Global security vocabulary is a notorious thicket of acronyms, allusions, and academic language. One can feel lost in even basic conversations. In preparation for the 2021 Aspen Security Forum, taking place virtually from August 3-4, the Aspen Strategy Group has created a guide to help you brush up on the basics—and get a peek at the issues they’ll discuss.
Alignment: A formal or informal grouping of states that collaborate around common goals, which does not preclude any member of the group from pursuing other interests alone or with other aligned groups. Among the most influential alignments are:
- Liberal International Order: The liberal, open, and rules-based system held up by institutions put in place after WWII, emphasizing open economies, collective security, cooperation, and shared norms of behavior among states.
- NATO: A formal security alliance that includes the US, Canada, Turkey, and 27 countries in Europe. Centered around its “Article 5” collective defense policy, whereby all members agree to defend an ally under attack, NATO is a 72-year-old organization that came to prominence during the Cold War. The treaty has since evolved to participate in conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya after the collapse of peaceful resolutions.
- The European Union: A formal grouping of 27 European member states to ensure a single internal market and free movement of European people within Europe. Though it is not a state, the European Union maintains diplomatic relations in countries around the world and participates in other groups, such as the G7.
- The Eurogroup: An informal grouping of ministers from European countries collaborating primarily to promote conditions for stronger economic growth within the Eurozone, the area in which the Euro currency is used.
Hear more about the Eurogroup and its economic recovery priorities from its President and Minister of Finance of Ireland Paschal Donohoe on August 4th at 12:45 pm ET.
- African Union: A formal union of 55 African states to promote economic integration and growth, promote unity between states, defend the territorial integrity of African nations, and eradicate remaining forms of colonialization and apartheid on the continent.
- ASEAN: A formal economic union of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, who coordinate in the interests of economic growth, social progress, cultural development, and peace and stability in the Southeast Asia and Asia-Pacific regions.
Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will join us at 8:10 am ET on August 3rd to discuss a range of issues including economic recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank: A multilateral development bank that provides funding to its 103 member countries to promote sustainable infrastructure, develop cross-border projects such as railways, roads, ports, and bridges, and stimulate local private capital investment for economic growth. AIIB members are not exclusively Asian countries; the Bank counts 41 non-regional participants in Europe, Africa, and North America on its membership list.
Join the Forum at 8:05 am ET on August 4th to hear from AIIB President Jin Liqun about the Bank’s funding priorities for 2021 and beyond.
- The Quad: An informal partnership between Australia, India, Japan, and the US in the interest of promoting a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific, and offering an alternative to China’s influence in the region.
Learn more about the future of the Quad at 9:45 am ET on August 3rd.
- G7: A formal grouping of the world’s most advanced economies—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States—that seeks to develop major global initiatives (such as the Paris Agreement) and strengthen international collaboration around existing policies. Leaders from the European Union also participate.
- G20: A formal grouping of the twenty largest economies in the world to coordinate primarily on issues of international economic development.
- COVAX: A UN global initiative of 172 countries designed to accelerate the development, production, distribution, and fair and equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine.
Decoupling: An undoing of the interdependence between two states.
- Economic decoupling: Reducing dependency on another state’s economic market by reducing the volume of trade with that country (e.g., US and China).
- Technological decoupling: Reducing dependency on another state’s technology, as well as access to their design, production, and supply chains.
Learn more about US-China relations and the prospects for decoupling the two largest economies on Earth at 2:30 pm ET on August 4th.
Disruptors: Organizations or movements that operate outside the established norms of the international political system. These may be any of the following, and are often a combination of them:
- State-sponsored terrorists: Actors engaged in terrorism who receive government support via funding, protection, etc.
- Non-state actors: Entities that are not formally affiliated with a government but have political influence; examples include international organizations, non-governmental organizations, multi-national corporations, philanthropic organizations, and terrorist groups.
- Transnational Criminal Organizations: Groups engaged in criminal behavior across states, typically engaging in activities such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering, and cybercrime.
Governance: The way in which a state operates for political and economic purposes. Some forms of governance are less tolerant than others, and some government types blend multiple governance styles to achieve their desired goals.
- Liberalism: A system of governance that is based on the consent of the governed, individual freedoms, and civic equality. Liberalism forms the basis for many governments worldwide.
- Illiberalism: Illiberal governments generally reject some liberal values, including civil liberties, transparency, and government accountability, while upholding others such as elected government and an independent judiciary. This governance style allows states to ally themselves with and participate in liberal international groupings while repressing liberal factions at home.
- Kleptocracy: Governance in which the primary goal is the enrichment of the governing and/or elite class. Aside from localized criminality, countries so governed are often bases for money laundering.
