The two greatest challenges to global stability, security and prosperity in the next decade

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In order to identify and analyse the challenges over the next ten years to global security, stability and prosperity (SSP), we first need to define what we mean by those terms. This is necessary if we are to achieve a common understanding of the subject of our study as well as to set the boundaries of the areas under investigation.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines stability[1] as “situation in which something is not likely to move or change”. Moreover, stability in Security Studies, as Katarzyna Zukrowska[2] proposes, is to be understood from a political and economic standpoint.

Security is a multifaceted concept that has, over time, widened in scale and complexity. Since the end of the Cold War, security was inextricably associated with the Westphalian concept of the state: the primary focus of statecraft being the preservation of its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity against external aggression. In 1994, following the UNDP Human Development Report[3], the concept of security was widened to include the individual as the object of security. In addition to this, six new physical threats to security were identified. Subsequently, a constructivist approach[4] to the concept led to the development of the term, “securitization”, in which Security is considered a speech act, a construct, where threats to security are built depending on the political agenda (environment, immigration, etc).

The third term, Prosperity, is described in the Cambridge Dictionary[5] as “the state of being successful and having a lot of money.”

It can be seen that there is an undeniable and obvious correlation among this triad, Security-Stability-Prosperity. Security is the foundation and prerequisite for the establishment of political and economic Stability which, in turn, will enable Prosperity whereby governments and citizens can enjoy wealth and better economic prospects. Therefore, this paper will address the challenges faced in the sphere of Security - in its broadest sense as ‘securitization’ – as it impacts on the Stability and Prosperity of a given community.


Challenges to Security, Stability and Prosperity in the next decade

In a paper published in 2012 by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the research data shows that identity was the main cause of new conflicts; 60% of the non-state conflicts between 2001 and 2010 were due to ethnic or religious factors[6]. During the 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, political identities were the primary source for conflicts. There are numerous examples to illustrate this assertion: Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo, Georgia, etc. Amongst scholars such as Mary Kaldor, Munkler, Collier and Hoeffler and Bellamy there is agreement that identity was the trigger for the new conflicts, in which ethnicity, tribe and religion played a fundamental role.

These authors argue that while the geopolitical issues of the "old wars" were resolved or fought for ideologies or territories, in the new conflicts, or “new wars” as in Kaldor’s terminology, the elements that come into play are those related to political identities, understood as doctrines that try to strengthen and emphasize the importance of power structures based on the tribe, the nation, the clan, religion or language.

Even though some analysts consider it a historical phenomenon, others believe this new nationalism to be of recent construction, containing 2 distinct characteristics which are new. First, it seeks the disintegration of the state and not the construction of it and second, it is a nationalism that lacks a modernizing ideology[7]. Unlike the politics of ideas, which are open to all and therefore tend to be integrative, this politics of identity policy is exclusive and tends towards fragmentation[8].

Over the last century the former nationalisms were more related to nation-state building, however, the nowadays’ political identities are more hybrids and plurals. Globalization is not “bringing to an end the national project in regard to identity”[9]. It is giving rise to the free movement of capital, goods, commodities, services and people and provoking massive population movements across the planet. This has generated high levels of discontent in communities that feel threatened not only in their own individualities, culture, values and uniqueness but also with respect to their livelihood. As Creveld affirmed, war is not waged as an instrument of politics, but rather as an instrument of justice, religion or survival[10].

The discontent of a population that does not feel represented by its elite, or by politicians who seem not to care about its fears and needs, is being harnessed by populist movements to create tensions within nation states. These tensions also have repercussions at regional levels and impact on global alliances, further endangering the international SSP. There are plentiful examples of this across the globe and can be seen in countries like the USA, Italy, Poland, UK (Brexit), Austria, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Greece, etc. There are factors fuelling this in-group / out-group[11] sentiment which sees ‘the other’ as a threat. The phenomenon of mass immigration and/or the impact of the economic crisis are both key factors nurturing the upsurge of national identities. This is the case in Italy, Hungary, Poland or Sweden as well as the revived independent movement in Catalonia, a transversal politic identity drive that is not based upon ethnicity (several Latin Americans, and Muslims immigrants are among the fervent supporters) but it is fuelled and founded majorly on economic grounds due to the recent Spanish economic crisis.[12]

If immigration and economic factors are at the heart of the new nationalism, they clearly might exacerbate identity conflicts in the future. According to the UN population estimate for 2030[13], Africa will have 1.6 billion people, accounting for 50% of the global population growth. This fact, together with the unemployment rate, the degree of underdevelopment and the active conflicts in the African continent, will give rise to a massive movement of people fleeing poverty and death and seeking a better life in the more prosperous countries of Europe. Thus, the breeding ground for political identities and nationalist movements exists. These will have a destabilizing effect on international SSP by enabling inward-looking policies and potential intra-state conflicts; As some scholars argued “If identity change, also interests do it accordingly” (Kartzenstein, Jepperson, Wendt, 1996: 50). 


