundesregierung der Bundesrepublik Deutschland aus Mitteln des European Recovery Program (ERP) des Bundesministeriums für Wirtschaft und Technologie (BMWi). Additional support was provided by the BDI and Allianz. The panels discussed four new and systemic risks affecting the transatlantic community: cyber space, space, geoengineering, and unknown future risks.  Each of these panels of experts portrayed how these new risks present challenges to the transatlantic relationship.

The first panel stressed how a cyber-crime regulation strategy incorporating both the U.S. and Europe is necessary to meet the challenges of the future.  Previously the governance and assessment of risks in this field have been extremely difficult to quantify because of particular issues related to transparency.  Common strategies were highlighted, which are required for all governments to effectively mitigate “transparent” crimes where wholesale strategic data is stolen, instead of just responding to the theft of an individual’s assets.  Furthermore, the panel described how “cyber diplomacy” will need to incorporate the private sector in the effort to formulate a common strategy for responding to cyber-crime.

The second panel focused on how new risks are developing in space.  Currently, the inner-orbit of space is becoming increasingly crowded, with more debris and satellites as well as new players becoming active in space.  This translated to three risks: the loss and/or damage of satellites and rockets; potential damage to infrastructure; and other liabilities, such as the loss of life.  This panel further described how the U.S. is extremely dependent upon its space capabilities and must therefore seek to adequately mitigate the new risks of space exploitation.  Although the U.S. and the EU generally share interests in space, the panel stressed that increased competition with new players, like China, could result in risky situations like an arms race if not properly managed.

The next panel discussed the risks of intervention designed to cool the earth and counter global warming, a concept known as geoengineering. The topic is controversial due to the fact that it is difficult to make certain risk assessments so far into the future. Additionally, certain types of geoengineering could have significant impacts on the climate, such as stratospheric aerosols, which could impact rain patterns globally. The panel stressed that the U.S. believes it is important to keep research in the public domain, keep a moratorium on large-scale testing, and to keep international dialogues open in order to reduce geoengineering risks. The panel also discussed the EU’s desire for more international cooperation on a scientific level, such as an exchange of data and group research projects. Ultimately, the EU and the U.S. are both concerned about geoengineering risks, and agree that a common convergence of understanding between the two is necessary to find a solution.

The last panel focused on “grey and black swans,” or unidentified issues that will most likely arise in the future, and how we should best deal with them. When it comes to these unknown unknowns, panelists argued that it is best to not focus excessively on them, as that has the possibility to create anxiety. Instead, it is better to prepare through means such as risk models and the building of firewalls. It is important to realize and accept that black swans are facts of life, and to make it clear that we are prepared, but not threatened.


Kimberly Frank