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February 8, 2016

Responding To: The Global Future of Security

Balancing Conventional and Contemporary Security Issues

Kristin Pettersen

What are the most critical security challenges for the years ahead and how should we, as an international community, address them?

Answering these questions first requires me to give some sort of definition of security, which is challenging in itself. The boundaries of this term have changed fairly drastically in the 21st century and are still widely debated. For some, security may strictly adhere to a more conventional militaristic and conflict based definition. Others feel it is acceptable and even necessary to broaden this definition to include ideas such as human security, food security, etc. Although this may seem to some as pure semantics, these base definitions and clarifications of security greatly influence the level of discussion on a certain issue, on both the national and international stages, and subsequently influence prioritization.

Personally, I think the timeliest issue our attention needs to focus on is in the realm where conventional security issues collide with the contemporary. The US in particular is dealing with a complex phenomenon like this in the Middle East, such as Da’esh (ISIL). Here we are encountering a more conventionally defined threat, Da’esh, using the internet, social media and web-based applications in ways never before seen, causing spillover effects in the region as well as internationally. This leads one to then wonder what else could become a threat - that is possibly yet to be discovered - in the cyber realm. Allocating time and energy to try to discover the unknown threats of the future has always been and will always be incredibly challenging but very relevant to any security strategy. The new US fiscal 2017 defense budget just released shows just how seriously the US is taking these ‘new’ threats, allocating $7 billion towards cybersecurity efforts.

This is not to say that the general physical security of persons trapped in or escaping regions in conflict, or struggling in dangerous or significantly under-developed countries should be ignored. Security is closely tied to development - though casual relationships are hard to prove, strong correlations very clearly exist.

In conclusion, one issue should not be more relevant than another, the true issue is simply balance. We very clearly need to invest in exploring the possible new threats of cyber security and explore what the evolving typologies of modern violent non-state actors, some with conventional roots, means for international security in the 21st century. However, we will also need to continue to focus our efforts on pre-emptive development to avoid new as well as protracted conflict. This is obviously complicated, but is personally the reason I have chosen to study here at Georgetown with the Security Studies Program - to do my best to make at least a small dent in one of these complex issues during my career in the international security sector.

Kristin Pettersen is a M.A. candidate in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University. 

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