Risk vs. Security: Intersections between Two Terrains Report

April 5, 2016

Date of activity: January 29, 2016 - January 30, 2016

The Security Studies Unit (SSU) of the Policy Alternatives Research Institute hosted the Workshop on Risks in International Society and New Dimension of Security held at the Keio Plaza Hotel (Tokyo), on January 29-30, 2016. The event was made possible by the kind support of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and saw the participation of very distinguished scholars not only from Japan but also from various other countries.
The workshop extended over two consecutive days with five closed sessions and a public session entitled Risk vs. Security: Intersections between Two Terrains.

Photo: Izawa Hiroyuki


Session 1 – Security Community vs. Risk Community?
Theories and Issues

This session focused on the exploration of alternative categories to security for thinking about the emerging challenges of a complex, interconnected world.

Particularly the concept of “risk” has emerged as one of the most powerful analytical tools, with important consequences on the political and organizational level. On the one hand, traditional conceptions of security are still prevailing, but governments are increasingly looking for ways to assess the probability of threats which are currently unknown (precisely the definition of risk). Consequently, we have witnessed the rise of a “risk assessment” and “horizon scanning” movement at a global level, as also demonstrated by the debate on this topic at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos.
Some governments have therefore moved on to the creation of risk assessment documents, as is the case with Singapore, while for others, such as Japan, the development of “risk communities” appears to be held back by a number of barriers in the bureaucratic structure, political culture, and the psychology of numerous governmental agencies.

Session 2 – Case Study (1) Nuclear Security/Risk

The debate in this session explored a number of themes associated with the changing nature of risks pertaining the use of nuclear technologies, both military and civilian. Alongside persisting security questions related to unauthorized handling and access to nuclear weapons and fissile materials, panelists have discussed the thorny question of the globally growing stockpiles of fissile materials, particularly of plutonium as a by-product of nuclear fuel re-processing. This question appears to be of special importance for Japan as this country holds currently the largest stockpile of plutonium in the world. Furthermore, two other topics have been touched upon, namely the trajectory of nuclear power generation after the Fukushima Daiichi accident of 2011, and nuclear proliferation. Regarding the first point, the Fukushima accident has changed the political orientation towards nuclear power generation in some countries, which have decided to phase out such technologies, while in others the commitment to the expansion of nuclear power generation has been confirmed. With reference to the second point, historical research has shown that sheer military alliances vis-à-vis common enemies may not per se be able to prevent nuclear proliferation, while the credibility of deterrence appears the key factor to stop political leaders from pursuing the acquisition of nuclear weapons. The task of limiting proliferation seems particularly difficult in the current age of growing uncertainty and less clearly defined alliances.

Session 3 – Case Study (2) Space Security/Risk

This panel introduced one of the newest topics in the security discourse, namely the question of space security, which is articulated in a number of sub-topics. Space is today a crucially important area where vitally important assets (namely various kinds of artificial satellites) are located to provide communication, monitoring, and intelligence services without which not only modern defense, but our complex industrial economy could not function. However, those assets are exposed to a series of threats. Space is indeed becoming increasingly crowded, contested, and militarized.

Leading military powers are now developing instruments for the possible targeting of rival satellites in case of war, signaling that a war can expand to space, or it may start in space and expand successively to other domains. Despite the commonality of the space security problem, it appears today that some kind of international agreement about a shared code of conduct is unlikely to be reached in the near future. Furthermore, the question of space debris has been discussed, namely the threat posed to space equipment by orbiting objects or fragments thereof which are no longer in use. The quantity of such debris has dramatically increased in the past twenty years, prompting a global debate on how to tackle the issue. However, also because of the dual use (military/civilian) of nearly all space technologies, there is reluctance from the major space powers to commit to a major change in their policies.

Session 4 – Case Study (3) Cyber Security/Risk

Alongside space and nuclear technologies, the question of security of electronic networks is rapidly becoming a crucial security problem, not only for governments, but also for the numerous private companies which provide and/or rely upon internet and other electronic services. The panel discussed the emerging threat of sabotage and possible terrorism coming from the spread of computer viruses able to inflict damage to physical infrastructures, particularly in the case of highly sensitive targets like nuclear reactors. Successively, the discussion focused on the problem of ensuring the security of vital computer infrastructure operated by governments and private companies, which require continuous updates and investments due to the rapidly changing nature of cyber attacks. However, cyber security is not just a question of collective organizations, but also of private citizens accessing online services and other data transmission systems.

As previously discussed, in all newly emergent security domains, despite the commonality of such threats worldwide, international cooperation remains very limited and no international code of conduct has been agreed upon so far, although initiatives in such a direction already exist.

Session 5 - Intersection of Security and Risk

Summing up the basic concepts that emerged up to this point during the workshop, Professor Ikenberry introduced the panel by inviting the participants to recover the simplicity within the complexity of the matters which have been explored in their technical details, by making sense of such complexity. How is it possible to work together on the challenges humanity is facing? The various panelists have highlighted the persistence of different, even competing definitions and logics of security, and the increasing amount and seriousness of risks to which human societies are inevitably exposed as a consequence of their complexity and of their reliance on imperfect technologies.

It has once more emerged that, despite the commonality of many problems lying at the intersection of international politics and technologies, the international community is currently struggling to abandon a national view on security and risk in favor of a more internationalist approach which may one day yield common norms and rules of conduct.

