20 November 2015 (Desdemona Despair) – During the opening session of the 2015 Global Security Forum, sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), CIA director John Brennan made some interesting comments:

When CIA analysts look for deeper causes of this rising instability, they find nationalistic, sectarian, and technological factors that are eroding the structure of the international system. They also see socioeconomic trends, the impact of climate change, and other elements that are cause for concern.  And so let me touch upon a few of those this morning. […]

Across the globe, in both authoritarian and democratic societies, governments are finding it increasingly difficult to meet the demands, realistic or not, of their skeptical and restive populaces. The so-called Arab Spring revolutions were not fought for democracy per se as much as they were fought for relief from regimes that had failed to meet basic standards of governance and civil society. And as we have seen, when people become disillusioned with the powers that be, social media enable them to more quickly and easily form associations that defy the status quo. And in part, that is why the global landscape has been changing at a faster and much more disruptive pace.  […]

Timeline of events leading up to the civil uprising in Syria that began in March 2011, along with a graph depicting the net urban influx (in millions) of Syrian IDPs and Iraqi refugees since 2005. Graphic: Kelly, et al., 2015

At the same time, the principle of democratic governance is under siege. For the ninth consecutive year, Freedom House in 2014 reported more declines than gains in the quality of democracy worldwide. Worsening ethno-sectarian and socioeconomic strains are eroding democracy, as is the rise of a more sophisticated form of authoritarianism that forgoes brute force and heavy-handed propaganda in favor of media manipulation, ubiquitous surveillance, criminalization of dissent and controlled elections. […]

Mankind’s relationship with the natural world is aggravating these problems and is a potential source of crisis itself. Last year was the warmest on record, and this year is on track to be even warmer. Extreme weather, along with public policies affecting food and water supplies, can worsen or create humanitarian crises.  Of the most immediate concern, sharply reduced crop yields in multiple places simultaneously could trigger a shock in food prices with devastating effect, especially in already-fragile regions such as Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. Compromised access to food and water greatly increases the prospect for famine and deadly epidemics.

Center for Strategic and International Studies Global Security Forum 2015: Opening Session [pdf]



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