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February 16, 2016

Responding To: The Global Future of Security

Familiar and Unfamiliar Security Challenges

The coming years are likely to see a combination of familiar and unfamiliar security challenges. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Syria’s on-going civil war remind us that both interstate and civil war are likely to remain central to international security. The continuing rise of China poses perhaps the most significant traditional concerns. Though the trajectory of China’s rise remains halting and uncertain, tensions in the South China Sea and between China and Japan threaten to erupt into violent conflict. While tight economic connections between China and her neighbors as well as the United States might seem to dampen the possibility of war, the path of China’s rise will likely also invite hardheaded diplomacy as well as the potentially dangerous deployment of military force.  

While the challenges of great power politics such as the rise of China have traditionally dominated the international security agenda, other emerging issues are less familiar to the security agenda, even if they are quite familiar to scholars and practitioners in other fields of study. For example, attention to migration and refugees is certainly not new, but its pertinence to international security continues to grow. War and conflict is both a cause and consequence of migration, so migration and international security implicate each other.  

Similarly, the ways in which global climate change might generate conflict demand further attention. As the effects of climate change unfold, the effects on international security are uncertain, but may very well include increased potentially violent conflict. Again, while attention to climate change is hardly new, the intersection between climate change and international security warrants even more attention than it has already received.  

What all of these issues point to—both intellectually and pragmatically—is the need for creative, interdisciplinary solutions that engage communities from around the globe. While the traditional tools of diplomacy and military power may suffice for managing the continuing rise of China, more unfamiliar security challenges will require those employing unfamiliar tools, ranging from human development experts to natural scientists. Identifying solutions to these complex challenges will be difficult. They likely involve both positive and negative feedback that are hard to foresee. But the alternative of retreating to the familiar challenges of international security is impossible in today’s world. 

David Edelstein is associate professor in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and the department of government at Georgetown University.

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