Text Only | Disarmament Diplomacy | Disarmament Documentation | ACRONYM Reports
back to the acronym home page
WMD Possessors
About Acronym

Disarmament Documentation

Back to Disarmament Documentation

Shared Destinies, IPPR Commission on National Security Interim Report, 27 November 2008

Shared Destinies, Security in a globalised world, The interim report of the IPPR Commission on National Security in the 21st Century, IPPR, 27 November 2008.

Summary and Recommendations

For full text of the report go to: www.ippr.org/publicationsandreports/publication.asp?id=636.

This summary is divided into four parts:

  • A contextual introduction
  • An articulation of 13 basic observations about the current security environment
  • A statement of eight principles that should shape and underpin the UK's response to it
  • A summary of the main recommendations in the full Supporting Research and Analysis below.

The ippr Commission on National Security in the 21st century will build on these foundations in its final report, to be published in summer 2009, which will set out more detailed proposals for a new strategy to promote and defend the national security interests of the United Kingdom.


We publish this report against the backdrop of a significantly worsening international situation. Recent months have seen turmoil in and the near collapse of the global financial system, the failure of talks aimed at a new global trade agreement, a marked deterioration in relations between Russia and NATO after the conflict in the Caucasus, an escalation of violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan, political violence and armed conflict in many parts of Africa, and continuing high tension over Iran. The UK's extensive engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan continue, the latter in particular with no real end or progress in sight. Behind the headlines and the short-term challenges, deeper, historic and longer-term changes are also underway, reshaping our world and storing up challenges and potential trouble for the future.

This report is both a warning and a call to action. The dangers we describe are real but we should not succumb to pessimism. Provided we are willing to learn lessons, to change the way we think, to find the necessary political will and to adapt our policy solutions and instruments to new circumstances there is much that can be done. We offer this interim report as a contribution to the necessary process of policy change that must now unfold.


As we look to the future, we observe that:

1. Globalisation is diffusing power among many different actors in the international system. It is fuelling a massive redistribution of economic and political influence from the Atlantic seaboard to Asia and the Pacific, increasing interdependence between states, empowering non-state actors, and creating new opportunities for both legitimate and illegitimate action in a largely unregulated and uncontrolled global space.

2. The global population is growing rapidly. A world population of 9.2 billion by 2050, only 1.25 billion of which will live in developed countries, means the end of the West as the pivotal region in world affairs, intense pressure on natural resources, an increasingly marginalised global majority, and increased migration flows from poor to rich states.

3. Climate change is set to transform the security environment. It is likely to reduce and shift the availability of habitable land, food and water, to exacerbate inter-state tensions and to generate forced movements of people. Weak and failing states in Africa and parts of Asia will face serious challenges in attempting to respond to climate change. The phenomenon may even play a key role in shaping the character and outlook of major powers such as China.

4. Weak and unstable states outnumber strong and stable ones by more than two to one, and state failure and sometimes collapse will be a highly visible feature of the international security landscape for decades to come.

5. Massive global poverty is a contributing factor to this development and when combined with inequality, particularly horizontal 'between group' inequality, acts to fuel violent conflict. Within this, joblessness and migration from countryside to town can also provide a context in which young men join extremist movements or criminal gangs.

6. Conflict itself remains an enormous problem. While the figures indicate that instances of violent conflict are declining, the total number of conflict-related deaths remains huge, the estimated number of people displaced by conflict is at its highest since the early 1990s, and campaigns of one-sided violence in which civilians (particularly women and children) are targeted and terrorised have become increasingly prevalent. Conflict and the pressures of poor governance, including weak or absent rule of law, are now converging on particular locations, creating both 'swing states' in the struggle for international peace and stability, and the risk of ungoverned spaces that become havens for criminal and terrorist activity that could also affect the UK.

7. Transnational criminal networks have expanded their trafficking operations in drugs, arms and people and are undermining and corrupting state governance arrangements in many countries, facilitating and profiting from violent conflict in the process.

