Research project

European Security: The New Threats

Principal Investigator
Professor Emil Kirchner

Our project

This short-term project sparked many further research endeavours and outcomes related to European Security.
The University of Essex received six months’ funding from the European Commission in 1999 for a study of new security threats.

In the post-Cold War period after 1989, new security threats arose in the European security space. However, disagreements prevailed over the nature of these new security threats and the jurisdiction to deal with these threats. Jurisdiction also raises issues of legitimacy of the delegation of mandates for engagement.

Our team


  • to establish a better understanding of the nature and types of security threats confronting the North Atlantic Area over the next ten years, including the exploration of probably causes, impacts and implications of these security threats:
  • to attempt a typology of security threats;
  • to classify security threats according to likely occurrence;
  • to identify geographic areas, states or groups from which threats are likely to emanate;
  • to ascertain which security institutions (NATO, EU, etc.) are most suited (or identified by security experts) to meet specific types of threat.


The research on new security threats involved:

  • Three different (progressive) sets of questionnaires, which were sent to experts (academics and policy makers in the field) in Europe and the United States
  • Refinements were made to the second and third set of questionnaires and the last version, resulting in 41 responses, was used as the basis for analysis
  • Three brain-storming or review sessions, arranged with security experts in Brussels, London and Washington between January and June 1999. These meetings were instrumental in identifying security threats, providing feedback to questionnaire surveys, and analysing the research topic.
  • A review of recent literature or official publications in the field of security policy


A report for European Commission Directorate General 1A: External Political Relations elaborated the findings of the project.

Nature (causes and implications) of security threats

Key considerations included:

  • The changing notion of security from purely military to a broader range of threats, and the absence of agreement on a definition of ‘security’ among security experts;

  • The impact of global developments on countries and regions, resulting in cross-border and global threats;

  • A blurring of the distinction between domestic and international politics, and a decrease in the effectiveness of national policy instruments;

  • Increasingly unconventional threats, difficult to defend against, necessitating increased cooperation between states and regions and/or within the framework of international institutions, as well as new ways to address security issues.

A typology of security threats

A typology of security threats was elaborated, falling roughly into two categories: military and non-military.

Military threats comprise:

  1. Biological and/or chemical warfare

  2. Nuclear attack

  3. Conventional conflict with light weapons

Non-military threats comprise:

  1. The criminalisation of economies

  2. The narcotics trade

  3. Ethnic factionalism or irredentism

  4. Macro-economic destabilisation (including international financial transactions and debt rescheduling

  5. General environmental degradation

  6. Specific forms of environmental damage

  7. ‘Computer’ or ‘cyber’-warfare against commercial structures

  8. ‘Computer’ or ‘cyber’-warfare against state/defence structures

  9. Penetration of state structures (by terrorists or criminal organisations

  10. Migratory pressures

Likely occurrence of threat

By using a classification of low, moderate, probable and high, the evidence collected from the questionnaire survey showed:

For 1999, only two types of security threats received significant ratings in the ‘moderate’ ‘probable’ and ‘high’ categories. These were: ethnic factionalism or irredentism with a combined rate of 75%, and migratory pressures with a combined rate of 67% of the responses. The other ten types were rated as ‘low’. For 2010, the ratings were similar, but the criminalisation of the economies was also rated as a significant threat.

European and US responses were similar. The most significant differences for 1999 relate to macro-economic destabilisation, and cyber-warfare against state structures. Both were scored higher by the 33 European respondents compared to the 9 US respondents.

The Europeans scored significantly higher than the US respondents on the two issues regarding the environment, and nuclear attack. US respondents rated the two cyber-warfare issues higher than did the Europeans.

Origin of threats

Russia/CIS was listed as one of the main origins of threats. Eastern Europe and Asia were also indicated as sources or causes of threats.

Institutional suitability

NATO was identified as the single most suitable organisation for a specific security threat, particularly by the US respondents. The EU scored highly for issues of criminalisation of the economies and migratory pressures, macro-economic destabilisation, ethnic factionalism, narcotics trade, environmental problems, and cyber-warfare against commercial structures. In all except one case (specific environmental problems) the combined scores of NATO and the EU represented the highest overall scores. Other organisations that entered into consideration included the OSCE, the WEU, OSCE, UN and OECD.


The research gave rise to several recommendations for future research into security threats.


  • The new security threats in Europe: Theory and evidence in European Foreign Affairs Review, co-authored by Professor Emil Kirchner
  • Project on European Security: The New Threats. Report for the Directorate General 1A: External Political Relations, by Professor Emil Kirchner, July 1999
Contact us
Academic Co-ordinator Professor Emil Kirchner
University of Essex
Project Co-ordinator Susan Sydenham
University of Essex