Global security: how can we confront the complex security challenges of the future?

Campus: Exeter

The Global Security Challenge 2017 is currently being developed by Professor Patrick Porter and Dr Martin Robson. We will release more information in time for the January 2017 sign up! Take a look at the gallery from 2016 at the bottom of the page.

This grand challenge will challenge you by placing you in decision making roles in one of five key challenges identified by the SSI. You will be required to show understanding of your specific complex challenge before assessing the range of potential measures to address them to formulate policy decisions. You will be ‘immersed’ in the challenge by key-note lectures, facilitated by independent group study and applied, practical, exercises. You will become strategists for the duration of the challenge providing long-lasting and transferrable analytical and decision making skills. By the end of this challenge you will be able to articulate your reasoning, deal with complex situations, analyse incomplete and uncertain information, and propose novel solutions to the most pressing security issues we currently face. You will produce group and individual written outputs (the latter in the form of a ministerial submission).

In 2016 this challenge welcomed several noteable speakers, including Lt Gen Paul Newton (retired), Rob Wainwright (Director of Europol), Sir Jon Day (Former Chief of Joint Intelligence Committee), Jonathan Marcus (BBC Diplomatic Correspondant) and Dr Stephanie Blair (Scholar-practitioner who has worked with the UN and OSCE and other operations). Several experts from the University of Exeter also gave talks, including Professor Martin Thomas, Dr Katharine Boyd, and Dr Aurel Sari, providing students a multidisciplinary perspective from History, the Strategy and Security Institute and Law respectively. Students were invited to interact with guests and ask questions. Guest speakers for 2017 are in the process of being confirmed.

Enquiry groups

Enquiry groups are the subtopic of the challenge that you will focus on during the week, providing you the opportunity to concentrate on an area of your challenge that you are most interested in. You will be able to choose from the following enquiry groups when you sign up to Grand Challenges:

Why do states pursue or resist nuclearization, why do they disarm or opt out of nuclear weapon abilities. Is it just a matter of time before nuclear weapons are used again and what can be done to prevent their usage? This workstream assessed a number of aspects of nuclear weapons including deterrence, nuclear terrorism and the role of non-state actors as well as asking students to critically analyse ways of managing the nuclear threat – arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation.

  • What is the future for nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons armed states?
  • Why do states such as North Korea wish to acquire weaponised nuclear capabilities? What do nuclear weapons ‘give’ a state?
  • Should the UK renew its Trident capabilities?
  • What role does the international community play through the Non-Proliferation Treaty?

Against the background of debates surrounding Britain’s membership of the European Union what exactly will Britain’s role be in the world in 2050? Will the UK enact its own pivot, away from Europe and look more towards the Far East on a bilateral level?

Even if Brexit happens the UK will still play a role in European Security through membership of NATO. But with pressure on spending will Britain look less to its hard power capabilities and more towards economic, diplomatic and political influence? London is still a major centre for the financial services sector, what role will the UK play in non-traditional aspects of security?

What impact will Brexit have upon Britain’s standing in the world?

Can the UK remain a member of the UNSC P5?

Where does Britain’s future lie – in its links with the USA, Europe or to the Far East?

Can Britain still afford to be a global military player?

If it cannot, what can Britain bring to the international community through other means such as diplomacy?

Why do states, nations and peoples fight each other? Organised state on state conflict was the determining factor in the development of the Westphalian state system since 1648. War was about power, but do inequalities in power and security inevitably lead to conflict? Is ‘power’ still relevant when the world has seen recent highly visible examples of cultural, ethnic and religious conflict? If there has been a decline in state on state conflict, are traditional methods of understanding why warfare occurs valid? While the character of conflict varies immeasurably has the very nature of warfare and what causes it changed? Or do wars about oil show the economics and power remain at the heart of the anarchic international system?

  • Is there such a thing as ‘new wars’?
  • Do traditional theories for understanding state on state conflict still possess utility in the era of the non-state actor?
  • Is warfare an inherent aspect of human interaction?
  • Who owns the process for limiting the potential for conflict, peoples, states or the international community in the form of the UN?

Security, so governments tell their people, is the number one duty that the state fulfils on behalf of its citizens. But what happens when concepts of ‘security’ begin to impinge upon concepts of liberty, freedom and the right of the citizen to live their lives according to their own moral and ethical code? Should the organs of the state have the right to access the private data of its citizens? In the UK we profess to be an upholder of liberal democratic right but are a society under constant surveillance. But who watches the watchers?

  • Who was right, Apple or the FBI?
  • Has the Edward Snowden case and its revelations changed the balance of state intervention in the lives of its citizens?
  • Is freedom always compromised by concepts of security?
  • What can the individual do to reform the system?

The world has once again seen a spate of terror attack by non-state actors on targets in mainland Europe. Is this the biggest threat facing a ‘western’ way of life? But why are so many other terror attacks in Africa, the Middle East and the Far East underreported in the Western Media? Has terrorism entered a new, religious age, and if so have previous waves of terror been supplanted by its current manifestation. Is the age of political terror dead? Yet, more people have been killed by state use of terror than by non-state terrorists, so why do we focus more on the latter? What can be done to limit the likelihood of terror acts?

  • Has the age of the political use of terror been superseded by religious terrorism?
  • Why have state, and why do some still enact, political violence and terror upon their peoples?
  • What is the very nature of terror, a means to an end or an act in itself?
  • When do you talk to people who have blood on their hands?


Flickr album from the Global security challenge 2016