What is Sustainable Security?

Current approaches to national and international security are dominated by the ‘control paradigm’: an approach based on the premise that insecurity can be controlled through military force or balance of power politics and containment, thus maintaining the status quo. The most obvious recent example of this approach has been the so-called ‘war on terror’, which essentially aims to ‘keep the lid’ on terrorism and insecurity, without addressing the root causes. Oxford Research Group (ORG) argues that such approaches to security are deeply flawed and are distracting the world’s politicians from developing realistic and sustainable solutions to the new threats facing the world in the 21st century.

An alternative approach is needed: that of ‘sustainable security’. The central premise of sustainable security is that we cannot successfully control all the consequences of insecurity, but must work to resolve the causes. In other words, ‘fighting the symptoms’ will not work, we must instead ‘cure the disease’. Such a framework must be based on an integrated analysis of security threats and a preventative approach to responses.

Sustainable security focuses on the interconnected, long-term drivers of insecurity, including:

  • Climate change: Loss of infrastructure, resource scarcity and the mass displacement of peoples, leading to civil unrest, intercommunal violence and international instability.  
  • Competition over resources: Competition for increasingly scarce resources – including food, water and energy – especially from unstable parts of the world.
  • Marginalisation of the majority world: Increasing socio-economic divisions and the political, economic and cultural marginalisation of the vast majority of the world’s population.
  • Global militarisation: The increased use of military force as a security measure and the further spread of military technologies (including CBRN weapons).

Sustainable security makes a distinction between these trends and other security threats, which might instead be considered symptoms of the underlying causes and tend to be more localised and immediate (for example terrorism or organised crime). It promotes a comprehensive, systemic approach, taking into account the interaction of different trends which are generally analysed in isolation by others. It also places particular attention on how the current behaviour of international actors and western governments is contributing to, rather than reducing, insecurity.

Sustainable security goes beyond analysis of threats to the development of a framework for new security policies. It takes global justice and equity as the key requirements of any sustainable response, together with progress towards reform of the global systems of trade, aid and debt relief; a rapid move away from carbon-based economies; bold, visible and substantial steps towards nuclear disarmament (and the control of biological and chemical weapons); and a shift in defence spending to focus on the non-military elements of security. This takes into account the underlying structural problems in national and international systems, and the institutional changes that are needed to develop and implement effective solutions.
By aiming to cooperatively resolve the root causes of threats using the most effective means available, sustainable security is inherently preventative in that it addresses the likely causes of conflict and instability well before the ill-effects are felt.

The sustainable security framework is being developed and promoted by Oxford Research Group. Please read the About page for more information.