Facing up to Global Insecurity: New Frameworks and New Tools


National Guard smallMax G. Manwaring, a Professor of Military Strategy in the Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) of the U.S. Army War College has written an interesting piece on what he calls the “new security reality in which business-as-usual approaches are of little use.

Manwaring focuses particularly on the changing nature of threats posed by non-state actors (insurgents, transnational criminal organizations, terrorists, private armies, state proxies etc.) who are able to exploit trends and circumstances such as poverty, social exclusion, environmental degradation, and political economic-social expectations for violent ends. He argues that from a US military point of view, “the enemy has now become a state or nonstate political actor that plans and implements the long-term multidimensional kinds of indirect and direct, nonmilitary and military, nonlethal and lethal, and internal and external activities that threaten a given society’s general well-being and exploits the root causes of internal and external instability.”

Such a change in the global security environment must surely result in changes in our risk analysis and threat assessments. In a piece for the International Relations and Security Network, Myriam Dunn Cavelty writes that “In order to identify risks, elaborate scenario-based approaches combining expert-knowledge from various fields are used. The aim of these undertakings is to develop a concrete basis for political action by ranking the identified risks by their estimated probability and severity: the more likely and the more damaging, the more urgent the response.” Yet while many governments around the world have begun to place a greater emphasis on understanding the factors that drive conflict (rather than just the instances in which conflicts are expressed in forms of violence around the world), not enough is being done to bridge the gap between threat analysis and policy response. It is one thing to accurately identify new drivers of insecurity, but quite another to find ways of mitigating them through preventive public policies. Central to this must be a greater emphasis on prevention in civil service training and recruitment programmes across a number of areas.

For example, a report by the Center for American Progress released last year noted that “While there have been a number of well-received conflict prevention trainings by and for U.S. government officials, they are too few in number and insufficiently available to all interested foreign affairs officials.”

Of course, for militaries, the changed threat environment that Manwaring and others are pointing to means not only a need for new training but also for a cultural shift in the way they think about the utility of their traditional tool – the use of force. For Manwaring, “…power has changed. It is no longer combat firepower. Power is multidimensional, and more often than not, is nonkinetic (soft). It is directed at the causes as well as perpetrators of violence.”

Addressing the causes of insecurity requires what groups such as Saferworld and others refer to as ‘upstream conflict prevention.’ This can easily become a catch-phrase used by governments and NGOs with little effect on actual policies, a point picked up on by Saferworld in their excellent new briefing on what upstream prevention actually looks like in practice.

Thinking through the consequences of the changing nature of global security, both in terms of threat assessments and policy responses to those threats (military and non-military), will certainly require new approaches at the broad conceptual level. The fact that this is being touched upon by think tanks, NGOs and even army war colleges is surely a good sign – is sustainable security an idea whose time has come?

Ben Zala is a Lecturer in International Politics at the University of Leicester.

Image source: Utah National Guard.