Public Session - Risk vs. Security: Intersections between Two Terrains

The Workshop on Risks in International Society and New Dimension of Security concluded with a public event taking place between 14:30 and 16:30 at the Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku, Tokyo. It was chaired by Professor Kiichi Fujiwara, Director of the Security Studies Unit of the Policy Alternatives Research Institute, and saw the participation of Professor Ole Wæver from the University of Copenhagen, Professor Christopher Coker from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), Professor Heng from the National University of Singapore, Professor Dingli Shen from Fudan University (Shanghai), and Professor G. John Ikenberry from Princeton University.

The public session was opened by Professor Fujiwara, who illustrated to the public the purpose of the workshop. This consisted in exploring alternative and possibly unconventional views on security. Indeed, in the security discourse there is often a recurrence of motives which are now almost taken for granted, such as the geostrategic friction between China and the broader East Asia region, or the threat posed by the DPRK to its neighbors. However, there are numerous newly emerging threats in a rapidly changing security environment. One may think about the sudden appearance of ISIS as one example, but other security issues concern less debated assets of our technological world, such as nuclear, space and cyber technologies. This workshop has been organized precisely with the aim of tackling these emerging questions lying in the gray areas between international political studies and technology. He then proceeded to introduce the speakers, who in turn delivered short statements.

Professor Ikenberry expressed great appreciation for the successful workshop, which highlighted the existence of two logics of security, namely a traditional logic, which is one concerned with security threats, such as those that emerged after the First World War, dealing with alliances, arm races, deterrence and so forth; and a new security logic, which is preoccupied with the challenges coming from technological developments, i.e. those challenges which come from modernity itself. This second set of threats and challenges are diverse in nature; some emerge in the form of accidents, others as deliberate attacks, sabotage, or terrorism. There is in any case a growing sense of mutually shared vulnerability, which will hopefully lead to ways to cooperate internationally and manage these issues. Finally, Professor Ikenberry stressed that the second logic does not trump the first one, as this continues to persist; secondly, despite the clear need to build risk communities and collectively manage risks, this task entails numerous difficulties; and thirdly, there is an inherent hurdle in trying to tackle issues which appear to be both systemic and long-term, as most security actors concentrate overwhelmingly on relatively short-term threats.

Professor Coker as well communicated words of appreciation for the productive workshop, where the complexity of new security dimensions had emerged very clearly. There are now two parallel dimensions of security. One has been the traditional dimension of strategy, which is coming back after a time of relative ease following the end of the Cold War. The other is the convergence of a series of crises that are demographic, environmental and economic, which can have devastating political consequences. Professor Coker recalled for instance how the collapse of the Syrian regime has been triggered, among other things, by an unprecedented drought which forced millions of Syrians to move from the countryside to the cities, causing a socio-political domino effect. He expressed all his concerns about the dire situation in the Middle East, which in his opinion will probably see further deterioration in the near future. Even in other parts of the world we are seeing a diminished level of international cooperation, as people turn primarily to the state in time of acute crisis rather than to international institutions, something which is then reflected in a return of identity politics worldwide, including in the US and EU.

Professor Shen spoke about the problem of nuclear security, particularly concerning nuclear weapons. Many of these questions have been discussed in detail already during the Cold War; however, today we face more complex threats, which add on to the traditional ones concerning the safety of warheads and of fissile materials. Concerning the latter, Professor Shen expressed his concern about the growing stockpile of plutonium, with Japan currently having the largest amount of such material; he therefore underscored the need for heightened collaboration and sharing of information.

Professor Heng highlighted five points with regard to emerging security themes. 1) Globalization massively contributes to the growth and the spread of security issues, particularly because of the ease with which people can circulate, as is very clear in the case of pandemics; 2) Urbanization adds even more to the interconnectedness, as most people today live in cities, and cities are precisely the poles of global connections; 3) In opposition to a fairly recent past when large-scale risks were primarily the problems of government, we see today an increasing risk burden for private companies, especially those operating infrastructures and systems which are vital for our complex economies and societies; 4) Governments are more and more aware of these risks, and many are moving towards or are already engaged in the production of national risk assessments, such as in Singapore; 5) Governmental response to risk and to the results of risk assessment exercises are expressed in particular in new forms of policy assessment and agency coordination, overcoming traditional bureaucratic compartmentalization.

Professor Wæver began his commentary by recalling how difficult it is to construct a hierarchy of security threats. Indeed, different experts, if interviewed on this point, would certainly produce very different answers, making use of different categories and ways of facing the problem. In general, he stated that it is possible to identify three logics of threat assessment, namely: a) the logic of security, which identifies what cannot be allowed to happen, those elements which have to be protected; b) the logic of risk, whereby a certain amount of risk is inevitable, and the question is therefore a matter of calculation and management; c) the logic of uncertainty, which encompasses ideally also elements which are not only unknown (like risk), but also unknowable. Each of these approaches offers advantages and disadvantages, although Professor Wæver remains convinced that the logic of security still trumps its conceptual competitors.

Risk vs. Security: Intersections between Two Terrains

Movie : 1:26:26


Date: Saturday, January 30 2016, 14:30-16:30
Venue: Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo 44th floor "Ensemble"
speakers: G. John Ikenberry (Princeton University)
Ole Wæver (University of Copenhagen)
Shen Dingli (Fudan University)
Christopher Coker (London School of Economics)
Yee Kuang Heng (National University of Singapore)
moderator: Kiichi Fujiwara (University of Tokyo)
Language: English/Japanese simultaneous interpretation
Hosted by: Security Studies Unit, Policy Alternatives Research Institute, the University of Tokyo

*This workshop was organized through subsidies from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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