Moving towards sustainable security

Since the horrific events of 9/11, Western leaders have held up international terrorism as the greatest threat to world security. However, it is not enough to simply insist that terrorism is the greatest threat to the world, when the evidence does not support this claim. In fact, our research paints a very different picture of the fundamental threats that we all face, with these threats coming from four interconnected trends:

1) Climate change Displacement of peoples, severe natural disasters and food shortages, leading to much higher levels of migration, increased human suffering and greater social unrest.
2) Competition over resources Competition for increasingly scarce resources, especially from unstable parts of the world – such as oil from the Persian Gulf.
3) Marginalisation of the majority world Increasing socio-economic divisions and the marginalisation of the vast majority of the world’s population.
4) Global militarisation The increased use of military force and the further spread of military technologies (including weapons of WMD).

These factors are the trends that are likely to lead to substantial global and regional instability, and large-scale loss of life, of a magnitude unmatched by other potential threats.

Current responses to these threats can be characterised as a ‘control paradigm’ – an attempt to maintain the status quo through military means and control insecurity without addressing the root causes. ORG argues that current security policies are self-defeating in the long-term, and so a new approach is needed.

This new approach is what ORG refers to as ‘sustainable security’. The main difference between this and the control paradigm is that this approach does not attempt to unilaterally control threats through the use of force (‘attack the symptoms’), but rather it aims to cooperatively resolve the root causes of those threats using the most effective means available (‘cure the disease’). This approach provides the best chance of averting global disaster, as well as addressing some of the root causes of terrorism.

Governments will be unwilling to embrace these ideas without pressure from below. NGOs and the wider civil society have a unique chance to coordinate their efforts to convince government that this new approach is practical and effective. However, this will mean a closer international linking of peace, development and environmental issues than has so far been attempted. Oxford Research Group recognises that we are not experts in all the issues we have been exploring. Our value lies primarily in developing the sustainable security approach and promoting it to others in different fields who can apply it to their own work at the same time as feeding their knowledge into the ORG research.

Another important aspect of our project is promoting this thinking to a wider public audience. To this end, in April 2007 Random House published a fully updated and revised version of our original report on these issues, Global Responses to Global Threats, in a small book format on their Rider list. As well as providing an update to the original report, Beyond Terror: The Truth About the Real Threats to our World highlights ways in which the reader can make a difference and learn more about the issues discussed.

The report and the book will form a central part of our programme over the next two years, and will be key tools in raising awareness of the need for a shift in security policies and priorities. The project is being backed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and HRH Prince Hassan of Jordan, amongst others, and our planned work for 2008-09 includes the development of:

1) Advisory Group on Sustainable Security
2) Regional sustainable security consultations
3) UK Policy Group for Sustainable Security
4) Research and publications
5) Beyond Terror speaker events
6) Sustainable security website
7) Sustainable Security Network

Further information

Project details

Influence of project to date

Beyond Terror minisite


Beyond Dependence and Legacy: Sustainable Security in Sub-Saharan Africa
Chris Abbott and Thomas Phipps, May 2009

From Within and Without: Sustainable Security in the Middle East and North Africa
Chris Abbott and Sophie Marsden, March 2009

Tigers and Dragons: Sustainable Security in Asia and Australasia
Chris Abbott and Sophie Marsden, November 2008

The Tipping Point? ORG International Security Report 2008
Paul Rogers, November 2008

An Uncertain Future: Law Enforcement, National Security and Climate Change
Chris Abbott, January 2008

A New Security Paradigm
Chris Abbott, January 2008 (Cosmopolis)

Climate Change: A Cause of Conflict?
Kate Johnston, January 2008 (Global Politics)

Beyond Terrorism: Towards Sustainable Security
Chris Abbott, April 2007 (openDemocracy)

Beyond Terror: The Truth About the Real Threats to Our World
Chris Abbott, Paul Rogers and John Sloboda, April 2007 (Rider)

Sustainable Peace and Security PDF icon
James Kemp, December 2006 (Compass)

Sustainable Security
Chris Abbott, August 2006 (New Internationalist)

Climate change: the real threat to security
Chris Abbott, June 2006 (China Dialogue)

Saving the planet and ourselves: the way to global security
John Sloboda, June 2006 (openDemocracy)

Global Responses to Global Threats: Sustainable Security for the 21st Century
Chris Abbott, Paul Rogers and John Sloboda, June 2006