8. Since the end of the Cold War, we have entered a second and far more dangerous nuclear age in which renewed state proliferation is a major threat, stockpiles of dangerous nuclear materials remain insufficiently secure, and terrorist groups actively seek a nuclear capability.

9. Terrorism using conventional weapons remains the most likely challenge but the threat of technologically sophisticated chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) terrorism is real and no longer comes only from organised groups like Al Qaeda and its imitators, but also from lone individuals with relevant expertise and access to the necessary technological infrastructure. Insufficiently secure government laboratories around the world remain a particular worry in relation to bioterrorism.

10. Rapid advances in information technologies and biotechnologies are creating new vulnerabilities for national and international security. Cyber-crime and cyber-terrorism are already realities. New discoveries in biotechnology put to deadly purposes would have terrifying implications.

11. Humanity is increasingly vulnerable to infectious disease and to the possibility of new and devastating global pandemics. Population concentrations in urban centres in the developing world, global people movement on an unprecedented scale, an increased criminal trade in animals and animal-related products and the growth of drug-resistant diseases are combining to enlarge this threat.

12. Complexity has entered the infrastructure of modern life and our reliance on stretched and interdependent infrastructures has increased. Governments around the world own less of their critical national infrastructure and private sector organisations have become more important to delivering security and societal resilience as a result.

13. The UK is not and cannot be insulated from any of these developments. Although the country benefits enormously from its participation in an open world economy and society, it is also reliant on world energy markets and vulnerable to their instability, is affected by transnational crime, has its own Al Qaeda-influenced 'home-grown' terrorist threat to address, will suffer infrastructure damage as more local climate change effects unfold, and is potentially highly vulnerable to the spread of infectious disease. While the threat of a direct state-led attack on the country is remote, this too cannot be entirely discounted. More generally, the country will clearly be less secure if the wider international security environment deteriorates and the UK has a clear stake in ensuring that this does not happen.


Given these observations, we believe that the following principles are important in framing what should happen next:

1. The scope of national security strategy today must include, but also range wider than, a concern with political violence. The protection of the state with strong and flexible defence forces will remain important, but a far broader spread of risks, from climate change and disease to transnational crime and energy security, must also be considered and managed. Social and psychological dimensions of security are also increasingly important.

2. In a globalised world of many weak states, measures to promote international peace and stability and to help others to help themselves offer the best course of action in our own defence. As the global financial crisis demonstrates, we live in a world of shared destinies where failings in one region quickly generate policy problems and insecurities in others. In this environment, not only can no state guarantee the security of its people by acting alone, but weak, corrupt and failing states have become bigger security risks than strong, competitive ones.

3. A massive increase in levels of multilateral cooperation is therefore now needed. This must include but go well beyond a concern with the reform of global institutions. We are in favour of a new era of treaty-based cooperation on specific issues, from non-proliferation to global biosecurity, and believe groups of willing states will be needed to initiate action, set standards, and sustain progress in many areas. A range of different strategic partnerships will be necessary with new emerging powers including China, and the creation of a 'League of Democracies' at this juncture would be a bad idea. Power redistribution means the end of the Western hegemony in international affairs and Western powers will need to be flexible: it is no longer realistic to expect emerging powers to sign up to exclusively Western-led institutions and practices.

4. Partnership action is needed at home as well as abroad. Government departments must get used to working with others and must build their ability to manage projects encompassing a wide range of contributors. Government cannot take sole responsibility for making people secure. It needs to work in partnership with businesses, community groups and individual citizens to build and enhance security. Government must devolve, and businesses and individuals must accept, more responsibility for national security and the costs will have to be shared.