Revisionist States. China and Russia

Two superpowers arose in the aftermath of the second World War (WW II), the USSR and USA, competing to attain power in a Hobbesian world of international anarchy[14] (Hobbes:2014), that eventually culminated in what is known as the Cold War. That scenario was formally reflected in the structure of various Institutions that adapted to or were created to keep the status quo in force. The United Nations was born out of the WW II winners´ decision and the World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) from the Bretton Agreement as most significant organisations defining that order.

Eventually the fall of the Soviet bloc signified the pre-eminence of a unique hegemon whose supremacy was challenged on 11/S 2001. The following years witnessed a worn-out USA losing its economic and its military supremacy eroded and contested due to its simultaneous engagement in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars; while, at the same time, Russia and China started emerging as regional and world powers.

Russia, thanks to a fossil-based economy and favourable market prices, was able to rebuild its Armed Forces[15] and restore its national pride. It started defying the international order by regaining military parity with the USA, seeking to damage the European Union’s powerful economy, neutralizing the NATO alliance and creating an alternate anti-liberal and authoritarian model among far right and far left political parties around the globe. But above all, Russia tried to resurrect the Russian sphere of influence that had been severely shaken after the 1989 collapse. Its occupation of Crimea and its involvement in the Ukrainian internal conflict, along with its presence in Syria[16], its battle to control the access to the Artic[17] are clear signals sent to claim a better position in the world order. Not surprisingly, the British Chief of General Staff recently declared[18] “Russia is biggest threat to UK since Cold War”

On the other hand, China had always had all the ingredients to become a superpower: territory, population and resources. However, it is only after embracing the capitalist-focus economy, that the “Middle Kingdom” has stood out as an international economic power, on the point of snatching the global lead from the USA[19]. The figures are staggering in all economic and financial domains. China has invested in the strategic sectors of many countries around the world, but mainly in Africa[20] and South America to ensure an in-flow of natural resources. This is a strategic move to ensure its continuing economic growth. USA has tried to catch up in that economic race, but the Chinese figures seem unreachable.

At the beginning of the century, China was defined by many scholars and analysts as the “peaceful rising power,”[21] in the sense that this titanic economy would not translate into military power. However, recent facts seem to prove the contrary. China has re-steered its military strategy towards a more aggressive one by steadily increasing its defence budget by far more than any other country, and currently possesses very powerful and high-tech military machinery. Thus, the first aircraft carrier is already in operation and the second one is under construction, but soon expected on the water. That shift in the military weaponry does not represent a defensive posture as the A2/AD[22] capabilities developed and acquired so far by China, clearly show a “force projection intent”. Therefore, “the security dilemma” is served[23].

Hence it cannot be ruled out that the world order falls into the Thucydides trap:[24],: a rising power confronting a declining hegemon. In fact, a trade war has recently started, as announced by Donald Trump. [25] His statement has been echoed by the US. defence secretary who has called Russia and China "revisionist powers"[26] and warned that the focus of U.S. military strategy was shifting away from terrorism and back towards what he called "great power competition”. Russia and China, alike, are also willing to put under revision the international order in order to enjoy a better position in the ever-fought over and “chaotic” international arena.

In short, both Russia and China are challenging the international order in the face of an American regressive economy and world leadership. It is to be expected that any geopolitical gap such as the deep hole left by the USA (after its strategic pull-out from Middle east following its disengagement form Iraq and Afghanistan conflict), will be quickly filled. This these new emergent powers pose a real danger to the international SSP.

The Chinese economy is already ahead of the American one. The confrontation does not need to be played on the military game board in order to impact on the world SSP. A head-on fight in another domain such as the economic one would equally bring hazardous consequences. While a tougher China is not expected to match the American military for the next 10 years, the international stability and prosperity will be surely affected, impacting on the world population. in the classic zero-sum realist approach and self-help interest setting.



