The independent resource on global security

The global security governance system—meeting tomorrow’s challenges with yesterday’s tools

It is one of the most privileged and fascinating tasks of a SIPRI Director to read through the various chapters and appendices of a new SIPRI Yearbook as it takes shape. By bringing together new data and fresh analysis from such a diversity of fields, the Yearbook provides a comprehensive perspective on global security that is not always available as we focus on our own specialties. One strong message resonates through SIPRI Yearbook 2011, which will be launched in June: the current arrangement of institutions, agreements and processes intended to manage the challenges of global and regional security, armaments and disarmament—what could be called the ‘security governance system’—is not adapting quickly enough to the realities of a changing world. This is already having far-reaching consequences for global security.

A changing global order

One of the most important factors now straining the system is the diffusion of hard and soft power among the principal states of the world. The long-anticipated multipolar world is becoming reality with the emergence of ‘new’ powers in the international system. It is becoming clearer by the day that even the most powerful states must cooperate and compromise with others in order to address shared security problems. However, with the greater strength and influence of countries such as Brazil, China, India and Russia, competing or divergent interests have made it far more difficult to achieve consensus for action within the established security structures.

Most visibly, the world’s top multilateral global security institution, the United Nations Security Council—and particularly its permanent membership—does not adequately reflect these changing realities. The recently revived Group of 20 (G20) may more accurately reflect the current distribution of power and influence, but it has not begun to take on security governance as a primary task and is unlikely to do so in the near future. At the same time, those powers that in the past often took the lead to bolster security governance at global and regional levels—principally the United States and its allies in Europe—are struggling with economic problems that will further constrain their abilities to deliver global public goods for security.

Growing non-state influences

The current security governance system is also under external pressures. The character of world security is increasingly dynamic, complex and transnational. Flows of information, people, capital and goods are unprecedented. The world is changing faster than the security governance system, and it is consequently struggling to cope with the potentially destabilizing phenomena of the new era, including cyberattacks, resource scarcity, irregular migration, violent extremism, transnational criminal activity, the proliferation of sensitive technologies, and the illicit transfer of weapons, drugs and money.

While the current security governance system is by nature a framework for transactions between states, most of the major challenges emerging outside the current system are essentially non-state. Non-state actors have more influence in the security agendas of many states and state-based security institutions; nevertheless, the system has been too slow to respond to both the challenges and opportunities that non-state actors bring. Increasingly, a different category of non-state phenomena—natural events such as earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones, hurricanes, flooding, famines and disease, often linked to climate change—are taking their toll on human security and taxing the capacities of states and their institutions.

New partnerships for peace

The current security governance system must undergo bold reforms. It must seek to reflect the new distribution of global and regional power and rethink its relationship with the non-state domain, particularly business and civil society. The principal institutions of security governance need to accelerate the integration of emerging powers on a more equitable basis. The permanent membership of the UN Security Council could be expanded. The G20 could be given a more active role in security. Regional institutions such as the African Union, the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Arab League and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization have much work to do to build their political and operational capacities. All of these regional and international institutions could coordinate their efforts better.

Established institutions and other security-related mechanisms must move beyond the restraints that state-centric and consensus-based, lowest-common-denominator norms can often impose. An important step forward would be to deepen and expand partnerships and other habits of cooperation with non-state actors involved at the nexus of security, foreign policy and development assistance. Developing such partnerships for peacebuilding and humanitarian relief operations is critically important, both to improve coordination in acute phases of an operation and to foster more stable transitions to longer-term peacebuilding and reconstruction. There should also be more investment in expanding and improving the contributions to peacebuilding of civilian experts, the so-called civilian corps.

Cooperation between governments, industry and civil society organizations can also help in breaking the links between natural resources and conflict risks and in developing stronger mechanisms for nuclear security, for controlling security threats from chemical and biological materials, and for strategic trade controls. And state-based institutions must find more effective ways of dealing with increasingly potent and influential non-state actors—local councils, political factions, warlords, militias, irregular forces, criminal organizations—in certain fragile and conflict-affected areas.

Change in multilateral institutions can be a slow and difficult process—especially when it requires those with power to share it more widely. Negotiating and operating new partnerships between diverse entities can also take time and requires either courageous leaps of faith or the gradual establishment of trust where there has been little. But they must be done, and more quickly. Natural phenomena, technological developments, and uprisings against authoritarian regimes follow their own timetables. Until a new security governance system emerges that is fit for purpose, the world faces growing uncertainty, fragility, and a diffusion of risks and threats.


SIPRI Yearbook 2011 will be launched on 7 June 2011. The SIPRI Yearbook is a compendium of cutting-edge information and analysis on developments in armaments, disarmament and international security. SIPRI Yearbook 2011 features special essays on corruption in the arms trade, the role of natural resources in conflict and the fragile international consensus on peacekeeping—alongside authoritative data and analysis on major armed conflicts, peace operations, military spending, arms transfers, arms production, nuclear forces, nuclear non-proliferation and arms control, chemical and biological weapon arms control, strategic trade controls and more.



Dr Bates Gill was Director of SIPRI between 2007–2012.