Sunday 29 May 2011 - Summary of the meeting of the Science and Technology Committee - Spring Session
I. Opening remarks
1. The Chairman, Jan Arild Ellingsen (
2. He laid out those staff changes at the NATO PA’s International Secretariat that were pertinent to the STC, presenting the new staff members and thanking those outgoing.
3. Mr Ellingsen expressed his great satisfaction that the Standing Committee decided to extraordinarily invite the Japanese delegation to the Spring Session and made it possible to invite a speaker to address the STC on the Fukushima Dai-Ichi accidents and their impact on the energy debate. He underlined that, after the triple tragedy of the earthquake, tsunami and the accidents in
II. Adoption of the draft Agenda [089 STC 11 E]
4. The draft Agenda [089 STC 11 E] was adopted without comments.
III. Adoption of the Summary of the Meeting of the Science and Technology Committee held in Warsaw, Poland, on Sunday 14 November 2010 [285 STC 10 E]
5. The minutes of the STC’s meeting in
IV. Consideration of the Comments of the Secretary General of NATO and Chairman of the North Atlantic Council on the Policy Recommendations adopted in 2010 by the NATO Parliamentary Assembly [026 SESP 11 E]
6. The Chairman expressed his satisfaction with the quality of the comments by the NATO Secretary General to the Assembly’s policy recommendations of 2010. They reflected a careful and thorough examination of the Assembly’s resolutions. There were no comments from the floor.
V. Presentation by Traycho TRAYKOV, Bulgarian Minister of Economy, Energy and Tourism, on A Bulgarian Perspective on Energy Security, followed by a discussion period
7. As the first speaker of the day, the Bulgarian Minister of Economy, Energy and Tourism, Traycho Traykov, spoke on energy security from a Bulgarian perspective. He explained that
8. The ensuing discussion focused on the difficulties associated with these renewable energy targets. Minister Traykov countered that, as long as one could accept some price increases, it would be feasible. Of the 16%t target, 9 percentage points were to come from hydrological energy sources, 3 percentage points from wind energy and biomass respectively and the last percentage point from solar energy.
9. The members of the Committee also touched upon
10. Mr Traykov pointed out the difficulties involved in building a smart energy grid in
11. Mr Traykov also mentioned the possibility of exploiting shale gas in
VI. Consideration of the draft Special Report on Countering the Afghan Insurgency: Low‑Tech Threats, High-Tech Solutions [092 STC 11 E] by Pierre Claude Nolin (
12. Senator Pierre Claude Nolin (CA) presented the draft Special Report, providing the Committee with an overview of the threat from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) as well as of the use of unmanned systems in
13. Over the last three years, Senator Nolin explained, about 60% of NATO casualties in
14. Senator Nolin discussed also the role of ground robots in dismantling IEDs and how Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) were becoming increasingly important in breaking down the IED networks by enhancing surveillance and intercepting bomb-planters in action. Describing how unmanned technologies were evolving towards new tasks, including logistics and medical support, Senator Nolin also described the most controversial area of unmanned systems: the potential development and use of armed ground robots. The Special Rapporteur also addressed the legal and ethical questions related to armed unmanned systems.
15. Robots were making a massive entry into the armed forces, Senator Nolin argued. Roughly 50 countries were in the process of researching or manufacturing UAVs. And since 2001, the total number of ground robots deployed worldwide had risen to 6,000. The reason for their popularity was that they were comparatively cheap. For example, a basic Predator drone costs US$ 4.5 million, whereas a F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, according to the Canadian Department of National Defence, costs USD 75 million. Of course, other primary factors were that unmanned systems eliminated the risk of pilots being killed in action and provided performance advantages through their long flight hours.
17. During the discussions, one Committee member took up the issue of whether new electrical impulse systems could be used to defuse IEDs at a distance, recognising that the difficulty was to find ways for these systems not to interfere with other electronic devices being used by NATO troops. The members also talked about growing prices of bomb-making materials, which suggested that efforts to reduce their availability were working. However, Senator Nolin added that while a price increase had been observed in some areas, the ingredients remained cheap and IED production had not slowed down.
