Europe is on the frontline of new global security threats

Frankly Speaking

Picture of Giles Merritt
Giles Merritt

Founder of Friends of Europe

How safe is the world from threats to the security of its citizens? A month after the attacks on Brussels and before that in Paris, it’s a question on the lips of many.

Friends of Europe will launch next week the fourth global online ‘Security Jam’ to seek some answers. From April 25-28, several thousand participants will exchange ideas and present their views on the threats that confront us and the policies needed to counter them.

It’s a remarkable round-the-clock global debate that will bring together people from the ranks of diplomacy, the military, the media, NGOs, defence planners and peacekeepers working for international agencies and governments.

The Jam is held every two years, and its broad range of topics reflects the thinking of the partner organisations that work with Friends of Europe. This year, the topics illustrate the fast-changing nature of security challenges, and look at those we should anticipate in the decades ahead.

For many years, security as distinct from defence was not a widely-held concern. Today it is. The term ‘security’ was generally used to evoke the specific policies needed to confront the distant, if very real, threat of nuclear holocaust in the context of Cold War detente. It spanned arms control and disarmament, as distinct from conventional military matters.

This is no longer the case. Security has become the over-arching term for a lengthening list of threats. It evokes familiar dangers like the proliferation of nuclear weapons to the many newer threats ranging from the jihadism of militant Islam to mass migration and climate change.

The nature of conflict is also changing, with bio-terrorism and cyber-attacks having the potential to wreak havoc among civilian populations.

The era of the Helsinki Accords between the Western powers and the Soviet bloc four decades ago was a time of comparative stability. The risk of MAD – mutually assured destruction – through a nuclear missile exchange was serious, yet remote, more theoretical and relatively predictable.

The much greater volatility of security threats around today’s world is of a very different character. Security now involves a new set of actors and requires long-term strategies reaching into many different areas of decision-making.

Europe’s refugee and migrant crisis is starting to drive home the message that security and defence are not necessarily the same. The EU’s failure to respond more effectively to the Arab Spring five years ago, or to invest more in the developing countries of sub-Saharan Africa, is going to have heavy political, economic and security costs.

The de-stabilising effects of climate change will also demand more determined investments of money, planning and diplomacy. The combination of drought and Africa’s population explosion risks making the current migration of people northwards no more than the advance guard of a greater exodus.

These security threats will certainly demand greater and much smarter military capabilities in EU countries, as will the changing nature of the Atlantic relationship within NATO. These are among the sensitive, not to say contentious, issues that the 2016 Security Jam is to address.

The overall message that Jammers from around the world will, one hopes, be agreeing on is that the many security dangers now emerging are connected. Europe, on the frontline of so many pressures and threats, needs to develop a new security architecture that could gain global support.

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