Lead academic: Professor Patrick Porter (SSI)
Lead academic: Dr Martin Robson (SSI)

Global security: confronting the complex security challenges of the future

Campus: Exeter

This challenge welcomed several notable speakers, including Lt Gen Paul Newton (retired), Rob Wainwright (Director of Europol), Sir Jon Day (Former Chief of Joint Intelligence Committee), David Bond (writing for policy expert), Steve Tatham who introduced fake news and Dr Stephanie Blair (Scholar-practitioner who has worked with the UN and OSCE and other operations). University of Exeter experts also gave talks, including Professor Patrick Porter and Kubo Macak.

Students were invited to interact with guests and ask questions. These proved to be a very positive aspect of the week: “Hearing from external speakers was very important for me. It made me understand how they work and address different issues. It also improved my confidence when, working on my MINSUB, I had the opportunity to share my ideas with them and notice that some of my ideas were good and valid.”

Lt Gen Paul Newton (retired) started the week with an outline of global challenges facing the world today, which acted as inspiration for later in the day when the students decided their MINSUB (ministerial submission) topic. This was followed by an introductory session, whereby the students met the others in their enquiry groups and discussed the potential subjects they could work on throughout the week.

Group work, which could ordinarily be seen as a challenge, was a rewarding part of the week: “I feel that my confidence in promoting my ideas within a group environment was aided by Grand Challenges. The programme emphasises the need for cooperation in each seminar, highlighting how policy formulation can only be achieved by a broad consultation of various points of view. Thus, the focus on group work within Grand Challenges meant I learnt how group work demands strong personal relations to, which is promoted by the seminar sessions.”

The structure of each day was the same: an invigorating talk first thing in the morning setting the tone for the day, followed by some work on either the group project or MINSUB. After lunch, there was another keynote speech, followed by more time for the students to work on their outputs for the rest of the day.

Thursday was very much crunch time for the students, as they juggled preparing their group presentation ready for the Friday presentations and their MINSUB. During the week, they conducted their own independent research, which coupled with the talks from the experts, to lay the foundations for their work. The MINSUB proved beneficial for the students for a multitude of reasons, as explained by a student: “I now feel confident that I can write effectively in very concise, sub-500 word documents, which allows for a level of precision that is not possible (or wanted) with my regular experience at university of 3000 word essays. There were also the benefits of public speaking and presentation skills, but as this is my third Challenge, I have already had experience in those areas. They were still fun, however.”

The Friday Showcase allowed for the students to present their group work on their chosen subject, which varied from the causes of war, terrorism, fake news and global politics. The students, however, also talked to other members regarding their MINSUB, looking at the topics they covered, why they did, and what they got out of it. Students discussed the other Challenge work, while delving deeper into their own, all in a celebratory atmosphere.

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 2017