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The origins of the NATO “Science” Programme can be traced to a 1956 report on non-military cooperation by the foreign ministers of Canada, Italy and Norway, otherwise known as the “Three Wise Men”. This report suggested that progress in science and technology could play a decisive role in determining the security of nations and their subsequent positions in world affairs. It also acknowledged the special importance of science and technology to the North Atlantic community.
With this report in mind, the North Atlantic Council (NAC) established the NATO Science Committee (SCOM) in 1958, holding its first meeting in Paris, France in March of the same year. Later, during the period of détente, the Allies became increasingly aware of the common environmental problems that posed a threat to the welfare and progress of their respective nations. In response to this, the NAC established the Committee on the Challenges of Modern Society (CCMS) in 1969.
The NATO Science Programme was established to promote scientific collaboration. For the next 40 years the programme supported cooperation between scientists in NATO countries, which set a new standard of scientific excellence. From the early 1990s, after the end of the Cold War, the Programme was gradually opened up to scientists and experts from non-NATO countries. By 1999 this expansion of the NATO Science Programme grew to providing support, in the form of funding, to facilitate collaboration between scientists in NATO, Partner and Mediterranean Dialogue countries. The clear focus was the promotion of progress and peace by building cooperative links between NATO and partner countries.
In 2004 it was decided to concentrate support on security-related collaborative projects. This came as a response to the new threat of global terrorism and the other security challenges of the modern world. In parallel, to better reflect this new focus, the name of the NATO Science Programme was changed to the NATO Programme for Security through Science.
Meanwhile, the activities of the CCMS were expanded over the years to include Partner countries in the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) and were later adapted to take into account emerging security challenges. The North Atlantic Council in Ministerial Session decided that CCMS activities should also include experts from Mediterranean Dialogue countries.
In 2006, a new era began when SCOM and CCMS merged to form the Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Committee. The need for restructuring was driven by the rapidly changing nature of the global security environment, and the subsequent emergence of common priorities in the two programmes. The new committee combined the functions of the two previous ones by focusing on initiatives in civil science and innovation related to defence against terrorism, as well as countering other threats to security.
For several years the SPS Committee facilitated, among many projects and activities, research and development in explosives’ detection and protection against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) agents. Further activities focused on the destruction of hazardous chemicals in Partner countries, helping to provide Internet access to the Afghan academic community in Kabul and other provinces, as well as the eight countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus through the “Virtual Silk Highway Project”.
Following a major reform undertaken in 2010 at the NATO Headquarters, the Science for Peace and Security Committee was disbanded. However, the NATO nations acknowledged the value of the cooperative framework that the SPS Programme provided for NATO and its partners.
On 1 November 2010, the SPS Programme and its staff were transferred to the Emerging Security Challenges Division (ESC). The Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges (ASG/ESC) is responsible for the management and implementation of the SPS Programme and reports to the nations through the Political and Partnerships Committee (PPC), which agrees on an SPS Work Programme and Key Priorities. Under the ESC Division, the ESC/SPS Working Group is responsible for monitoring and implementing the SPS Programme. The PPC is the body which approves the awards recommended after the scientific review by an Independent Scientific Evaluation Group (ISEG).
It is to be noted that the NATO-Russia Council (NRC), established in 2006, remains in existence. Activities conducted under this Committee are based on the NRC(SPS) Action Plan which is approved for a three-year period.