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Research profile areas in focus: Sustainable security practices do not compromise on democracy

Published on 28.3.2024
Tampere University
Two people at different speaking events combined in the same image.
Professor Pami Aalto and Research Director Marko Lehti (right) lead the SUPRA project which is one of the research profile areas at Tampere University. Photo: Aki Tulikari / Maria Santto (CMI)
How can global security be built in a way that does not undermine democracy in the process? A project combining peace and conflict research and critical security research is based on, among other things, this fundamental question. Tampere University’s research profile area understands the dilemma as sustainable security practices that are implemented by people at many different levels.

The Sustainable Security Practices (SUPRA) project explores sustainable security practices and systems and the ways they help to adapt to the challenges of the changing world. It is one of the research profile areas the Research Council of Finland is funding at Tampere University in the period of 2023—2028, based on the PROFI7 call that supports the research profiling of universities.

SUPRA’s goal is to develop adaptive preparedness for global disruptions, crises, and uncertainties. Sustainable security practices are examined broadly from the level of citizens and civil society to the level of states and international relations.

The project aims to develop security practices in such a way that they would not rely on, for example, indiscriminately repressive control. The researchers argue that when new threats are identified and past efforts have not led to desired outcomes, maximising security can lead to pursuing more security. The never-ending cycle is thus complete, and the biggest loser would be democratic society. Professor Pami Aalto reminds us that one must mind one’s step in security matters because society also has other interests to uphold.

“We need to find the right amount of security so to speak. It should not be sought through solutions that lead to a closed society without democracy and transparency because societies also have other interests to maintain. At SUPRA, our focus is on how security and its practices can be sustainable at different levels so that they will also serve the needs of democratic development,” Aalto says.

Aalto is the Director of the SUPRA project together with Marko Lehti, Research Director of Tampere Peace and Conflict Research Centre (TAPRI).

“We need to think more broadly about security than just focusing on risks. At SUPRA, we perceive security as a variety of adaptive practices of different communities and as reactions and adjustments. Sustainable security practices, which also occur in people’s everyday lives, build resilient and democratic societies. Various peace building or reconciliation processes at the civic and societal levels are examples of sustainable security practices,” Lehti explains.

Sustainable security is built on many levels — we also need to prepare for the unpredictable

SUPRA distances itself from the traditional concept of seeing safety as a ‘product’ that is implemented by separate means.

“The fact that we see security threats everywhere can actually be a threat to ourselves. When that happens, political decision-making enters a crisis in democracy. The purpose of the concept of sustainable practices is to unpack the idea that we can only do some single thing that will produce security,” says researcher Samuli Lahtinen, SUPRA’s coordinator.

Lahtinen, who is doing research for his dissertation on international relations at the Faculty of Management and Business, emphasises the continuous process instead of productisation. When decisions on security are made, active, sustained and balanced action is needed to produce the sustainability of a democratic society.

According to SUPRA, security encompasses the ways of implementing things in society. For example, it is about authorities dealing with companies that manage critical functions or engaging people in the processes of security, peace building and mediation.

“The sustainable security we are studying means focusing on practices at all levels and considering how to reduce their vulnerabilities without destroying the democratic society,” Aalto says.

“In a world where everything is very complex and interconnected, sustainable practices are needed for adaptation. Communities must also be able to adapt to unforeseen scenarios which we cannot see just yet,” Aalto adds.

SUPRA brings together especially TAPRI’s peace and conflict research at the Faculty of Social Sciences and the multidisciplinary research on critical security that is conducted at the Faculty of Management and Business.

A taste of things to come in SUPRA’s networking with stakeholders and other researchers came last November when the Tampere Peace Day Congress organised by TAPRI and CMI – Martti Ahtisaari Peace Foundation was held in Tampere. The congress, funded by SUPRA, also served as the kick-off event for the research profile area.

Sustainable Security Practices (SUPRA)

  • One of Tampere University’s research profile areas in the period of 2023—2028.
  • Engages in wide-ranging research and development of sustainable security practices on different levels to respond to global disruptions, crises and uncertainties.
  • The Research Council of Finland granted SUPRA €600,000 for the period of 2023—2025.

Research Council of Finland’s PROFI7 funding

  • The Research Council of Finland granted funding to nine Finnish universities in the PROFI7 call that was open in 2022. Sustainable development and resilience were highlighted in the themes of the applications. The aim of the funding is to accelerate the strategic profiling of Finnish universities and support the improvement of the quality of research across the university landscape based on international peer review.
  • RCF’s General Subcommittee granted Tampere University €8,3 million to bolster the profiling of strategic research.
  • Four profile areas are funded in Tampere University’s spearhead fields of technology, health and society:
    1) Century-Long Lives: individual, structural, and cultural adaptation to longevity (CLL)
    2) Sustainable Security Practices (SUPRA)
    3) Sustainable Biomedical and Toxicological Research (SUSBIO)
    4) System-on-Chip and Wireless Technology for Intelligent Machines

Read more on PROFI7 funding on the website of the Research Council of Finland