5. Legitimacy of state action is a strategic imperative in current conditions. The voluntarily offered partnership and cooperation of citizens and potential allies will only be forthcoming in the presence of it. In practice, this means more open and inclusive policymaking, and the UK government working harder to address claims that it operates a double standard when comparing its own behaviour to the behaviour of others. More particularly, it means reaffirming the UK's commitment to promoting, protecting and defending fundamental human rights, such as the right to be free from torture, and means following through on this commitment both at home and abroad. It means viewing terrorism as a crime, treating it that way, and dealing with it within the criminal law paradigm, not the 'war on terror' paradigm. Internationally, if interventions in the affairs of another state are deemed necessary, it means these should comply with the UN Charter. Where this is not possible because vested interests paralyse the Security Council even in the face of serious human rights violations, a major humanitarian crisis, or a developing threat to international peace and security, then it means any action taken should be proportionate, have a primary regard for the protection of civilians, have a reasonable prospect of success, and have wide support in the international community. It should also only be taken as a last resort after all peaceful and diplomatic avenues to avert conflict have been exhausted.

6. We need more preventative action. Prevention saves lives, saves money, and in an interconnected world, nips problems in the bud while limiting the potential reach of any specific threat or hazard. It follows that, individually and internationally, we need to develop a capacity for 'horizon scanning' and early intervention to prevent conflict and state failure through use of a wide range of aid, diplomatic and other instruments.

7. Domestically, while carrying on with normal everyday life, we must become more resilient, preparing to withstand some damage and viewing this preparation itself as a form of deterrence. Since government cannot prevent all forms of harm or damage to the country or its people, preparing for certain assessable dangers is the responsible thing to do. The more effectively we do so, the more resilient we become, and the less attractive we are as a target for those who would do us harm.

8. Flexibility is needed in national capabilities. A security environment with so many interconnected drivers and such a wide range of threats and hazards is not one in which perfect prediction is possible. In this environment, the Government would do well to focus not on a fixed list of priorities but on building up core national capabilities that are well integrated (across military, economic, diplomatic, cultural and community fields of engagement), highly flexible and readily linked into the efforts of partners, both bilateral and multilateral, at home and abroad.

Recommendations: What we should do now

In this interim report, we set out initial proposals on conflict prevention and intervention, recommendations related to regional security organisations, and detailed proposals on two fundamentally important areas which require multilateral cooperation (namely nuclear non-proliferation and global biosecurity). We focus on these issues because we are not convinced government is currently doing enough in these areas, because we believe the scale of the challenge or threat demands urgent action, and because in some instances we believe a limited window of political opportunity for action exists.

Conflict prevention

In the full Recommendations (Chapter 9 below), we call upon the Government to develop further and more deeply embed the notion of a Responsibility to Prevent Violent Conflict in UK foreign, defence and overseas development policy. This is because violent conflict is a human tragedy, destabilises whole countries and regions, and can contribute to the generation of ungoverned spaces which may become a source of direct threat to the United Kingdom.

In support of this goal, we call for:

  • The generation of shared strategic assessments of possible conflict situations both across Whitehall and in coordination with international partners (see Recommendation 1).
  • The creation of an independent Conflict Modelling Panel to assess possible conflicts and the likely human, strategic and financial consequences of not acting to prevent them (see Recommendation 2).
  • The integrated use of a full spectrum of upgraded conflict prevention instruments, covering aid, trade, diplomacy and military instruments capable of bringing pressure to bear for peace in regions that may be on the verge of conflict (see Recommendation 3). We have restructured whole armed services to be able to project military power. Now we need a similar exercise to project a capacity for rebuilding peace.
  • The addition of a conflict reduction goal to the existing Millennium Development Goals (see Recommendation 4).
  • A further investment in and refocusing of Britain's in-country diplomatic expertise to facilitate interventions in conflict prevention that are better informed and better targeted at local conditions (see Recommendation 5).
  • An increase in resources channelled to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) promoting conflict prevention and in-country political dialogue and increased efforts to coordinate more effectively the activities of UK-based bodies engaged in such activities (see Recommendation 6), incorporating them into prevention, planning and post-conflict intervention.
  • The funding of independent research into successful conflict prevention activities and financial support for a public inventory of case studies of successful preventative action. This is vital both for lessons to be learned but also as a practical tool to address the deficit of political will in relation to early preventative action (see Recommendation 7).