18. The Committee members were also interested in certain cases where villages were so laced with IEDs that troops were ordered to destroy houses rather than to try defusing each individual bomb. Such villages were essentially taken hostage by the insurgents, and, ultimately, it was a viable tactic to have the village carefully evacuated, destroy the relevant buildings and then rebuild these houses, as the villagers would subsequently regain their ability to move about their community without fear.
19. The members were also interested in the prospects of defusing IEDs without actually exploding them, in order to find fingerprints, identify, capture and try insurgents. The technological difficulty was one issue, Senator Nolin pointed out, but the other was the limited capacity of the Afghan judicial system itself. It was suggested that the Committee on the Civil Dimension of Security might be best suited to carry out further research on this question.
20. Senator Nolin concluded by reminding the audience that insurgents thrived on chaos. They did not care if they are hurting their own people, women and children. Rather, confusion and fear was how they made their strategic gains.
VII. Consideration of the draft Report of the Sub-Committee on Energy and Environmental Security on Food and Water Security: Implications for the Euro-Atlantic Security [091 STCEES 11 E] presented by Philippe Vitel (France), Rapporteur
21. The Rapporteur of the Sub-Committee on Energy and Environmental Security, Philippe Vitel (
22. The purpose of his Report, Mr Vitel explained, was to describe the past and current trends in global food and water security and to consider future prospects and strategies to avoid a new food crisis such as the one in 2007-2008. With the world population estimated to grow to 9 billion by 2050, how would humanity feed itself in the coming years, especially as climate change altered food production and water availability, he asked.
23. Historically, a rise in available food had always followed population growth. The Malthus principle of demand outpacing supply, seemed thoroughly invalidated by the modernisation of food production that had increased yields considerably. However, demand on food was increasing in such a way that it could quickly overwhelm production capacities. Meat consumption was on the rise as a result of economic development in some parts of the world, most notably
24. It was difficult to tell how much of an impact bio-fuel production had had on the price fluctuations of 2007-2008, but estimates ranged from as low as 3% to as high as 75%. Professor Joachim von Braun, who would address the Committee after Mr Vitel’s presentation, later said that the most convincing figure that he had seen was 30%.
25. On water security, Mr Vitel reminded the Committee that about 700 million people were currently living in water-stressed conditions and that 3.4 billion people were at high risk with regard to their access to safe drinking water. This, in fact, included many people in
26. The Rapporteur described the prospects for desalination, which had been heralded by some as a potential new source of drinking water. However, this method was still very expensive and so energy-intensive that, unless the systems were powered with renewable energy, they would be contributing to climate change, worsening global food and water security.
27. Mr Vitel concluded that, while technology would be an important aspect of how we adapted to changing global conditions, political co-operation would be key as well. Explaining that 269 rivers and 263 underground water sources were divided by country borders, he argued that failure to manage these precious resources collaboratively could lead to increased depletion rates and greater interstate friction. Yet, there was reason for moderate optimism on this front, given that there were currently over 300 treaties in place to help manage shared waterways, and, in some cases, successful co-operation on water had led countries to engage in more ambitious and comprehensive regional co-operation initiatives.
VIII. Presentation by Joachim von Braun, Director of the Center for Development Research (ZEF
28. Professor von Braun provided the Committee with a detailed overview of food security statistics and facts as well as related demographic data. He argued that spending on agricultural research and development, for example plant breeding, biotechnology and productivity in livestock, was among the most effective investment strategies for promoting economic growth and reducing poverty. He pointed out that by increasing public funds dedicated to food research and development, it would be possible to lift 280 million individuals out of poverty within a decade.
29. With regard to bio-fuels, Professor von Braun advocated for an immediate end to subsidies. He believed that bio-fuel production had to be planned in such a way as to contribute to food price stability rather than price spikes, which meant that, in times of crisis, production should be halted or reduced. He argued that the ethics of burning agricultural products for energy purposes needed a thorough societal discussion. Furthermore, he underlined that the poorest individuals spent 50% of their income on food and that subsidies on bio-fuels therefore were a tax on the world’s poorest.
Combined Discussion Period
30. Questions from the floor, to both Mr Vitel and Professor von Braun, primarily focused on three areas: biotechnology, climate change and improving market transparency and efficiency. Regarding biotechnology, some members intervened in favour of allowing more research and development of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Mr Vitel argued that the draft Report presented GMOs as one alternative among others, but underlined that other new or traditional techniques, such as hybridisation and out-of-soil methods, could provide equal, if not more, potential to increase yields.
