Balancing Security and Openness for Critical Technologies: Challenges for French and European Research

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While matters related to research security and international partnerships in critical domains are certainly not new, they have become increasingly central to governments, research institutions and industry since the turn of the 2020s.

Critical technologies have security and economic implications, and by definition concern science and technology fields that are constantly evolving. For governments and industry alike, they raise questions about their ability to anticipate and manage the potential repercussions of exploiting research results. Research into critical technologies thus finds itself at the heart of a dilemma, between the field of scientific research, which is intrinsically open and characterized by internationalization and cooperation, and an agenda of national security and competitiveness, which requires placing limits on openness.

The European Union (EU), France and other member states, as well as in the United States, have put research security and partnerships on their agendas, following the identification of increased economic and geopolitical risks. These risks particularly concern research links with China and Russia. As a result, over the last three years or so, we have seen a strengthening of research security measures, to combat foreign interference and the unwanted transfer of knowledge in areas deemed critical. Scientific and technological diplomacy is also being rethought, both at the level of the EU and its member states. International cooperation in research is increasingly seen as a means of strengthening political ties, as part of a strategy of influence and strategic partnerships with like-minded countries. Critical and emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum technologies, are at the heart of these new partnerships.

Last but not least, research ecosystems in critical technologies themselves are evolving, and the study recalls that companies are playing an increasingly central role in AI and quantum technology research. This state of affairs limits the scope of government action in terms of research security, as well as in the choice of international partnerships in research in critical domains.

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