Putting disruptions in perspective | Sunday Observer

Putting disruptions in perspective

The following is the text of a valedictory statement made by the Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Prasad Kariyawasam at the Colombo Defence Seminar on August 31.

I take the floor at the end of two days of very serious deliberations on an interesting and extremely relevant and timely topic – Security in an Era of Global Disruptions.

I thank the Commander of the Army for inviting me to speak at this Valedictory Session.

Security, which in fact can be considered as freedom from fear, and prospects for continuous and progressive well being, is essential for each human being, for society, the nation states and our Planet. Therefore, this initiative by the Sri Lanka Army, to address this topic at the 2018 Colombo Defence Seminar, is timely in this era of unprecedented and multifaceted disruptions that confront life, which, in all its forms and manifestations, is interconnected and interdependent.

During these two days, you have discussed almost every conceivable security challenge and implication from:

* urban security challenges to climate change;

* terrorism and cyber-crime;

* migration and demographic shifts;

* web 2.0 to artificial intelligence and autonomous weapons; and

* ideological polarisation and extremism.

Your deliberations have covered the role of the military in response to disruptions, and mitigating strategies available or evolving. You have discussed as to how partners and parties including the ever growing diaspora communities can assist in such endeavours.

All of you in this audience are experts of defence and security and related fields. To capture all aspects of your ideas, and to add value to two days of deliberations, at the very end,is indeed a difficult task. I hope you will indulge me as I share my thoughts on this important topic, giving it context, and perhaps yet another dimension for further reflection in this era of unprecedented global disruptions.

As I kept thinking about the theme of this Seminar, which is “Security in an Era of Global Disruptions”, it became evident that it is a phenomenon that is not only very current in its relevance, but extremely vast in its scope, both in time and substance. It almost involves the very genesis of evolution. This includes the whole of history as we know it, from what we call “The Origin” of our solar system and our Planet, right across to the present day.

Think about it. The evolution of Earth, and then quite some time afterwards, the evolution of Life on Earth, and thereafter, the evolution of what we call the “human being or the homo sapien” just a few hundred thousand years ago. Wasn’t all this, in a sense, disruptive, or results of disruption? The story continues – the homo sapien, from being hunter gatherers and then farmers, have by today, become the masters of the evolution of knowledge, science, technology, and all that we know and take for granted.

When thinking along these lines, it becomes obvious that we need to understand “disruptions” in perspective, since it is in fact “disruptions” that have given rise to everything including the very formation of our Planet.

If one reflects carefully, one observes disruptions in nature and human societies throughout history that has led to where we are today. For example, human population growth led to farming and migration, the exploration for new land, extracting resources from the land; scientific inquiry into modern farming techniques, medication and new discoveries to cure and treat disease; the search for new markets for trade which continues even now;space and undersea exploration; the formation of the system of Nation States and the demarcation of boundaries through war and peace; evolution of rules and regulations; the multilateral rules based international order; and the financial operating system that we know today.

At every stage of this evolution, there were “disruptions” to the status quo. “Disruptions” then, are nothing new or unique to this era that we find ourselves in.

“Disruptions” in many and varied forms, be it in the realm of the fundamental movement of atoms and electrons responding to heat and cold; or human driven change through reactions to our surrounding environment, and responses to different man made phenomena; decision making about war and peace; food and agriculture; development; energy; the creation of wealth;the movement of resources; gender roles; scientific discovery and technological advancement – all this tells us that “disruption” is a fact of life, that runs through, and across time.

But as some scholars say, in the 20th century, we humans began to transform our surroundings, our societies, and even ourselves rapidly, to an unimaginable extent, perhaps not even intending to do so.

As a result, our species has become the equivalent of a new geological force, and our Planet has entered into a new geological age that is called the Anthropocene – “the era of humans”. This is the first time in the four-billion-year history of the biosphere, that a single biological species has become the dominant force for change and disruptions, reaching exponential proportions.

This drama continues, with many Acts perhaps, that are yet to follow, and some incoming disruptions may even be difficult to predict, despite all our accumulated knowledge, information, and technological and scientific tools available to us.

Our end objective and challenge now, is to find ways to adopt, and adapt, in the midst of disruptions,and, when necessary, confront, to sustain life on our Planet in all forms, while promoting and securing the well-being of humans. And Security, the primary focus of this Seminar, in all its manifestations, becomes a fundamental element in this endeavour.

We all need to recognize that “disruptions”are a fact of life since the beginning of time, and putting them to rest once and for all is not possible. Disruptions are continuous across time,and are ever present. So much so that the appearance of stability could often be transient and deceptive.

