The idea of security

2022: the year of insecurity – Ukraine, Taiwan, Ethiopia, happening against a background, as my last blog post set out, of record military spending, with refugee numbers already at a record high. It is tempting to think that this means we need to junk woolly thoughts about human security and suchlike and get back to old-style basics, in which security lies in a strong defence, in power, to be blunt, and more of it than any adversary has. It’s what is called realism in the study of international relations and the realist temptation today seems strong.

It is the direction in which the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the confrontation between China and the USA over Taiwan seem to be pushing us. A return to realism, hardening up NATO against Russia, though it’s worth acknowledging that the demand to get Western policy ‘back to realism’ is a long-standing idea . But why ever and whenever, it’s all about recognising that, if you get into trouble, only the exertion of power will get you out and that’s how it’s been for thousands of years.

Mm-hmm, except that 2022 is also the year of climate change: drought in China and Europe, floods in Pakistan, both in the Horn of Africa, unfolding in a context of several other aspects of serious environmental deterioration, as my last blog post also set out.

And since this means that the mix of challenges on today’s security horizon is not only complex and worrisome but also unprecedented, it suggests there is a need to think hard about what we mean by security – the security of whom or what, and against what – and, indeed, to be ready to rethink.

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Indicators of our current insecurity

Global insecurity today is shaped by the combination of an environmental crisis, in which climate change is prominent but by no means the only element, and a darkening security horizon. These twin crises are linked: each worsens the other so steps to address them can and should also be linked.

Nature and peace: damage one, damage the other; protect one, enhance the other.

To identify possible remedies for the global malady, we need to understand the intersection of problems and issues. But it may be useful to begin by looking at the components. After all, insecurity is not just one thing, nor is the environmental crisis. There are diverse indicators of each.

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The year of the twin crises

This is the year when we face the reality of a dark horizon for global security. War in Ukraine since Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014 and its not-so-stealthy takeover of parts of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine has escalated with the Russian invasion in February. Meanwhile, confrontation between China and the USA over Taiwan has intensified and there are approximately 50 other active armed conflicts worldwide.

At the same time, in case anybody has forgotten, this is the year of climate change – the worst heatwave on record in China, a once in 500 years drought in Europe, complete with the re-emergence of hunger stones in major rivers for the first time in centuries, drought and record heat in India, massive flooding in Pakistan, drought and surging food insecurity in the Horn of Africa

The twin crises of security and the environment add up to a planetary emergency. The heavy events of 2022 on both the security and the environmental sides of the equation are symptoms of deep, underlying problems. The further problem is that the two crises are linked: each feeds the other.

And behind them is a third problem, in that governments and international organisations alike lack adequate mechanisms and instruments for addressing these environmental and security challenges.

Laying out the evidence, analysing the trends and causes, and identifying what to do about it all is the subject of SIPRI’s report, Environment of Peace: Security in a new era of risk, published in May.

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Environment of Peace – an environment for progress

“I hope you are well.” A phrase that routinely starts each email now has special meaning. And not only in terms of physiological health but also psychological well being. And it’s not just the Covid-19 pandemic. Once you start thinking about it, where do you stop?

From toxic geopolitics to a many-sided environmental crisis (climate, biodiversity, ocean acidification, air pollution, zoonotic infection and more) to cyber vulnerability to capricious leaders who ignore facts, trash the truth and get away with it.

And yet…

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Climate change, security, the UN – and EVIDENCE

All eyes are on the Covid-19 pandemic and the unfolding crisis it is causing, whose full dimensions are not yet clear. Meanwhile, there’s the climate crisis. It too has multiple, unfolding impacts about whose full details we cannot yet be sure. We should not lose sight of it, of course, and not only because it is very, very important. Some of what we are are (or should be) learning from the pandemic is relevant to the climate crisis, not least the widespread deficiency in resilience that Covid-19 is revealing.

At French initiative, the UN Security Council held what is known as an Arria Formula debate on 22 April. This is a relatively informal meeting so the Council can be briefed on and discuss major issues. The meeting was virtual and I joined Under-Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo and International Crisis Group President, Robert Malley, to provide the initial briefings, after which some 23 representatives of member states plus the representatives of the African Union and the European Union also spoke.

Here, in more formal tones than I normally use in this blog but rather less formally than my last UNSC briefing in February, is what I said.

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Covid, conflict, climate – and our crying need to be more resilient

Covid-19 has implications not only for health, well-being and prosperity but also for security and peace. The impact of the virus on war torn societies could be devastating, whether the scene is of massive physical destruction as in Syria, or the rampaging power of militias, jihadi groups and criminal gangs as in parts of the Sahel and Horn of Africa. Ramping up the humanitarian response, even though the big humanitarian headquarters are themselves part of the general lockdown, is one necessity. The UN Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire is a second one – though whether the call will be heeded, heaven knows. Beyond that the Covid-19 virus has revealed a worrying and widespread lack of social and political resilience. Continue reading

Somalia – a difficult climate for peacebuilding

Somalia is showing encouraging signs of emerging from three decades of chaos and mayhem that themselves followed two decades of dictatorship and one of civil war. Problems abound still and there are over 5 million people in the country who need humanitarian assistance and well over 2 million displaced people. As well as trying to win territory back from the al-Shabab terrorists, the government and its regional and international supporters have to meet people’s basic needs, develop the economy and establish some kind of political normalcy with critically elections planned for this year.

Exerting pressure on all this and making it harder is climate change and an average of one natural disaster a year for the last 30 years ( 12 serious droughts and 18 major floods). SIPRI published a report in late 2019 – Climate-related security risks and peacebuilding in Somalia by Florian Krampe and Karolina Eklöw – and the Belgian Presidency of the UN Security Council invited me to brief the Council about the issues on 24 February as part of their session on the situation in the country.

What follows – in perhaps a somewhat more formal tone than readers of this blog are generally used to – is what I said in my briefing.

Screenshot 2020-02-25 at 03.43.01

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Nine items of evidence for optimism

It’s that time of year, right? In fact, that time of the decade – the cusp between one and the next. From the teens to the twenties. So it’s time for my review of the last (what went wrong) and a forward perspective over what’s coming (trends to watch). Except, no.

Recently I asked a group of eminent and wise people for reasons for optimism. There is these days a bias towards pessimism that is simultaneously understandable, debilitating and tedious. I wanted to push back and get eminent wise help in doing so.

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Climate change, human rights and security

The UN’s Climate Action Summit is an effort to raise the global level of ambition to address the deepening climate crisis by encouraging governments to go further in reducing carbon emissions and in providing finance to meet the challenges. It is altogether welcome. But it is striking that the preparation for the summit and the key messages going into and coming out of it have maintained a steadfast silence about the issue of security. Continue reading

SIPRI Yearbook 2019: Nuclear weapons and other key trends

The SIPRI Yearbook 2019 is now available on line. It registers key data in the world of peace and security in 2018 and establishes some of the basic indicators that let us track and assess the trends. It is not a comfortable picture.

You can get a quick take on it from my shorthand overview below and/or from the latest short film in our Peace Points series.

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