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          20 years of change - what really did change in the security environment?

          Since the fall of the Berlin Wall substantial changes in the security environment took place. New York was shocked on 9/11 in a way that was never before. London and Madrid were reminded of the nightmares in the times of IRA and ETA. In the Balkans the diversity of the Changes was so great that cannot be put under one denominator. Yet people somehow got used to refer to the “transitional period” comparing issues before and after the Changes or War took place. Iraq and Afghanistan absorbed the world attention and in many ways its huge resources. The list can continue but the main question that pricks ordinary people is - “Is my life more secure today?”

          Today in the beginning of the second decade of the 21st Century we have enough reason to look back and try to evaluate what did really change and what is the new security environment that we live in? In fact despite the persistent efforts by the security establishments to convince the public in the opposite the synergy between security challenges and environment was disrupted. In the beginning of the 21st Century second decade we are witnesses that Al’Kaida and Wikileaks have probably similar influence on our perception of security but obviously have completely different motives. Yet publically an impression is created that the security establishments’ response to them is somehow similar. Why is that?

          The new security challenges

          With the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact the bipolar model of confrontation passed away and new security challenges became more visible. In SEE, several countries experienced the atrocities of ethnical and religious clashes and cleansing. Terrorism, weapons of mass destruction proliferation, organized crime, cybercrime, human trafficking and others were identified as the new asymmetrical threats to democracy. Trans-border crime and international criminal cooperation proved to be easily achieved and showed relatively high level of synergy. On the other side, 9/11 revealed discrepancies in the inter-institutional cooperation among national security institutions. The synchronized Cyber attack on Estonia revealed that one whole country can be blocked by an unknown foe. “Wikileaks” proved that the information security is a relative issue and is not in balance with the universal principles of freedom of speech and information. Quite expectedly “Wikileaks” triggered information leaks on lower national levels and this even more perplexed the already complicated international situation. Iraq and Afghanistan military engagements continue to pose questions on the system of intelligence gathering, reliability, analysis and adequate reaction. The list of examples can be further expanded only to prove that security institutions and methods faced an urgent need to be also adapted to the new security environment.

          The new security institutions - governmental and private

          The last 20 years brought about substantial changes in the national and international security establishments. Most of the institutional changes were accomplished through not easily achieved political (internal and international) consensus. Changes were tested through “hot” and “cold” incidents and interventions. From the society point of view not everything that the security services and institutions did was made known and clear enough. Usually, civil society was informed about some “miscarriages” of the security institutional adaptation to the new challenges and threats. We know more of the mistakes and non-achievements of certain security operations than the successes they had in preserving our safety.

          From the perspective of the security management traditions this is evidently the normal situation - when a terrorist act is prevented it does not really make the headlines of the news agencies and usually the details of the operation still remain somehow unrevealed. When the cyber attack on Estonia was achieved it also did not trigger big news reports - it was so unbelievable, strange and humiliating that somehow was hushed down. “Wikileaks” produced head news but what it really showed was that the real “enemies of the State security” are now even more difficult to identify.

          It seems that one of the changes in recent times is the growing outsourcing of the security services. Why is this happening? Is it in order to make them economically efficient or more professionally executed? Or, maybe both? Now the safety of some commercial ships in the Mediterranean is guaranteed by the teams of a small but efficient private Israeli company. What about the whole fleet of battleships there, that probably costs Governments recourses equal to the capital of thousands of such companies. Just like the external security of NATO HQ in Brussels has been outsourced to a private security company. In some European countries the security of some military bases has been outsourced as well. Does this mean that the security has been privatized? Questions that inevitably lead us to the so called asymmetric (nonconventional) threats and symmetric (conventional) responses.

          The changes in civil society

          Institutional changes and security environment adaptation over these 20 years was not a standalone venture. Civil society’s perception of security was also subject to changes. There was a somehow comfortable consensus during the Cold War among the society members (especially after the Hippy’s movement) that security is subject to the clearly defined “friend and foe” system and security institutions are taking good care of it by achieving the deterrent balance. But the wars in the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, 9/11 attack and other challenges, in a very cruel way proved that the abolishment of the bipolar model was not the everlasting solution of security management. “Wikileaks” hinted to civil society that they can “peep” in the security institutions kitchen and not particularly like what they will see. The UN SC hearing on Sadam’s nuclear and chemical capabilities showed that not everything that the security institutions “prove to exist” turns to be a reality. Conspiracy theories emerged nourished by ineffective security services PR. Private initiatives like “Zeitgeist” challenged the basic fundamentals of democracy by building mysterious links between security, private, financial and others interests and deeds. “Zeitgeist” provokes mistrust towards practically everything Governments do. It leaves you with the impression that Democracy is worse that Stalin’s regime, because it’s more concealed.

