Rome '08 Workshop

Key Address: The Search for Global Security 

General Vincenzo Camporini

Italian Chief of Defense 

General Vincenzo Camporini


It is sometimes beneficial to consider the origin and the meaning of the terms that have become magic passwords in the public debate. One of these terms is security and I propose to you to consider the power of this concept in the history of mankind. 

The term comes from Latin and it means “without worry.” Even a superficial analysis reveals that security, or better, the search for security is at the origin of most of the forms of violence. Since the early days of history, even the most brutal aggression has its roots in the search for security: I feel unsecure because I do not have access to commodities which I consider essential, therefore I challenge those who have it. Even World War II was justified in this way: Hitler wanted the “vital space” for the Third Reich, the space which was needed to make Germany feel secure. 

Why do I tell you this? Simply because I want to warn you against the belief that the use of the term security is sufficient to grant legitimacy and legality to any action and intervention. It is therefore necessary to qualify the term and we may feel better and more comfortable if we add the word “global,” which may also be used ambiguously, if I pretend to feel secure in every field, regardless of the feelings of the rest of mankind, but which may also indicate a wider and possibly universal share of a state of security, where no one fears to be deprived of the resources believed to be vital for his own subjective welfare. 

I need not tell you that today this is utopia since we all fear to lose vital resources: energy, water, food, house, life or even only a pleasant weekend. And this is true for the individual as well as for the communities, small or large as they may be. Therefore a real global security may be searched only by trying to grant everybody what is felt as a need, a mission which may seem impossible but which is the only one worth the effort in times when the consequences of a drawing in a paper in Copenhagen inevitably is the direct cause of several killings in the Philippines. 

No geographical limits, no time limits, because IT makes any time to become real time; no borders between disciplines since even flower cultivation may, and indeed has become a factor. Biology, cybernetics, climate—whether it changes or not—everything may become a threat. Hence global threats become the challenge for global security. 


Most striking has been the inversion—some might say perversion—of the traditional definition of modern war provided by Carl von Clausewitz (On War, 1873) as “an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will,” and as “not a mere act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political activity by other means.” Looking at what happened on 9/11 it was very hard to identify a diplomatic counterpart to discuss with! 

The shock produced by the initial attack eroded the foundations of a democratic civil society. I do not have the ambition to change what von Clausewitz wrote; however, previous definitions are not in line with contemporary changes achieved by globalization, terrorism, and advances in communication technology that lead to a displacement of violence, and an increased targeting of civilians. 

The threat shuffle reflects shifts in the level of analysis as well as the perspective of the observer. It demonstrates implicitly as well as explicitly the increasing importance of chrono and bio over geo-politics and immediacy elevates the potentiality of the threat too. 

Many of the threats do not cause global conflicts in and of themselves. Rather, it is the complexity and combinations—the phase shifts—of the threats that often lead to violent conflict and global insecurity. 


Just as a system is more than the sum of its parts, a network is more than nodes, hubs, and connected agents of power. Defined by Kevin Kelly as “organic behavior in a technological matrix,” a network produces effects as well as conveys information. A network can be a force multiplier as in net-centric warfare or networked terrorism. 

Networks are critical to media, cultural and economic flows. Post Cold War, post 9/11, we have witnessed the emergence of competing sources of power, heteropolar networks, in which different actors are able to produce profound global effects through interconnectivity. 

Varying in identity, interests, and strength, networked actors gain advantage through the broad bandwidth of information technology, using networked IT to traverse political, economic, religious, and cultural boundaries, changing, for instance, not only how war is fought and peace is made, but making it ever more difficult to maintain the very distinction of war and peace. 

The “West” and I mean NATO and EU might enjoy an advantage in surveillance, media, and military networks; but the rest, including fundamentalist terrorist groups, criminal gangs, and anti-globalization activists, have exploited the political potential of networked technologies of information collection, transmission, and storage. 

Does the potential risk posed by negative synergy, cascading effects, and unintended consequences outweigh the actual benefits of networks? 


