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New challenges require a rethink of security

Line of Defence, Autumn 2017

UN Human Development Index map. Source: Cflm001.UN Human Development Index map. Source: Cflm001.


Dr Rhys Ball of Massey University’s Centre for Defence and Security Studies suggests that ‘security’ encompasses a broader and more complex range of challenges than what we’ve traditionally thought – and government is only part of the solution.


Security contains the idea of people feeling safe or free from risk, danger, doubt, anxiety, or fear. Take these ideas a little further, feeling safe and secure means feeling protected. But protected from what and by whom? 

A physical threat can be one kind of threat - an earthquake would be an example of such.  But threats come in all shapes and sizes and the perception of security, threat and risk is important today also. Threats disturb our well-being and we like to avoid threats that disturb us.  So we seek protection. 

Security involves recognising that creating the best circumstances for our lives involves us working with others to set up protective measures to surround us and thus give us the best possibilities for living well and happily in our world. So when we talk about ‘security environment’ we are thinking about the protective measures surrounding us that enable to live freely, happily and well-free from risk, danger, doubt and anxiety.   

Security is about safety and feeling safe at all levels. At all levels – individual, family, community, society, and nation – there are agencies that have responsibilities to provide degrees of safety and protection. Just who these agencies are and what they do is a very important question. 

We can list those – both official and unofficial (like volunteer groups) – that make up these various rings, or layers, of protection. Some are obvious, some are not so obvious. But when we consider the wider definition, and very broad understanding, of security in the globalised world today, then their inclusion within our discussion becomes all the more apparent and necessary.

The study of security has traditionally focused on the causes and consequences of political violence and has included such topics as civil and international war, insurgencies, and terrorism. There is, however, an increasing recognition that the contemporary security environment provides a much broader range of complex and multifaceted challenges that fundamentally affect security at an international, national, societal, and individual level.  


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Security is important because more so than at any previous time in human history it is now able to be considered, identified and viewed by individuals, groups, and society beyond those immediate affected; we see it now in real time. Images of security and insecurity are available to us constantly thanks largely to technological advances and our insatiable appetite for such news and information. 

Security threats have become significantly more numerous and complex, with many crossing national boundaries. While some emanate from states, increasingly we are seeing new threats from a variety of non-state actors; terrorism and cyber-crime are perhaps the most widely known of these. 

But our security is also vulnerable to the effects of climate change and its impacts on food, water, and human security. Other security challenges are presented in the form of biosecurity threat, securing supply chains and resources, irregular migration, human trafficking and smuggling, weak and failing states, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, as well as the rise and emergence of geostrategic influence in the Asia-Pacific region. 

But who is responsible for the protection from all of these threats – real and potential, traditional or non-traditional? Is there an expectation that the government should lead the way and do we trust those who are given this responsibility?  

Such challenges cannot always be addressed by government alone; global institutions, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and private enterprise have a role to play in a security landscape that is rather different to the one our predecessors faced. Just how we understand and manage these threats is at the heart of how we should think about security challenges today. 

This calls for a transformation in the way we think about security and how we respond to the new challenges presented. While the state, and its agencies and organisations, have a responsibility to do this on behalf of our country, academic and professional experts within the private sector play an increasing and important role in contributing to the understanding of national, regional and global issues of security for all of society.


Dr Rhys Ball is a former intelligence officer and a lecturer at Massey University’s Centre for Defence and Security Studies (Albany campus). His research interests include intelligence studies,, strategic studies, intelligence and military history, in particular Special Forces history.


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