Global Responses to Global Threats: Sustainable Security for the 21st Century
Since 9/11 and the development of the ‘war on terror’, international terrorism has been promoted in Washington, London and other Western capitals as the greatest threat facing the world at the current juncture. However, this paper shows that international terrorism is actually a relatively minor threat when compared to other more serious global trends, and that current responses to those trends are likely to increase, rather than decrease, the risks of further terrorist attacks.
In examining these issues, this report offers an overview of four groups of factors that the authors have identified as the root causes of conflict and insecurity in today’s world and the likely determinants of future conflict:
- Climate change
- Competition over resources
- Marginalisation of the majority world
- Global militarisation
These factors are the trends that are likely to lead to substantial global and regional instability, and large-scale loss of life, of a magnitude unmatched by other potential threats.
Current responses to these threats can be characterised as a ‘control paradigm’—an attempt to maintain the status quo through military means and control insecurity without addressing the root causes. The authors argue that current security policies are self-defeating in the long-term, and so a new approach is needed.
This new approach to global security can be characterised as a ‘sustainable security paradigm’. The main difference between this and the ‘control paradigm’ is that this approach does not attempt to unilaterally control threats through the use of force (‘attack the symptoms’), but rather it aims to cooperatively resolve the root causes of those threats using the most effective means available (‘cure the disease’). For example, a sustainable security approach prioritises renewable energy as the key solution to climate change; energy efficiency as a response to resource competition; poverty reduction as a means to address marginalisation; and the halting and reversal of WMD development and proliferation as a main component of checking global militarisation. These approaches provide the best chance of averting global disaster, as well as addressing some of the root causes of terrorism.
Governments will be unwilling to embrace these ideas without pressure from below. The authors argue that NGOs and the wider civil society have a unique chance to coordinate their efforts to convince government that this new approach is practical and effective. This will mean a closer linking of peace, development and environmental issues than has so far been attempted. New political leadership in the USA and UK in the coming years may well present the ideal opportunity for progress, but unless urgent action is taken in the next five to ten years, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to avoid a highly unstable global system by the middle years of the century.
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