The Security Landscape in Context
The landscape is characterized by two main phenomena: first is the vacuum created by frail or weakening states, which open up space for the rise of armed non-state actors in the global security space and create difficult spillover crises.1 The rise of well-organized, armed non-state actors demonstrates a departure from the traditional Westphalian notion of the role of the state. This occurs in two ways: they position themselves as an alternative to traditional state-based governance structures, as a “non-state state”, and they challenge the state monopoly of violence.2
Second is the return of strategic competition between strong states with conflicting interests. The two phenomena may seem contradictory but are in fact related: when instability leads to the breakdown of existing orders, openings are created that regional or global powers may seek to exploit to improve their positions. Likewise, competition between states may impede effective responses by global institutions to crises or problems, which then fester and worsen. Indeed, the confluence of weak states and competitive strong states has created security threats outside the mandates and capabilities of most international security arrangements and institutions. The fragmentation of states was the principal security concern in the period after the end of the Cold War. In contrast to the tense but stable superpower standoff that ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the conflicts of the 1990s and the 2000s were perceived to be “asymmetrical”, with technologically inferior but innovative adversaries challenging government security forces.
Although this phenomenon persists, we are now witnessing the rise of hybrid conflicts – situations where both classical and asymmetric threats coexist and reinforce each other. States and armed non-state actors learn from each other. Innovative combinations of conventional low-tech and novel high-tech tactics create unpredictable dynamics. The modern “battlefield” blurs the distinction between zones of war and zones of peace, as well as that between legitimate combatants, non-traditional adversaries and civilians. It is hard to measure the impact of war, but conservative estimates suggest that, in 2014, around 180,000 people were killed in 42 armed conflicts around the world3. Indirect deaths and costs caused by war-related malnutrition, displacements, trauma, disease and preventable illnesses raise the toll even higher. Today more than 6 million people have been forcibly displaced by war and related distress, and the numbers keep growing.4 Deaths from terrorism are also on the rise; in 2014 alone more than 32,000 people were killed in terrorist attacks in 93 countries.5 The indirect costs of both trends, not only the human cost, are significant.
In some parts of the world, states themselves direct violence against citizens, or support terrorist activities abroad, in order to attain and promote their own security objectives. In these cases the state becomes the driver of insecurity, rather than the guarantor of peace and stability, leading to a further erosion of trust and confidence of citizens, violations of human rights, and increased pressure on neighbouring states who may be forced to absorb refugees or – either explicitly or inadvertently – find themselves harbouring insurgent groups.
The competition for influence between great powers of today resembles the Cold War period, but with important differences.6 Today’s world is more multilayered than multipolar: states are under pressure not just from outside, challenged by their own citizens, as discussed in Part 3 of this Report. Leaders may consequently delay dealing with risks emerging from the reconfiguration of international relations, and ideology is no longer a primary driving force. Strong, weak-willed states are challenged by smaller, strong-willed players, shifting the traditional notions of balance of power.
The current geopolitical and international security context, as demonstrated in this Report, makes clear that chronic and resurgent violence, conflicts, and economic and social volatility will remain prominent features of the current and future reality. The rising flows of people on the move as a result of greater insecurities represent only one of the symptoms of a deep-rooted and protracted systemic governance crisis, underlining the need for a transformative shift in how international affairs are managed.
With each passing year, it also becomes clearer that many actors are no longer aligned to a status quo defined by a selective United Nations (UN) Security Council. The assumption that shared values are a necessary basis for regional or multilateral arrangements may give way to alliances and arrangements defined by shared interests. With dwindling institutions of global governance, there is a growing role for public-private collaboration to tackle global security challenges (see Box 2.3).
Box 2.3: Public-Private Collaboration in Complex Crises
We have entered a new era, and it is not a peaceful one. Emerging conflicts and long-term violence are seriously impacting people, social fabrics and political systems. There has been a rise in de-structured conflicts and violence – often fought in densely populated urban areas – and international humanitarian law is repeatedly and systematically violated.
The lines between conflict and non-conflict zones are increasingly blurred, with pockets of vulnerability coexisting with pockets of progress. The lines are also blurred between criminal, inter-communal and politically motivated violence. More refugees and internally displaced persons are forced to flee for longer periods of time. Conflicts, mismanaged migration, poor governance and corruption are eroding gains from economic growth and development, affecting both low- and middle-income countries.
