The challenges to security at any level – global, national or human – have rarely been as complex and intractable as in the twenty first century where traditional geopolitical rivalries overlap and intermesh with issues of governance, identity, and opportunity. Security threats are not as stark and dramatic as during the Cold War, but neither are they as amenable to readily available solutions such as deterrence, agreements on spheres of influence, or formal arms control. Contemporary security threats are characterized by state weakness as much as state strength and by ambiguity and uncertainty rather than the clarity of bipolar competition. Yet, great power competition has not necessarily disappeared. The rise of China, simmering tensions between India and Pakistan, and a burgeoning nuclear rivalry between Israel and Iran give geopolitics a new edge. At the same time, violent armed groups have become a pervasive challenge to nation-states. In Europe, jihadist terrorist organizations have carried out dramatic and well-publicized attacks on Madrid and London and have only been prevented from further actions by proactive intelligence and law enforcement. In Mexico, drug-related violence has reached unprecedented levels as major trafficking organizations have factionalized, realigned, and resisted the Calderon Administration’s efforts to disrupt their activities and reduce their power. In the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, drug traffickers and, more recently, militias provide rudimentary forms of governance in urban areas where the state is absent. In Central America and the United States, youth gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) have a massive and highly disruptive presence. In Colombia, the state has beaten back the political challenge from the FARC insurgency but the guerillas have largely been transformed into major drug trafficking organizations, which, in some regions, cooperate with former right-wing para-military organizations turned drug traffickers. In Albania, Italy, and many parts of the Former Soviet Union, criminal organizations intimidate businesses, corrupt politicians and engage in various activities in physical space and cyber-space that challenge and undermine state sovereignty. In many African countries as well as Central Asia, warlords, drug trafficking organizations and insurgents are major political and economic players. In the waters off Somalia pirates have seized ships and crews releasing them only after the receipt of substantial ransoms of millions of dollars. In all these cases, violence, development issues and governance challenges.
In short, security challenges are more ubiquitous and complex than ever before. Global dynamics, global interdependencies, and contagion effects demand an eclectic multi-disciplinary approach. In this context, the Ridgway Center is part of an emergent transnational community of interest and scholarship, contributing insight into the contemporary security environment. This is reflected in our new web-site which provides resources and opportunities for students and faculty alike. We want both the web-site and the Ridgway Center itself to be a space for research and analysis, for creative thinking, and for enhancing understanding of the challenges faced by the United States and the global community. The Center has established a student monitoring and analysis unit covering specialized topics, is making faster computers available, and will increasingly provide access to specialist information providers. It is further developing the relationship with Rand and is planning to hold two joint brown bag seminars per semester. In addition, it will continue to host conferences, workshops, and seminars on a wide range of security issues. The Ridgway Center has a close relationship with the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College and with the Naval Postgraduate School and is developing research networks with a broader set of institutions. Over the coming year we will be highlighting students and their research and will have a regular feature spotlighting security studies alumni and their achievements. We want our work to be dynamic, exciting, and – in spite of the serious nature of the subject matter – even fun, and very much hope that you will be part of it.
Phil Williams, Director
Matthew B. Ridgway Center for International Security Studies