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Research and policy

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“The disconnect between people and information in the security realm severs the formulation of policy from the winning over of informed public consent. Open Briefing has the potential to bridge this information gap.”
Ian Davis, NATO Watch

Open Briefing recognises that there needs to be a fundamental shift away from war being perceived and used as an extension of foreign and security policies if our efforts on the ground are to be more than just a sticking plaster. As such, Open Briefing also scrutinises the actions of governments and militaries and generates alternative policies that emphasise diplomacy, human rights and the rule of law. This work is intelligence-led and grounded in an evidence-based approach to policy development. We also leverage our networks of influence to promote these alternative options to opinion-formers, policymakers and the general public. Importantly, we also provide research and intelligence support to other organisations working to develop and advocate for sustainable security policies.

As part of our work in this area, Open Briefing publishes policy-orientated publications, which are informed by rigorous research and subject to peer review. These publications are guided by the long-standing and near-universal concerns of progressive civil society: promoting human rights, maintaining human security and protecting the environment.

This is important because issues of defence, security and foreign policy are often shrouded in secrecy. The United States used special forces, mercenaries and proxy armies in order to fight wars out of the public eye during the Cold War, but the recent and rapid development of new technologies and capabilities, such as armed drones, offensive cyber operations and mass surveillance, has led many Western governments to embrace the strategy of remote warfare. In doing so, these governments are attempting to sidestep parliamentary, congressional and public oversight of their actions. This leads to poor military decision-making and failed foreign policy strategies, and leaves the public unable to properly engage with these issues or hold politicians and military leaders to account. Remote warfare allows actions to be approved that would never be considered using conventional military means; yet the consequences and risks of those actions are not being adequately considered.

The recent and rapid development of new military technologies and capabilities has led to rise of remote warfareClick To Tweet

Remote warfare is the latest iteration of what can be characterised as the control paradigm. This approach is based on the false premise that insecurity can be controlled through military force and containment. The hope is that the status quo can be maintained by containing insecurity ‘over there’. Security policies based on this paradigm are self-defeating in the long term, as they simply create a pressure cooker effect, and eventually the lid blows off. The most obvious recent examples of this approach are the war on terror, which essentially aimed to keep the lid on al-Qaeda without addressing the root causes in Western policy, and the war on drugs, which attempts to keep the lid on the rising tide of cartel violence in Latin America without addressing the root causes of illicit drug consumption in North America. Such an approach to national and international security is deeply flawed, and is distracting the world’s politicians from developing realistic and sustainable solutions to the non-traditional threats facing the world.

There is a particular focus within our think tank on remote warfare and the wider control paradigm and the contrasting approach of sustainable security. Sustainable security is a framework for thinking about security based on understanding integrated security trends and developing preventative responses. The central premise of sustainable security is that you cannot successfully control all the consequences of insecurity, but must work to resolve the causes. In other words, ‘fighting the symptoms’ will not work, you must instead ‘cure the disease’.

You cannot successfully control all the consequences of insecurity, but must work to resolve the causesClick To Tweet

Sustainable security focusses on four interconnected, long-term drivers of insecurity in particular: climate change, competition over resources, marginalisation of the ‘majority world’ and global militarisation. These factors are the trends that are most likely to lead to substantial global and regional instability, and large-scale loss of life, of a magnitude unmatched by other potential threats. The sustainable security analysis makes a distinction between these trends and other security threats, which might instead be considered symptoms of the underlying causes and tend to be more localised and immediate (for example terrorism or organised crime). It promotes a comprehensive, systemic approach, taking into account the interaction of different trends which are generally analysed in isolation by others. It also places particular attention on how the current behaviour of international actors and Western governments is contributing to, rather than reducing, insecurity.

Sustainable security goes beyond the analysis of threats to the development of a framework for new security policies. It takes global justice and equity as the key requirements of any sustainable response, together with progress towards reform of the global systems of trade, aid and debt relief; a rapid move away from carbon-based economies; bold, visible and substantial steps towards nuclear disarmament (and the control of biological and chemical weapons); and a shift in defence spending to focus on the non-military elements of security. This takes into account the underlying structural problems in national and international systems and the institutional changes that are needed to develop and implement effective solutions. It also links long-term global drivers to the immediate security pre-occupations of ordinary people at a local level (such as corruption or violent crime). By aiming to cooperatively resolve the root causes of threats using the most effective means available, sustainable security is inherently preventative in that it addresses the likely causes of conflict and instability well before the ill-effects are felt.

The sustainable security framework was first set out by our executive director, Chris Abbott, and his colleagues at the Oxford Research Group, Paul Rogers and John Sloboda, in a seminal 2006 report, Global Responses to Global Threats: Sustainable Security for the 21st Century, and developed further in their popular 2007 book Beyond Terror: The Truth About the Real Threats to Our World. The Oxford Research Group continues to develop the sustainable security framework and both Open Briefing and the Remote Control Project are researching its antithesis, remote warfare.

“With its rational, thorough and transparent approach, Open Briefing has the potential to become an important corrective to often speculative media coverage.”
Magnus Nome, former editor-in-chief, openDemocracy