In an age where threats to international security are pervasive and multifaceted, coherence in security efforts has become more vital than ever. From the resurgence of great power competition to non-state actors leveraging asymmetrical warfare to the silent but escalating dangers of cyber-attacks and misinformation campaigns, the fabric of global stability is being tested. The necessity for a coordinated and cohesive response to these diverse threats cannot be overstated. Exploring the complexities of the current international security environment and the imperative for coherent strategies to ensure peace and stability is vital.
The security challenges of the twenty-first century are characterized by their complexity and interconnectedness. No longer are threats limited to traditional military confrontations between nation-states. Today, they span across multiple domains — cyber, space, refugees, informational, and economic — and involve a broader array of actors, including non-state entities and supranational organizations. In this context, coherence in security policy and practice is not simply a strategic preference but a necessity for survival and prosperity.
A return to great power rivalries, most notably between the United States, China, and Russia, has marked a shift from the relatively unipolar world that followed the Cold War. This has led to a competitive dynamic in which these powers vie for influence, not just through military might, but through economic coercion, technological advancement, and soft power. In this competition, coherence requires balancing assertive action against rivals with the need to maintain global stability and avoid catastrophic conflicts.
The challenge lies in crafting policies that deter aggression and promote respect for international norms without triggering escalation that could lead to open warfare.
Non-state actors, such as terrorist organizations, private military corporations, and transnational criminal organizations, exploit the openness of the international system to further their objectives. Asymmetrical threats, including terrorism, cyber-attacks, and guerrilla warfare, are favoured as they indirectly allow weaker groups to challenge stronger states. International security efforts must be flexible and coordinated to combat these threats. Intelligence sharing, joint operations, and cross-border legal frameworks are necessary to track and neutralize non-state actors. Such efforts, however, must be conducted with respect for human rights and the rule of law to maintain legitimacy.
In the digital age, cybersecurity has become a cornerstone of national security. Cyber-attacks can cripple critical infrastructure, steal sensitive data, and undermine public confidence in government institutions. Furthermore, information warfare — the spread of disinformation and propaganda — is being used to polarize societies, influence elections, and foment discord. Countering these threats requires a coherent approach to cyber defence and information integrity. It involves securing networks and infrastructure, fostering media literacy among the populace, and establishing norms and regulations that govern the behaviour of states and non-state actors in the information space.
Economic security is intrinsically linked to international stability. Issues such as trade imbalances, unfair economic practices, and currency and debt manipulation can destabilise the global order. The economic dimension of security also encompasses the protection of critical supply chains and the prevention of economic espionage.
A coherent international approach to economic security involves enforcing fair trade practices, safeguarding intellectual property rights, and establishing emergency protocols to protect and restore supply chains disrupted by crises, whether natural or man-made.
The role of multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, NATO, and various regional organizations is pivotal in fostering coherence in international security. These institutions provide forums for dialogue, conflict resolution mechanisms, and collective action frameworks. However, they often face challenges such as veto powers, divergent national interests, and bureaucratic inertia, which can impede cohesive action. It is crucial to reform and strengthen these institutions to make them more responsive and representative. This includes ensuring they have the capabilities and authorities necessary to address current security challenges and that all member states are committed to upholding the rules and norms established by the international community.
The security implications of climate change are becoming increasingly apparent. Resource scarcity, natural disasters, and the displacement of populations not only have direct human costs but also have the potential to exacerbate existing conflicts and generate new ones. Addressing these challenges requires a coherent strategy integrating environmental policy with security planning. It involves mitigating climate change’s effects through reduced carbon emissions and adapting to its impacts through resilience building and disaster response planning.
Given the complexity of these challenges, how can coherence in international security be achieved? The answer lies in a multi-pronged approach that includes Establishing a common understanding of threats and objectives among international actors. This requires open dialogue and intelligence sharing to ensure all parties operate with similar facts and assumptions. Developing integrated policies that address the multi-dimensional nature of security threats is essential. For example, cybersecurity policies should not be developed in isolation from trade or defence policies, as these areas are increasingly interconnected.
Within individual nations, achieving coherence requires robust interagency coordination. Security challenges often span the responsibilities of multiple government departments, necessitating a synchronized approach to ensure that efforts are not contradictory or redundant. No nation can single-handedly manage all aspects of international security. Effective multilateral cooperation, alliances, and partnerships are necessary to leverage the collective strength and capabilities of the international community. The institutions responsible for managing international security must be adaptable to the rapidly changing global landscape. This means adjusting to new threats and technologies and flexing their decision-making processes. Supporting the development of security capacities in weaker states is crucial for achieving international coherence. This can help prevent the emergence of power vacuums that can be exploited by malicious actors and contribute to a more balanced global security environment.
Upholding international law and norms is vital for a coherent security strategy. It establishes clear expectations for state behaviour and provides a basis for accountability when those norms are violated. Engaging with non-governmental organizations and the private sector can provide additional insights and resources for addressing security challenges. It also helps to ensure that policies are grounded in a broad base of stakeholder interests. To counter disinformation and propaganda, coherent strategic communication is necessary. This involves countering false narratives and proactively building a truthful and persuasive information environment. In the long term, fostering sustainable development is integral to security. Sustainable development initiatives can reduce the likelihood of conflict by addressing the root causes of instability, such as poverty, inequality, and lack of opportunity.
Despite the clear need for a coherent approach to international security, several challenges persist. States are often reluctant to surrender any aspect of their sovereignty to international institutions or bind themselves to collective security mechanisms that may constrain their freedom of action. Even among allies, there can be significant divergences in security priorities and approaches, driven by different threat perceptions, historical experiences, and domestic political considerations. The pace of technological innovation can outstrip the ability of policy and law to keep up, leading to gaps in governance and vulnerabilities in security. Many states and international institutions face significant resource constraints that limit their ability to implement comprehensive security strategies.
Achieving coherence requires the conceptual recognition of its importance and the political will to take concrete actions, which can be difficult to muster in the face of competing interests and agendas.
Ultimately, the need for coherence in international security is evident and urgent. The multiplicity of threats and challenges, along with the interconnectedness of the global community, demands a unified and strategic approach. While significant obstacles exist to achieve this coherence, the costs of fragmentation — in terms of human lives, economic stability, and global peace — are too high to ignore. Ultimately, achieving coherence in international security will require sustained effort, compromise, and a commitment to a shared vision of a stable and secure international order. It is a task that requires the participation of governments and international bodies and the active engagement of civil society and the private sector. A coherent response is the only way forward in a world where security challenges know no borders.
Ph.D. completed at Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa (SSSUP)