Failed and failing states provide a potential refuge for transnational terrorists, transnational criminal organizations, pirates as well as drug and human smugglers. They are breeding grounds for refugee crises, political and religious extremism, environmental degradation and organized criminal activity. Thus even if a failed state has little significance in the traditional sense of strategic resources or geographical position, it will take on greater strategic importance in the future by virtue of the potential base it offers to powerful non-state actors. 

Allow me now a small digression. One threat which is not always considered with proper attention is the increasing complexity of governance: we often talk about failed states, entities with no defined and stable authority. But what happens in our countries, in our societies? Do our political masters today have a proper amount of authority? Are they not progressively prisoners of localism on one side and of an evanescent public opinion on the other? Isn’t an indefinable bureaucracy hampering any serious attempt to act any reasonable plan to reform? Are we not heading towards a somehow anarchic society? 

Just questions for sure, but questions which need an answer. 


Water will likely play an important role in the reconfiguration of the future security environment. The UN estimates that by 2050, “at worst 7 billion people in sixty countries will be water-scarce, at best 2 billion people in forty-eight countries” (water for people, water for life, pg.10). Water scarcity, combined with shortages of food and medicine in underdeveloped and developing countries can severely threaten human security. 

Lack of energy sources, especially oil, will also be a major concern to many states. Increasing oil consumption in relation to dwindling reserves will lead to a significant reordering of strategic interests throughout the world. 

The Middle East, already vital for its oil reserves, will become more important as demand increases. Similarly, other areas including parts of Africa, the Caspian Region, South China Seas, and numerous equatorial areas have already increased in strategic importance. 

The proliferation of chemical, biological and nuclear WMD equalizes the risks and political power across the globe by reintroducing the risk to the military infrastructure and civilian populations of Western nations in North America and Europe on the one hand—on the other, it poses new security threats to states invested in maintaining the status quo and their identities as responsible states. Of even greater concern is the very real possibility that weapons of mass destruction could fall into the hands of terrorist groups. In particular, the threat of nuclear terrorism combined with the possibility of irrational suicidal behavior carries ambiguous implications for the delicate nuclear balances of the Cold War. 


The U.S. and EU are presented as both models of stability, freedom and prosperity and as agents of transformation with a vocation to change the world in their own image. 

In fact, it is not strange that there is also a basic convergence on European and American assessments of the principal threats to these common values. Both the NATO security strategy and the European security strategy converge on identifying terrorism, WMD proliferation, regional conflicts, and failing states as representing the major challenges. Where there are differences, they are more of emphasis and prioritization than of substance but, in essence, they describe the same external world and provide the same basic strategic threat assessment. 

Taking from the latest NATO Summit at Bucharest, “NATO-EU relations cover a wide range of issues of common interest relating to security, defence and crisis management, including the fight against terrorism, the development of coherent and mutually reinforcing military capabilities, and civil emergency planning…We recognize the value that a stronger and more capable European defence brings, providing capabilities to address the common challenges both NATO and the EU face. We therefore support mutually reinforcing efforts to this end. Success in these and future cooperative endeavours calls for enhanced commitment to ensure effective methods of working together. We are therefore determined to improve the NATO-EU strategic partnership as agreed by our two organizations, to achieve closer cooperation and greater efficiency, and to avoid unnecessary duplication in a spirit of transparency, and respecting the autonomy of the two organizations.” 

Renewing the auspices of a more tight cooperation between the two organizations, I think that the revision of the NATO Strategic Concept and the European Security Strategy should go along hand-in-hand in answering the basic questions for security: 

  • Security is for whom, from what, and how? 
  • What are the priorities, to what threat, and why? 
  • How do we assess factors of immediacy and duration, perception and lethality? 

This aspect is crucial both from a political and operational perspective when a top-down approach to the issue is considered. 

Transatlantic relations are a key element of the common threat assessment, as well as the relationship with Russia, which, whether one likes it or not, will be a vital ally in the next decades. 


In closing, I wish us all success in seeing the new challenges for what they are and thinking of the way we can address those, possibly not for our generation’s benefit but certainly for the benefit of our sons and daughters and our grandchildren. 

Top of page | Home | ©2009 Center for Strategic Decision Research