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John Bruni on Security Jam 2014

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Ukrainian Soldier Blocking the Road to Sloviansk. Image: Sasha Maksymenko/Flickr

Did Security Jam 2014 strike the right balance in terms of issues discussed, topics, categories etc.?

I believe that Security Jam 2014 did strike the right balance. Essentially it sought to unpack how Europe (i.e. the EU/NATO) would be able to adapt to new global security challenges. The discussions had were not just about weaponry and streamlining the processes by which EU/NATO constituent states operate, it sought to uncover other interesting elements of the security equation such as civil-military relations and the organizational implications of undertaking security in the 21st Century. And by security, I am using its broadest interpretation i.e. using the military instrument in missions other than war fighting, such as peacekeeping, providing humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and cyber security. Furthermore, the forums on contemporary issues such as Ukraine and Syria, added a sense of urgency to the Jam.

What was encouraging to see was the involvement of some senior NATO office holders who engaged with some of the participants in the forums. This added a degree of ‘democratic participation’ to the security discussions. The Security Jam organisers should be commended for making this happen.

As one of the ISN’s southern hemisphere partners, did you find yourself naturally gravitating towards the New Global Balance Forum?

I suppose I may have been, considering that while Australia is a partner of NATO, we in this country are concerned by the rapid rise of China and India and what this may mean for Australia’s strategic position in the ‘Indo-Pacific’ region. But having said that, I am sure I share these concerns with many others on the European continent. After all, we are all wondering where the future may lead us should the current trajectory continue, where many of the important global decisions may not necessarily be made among the EU/NATO capitals. What would such a world mean for the older, established centers of strategic power? Does it signal their inevitable decline, or are  such claims merely exaggerations caused by contemporary pessimism on the European economic front? One of the significant findings in a thread on China, was the degree of scepticism regarding contemporary Chinese strategic power. To be sure, concerns were expressed over China’s machinations in the South China Sea and over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands dispute with Japan, but discussions about China’s ability to conduct itself as a first-rate power were very level-headed.  One is not to treat lightly the commercial power that Beijing has, but remain realistic about where this commercial power came from and whether it has translated into real strategic power of the type once wielded by the European Empires of the 19th-20th centuries, or  currently  by the United States.

What was the most startling insight you stumbled upon at the Security Jam 2014?

Broadly speaking, the depth of the discussions had by the participants. Research and analysis is generally quite lonely work, even when working with people right alongside you. In many instances it is rare to test one’s knowledge against others or interrogate others, whether in very senior positions or not. What the Security Jam does and what few other security discussion platforms achieve, is to create a space in which researchers/analysts/academics and security practitioners can come together and feel comfortable sharing knowledge and observations borne from real-world experience. On a more specific level, I think one of the most startling observations was that there was no real debate (barring a few very good comments) on the impact of defence outsourcing and  private military companies on the 21st Century Western security model. For instance, at what stage is it in the national interest to outsource so-called ‘non-essential’ duties to private companies? What, if any, are the real pitfalls of this model? And is a hybridised military-commercial model of operating in the security realm something that nets overall efficiency and effectiveness, or does interfacing two very different styles of operation give the impression of saving money – a political imperative – while creating expensive, structural and operational inefficiencies down the track? I would like to see the next Security Jam really unpack this issue since it will remain with us for some time to come.

How was the Security Jam’s coverage of ‘under the radar issues’?

One of two interrelated issues that struck a chord was the move towards and preparation for the rise of ‘hybrid’ warfare, in other words, when a state uses a broad selection of unconventional military and non-military tactics short of invasion to create a strategic effect – such as how the Russians ‘flat-footed’ the Ukraine and the West over Crimea. The other issue was, how would the world react if this innovative Russian manoeuvre would be repeated elsewhere? Both issues were raised by NATO Supreme Commander, General Philip Breedlove and arguably struck at the very heart of the idea of NATO’s transformation into a relevant global security organization by 2025.

