Old definitions of power and security are no longer valid in a globalised and connected world. Previously neglected actors contribute to international political processes and wield the power to disrupt agreements imposed from the top. Rather than merely consulting these individuals and groups, 21st century diplomacy must embrace the collective wisdom to establish more stable and peaceful international relations.

Power has long been based on the number of available guns, missiles, aircraft carriers and the strength of armies. Security policy was decided behind closed doors by serious-looking men in suits or uniforms using acronyms and intricate lingo. Now with cheap, instantaneous communication even in remote regions and live reporting on events via news websites and blogs, this is no longer the case.

In today’s multipolar power structure and globalised world economy, security is as much about renewed tensions between NATO and Russia or the ongoing fighting in Syria as it is about cyber warfare, climate change, pandemics and migration. Access to natural resources, not least water, will shape the conflicts of the 21st century. Global warming is already giving rise to tensions in the Arctic, while natural disasters of increasing intensity are escalating pressure on local, regional and national first-responders as well as on NGOs. Climate change is exacerbating existing threats, and requires decisive changes in how political leaders tackle the subject and how governments and organisations manage risk. Military and civilian infrastructure (power grids) are vulnerable to cyber attacks.
The goal of security policy must be to create resilient societies, able to withstand disaster, foreign propaganda or radicalisation, while the disastrous effect of pandemics on international security, societies, political systems and economies has yet to be fully comprehended.

Demographics and migration must be looked at on a global scale, avoiding the inconsistent and poorly coordinated reactions that have characterised most European nations’ response to the refugee crisis.

Security will require not only whole-of-government but whole-of-society approaches. Our 21st century security will be inclusive, or there will be no security at all. Gone are the days of top-down arrangements; local, regional and national authorities must work closely with international organisations, NGOs and civil society organisations. The 2015 Nobel Peace Prize anchored the recognition of non-governmental actors in peace processes. The empowerment of citizens through social media initially had a positive impact in enabling the Arab spring uprisings, but the fallout turned out to be messy and dangerous.

I will not join the chorus of those prophets of doom heralding a dark age of chaos. The radical changes in who contributes to the global security discussion, who decides and who is held accountable are achievements of recent years. More women are now at the table as well as on the frontlines. The aspirations of youth are being heard, as are their ideas for a more stable world. The rise of regional actors including Iran and an increasingly assertive China may seem threatening but will keep established world leaders on their toes and force a rethink of the global security architecture.

Our 21st century security requires a new type of leadership with vision, courage and tenacity. Citizens must be listened to, inspired and empowered to develop and be part of creative solutions that can bridge divides durably.

As the European Union leads consultations on a new Global Strategy, NATO is gearing up to its next summit in Warsaw and the debate on reforming the UN Security Council rages on, it is time for a global conversation on security.

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer was Dutch Foreign Minister and NATO Secretary General and is a Trustee of Friends of Europe. He will be a VIP in Friends of Europe’s upcoming 2016 Security Jam from April 25-28. This massive online brainstorm unites thousands of participants from governments, academia, think tanks, the media and the private sector around a virtual table to develop innovative solutions to today’s challenges. The Jam is held entirely online and can be accessed from any computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

Visit www.securityjam.org to learn more.

Further reading

IMAGE CREDIT: CC / FLICKR – Gleamlight for SDA