In the world of security, we are generally focused on "risk." We worry about the chances of war, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, the likelihood of a ballistic missile attack, or the possibility of a biological contagion. Understanding risk allows us to calculate how much we should spend on defense compared to what our potential opponents are spending.
Focusing on risk for organizations like NATO and the Department of Defense in the United States makes sense, of course.
But I think we should spend a bit of our most precious resource -- time -- on thinking about and developing opportunities.
One way to think about the principal opportunities in the realm of security is building bridges.
Indeed, in this turbulent 21st century, security will ultimately come from building bridges, not walls. Frankly, we saw what 20th century security, which focused on walls brought us: the Maginot Line, the Iron Curtain, the battle formations of the Fulda Gap -- 60 million dead in the 20th century's wars.
I would argue that we need to take a lesson from the cyber world, where much is made of open source software and courseware, plugging together bodies of knowledge and making them widely available. It is a classic example of building connections and bridges.
What we need is "open source security." Not in all situations or with all actors, but rather as a part of a careful approach that exploits opportunities even as we prudently assess the risks.
Some of the areas that might yield results in searching for opportunities include:
- Coalitions and Alliances working together -- NATO, ISAF in Afghanistan, KFOR in Kosovo, and the multi-national counter-piracy efforts off the Horn of Africa are all good examples.
- Convergent technology -- IT, info, surveillance, and cyber all offer opportunities, to include the power of social media as we see in the continuing "Arab Spring"
- Private-Public Cooperation -- offers potential in humanitarian activities, medical diplomacy, disaster relief, and linked development. See my earlier blog on this exciting opportunity, as well as the linked article.
- Trends in Democracy -- the long sweep of history increasingly appears to be on the side of freedom and liberty, with all the attendant challenges. That means it is harder for despots like Kaddaffy or repressive regimes like the Taliban to hold onto power.
- New Geopolitical Actors in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and other parts of the world who are emerging as positive actors with significant capability -- Brazil, Colombia, South Africa, and Indonesia, are great examples and there are many more.
Let's face the fact that the world remains a very dangerous place, and risk analysis (and mitigation) is at the heart of defense planning -- rightly so. But we should also find time for some "opportunity analysis" as well, to include exploring the idea of "open source security" where appropriate.
The future may be a bit brighter than we think.
Supreme Allied Commander, Europe
Commander, US European Command