Intervention in conflict environments

Since we cannot realistically expect all violent conflict to be prevented and since there are likely to be other interventions required at some point in the future, we must also organise ourselves far more effectively for the challenges ahead. We will be returning to this theme in more detail in our final report but we believe some of the changes required are already clear.

We therefore call for:

  • The development of coherent political objectives within which military strategy and tactics must reside in future operations. This did not happen in Iraq: coalition forces were asked to defeat the Iraqi army and take Baghdad rather than to develop a strategy for the stabilisation of Iraq post-Saddam. Despite some improvements, we are also struggling with the lack of a strategic concept in Afghanistan (see Recommendation 8).
  • A more fundamental review of military doctrine and operational planning, as they relate to interventions in conflict and failed state situations (see Recommendation 9).
  • Clear unity of command to be established, under a well-resourced civilian leadership, across UK military, diplomatic, aid and reconstruction activities in conflict zones. This will be required in future and is also needed now in Afghanistan (see Recommendation 10).
  • Stronger and more focused political engagement and leadership, through the creation of a 'security diplomacy' leadership post within the Cabinet, to coordinate the entire UK effort in a major conflict zone and to gather international support for the action required. Again, this is needed now in relation to Afghanistan. The creation of such a role in Cabinet would embed the notion of unity of command under civilian leadership at the heart of government and would allow one individual to coordinate a joined-up response from across the entire Whitehall machine (see Recommendation 11).
  • On Afghanistan in particular, we believe the UK government should work with the new US administration to promote a regional context supportive of peacebuilding in the country, bringing in Iran, Russia, Pakistan, China and a range of civil society organisations. This will not be easy, but should be attempted (see Recommendation 12).

Strengthening and adapting regional security organisations

In addition, we also believe there is a need for:

  • The adaptation and strengthening of Europe-based regional security organisations such as the European Union (EU), the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), with the last of these incorporating the full engagement of the United States, as a central plank of British strategy on more effective multilateral security cooperation (see Recommendation 13).
  • A massive increase in the EU's and NATO's logistical and financial help to the African Union, the regional security body that is likely to be tested the most in the next five to ten years, but which is currently the least well equipped to respond (see Recommendation 14).

Issue-specific and treaty-based multilateralism

Nuclear non-proliferation

Given the growing dangers associated with nuclear weapons, we believe it is not safe for the world to rely on nuclear deterrence for long-term security. We therefore support the view that the long-term goal of our policy must be the creation of a world free of nuclear weapons and believe action on non-proliferation is urgent ahead of the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in 2010. We know the road to achieving this goal will be long and the path towards it not always clear, but we call upon the Government to pursue it actively and to:

Use all the instruments at its disposal to encourage further rapid reductions in the strategic arsenals of both Russia and the United States (see Recommendation 15).

  • Pursue a strengthening of the Non-Proliferation Treaty provisions on monitoring and compliance, to provide greater assurances to all parties on the effectiveness of the Treaty (see Recommendation 16).
  • Increase further its financial contribution to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and encourage other states to do the same (see Recommendation 17).
  • Provide further practical help to those states wishing but not fully able to implement Security Council Resolution 1540 on improving the security of nuclear stockpiles (see Recommendation 18).
  • Provide a financial contribution to the IAEA/Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) nuclear fuel bank fund, which is aimed at establishing an internationally accessible nuclear fuel bank (see Recommendation 19).
  • Use all of its influence inside NATO to ensure that the review of NATO's strategic concept, being carried out in 2009 and 2010, produces a result sensitive to and supportive of the requirements of a successful outcome to the NPT Review Conference in 2010 (see Recommendation 20).