What you have done these past two days is to identify some of the key disruptive elements and primarily how such phenomena affect security, and deliberate on mitigating strategies for common good.

Your discussions would have engendered some brilliant ideas and possible interventions that can protect life as well as ensure the safety and security of political, social and economic operating systems that we ourselves have created and developed, especially over the last 70 years or so.

I am sure all of you know very well, the story of the Italian scientist and scholar Galileo whose pioneering observations laid the foundation for modern physics and astronomy.

Yet, when he built his telescope in 1604, and began to openly support the Copernican theory that the earth and planets revolve around the sun, this was perceived as a challenge to the established order set by the Catholic Church at the time.

He was convicted of heresy and confined to house arrest. It was only as recently as in 1992, just 26 years ago, that a public expression of regret was voiced about how Galileo was treated. Galileo’s contribution to our understanding of the universe was significant not only in his discoveries, but in the methods he developed and the use of mathematics to prove them. He is today hailed as “The Father of Modern Science”.

This shows us that what may be “perceived” by some human beings as a “disruption” in one era, or at a particular moment in time, may not necessarily prove to be so, and can in fact lead to human progress for greater good.

On the 29th of August, two days ago, the Supreme Court of India, questioning the move by the state police of Maharashtra to arrest certain activists, declared that “dissent is the safety valve of democracy, and if you don’t allow these safety valves, it will burst”.

In this instance, disruption was considered a better option under mitigatory circumstances.

Also two days ago, I saw an interesting remark by the German Foreign Minister who said that “new alliances are needed to ensure that liberal values in global politics are not pushed aside by populism”.

The report spoke of the German Foreign Minister starting a new network to defend liberal values, such as ‘cooperation’, ‘respect for international law’, and ‘free trade’ that is under pressure worldwide. He was quoted as having said “The more that others focus on the law of the strong, the more energetically we must counter them with the multilateral order”.

The main aim of the network that the German Foreign Minister wishes to start, from what I understand, will be support for existing institutions such as the United Nations. One can identify this effort as a benevolent disruptive initiative for greater good.

To me, what these stories and anecdotes signify is the capacity of the human being to critically analyse, assess and distinguish between the disruptions that are positive, and disruptions that can impact negatively, and take preventive and precautionary steps, and steps to quickly react when faced with situations that could escalate and spiral out of control. What is sometimes found lacking, unfortunately, is the collective will to act in a timely manner in the interest of the common good.

Given that disruptive initiatives are on an exponential rise in this era, we all have a social responsibility to assess, ascertain and discern as to how to identify and how to permit the flow or even use beneficial disruption, while combating adverse disruption with vigour and as objectively as possible.

Our actions and our behavior, our attitudes and our approaches to issues, have not advanced and matured in tandem with the fast moving and often disruptive but positive technological advancements and scientific discoveries to guarantee against major conflict, or eliminate nuclear weapons.

And, though we have succeeded in generating better lives for billions of ordinary humans, often through disruptive scientific innovations, in the process, we have generated huge inequalities. People still live as slaves and succumb to trafficking and modern day slavery.

Moreover, we have created threats to biodiversity through both intended and unintended disruptions; and we have, and continue to impoverish other species.

We are in fact jeopardizing the very ecological foundations on which our modern society has been built. We are also undermining the climate system that has perhaps existed for about ten thousand years or so. Despite scientific evidence and the adoption of global goals – the MDGs and the SDGs – we humans don’t appear to have still fully realized the fundamental reality of our “common humanity” and our “common home – Planet Earth”.

Humans are today managing an entire biosphere,often in a negatively disruptive manner. The choice, Ladies and Gentlemen, is very much in our hands as to which way we want to steer this Planet. Our end objective, at least to my mind, should be the urgent recognition of our common humanity and the necessity to take steps to ensure that the biosphere continues to thrive.

On a philosophical as well as factual plane, since Homo sapiens have become the dominant species, they have the responsibility now to take steps to ensure security for all life – not just human, but all life, in this era of unprecedented global disruptions.

In September 2015, as the United Nations marked the 70th year of its establishment, world leaders – not just leaders of States but leaders of business, civil society, academics, artists, activists and children from around the world,gathered at the United Nations in New York to adopt a document called “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.

