By Alyson J.K. Bailes
Former Director of the SIPRI
Many young people are alienated from and disillusioned by the modern processes of international security. They see vast sums being spent on armies and arms, and the threat of mass-destruction techniques growing both among the existing nuclear powers and among states tempted by the chance of proliferation. They see terrorism being raised up as a new 'great enemy' in a way that overlooks the many complexities of this age-old challenge and that may lead to excessive limiting of the rights of ordinary citizens. And at the same time they see reluctant, late and insufficient international responses to real humanitarian calamities like the Darfur conflict, the Indian Ocean tsunami and the Kashmir earthquake.
The answer for young people should not be to turn their backs on the world of defence and security or to condemn everyone involved in it. Bad security as well as good security starts from human beings and there are always human solutions for it. Whether peace crumbles in future or can be further strengthened is for humans themselves to decide.
Traditional security problems involving weapons, war and internal conflict don't have to be left just for governments to handle. Citizens should debate and control their own governments' actions, and should also find out what the businesses in their country are doing (especially companies providing defence equipment and military services) and make clear their views on that. Modern industry is more and more showing how it can be influenced by share-holder and stake-holder power when important moral issues and strong feelings are at stake. Private persons can also support, and work in, charities and NGOs that are trying to heal conflict problems through mediation, humanitarian support, advice and practical help for re-building.
The security threats and risks we face today include many non-traditional ones ranging from terrorism and crime to the possible accidental or deliberate breakdown of vital infrastructures and supplies, and to the natural perils of disease and climate change. These are not tasks for armies but for civilian experts and civil society itself to deal with. Governments have no hope of controlling them without the help of scientists, responsible businesspeople, and ordinary citizens who have the skill and determination to help in protecting their own lives and others. Citizens also have to point out that it's not just life itself but quality of life that matters, and governments should not be allowed to turn societies back into prisons in order to keep these new threats at bay.
All generations need to work together for these ends but there are some issues where older people can hardly grasp what the new environment and the new threats are, let alone the right answers to them - for instance, the security of the internet and how to tackle cyber-sabotage. We all depend on younger people to find the solutions both for what we haven't solved in the past, and for the new challenges the twenty-first century will throw at them.