Avec la participation de Simone Turchetti, Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM), Université de Manchester.

Histoire des sciences, histoire de l’innovation

Deeply Concerned with the Environment ? NATO and the Rise of the Geosciences in Cold War Europe

25 mars 2014, 17h30 à 19h30, ISCC

Accueil > Évènements > Séminaires et ateliers réguliers > Histoire des sciences, histoire de l’innovation > 2013/2014



Drawing on preliminary results of the ERC-funded “The Earth Under Surveillance (TEUS) project, this paper examines the promotion of environmental studies in the context of the North-Atlantic Treaty Organization.

From the late 1950s NATO became one of the chief sponsors of scientific collaborative projects in Western Europe and its Science Committee, established in 1958, played a pivotal role in the promoting the circulation of ideas and innovative research practices within the alliance. By looking at important NATO projects focussing on the earth and the environment, I show how its programme evolved over time and its investment aligned to the alliance’s changing priorities and strategic thinking. In the late 1950s charting the physical characteristics of the environs (the oceans and atmosphere) tied to specific surveillance needs and was integral part of NATO’s military operational requirements. In the mid-1960s this research focus shifted rapidly towards an evaluation of the potential of environmental warfare ; the option of “weaponizing” seas and the atmosphere was thus considered. In the late 1960s a major restructuring of strategies and research programmes at NATO led to a major revision of research priorities. The search for a new “social dimension” for NATO stimulated its promotion of environmental monitoring, especially in an effort to address pressing problems such as sea and air pollution.

I thus argue that an examination of NATO’s sponsorship and activities help us to better understand the historical trajectory of the geosciences during the Cold War, and the underlying ambitions typifying the production and circulation of environmental knowledge.