31. On the subject of climate change, a delegate from
32. Professor von Braun offered a few recommendations in response to questions regarding market regulation and efficiency. He explained that speculation was not necessarily a negative force in food economics, since it could be an effective way of directing capital to areas where capital was needed. However, a progressive taxation on food speculation could curb the negative effects of this speculation. Also, lack of transparency could lead to market failures. When someone could buy a single financial product that included a non-descript bundle of both metals and food commodities, then such transparency was lost. The result could be to skew markets and impact food prices for reasons that might have nothing to do with food. Furthermore, export restrictions in times of crisis caused disproportionate price hikes. New market rules were therefore extremely important. Subsidies, quotas, export restrictions, bio-fuels and commodity markets all had had a direct impact on the crisis. They were also issues which could be fixed through proper regulations.
IX. Consideration of the draft General Report on Countering Biological and Chemical Threats: The Way Forward [090 STC 11 E] by David Scott (
33. Congressman David Scott (US) was unfortunately unable to attend the STC meeting. The draft General Report was therefore presented by the Chairman of the Sub-Committee on Energy and Environmental Security, Mario Tagarinski (
34. Mr Tagarinski reminded the Committee how the attacks of 11 September 2001 demonstrated that one did not need Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) to kill thousands of people. Still, terrorist organisations had shown great interest in acquiring such capabilities. While the nuclear programmes of
35. Mr Tagarinski explained that strong international norms against using biological and chemical weapons existed. Indeed, no country had used them in over two decades. Still, more could be done to expand and strengthen these norms. The Biological and Toxin Weapon Convention of 1972 was currently in place, although 32 countries had not signed and/or ratified it. While some believe enhancing the Convention’s compliance measures was necessary and feasible, this had proven quite difficult, especially given the often dual-use character of laboratory equipment and techniques.
36. The Chemical Weapons Convention had been a far greater success. Many countries had eliminated their stockpiles.
37. Mr Tagarinski concluded by explaining that the risks from biological and chemical weapons had not gone away, despite the many successes achieved by the international community. Indeed, all it took was a scientist with the right knowledge and equipment, who joined ranks with terrorists. However, terrorists did not have a good record of acquiring these weapons, let alone using them. The weapons were difficult to deliver and would probably not spread effectively if they were used. Through international co-operation and constructive work between governments and the private sector in biotechnology, the international community could further manage this ongoing risk.
38. Members of the Committee provided specific feedback regarding certain passages of the report. It was proposed that the section on mustard agents in
X. Presentation by William C. Ramsay, Director of Energy Program, Institut français des relations internationales (IFRI), on Nuclear Electricity after Fukushima, followed by a discussion period
39. William C. Ramsay addressed the Committee on the events of the Japanese nuclear meltdown at
40. At this point, there existed a 11-12 gigawatt capacity gap in
41. Mr Ramsay reminded the Committee members that out of 14,000 nuclear reactors operating for over 30 years, there have only been three major accidents. Catastrophic as they might have been, it was important to remember that they were a very rare occurrence and that nuclear energy was, in fact, quite safe. Switching off nuclear power plants and moving into renewable energy, in order to achieve a low-carbon energy cocktail, would be difficult to manage, given that 14% of the world electricity was nuclear. That would require roughly 850,000 windmills or 65 times more solar panels than were currently installed worldwide. Mr Ramsay believed that the fuel of no choice would be gas. Already, many countries were looking to develop the potential of shale gas, which had had a marked effect on gas price stabilisation in the
42. The Committee discussed the risks posed by terrorists. One member asked why terrorists should develop or acquire nuclear weapons when they could just as well fly planes into nuclear reactors near urban centres. Also, the question of climate change was at the fore of the discussion. If nuclear power presented an alternative to carbon intensive energy sources, it should be maintained. Moreover, what could replace nuclear energy today?
XI. Committee and Sub-Committee activities in 2011
43. Chairman Ellingsen reminded his colleagues of the upcoming visits to
XII. Any other business
44. There was no other business for the Committee to consider.
XIII. Closing remarks
45. The Chairman thanked the Bulgarian hosts, as well as the interpreters, reminded the members that the next meeting would be held in