The independent resource on global security

1. Introduction: International stability and human security in 2019


Introduction, Dan Smith

I. Flashpoints 

II. Arms control 

III. Climate change 

IV. The international system and law 


Read the full introduction [PDF].

This 51st edition of the SIPRI Yearbook pro­vides evidence of an ongoing deterior­ation in the conditions for international stability. This trend is reflected in the con­tinued rise in military spending and the estimated value of global arms transfers, an unfolding crisis of arms control that has now become chronic, and increasingly toxic global geopolitics and regional rivalries. There also remains a persistently high number of armed conflicts worldwide, with few signs of negotiated settlements on the horizon.



Events in 2019 included dangerous clashes between major powers in the Middle East and in South Asia. Missile strikes, proxy attacks and challenges to freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf in mid-2019 raised the possibility of Iran going to war with Saudi Arabia and other regional powers, and potentially with the United States. Armed clashes also escalated between two nuclear-armed states, India and Pakistan, over Kashmir. In both cases the situation eventually calmed, but not as a result of trad­itional crisis management. 


Arms control

In 2019 there were no gains and some further set­backs in nuclear arms control. The USA withdrew from the 1987 Treaty 
on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles (INF Treaty) and Russia formally suspended its obli­gations under it. Uncertainty continued about whether the Russian–US bilateral 2010 Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START) would be extended beyond its current expiry date of February 2021. In addition, discussions on denuclearization between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the USA lost traction during 2019 and by the end of the year the Iran nuclear deal (2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) was largely non-functional. 


The climate crisis

There were some welcome signs in 2019 that opinion was moving towards support for serious action to address the climate crisis. However, there will be a considerable time lag between action and impact, and it will also be necessary to adapt to the effects of climate change and build resilience. In add­ition, it is now clear that the impact of climate change often needs to be addressed amid peacebuilding in war-torn settings. There is still time to prepare for future climate­-related security challenges; the key to success will be increased international cooperation.


International cooperation

The need for cooperation on climate change is matched by a similar need for cooper­ation on other major challenges of our age. The degree to which international politics are characterized by tensions and disagreements, especially among the three great powers—China, Russia and the USA—is a serious cause for concern. Nonetheless, even governments that express loathing of diplomacy find it next to impossible to do without cooperative approaches to shared problems. The spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) underlines the message that other global challenges today also require cooperation for human security and international stability. 

Dan Smith