It is a document worth being taken seriously, as it seeks to address issues arising out of global disruptions and identifies tasks that can be taken at every level, including at the level of the individual. The Preamble of this document reads,

“This Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. It also seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom. We recognise that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. All countries and all stakeholders, acting in collaborative partnership, will implement this plan. We are resolved to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet. We are determined to take the bold and transformative steps which are urgently needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path. As we embark on this collective journey, we pledge that no one will be left behind. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets which we are announcing today demonstrate the scale and ambition of this new universal Agenda. They seek to build on the Millennium Development Goals and complete what these did not achieve. They seek to realize the human rights of all and to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. They are integrated and indivisible and balance the three dimensions of sustainable development: the economic, social and environmental”

I will not read out the 17 Sustainable Development Goals which can be easily accessed on the smart phones that you all carry. But to my mind, these comprehensive set of goals, if taken seriously, and implemented, will help us chart our way through many of the disruptions identified as “flashing red lights” during this discussion at this Colombo Defence Seminar.

We must have the spirit to believe and envision societies of equality, justice, rule of law, freedom, and democracy, built on equal rights, equal citizenship, and respect and dignity for all; We must not fear to persevere and strive for peace and cooperation no matter how hard it gets, and realize that this is for the common good of all.

We must not lose our spirit to dream; to build; to learn, and to innovate in this process;

And we must all take our responsibility of citizenship not of our respective countries alone, but citizenship of our Planet, seriously.

As you have identified during your deliberations, the key disruptions affecting security that require the attention of individuals, governments, and the international community in the present era, are multi-dimensional.

Individual security and national security intersects in a manner that requires Nation States to cooperate with each other, rather than confront each other. In such a scenario, strategic aspirations of Nation States, in particular the major powers, require to be harmonized in a manner that disruptive domination is mitigated by promoting regional and global strategic architectures that engender stability and security for all, in particular, for the most vulnerable groups and countries that are not covered by alliances.

Disruptions in a politico-military sense often have a domino effect, and once the chips start falling, how things will end up cannot often be predicted. This can lead to disastrous consequences.

In our history, disruptions in the form of major wars such as the two recent World Wars, have given us ample reasons to strive towards achieving strategic harmony for the common good of nations, human beings, and the Planet as a whole.

Although humans are land animals, it is the Oceans which, to a large extent are now within the realm of human control, that will ultimately determine our security in this era. In fact, nearly 90% of humans live in coastal regions, manifesting our connection with the world’s oceans for sustenance and our well-being. It is in essence, the last frontier, because space, as we all know, is presently beyond the capacity of humans to control. The Oceans need our urgent attention.

As an island nation, Sri Lanka has fully recognized the value of the Ocean, the Blue Economy, and Maritime Security, for the well-being of our people and those with whom we interact through ocean-based networks and partnerships.

The time has come for all of us to double down on our efforts to address disruptive trends that damage ocean well-being and ocean-based security. It is important that all efforts in this connection are taken in a cooperative and harmonious manner, to mitigate and eliminate threats with a view to ensuring the security of our Oceans in all its manifestations.

In the modern era, though the Westphalian Nation State system has thrived, along with a network of alliances and partnerships that dot the world map, the role of non-state actors and the media, especially social media, can give rise to negative disruptions or disruptions that would impact the world at large in a negative manner. However, in addressing such phenomena, we must be very careful. We must ensure that whatever action is taken does not curtail the innovative nature of such phenomena and the positive impact they could have on society, contributing towards progress and benefit for humankind.

Education, awareness raising, steps to raise the analytical ability and critical thinking capacity of people - these are important areas that must receive our attention so that people make fully informed decisions and not be influenced by the possible effects of phenomena such as bots.

The solution to what we today perceive as problems and disruptions does not lie in receding to an old order that existed in an older era. Instead, we must honestly introspect and acknowledge and identify the shortcomings and contradictions in the international order as well as at community, and national levels in all our countries, and address them.

The discrepancies in our laws; ethnic, religious, racial and gender discrimination; structures steeped in privilege and power, injustice, exploitation and corruption; institutionalized oppression and impunity; economic inequality and insecurity; the politics of fear, resentment and protectionism – all this must be addressed with honesty and sincerity, and we must keep moving forward with hope and not be consumed by cynicism.

I am sure that the solutions that you have mapped out through your deliberations have considered ways and means to combat negative disruptions and identify sound building blocks and tools for States and societies to strive towards harmony in understanding and balance through cooperation and assistance, thus manifesting the innate goodness of the human being.

As the Honourable Prime Minister said yesterday, in his Keynote Address,

-Global Security needs a Global Response.

-States need to cooperate by sharing intelligence, training and knowledge where relevant.

-A good rapport and a working relationship among security stakeholders, locally and internationally, are keys to success in meeting future security challenges.

-I am certain that together, we will foster greater cooperation and friendship, helping us to serve as one, for a secure and peaceful future for all.

Thank you.

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