          This is the reality, which lead to the Information Society unexpected rapid expansion. Today an activity can hardly be achieved if not directly or indirectly linked to internet. There is a globally based answer to practically any question or enquiry that you might think of and access to these “answers” is unlimited. Maybe for the first time in history ordinary people developed the sense and understanding of the POWER of information - a privilege of a minority for many centuries.

          The changes in the information society

          These global society changes would certainly not have happen if internet was not introduced. Initially created by the security (defense) establishments to serve their own needs, very quickly and quite unexpectedly turned to be their primary security challenge. Today information is not a privilege but a must and we are living in the new Information Society, which has no borders and probably no restrictions. It is exactly this development that finally and maybe definitely changed the security institutions perception of “friend and foe”.

          Friend and foe principle.

          The euphoria of the tumbling down of the Berlin wall was still high when the first killings in the Balkans became a reality. Many security services today pledge that the bloody dismantling of the former Yugoslav Federation was predicted, expected and inevitable but the fact is that hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives, home, property and were displaced in the heart of Europe at the end of the 20th century. And this happened only 45 years after the lessons learned from the Second World War. This happened with the active participation of the very same security institutions - internal and external that we granted with confidence and mandate to safeguard those that lost their lives. And then as if the Balkans was not enough but was followed by Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, 9/11, Madrid, London, the global financial crisis …..you name it.

          The security institutions were faced by a foe that had no country of origin, no really identifiable religion, might have been a respectable member of the society or was just using the best of the tools of Information Society. In some cases we learned later that the enemy was even part of the Security system itself.

          Who is then the enemy today - the terrorist Bin Laden, the corrupt or nationalistic government, the religious fundamentalist, Assange, the godfather of the Mafia, the computer guru at the age of 17 or ……This is how the perception of the enemy was completely changed and the discrepancy between the Civil Society perception and the Security Services perception on security was widened.

          The change that is happening without our own will

          New technologies, globalization and inevitable development of democracy are objective prerequisites that we can accept and do our best to adapt ourselves and the democratic institutions in this new environment to serve us best. It is not that we are not part of all these changes - yes we all contributed to the things that happened actively, passively, with knowledge or ignorance. But the issue that has irreversibly changed is that the control over the changes cannot be any more monopolized by individuals, groups or institutions, no matter how big and powerful they might be. We might conclude that the overall environment that defines the understanding of security has changed and we are transformed in to witnesses rather that leaders.

          How do we adapt to the changes in the security environment that changed our security perception.

          Once we accept that the security environment has changed it should not be any more a priority to keep on fighting the windmills of the above mentioned security challenges. We don’t need to raise a stick confronting the laser gun. Do not smash the monitor if you do not like what you see - change the software. Today we need to change our own perceptions of how the security institutions must be reorganized and re-tasked to face the new security environment. There are no simple answers and no one recipe. But we are all aware that the avalanche of information can easily swallow us and every precious freedom would be lost forever if we do not adapt.

          The process of adaptation must begin somewhere and the security institutions might be a good starting point. Here are some issues for consideration: -

          - Asymmetric threats and challenges are not confronted by conventional, symmetric means. These threats should be addressed by terminating their roots and causes.

          - The philosophy of “need to know” must be replaced by the deep understanding of “responsibility to share”.

          - Classification of information is not any more a safe haven for security institutions. Establishments should consider changing and adapting their methods of work rather than further engulf themselves in secrecy.

          - Only through security cooperation - inter-institutional, regional and international may institutions accomplish tangible results in improving the security environment.

          - Security is no more a monopoly of security institutions - they are only partners. They should not only behave as such but be treated as partners by Civil Society as well.

          Efrem Radev
          1 February 2011
          Expert on Security Issues

        • Tags: Security, cold war, terrorism, challenge, threat, security threat, Security Community
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