New models of public-private collaboration need to be promoted to support, finance and deliver immediate assistance and alleviate long-term needs, with business collaborating closely with frontline responders on responsible investment to strengthen state and societal resilience.
A Tour of the Current International Security Landscape
The phenomena shaping the international security landscape are well illustrated by the challenge of Daesh, or the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Syria (ISIS). Although the territory it controls lies in Syria and Iraq, Daesh has recruited fighters from over 100 countries – partly through advanced marketing using popular social media platforms.7 In its recruitment strategy, Daesh exploits the resentment and disillusionment of young people, offering jihadism as an exciting anti-establishment cause. It also has local roots – including, it is assumed, some forces of Saddam Hussein’s regime demobilized after the 2003 invasion of Iraq as well as individual wealthy regional sponsors.
Many countries are engaged in the fight against Daesh: recent terrorist attacks from Ankara to Beirut, Tunis and Paris, with copycat attacks in other far corners, illustrate how the battlefield has become globalized. There are no simple ways to defeat Daesh. It will not be defeated as long as civil war rages in Syria – and civil war will continue to rage in Syria for as long as the powers that could end it disagree about what the endgame should be. Daesh is banking on the inability of major regional and global powers to set aside their differences and pragmatically find a political settlement that all would prefer to the status quo. So far, despite laudable recent attempts to build a common front, this calculation of diplomatic inefficacy seems well-founded.
Military solutions, however, can go only so far.8 Aerial bombardment without a coherent strategy for long-term stability may merely extend the vacuum in which terrorist groups can thrive. Daesh also needs to be suffocated socially and economically. And to prevent it – or something like it – appearing again in another guise, its appeal to significant numbers of young men and women all over the world needs to be understood and undermined.9
In the meantime, the situation in Afghanistan and its neighbourhood is regressing as security and territorial gains made by US-led coalition forces over the past decade have been lost to resurgent Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters.
The spillovers from weakening states are affecting other regions. Violent and extremist groups are also at work in parts of the Sahel, northern Nigeria, the Horn of Africa, the African Great Lakes area and the Central African Republic. At the time of writing, other countries too are facing political tensions leading to violence. Burundi faces worrisome political tensions, which raises the risk of further severe civil unrest and inter-ethnic violence. Elsewhere in Africa, economic growth continues despite serious security and social problems. Properly managing the demographic youth bulge in Africa will be critical for security outcomes, implying major investments in skills building and job creation.
Latin America likewise faces governance challenges, with organized criminal gangs gaining influence over many aspects of society in various countries, as a steady stream of drugs continue to flow from the region into the United States, Europe and Africa. Latin America is at a crossroads.10The combination of slower growth prospects, increasing social unrest and political instability combined with high levels of violent crime pose serious security challenges for the region. Several processes are underway in order to foster a region-wide security dialogue and establish cooperation mechanisms to address growing criminality, violence and insecurity.11
Strategic competition between states is raising the stakes. In the South and East China Seas, territorial disputes are far from resolved. Growing economic interdependence in a region lacking commensurate security architectures increases anxieties about the region’s ability to peacefully manage a potential misstep or overreach by one of the players. The key question here is how the region – and the wider world – relates to China’s rise, and indeed how China itself adapts its own policies as it emerges into one of the primary centres of political and economic might. A major transformation is underway in China’s armed forces, emphasizing expeditionary, air, maritime and space technologies over its traditional emphasis on the Army and the defence of the home turf. The further development of a security mitigation apparatus that has its core in the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), but which has an even broader reach through its regional cooperative framework, is of particular importance. For instance, the evolving ASEAN Code of Conduct for maritime disputes, while not attempting to solve the underlying competing claims, is an attempt to avoid escalation into conflict.
As illustrated by its new security legislation and the long-standing debate about revising Article 9 of its constitution, thus allowing for a larger military role abroad, Japan’s security posture is evolving, potentially allowing for a more assertive Japan in regional and international security frameworks. India, while currently occupied with pressing domestic issues of internal conflict and social inequality, is also a key actor to watch as the Asian security landscape adapts to a post-Western world.