This paper has proposed that political identities and the so-called ‘revisionist states’ are the most dangerous challenges for international security, stability and prosperity for the next decade. However, there is still a more dangerous threat on that domain which is precisely the combination or merge of both defies. That is the outcome of emerging powers with authoritarian governments, such China and Russia, with no democratic controls, check and balances, or illiberal democracies[27] whereby the danger of the extreme nationalism joins to the impulse of rearranging the established status quo in the most archetypal realist scenery.


Victor Mario Bados Nieto es General de Brigada del Ejército de Tierra. Actualmente se encuentra realizando curso de Liderazgo Estratégico, Seguridad y Relaciones Internacionales del Royal College of Defence Studies (RCDS) y el Master de Seguridad del King’s College London (KCT), siendo igualmente candidato a doctor por la Universidad de Granada.



Bellamy, A. J. &, Williams, P. & Griffin, S. Understanding Peacekeeping, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2004.

Collier y Hoeffler. “Greed and grievance in civil war”, Oxford Economics Papers, 56 (4), pp 563-595, 2004

Gary J. Schmitt, Dan Blumenthal, Reuel Marc Gerecht, Frederick W. Kagan, Walter Russell Mead. Rise of the Revisionists: Russia, China, and Iran. American Enterprise Institute, 2018Kaldor, M. New and Old Wars: Organized Violence in a Global Era. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001.

Kaldor, M. In Defence of New Wars. Stability, 2013 2 (1): 1-16.

J.-M. Guéhenno, The End of the Nation-State (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995.

Jepperson, Wendt, and Katzenstein. Norms, identity, and culture in national security. In Culture and National Security, ed. Katzenstein, pp. 33-75. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996Münkler, H. Viejas y “nuevas guerras”. Asimetría y privatización de la violencia. Madrid: Siglo XXI, 2005.

Kenneth Waltz. Theory of International Politics,1979, Waveland Press, edition 2013

Kenneth Waltz. America unrivalled, Chapter 1, Structural Realism after the Cold War. Cornell University Press, 2000

Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan. Oxford. Clarendon, edition 2014

Randall Schweller .Opposite but Compatible Nationalisms: A Neoclassical Realist Approach to the Future of US–China Relations. The Chinese Journal of International Politics, 2018, Volume 11, Issue 1, Pages 23–48.

Van Creveld, M The transformation of war. New York: The Free Press. 991.

[2] Katarzyna Zukrowska, The link between Economics, Stability and Security in a transforming economy, Institute of Development and Strategic Studies, Warsaw, 1999.

[3] 1994 UN Human Development Report (HDR). Seven essential dimensions of human security were listed: Economic, Food, Health, Environmental, Personal, Community and Political.

[4] The concept of securitization was originally formulated by Wæver 1995, and elaborated by Buzan, et al. 1998. The idea still stands as the Copenhagen school’s most elaborate shape of the concept to date.

[6] Themnér Lotta and Peter Wallensteen, Patterns of organized violence, 2001–10", SIPRI Yearbook, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 59

[7] Mary Kaldor, New and Old Wars: Organized Violence in a Global Era. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), 40

[8] Ibid., 8

[9] J.-M. Guéhenno, The End of the Nation-State (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995), 98

[10] Martin Van Creveld,The transformation of war. (New York: The Free Press,1999), 145

[11] Christophe P. Muster, Perception of the social group’s interests in the United States (Berkeley: University of California), 48

[12] Catalan identity is marked by the language, it’s not reserved for native speakers; it also includes the many second-language speakers of Catalan. Oxford University Press, “, accessed 04 Nov, 2018

[14] Hobbes considered in his work “Leviatan” that anarchy was state of nature of persons and States and human being-like entities: the struggle for power was the natural survival instinct.

[21] Zheng Bijian, “China's Peaceful Rise to Great-Power Status”. Foreign Affairs, Sep-Oct 2005

[22] Anti-Area/Area Denial capabilities

[23] The security dilemma is a concept in the field of the Realism Theory of the International Relations understanding the security in terms of a vicious cycle whereby a state that harnesses its security capabilities, either committing to use weapons or making alliances, can lead other states to respond with similar measures, producing increased tensions leading to a conflict.

[24] The Thucydides Trap is a theory proposed by Graham Allison who postulates that war between a rising power and an established power is inevitable, although not always.

[27] Coined by Zakaria Fareed (1997), "The Rise of Illiberal Democracy", Foreign Affairs, 76(6), 22-43. Illiberal democracies are understood as democratic regimes that are backsliding toward autocracy. He argues that the democracy wrap-up term offers the opportunity to populists and autocrats to promote illiberalism while preserving the veil of democracy.