What it comes down to is that innovation is generally forced upon powers that are a) either bereft of formal allies and b)  generally weak when compared to the depth of military capabilities at the disposal to NATO members. Taking contemporary Russia as an example, an ambitious leader who feels his national interests are not being taken seriously by the West, has to think outside of the box to create a strategic effect that the international community will take notice of. This is classic asymmetric warfare. And while this term has a dated feel,  the consequences of asymmetry are as relevant today as they ever have  been.

The ‘under the radar issue’ that comes from these points is – can NATO counter such asymmetry as a ‘defensive’ collective of democracies. One of the Jam’s threads contended that the political-strategic ‘OODA loop’  – observe, orientate, decide and act – mostly lies with an autocratic state since the leader of such a state has the power to act in ways denied to democracies, especially when they act in concert. Getting inside the decision making cycle of the West can certainly leave the initial advantage with  an autocratic government. The central question, and one that will have to be further analysed during  Security Jam 2016 is, can NATO not just counter this initial disadvantage through a policy of unconventional pre-emption, but roll back any gains an autocratic belligerent state makes, short of war.

If you were organizing Security Jam 2014 would you have organized the forums, issues to be discussed etc. differently?

Overall, I think the organizers of Security Jam 2014 did a great job in covering a broad range of issues. Hypothetically speaking, were I a Security Jam organizer, I may have elevated the topic of NATO’s security collaboration with ‘out of area’ partners , specifically the GCC, given the extent of its collaboration with NATO against  ISIL/IS. As a security collective NATO has been extremely busy reaching out to ‘out of area’ partner organizations and states which helps to sustain the Alliance  not just as a North Atlantic-based organization  , but also a ‘Western’ grouping with a global remit.

Perhaps an investigation on whether NATO can recreate itself as such a Western security body would have been one of the issues that could have been discussed in more detail. Which leads onto another very obvious point – can and should the EU have a security remit at all? The EU is essentially an economic body that is trying to become a continent-wide socio-political construct. Its transition from a trade and economics confederacy to a unified supranational political power-center (and, as a result, attempting to displace the national legislative bodies of Europe) is still mired in controversy. As such, can it then be realistically seen as a center of European diplomatic and security power? While the EU is trying to get there, and has had some notable successes with relatively small-scale peacekeeping, security crisis monitoring activities and humanitarian assistance, Brussels does not have the power to ‘declare war’ on behalf of EU member-states, or conduct a general mobilization of military assets in defense of the European continent, let alone conduct significant ‘out of area’ deployments in defense of EU interests in Africa or the Middle East. Would the EU be better off if it had this capacity? How would it hope to achieve this in the presence of sovereign nation-states that may not be sympathetic to Brussels taking upon itself such a role?

Would you keep the same framework and discussion points for Security Jam 2016?

I would keep the same framework. The discussion points in 2016 might be tweaked to include more emphasis on:

  • NATO as a Western (not an exclusively US/European) security architecture.
  • Something significant on the continuing role of outsourcing ‘non-essential’ military tasks to private companies and the use of Private Military Companies by national military and security agencies.
  • NATO’s collaborations with ‘out of area’ partners.
  • Does the EU need its own security architecture over and above NATO? If so, why?
  • Advantage autocracy? Can democracies act nimbly to counter autocracies using asymmetric, unconventional tactics and strategies in zones of contention or conflict?

Dr John Bruni is the Director of SAGE International, an open source intelligence and security consultancy, based in Adelaide, South Australia. He is a military and intelligence researcher and analyst with extensive strategic knowledge of the Middle East, Northeast Asia and the South Pacific regions.

Security Jam 2014 was a global brainstorming session, which the Security and Defense Agenda (SDA) and IBM staged from 14-16 October 2014. It brought together almost 2,300 participants from 114 countries to discuss and then propose concrete solutions to a variety of security-related problems.

The Jam’s top 10 proposals will be presented to NATO and EU leaders at a high-level event in Brussels. The Jam’s follow-on report will also be distributed to thousands of policymakers and decision-makers worldwide.

To find out more about Security Jam 2014, visit the SDA website.

More information on the issues discussed at Security Jam 2014 can be accessed here.

For more information on issues and events that shape our world, please visit ISN Security Watch or browse our resources.

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