DEBATING SECURITY PLUS ‒ The global online brainstorm

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Debating Security Plus is a global online brainstorm that aims to yield concrete recommendations. It builds on Friends of Europe‘s experience with other online debates and gathers several thousand experts around the world. The 2017 event will bring together senior international participants from the military, government and multilateral institutions along with voices from NGOs and civil society, business and industry, the media, think tanks and academia.

This year’s debate will also draw on Debating Europe’s unrivalled community of 2.5m citizens across Europe and beyond. Their involvement in our security policy brainstorm will help bridge the gaps between experts and voters.

In previous years, our security brainstorms have pulled together up to 4,200 participants, and their recommendations were fed into the policy thinking that shaped NATO’s Strategic Concept in 2010 and the EU’s Global Strategy in 2016.

The connections between security, defence, economic development and policies on environmental, migration and social questions are today inescapable. They inform strategic thinking on defence and security structures and capabilities. Security today is as much about ensuring peace and stability through promoting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as it is about improving military capabilities.

From 26-28 September the international security community will for 48 hours debate ideas relating to six different themes, each introduced by video messages from leading figures of the security and defence sector. Moderators will steer discussions towards concrete recommendations, and will also highlight disagreement as well as consensus. In-depth ‘rapid-fire chats’ will be hosted by partner organisations, allowing participants to zero in on highly specific topics.

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IMAGE CREDIT: Bigstock, CC/Flickr – West Point – The U.S. Military Academy, United Nations Photo


Countering the growth of global terrorism is as much about coordinating intelligence-sharing and combatting arms trafficking or money laundering as it is about fighting terrorist strongholds in the Middle East, Africa or the Indian sub-continent. Strengthening ‘smart borders’ systems, for instance in the EU, and promoting good governance are also important priorities.

The idea of a global “roadmap” to eradicate terrorist networks will be discussed, as will the root causes and drivers of terrorism. Is a common view of urgent priorities emerging, and how well are police, military and judicial authorities progressing with the exchanging of best practices and sharing these with international bodies and NGOs? Is there any consensus on how best to fund counter-terrorism, and has a more ‘whole-of-society’ approach to terrorism begun to trickle down to operational levels?

The limitations of conventional military power when arrayed against IS forces in Syria have become increasingly plain. The case urged for some time by counter-insurgency experts for far-reaching reviews of both tactics and strategies when intervening is gaining ground.

At the same time, it’s evident that the nature of low-level security threats is increasingly heterogeneous. The hybrid tactics deployed in Ukraine – and alleged instances of Russian disinformation and even cyber warfare – are very different to asymmetric on-the-ground conditions in, say, Syria or Mali.

What sort of re-think is needed, and by whom? Is a new approach by international organisations under way? How should approaches be coordinated, for instance those of NATO and the EU, where the connections with civil society and community policing are much stronger? What lessons can be learned from low-intensity conflicts and guerrilla warfare situations from around the world?

Should both military and civil policymakers be thinking in terms of a new security doctrine that would help societies to adapt to the changing threats of the 21st century? Might a far-reaching review of responses to hybrid and asymmetric challenges help governments to reassess their funding of security mechanisms and new capabilities?

The most difficult question of all may prove to be balancing citizens’ privacy rights and freedoms with the need by relevant authorities for access to digital technologies that offer improved surveillance and intelligence gathering.

The nuclear nightmare of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) that dominated and defined the Cold War years is being reincarnated in a variety of guises. How should policymakers be tackling and defusing the threat of proliferation of nuclear weapons?

At the geopolitical level, question marks hang over the durability of the 2015 deal with Iran to de-militarise its nuclear programme, and over North Korea’s missile tests and intentions. Almost a quarter-century has passed since the START II (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty) was signed by the U.S. and Russia, but a global agreement on the reining in of nuclear weapons development remains elusive. What sort of initiative could address this deteriorating situation?

Within Europe, how should the international community view Brexit and the withdrawal from the EU of one of its two nuclear powers? Will France’s new status as the sole EU country with nuclear armaments be significant, and what are the implications for the UK itself as its political leaders continue to debate the value of an expensive modernisation of its Trident nuclear-armed submarines?

Robotics, ‘Big Data’, artificial intelligence (AI), automation and virtual reality promise huge change and a wealth of opportunities for the global economy. But they bring with them vulnerability. Cyber-defence is shaping to be the major concern of policymakers, across the public and private sectors, as they study the defences needed to protect society against attack.

Cyber defences have been strengthened greatly in recent years. Although cybercrime is a serious problem, major corporations and financial institutions have erected effective safeguards against the theft and abuse of data as well as funds. The major unresolved problem, however, is how to protect the millions of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that are the backbone of all national economies. In addition, protecting critical infrastructure such as nuclear installations, energy grids or urban transport systems, from cyber-attack remains an issue for the public as well as the private sector. Are policymakers, police and military officials keeping pace with developing threats, and how far are current public-private partnership models yielding results? Once again, striking the correct balance between security and personal freedoms is of key importance.

There is still far too little international agreement on assessing common cyber threats, and the defences there should be against them. Countering cyber-attacks that can be classified as military offensives is a high priority for security services, but their task is greatly complicated by the fact that cyber technology is generally dual-use, as relevant to civil society as it is to national defence. Can a line be drawn between military and civilian cyber defences when so much of the advanced expertise is in private sector hands?

What might a truly global pact on cyber issues look like, and given the years it has already been under discussion, how feasible and likely is one? Or are national defences beginning to create a degree of resilience against cyber threats that makes ponderous international agreements redundant against such fast-developing technologies?

The likelihood of continuing, and quite possibly worsening, insecurity in Europe’s southern neighbourhood is raising important questions about the link between economic development assistance and improved security.

The instability throughout the Middle East that was exacerbated by the Arab Spring in 2011 is matched by fears that Africa also poses a growing security threat. Although many African countries’ economic growth rates have of late outstripped those of Asia’s ‘tigers’, the implications of the continent’s population explosion are a major concern.

Should global economic development policies be realigned with security thinking? As well as improving governments’ defences against organised crime and corruption, should there be more support for military structures and capabilities, and with what implications for civilian oversight? How should regional organisations, for instance in Africa or South America, improve their cooperation with partners like the EU and the United Nations?

The impact of climate change on delicate eco-systems that support subsistence farming is now a matter of record. On present trends, the next few years will see humanitarian crises on a scale that will threaten peace and stability.

The outlook for the COP21 global agreement of late 2015 is uncertain, but even if its disciplines are observed the trend towards warming of the planet’s most vulnerable regions will be hard to reverse. What, therefore, is the long- range planning of the international security community?

An agenda for strengthening responses to climate-induced natural catastrophes is clearly an urgent priority. What sort of emergency capabilities will be needed, and what are the lessons to be learned from mass migrations so far?

Civil-military cooperation has been controversial for some time, with NGOs and the military often at loggerheads over ethical considerations as well as practical matters. But the need for enhanced civil-military cooperation is being emphasised by expectated and declared famine and mass movements of people away from arid lands. Just as the EU originally led the way towards global policy solutions on the environment, could an EU initiative for handling the effects of climate change be a global game changer?

Contact info

Mikaela d’Angelo, Programme Manager
Email: mikaela.dangelo@friendsofeurope.org
Tel.: +32 2 893 98 20

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