Development’s New Best Friend: The Global Security Complex – Analysis


The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are being securitized. According to Johan Bergenas and Ariella Knight, there are two reasons why – 1) the hard lessons learned while implementing the Millennium Development Goals, and 2) a growing conviction that sustainable development and security are inextricably linked.

By Johan Bergenas and Ariella Knight

The United Nations’ blueprints for the upcoming Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) reveal an interesting trend. Whereas the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) focused exclusively on development initiatives, the SDGs look set to interweave security into what was once solely a development sphere with the inclusion of objectives that seek to secure supply chains, end poaching and protect infrastructure. This shift reflects lessons learned from 15 years of implementing the MDGs and, even more so, broader global trends to integrate security and development initiatives.

Since their implementation in 2000, the MDGs have produced significant results, notably in reducing world poverty by 50 percent. Significant roadblocks have also been encountered, especially in enacting change in unstable and conflict-ridden parts of the world. In fact, the MDGs’ successes and struggles can be directly correlated with the security of the regions in which they’re operating. The World Bank’s 2011 World Development Report notes that “no low-income, fragile or conflict-affected country has yet to achieve a single United Nations Millennium Development Goal.” This intrinsic link between security and development has led the international development community writ large to realize that their singular capacity to alleviate poverty is greatly reduced, and that the need to work across sectors is greater than ever.

Increased Demands

Voices for integrating security and development policies and programs have existed for years, and include increasingly prominent officials. In 2006, Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, declared that the world would not witness security without development, or vice versa. At its core, this means that the development community’s poverty reduction goals must coincide with the military and security communities’ global security priorities. Annan’s calls for an integrated approach have been echoed by organizations, military leaders and the development community worldwide.

For instance, the aforementioned World Bank report was committed entirely to the topic of the interconnected nature of conflict, security and development and stated that “insecurity…has become a primary development challenge of our time.” Rajiv Shah, USAID’s Administrator, frequently advocates that the development community at large needs to evolve beyond traditional boundaries. Writing in USAID’s 2012 annual letter, Shah declared that “The development community has to expand its focus from relief to resilience—from responding after emergencies strike to preparing communities in advance.” In turn, retired Admiral James Stavridis, who served both as the NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe and U.S. Southern Command, has advocated for the security community to evolve beyond its traditional boundaries and embrace opportunities for partnership with development actors, stating, “we will not deliver security solely from the barrel of a gun”.

Realizing this vision – including as part of the SDGs – will require a huge, multi-decade undertaking in securing key societal functions such as borders, ports, airports and energy resources. This also means that militaries and law enforcement agencies will require training and equipment in order implement strategic controls to illicit trade and help deliver technological solutions to make societies more resilient.

Notable Successes

As things currently stand, the widespread and pragmatic implementation of this powerful rhetoric remains a rare occurrence. However, recent efforts by the Japanese, Australian, Danish and other governments offer good examples of this kind of hybrid policy in action. In the last decade, Japan has championed an increasingly progressive approach to coordinating capacity-building in defense, security and development. Through official development assistance (ODA), Tokyo has extensively donated equipment and trained security forces of neighboring countries to increase maritime and overall security in Southeast Asia. Examples of such aid include donations of patrol boats to Indonesia, the transfer of high-tech equipment for use in maritime safety and security to the Philippine Coast Guard, and training and port securitization technologies for Cambodia. Accordingly, not only does Japanese ODA meet the development needs of recipient countries by building their security capacity, it also helps to further Japanese strategic objectives by securing the Malacca Strait and trade routes upon which it heavily depends.

Australia’s ODA has recently pivoted along a similar trend, focusing on increasing stability in its Indo-Pacific neighborhood through investments in key infrastructure and securing regional trade. An example of this ‘pivot’ is the Australian Agency for International Development’s Philippines-Australia Port Security Capacity Building Project, which was part of a $10.4 million Counter-Terrorism Assistance Package to the Philippines focused on border control, port security, and regional cooperation. During this project, more than 900 ship and port security plans were implemented and over 4,500 government and private maritime personnel received training on ISPS verification requirements and other port security- related matters. Australia’s 2015 development assistance budget outlines their new strategic framework for aid in which development investments in infrastructure, good governance and regional institutions are designed and understood to directly promote Australia’s national economic and development goals.

Lastly, Denmark’s Whole of Government Stabilisation Secretariat has committed to reducing piracy and terrorism in the Horn of Africa through development assistance totaling more than $38 million since 2006. Having lost maritime resources and ships to Somalian piracy, Copenhagen has invested heavily in anti-piracy initiatives, taking a lead in providing strategic aid to the East Africa region in the form of humanitarian aid and direct funds for counter terrorist activities as performed by the Somalian Army and African Union troops in AMISOM. In August 2014, Denmark pledged $33 million annually from 2015-2017 to Somalia to strengthen its justice system, reduce crime and increase regional stability. Denmark’s loss of critical infrastructure motivated them to develop and engage in a holistic development strategy which integrates development and security concerns that it is hoped will eventually allow for the secure flow of trade and increased regional stability.

Looking Ahead

These methods are a few examples of hybrid security and development policy that combines and leverages the interests of donor and recipient nations. With discussions about the SDGs well underway at the United Nations, the time is ripe to fully integrate security organizations into these conversations. While the SDG blueprints outline integrated security and development goals, a strategy for bringing together the necessary development and security actors to work towards these goals is still unclear. A wide range of national and international security organizations — from defense and homeland security organizations, U.S. regional commands, U.N. crime-fighting organizations, and even regional nonproliferation initiatives — have mandates to assist in the implementation of the SDGs. Deeper collaboration would save money, improve results and generate creative solutions to today’s global challenges.

The ongoing conversations about the Sustainable Development Goals — what they will look like, how they will be implemented and financed — provide a unique forum and opportunity for governments to get the security-development balance right and promote further private and public investment and economic development. The United Nations and its member states should seize this opportunity to set a precedent for integrated approaches and to connect security organizations and personnel with their development counterparts. As planning phases for the Sustainable Development Goals move into implementation, it is the time for the United Nations to demonstrate what successful securitized development – and developed security – look like.

Johan Bergenas is the deputy director of The Stimson Center’s Managing Across Boundaries initiative. He holds a Master’s degree from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and a Bachelor’s from the University of Iowa.

Ariella Knight is a researcher at the Stimson Center’s Managing Across Boundaries Initiative.

ISN Security Watch

The ISN is one of the world's leading open access information and knowledge hubs on IR and security issues, based at ETH Zürich, Switzerland.

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