- Populism: Appealing to the “common person,” populism reinforces us-versus-them tribalist rhetoric, which can be used to target specific classes and/or minority groups that governing populists deem dangerous to their rule. Authoritarians often use populism to consolidate their power by claiming to embody the will of the people.
- Techno-authoritarianism: A form of authoritarianism—in which the ruling party or person enforces strict obedience to the state at the expense of civic freedoms—that maintains control through advanced technologies, including surveillance, facial recognition, and blocking communications and internet access.
Power: Generally, the means by which an international actor or group attains its goals, which often include “more power.” It is expressed through several varieties.
- Hard power: Attaining objectives through military or economic means (e.g. armies, tariffs).
- Soft power: Attaining objectives through public relations, e.g.: diplomacy, academic exchange, and cultural influence (e.g., Eurovision, Hong Kong cinema). Aspen Strategy Group Co-Chair Joseph Nye is credited with introducing the concept of soft power, which seeks to co-opt rather than coerce others to achieve objectives, in the late 1980s.
- Smart power: Attaining your objectives through a careful combination of hard and soft power.
Strategy: The broad plan by which an international actor deploys power. Actors may use different sets of tactics to execute their strategy, including the following:
- Asymmetrical warfare: Unconventional fighting tactics used when two parties have different power levels and capabilities. Terrorism is a classic example, as are hacks and cyber-attacks.
- Strategic Corruption: Corruption of domestic and/or foreign governments, institutions, and prominent political and/or social figures as a means to affect national policy outcomes.
- Money laundering: Swapping out fake or illegally obtained “dirty” money for legally obtained “clean” money. It helps criminals such arms and drug dealers avoid detection and, if unchecked, the amount of illicit money can affect currencies and interest rates. (See also: Cryptocurrency)
- Technological Interference: Technological interference runs a broad spectrum from “cyberwar” to minor hacking attempts. But even mild technological interference can wreak havoc. Tactics include:
- Supply-chain hacks: Hacking a provider of tech products to gain access to their customers’ networks (e.g., the Solar Winds hack).
- Critical Infrastructure Shutdown: A hack that affects vital systems that keep a country up and running, such as water systems, electric grids, hospitals, etc.
- Ransomware: A specific hack that holds data hostage in exchange for a ransom, typically paid out in cryptocurrencies (e.g., the Colonial Pipeline hack).
- Denial of Service (DOS) attacks: A cyber attack that attempts to disrupt a machine or network by flooding the target with cyber traffic or data such that it triggers a shutdown.
Join the Aspen Security Forum on August 4th at 10 am ET for back-to-back conversations about cyber-attacks, ransomware, and the international community’s efforts to curb future incidents in cyberspace.
Trends: The forces currently shaping the international security landscape. Impending issues include:
- Globalization: Increasing integration and interaction of people, businesses, and states across the world.
- Green Transition, Decarbonization: Initiatives to combat climate change and decrease the negative impact of carbon emissions.
- Cryptocurrency: A digital currency that is encrypted for secure and/or anonymous transactions. It is unregulated by central banks and therefore is more volatile than other digital currencies, and its anonymity and security make it a favorite transaction tool for criminal organizations.
Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Gary Gensler will share the Biden administration’s latest policy toward cryptocurrencies on Aug. 3rd at 12:30 pm ET.
- Central Bank Digital Currencies: Stable electronic currencies that are regulated by a country’s central banks. These electronic currencies may or may not be anonymous and provide the government with granular economic data about their citizens’ spending habits.
- Great Power Competition: The struggle for dominance of the international system between the most powerful states in the world. This struggle frequently occurs in a system of Multipolarity.
- Unipolarity/Hegemony: One powerful state exerting dominance over the world or a particular region. This state possesses unquestioned economic, military, or cultural influence over other states worldwide.
- Bipolarity: When the title of most powerful state in the world is a two-way tie between two states that possess similar global power and/or influence.
- Multipolarity: When the title of the most powerful state in the world is a tie between three or more states that possess similar global power and/or influence.
- Space Race: Began in the 1950s as a competition between the US and Soviet Union following the launch of the first satellite, Sputnik-1, and ended with the Apollo 11 mission in which US astronauts landed on the moon for the first time. Today, a new space race is underway as countries including India, the United Arab Emirates, and China expand their presence in Earth’s orbit and send robotic rovers to the moon and Mars. Private companies are also racing one another to develop and deliver commercially viable space flights.
UK Astronomer Royal Lord Martin Rees and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Stanton Senior Fellow Ankit Panda discuss UFOs, the private-sector space race, and the future of cooperation and confrontation in space on Aug. 4th at 11:45 am.