Review: Emerging Security Challenges: Framing the Policy Context

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Laurent Ajdnik reviewing emerging security challenges. 

There are times when you need to question the core meaning of the objects and concepts commonly used in security discourse – even though there seems to be rough consensus on what they are. This is what Graeme P. Herd (Plymouth University/GCSP), Detlef Puhl (NATO) and Sean Costigan (New School University) did a few weeks ago by addressing a seemingly simple yet complex question: What exactly is an Emerging Security Challenge? In “Emerging Security Challenges: Framing the Policy Context,” one can find more than enough takeaways to justify a review. But, the three below are the ones that stuck out as most important to me.

 

The Meaning of the Term

One of the key questions tackled in the piece if of course the question of what is an emerging security challenge. According to the authors, the term is a contested concept with no general agreement. To them, it has become a “default catch-all for all ‘non-traditional’ threats, rather than a category defined by the essential nature of the challenges in question.” And, they are not alone. In fact, Strategic Security Blog readers might recall that their views are similar to the position taken by Michael Edward Walsh (FAS/ESTPC) in his April piece on the topic.

To move the field forward, the authors argue the need for a working definition centered on the sub-term security challenge. In their words, security challenges embody “actions or events that put at risk the material or identity basis upon which individuals, societies, states and perhaps even the planet have come to expect or rely.” These security challenges then assume an emerging status when debate opens up between security experts and policy makers with the objective to implement an appropriate policy response. And, they cease being emerging when they have moved “beyond discussion and debate of policy responses to agreed policy implementation.”

These assertions will of course inspire some rather heated debate about security scholars. But, whether one agrees or not with their positions, they should be congratulated for inserting themselves so prominently in this debate over what the emerging security challenges field even represents. It will indeed raise the profile of this discussion and ensure that more attention is paid to the terms being used to discuss emerging security issues.

 

The Rate of Emergence

The second main contribution made by the article is their reminder that such challenges do not just appear “slowly over a long gestation period.” Instead, many emerging security challenges, especially those related to rapid technological developments, are “ab ovo.” By this they mean that they “emerge onto the policy landscape very suddenly, complete and entire.” They then leverage this insight to question whether traditional policy-making process and implementation can provide an appropriate response to such challenges.

Their piece leaves one with the impression that they cannot. According to the authors, “present policy institutions remain ill prepared to address the speed at which emerging and new technologies create vulnerabilities, risks and threats.” This is especially true of those technologies that achieve maturity and widespread diffusion before securitization has been enforced, in particular with spin-on technologies (transferring from civilian to military use) becoming more and more common. This in turn raises the importance of early detection. But this comes with a risk of derailing research and development as well as restricting innovation.

 

The Role of Awareness

The final key takeaway provided by the authors is their most pragmatic insight. According to the authors, policy-makers will have better insight on how to respond to emerging security challenges if they are more aware of the emerging security threats that the world faces. Unfortunately, the authors point out, “the analytical capacity of policy institutions to raise awareness and planning to address the known emergent challenges is lacking, never mind their ability to devise strategies for the unknown or to engage policy makers in a learning process.” They therefore advocate for “appropriate partnerships that bring together experts from NGOs, think-tanks, business and academia” in order to “provide reasoned, insightful, and clear analysis that provides state actors the opportunity to deeply consider what is genuinely emerging, focus on awareness and produce better policy.” Such efforts will help to “reduce strategic surprise” and ensure more effective policy responses.

Laurent Ajdnik is a Senior Manager at SNCF (France) where he leads the Internal Auditing Service of the branch dedicated to chemical and nuclear freight. He is also the Adjunct Fellow for Strategy and Analysis at the Emerging Science and Technology Policy Centre where he contributes to global discourse on emerging technology issues. The views expressed herein are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of his employers nor the Federation of American Scientists.

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