Europe has remained united over the Ukraine crisis, despite initially struggling to deploy sanctions against Russia because of its strong links in energy and finance. An ever bigger challenge is presented by the refugee crisis, a clear testament to the loss of state control and the frailty of intergovernmental structures. Insularity, xenophobia and right-wing populism are gaining ground across the continent, calling into question the integration process and a common European front on international security policies. If Europe proves unable to find common solutions to today’s pressing challenges, we might see a de-integration process unravelling achievements such as the Schengen passport-free zone, the common currency, or even the Single Market. While still unlikely to happen, such a process could hardly be expected to be harmonious and peaceful.
Meanwhile, the role of the United States in international security remains a source of uncertainty and contention. Many question whether or not the United States has the will and the means to remain the world´s dominant superpower, and whether or not it can uphold a Western, liberal agenda for the entire international system. Recent attempts to design an American foreign policy based on alliances, norms and international cooperation rather than unilateralism cannot be secured by the United States alone but require that other key actors also engage in upholding international order. The role played by the US Congress in how the United States is perceived on the world stage and the growing domestic polarization weakens the predictability of the country as a global actor – which risks causing discord between the United States and the rest of the world, its allies included.
As an energy power, and possessing the world’s second largest arsenal of nuclear weapons, Russia will continue to play an assertive role in the geopolitical order. Following the annexation of Crimea, there is no clear political solution in sight to the continuing tensions in eastern Ukraine. EU-US sanctions combined with the low price of oil have hurt Russia’s economy, but have so far not achieved the desired policy shift. Other great powers’ desire to contain Russia collides with the desire for cooperation against the threat of Daesh. Russia’s future hangs in the balance between modernization and reliance on raw materials exports, with the current leadership increasingly looking East for politico-economic ties. Western countries, having reduced their investments in defence and being preoccupied with internal concerns, may find that they lack the resources and will to implement their long-term strategic objectives.12
Trust is waning in the capacity of existing multilateral mechanisms to resolve potential flashpoints. In their current form, global institutions such as the UN retain their relevance as meeting places, but they do not necessarily have the capacity and credibility to effectively uphold peace and security. The UN was designed for a very different world. The UN-centric intergovernmental “contract” needs a significant overhaul if it is to successfully mitigate the challenges and threats currently facing international security.
The Geo-Economics of International Security
International economic relations, international security and geopolitics are closely related. When relations between states are harmonious, trade and investment patterns are typically driven by economic considerations. However, in times of tense relations between states, politics may trump economics – for instance, through the introduction of sanctions against adversaries or preferable treatment for political allies.
After decades of rapid globalization, the current geopolitical landscape shows some signs of returning to politics dominating economics. The economic growth spurred by globalization has shifted the balance of economic power, leading to renewed great power rivalry and global insecurities. New alliances are playing out in trade agreements, strategic infrastructure projects, new investment banks, and arrangements governing the internet and cross-border data flows and storage – increasingly a source of tension, as seen with the annulment of the Safe Harbour Act agreement.13
Economic policies are increasingly “weaponized”, and not only through sanctions. Tools that were taken for granted in the era of globalization – such as access to raw materials and technology underlying financial transactions – may become politically restricted, posing new risks for industries that rely on free and open markets for access to technology, materials and customers. Businesses may find more and more obstructions as a result of anxieties around trade, technology transfer and intellectual property, calling into question the reliability of global supply chains, industrial partnerships and cross-holdings.14
Civil wars and terrorism can disturb the flow of goods and services, with the interconnectedness of the global economy magnifying the impact. Ninety percent of traded goods travel by sea, often through stretches of water in Asia and Africa that are increasingly part of territorial disputes or targets of piracy: the Suez Canal, the Strait of Malacca, the Gulf of Guinea and the Strait of Hormuz – thoroughfares for trade, energy transport and supplies – are all surrounded by violent
conflicts.15Air transport costs are increasing because of heightened travel security procedures and the need to avoid overflying conflict areas. As discussed in Part 3 of this Report, epidemics can also threaten international security, with the recent Ebola crisis a reminder of potential vulnerabilities.