Moreover, the Government should:

  • Seek to use its membership of the P-5 to stimulate a deeper and more active strategic dialogue on non-proliferation within this group of states (see Recommendation 21).
  • Invite the foreign and defence ministers of the P-5 to a non-proliferation strategic dialogue meeting prior to the 2010 NPT Review Conference in pursuit of a joint P-5 position at the conference (see Recommendation 22).
  • Fund and contribute to a second, less formal track of diplomatic activity involving former senior officials and policy experts from the P-5 plus India, Pakistan and Israel, if possible. This would not be easy to put together, but should be attempted and should be aimed at identifying and thinking through the political and strategic issues required for a phased progression to zero nuclear weapons among this group, the representatives of which would cover the eight key nuclear weapons states (both signatories and non-signatories of the NPT) (see Recommendation 23). In addition:
  • To ensure that non-proliferation issues remain at the forefront of national political debate and to ensure domestic awareness of the need for these measures, the Defence Secretary and Foreign Secretary should make annual joint statements to the House of Commons on current proliferation concerns and trends, and on the Government's full range of activities and resources being deployed to respond to them (see Recommendation 24).

Global biosecurity

We draw particular attention to the challenges of bioterrorism and disease throughout our full interim report. As emerging problems, these expose significant weaknesses in the international institutional landscape and an urgent response is required. Since there is widespread consensus that the arrangements for detecting and responding to the deliberate release of a deadly pathogen are largely identical to those required for detecting and responding to naturally occurring disease, our recommendations here are aimed at improving global readiness to deal with both.

We call for the Government to:

  • Work with international partners to create a panel of scientific experts, equivalent to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for purposes of reviewing and bringing to policymakers' attention developments in the biological sciences that may have implications for security and public safety (see Recommendation 25).
  • Increase its support to the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) and to encourage other countries to do so the same (see Recommendation 26).
  • Use its own bilateral aid programmes to upgrade developing countries' skills and capacities in the field of disease surveillance and response (see Recommendation 27).
  • Promote the idea of a Global Compact for Infectious Diseases (see Recommendation 28). This would be a new treaty designed to deliver a number of internationally coordinated biosecurity advances including:
  • The creation of a network of research centres aimed at the carrying out of fundamental research on infectious diseases
  • Improved data and knowledge sharing from research and bio-surveillance activities around the world
  • The harmonisation of national standards, regulatory practices, and best laboratory practices
  • A major expansion in the production of important drugs and vaccines.
  • Couple its promotion of the Compact with moves to expand the International Health Partnership (IHP) as an urgent priority, to ensure that the Compact does not lead to a locking-in of vaccine access and health governance advantages already enjoyed by the wealthiest countries (see Recommendation 29).
  • Support the creation of an event-reporting system for animal diseases equivalent to that set up in relation to human health in the International Health Regulations 2005. In a world where so many diseases cross the species barrier, the absence of such an event-reporting system is a major weakness in the international architecture for ensuring biosecurity (see Recommendation 30).

Further work

Beyond these recommendations, there are further policy areas that our final report will explore, including:

  • The possibilities for expanding a law-based approach to international security issues and recommendations related to domestic resilience, counter-terrorism and counterradicalisation policy.
  • Energy security challenges and wider defence policy, and a fuller view on the appropriate roles of the EU and NATO in future security policy. Within this, we will also offer a more detailed examination of how the UK and its allies might best learn to project a post-conflict reconstruction capability in a world of failing states and increasing conflict pressures.
  • Key questions such as the approach required to relations with Russia and the United States, issues related to the machinery of government, and the implications of our recommendations for the allocation of public resources.

The goal in our final report will be as it has been in this: to challenge the Government and others to promote action relevant to 21st century threats and to offer implementable strategies for moving forward. The threats and hazards described in these pages, and in our full interim report, demand that this happen.

Source: ippr, www.ippr.org.

Back to the Top of the Page