Eurosatory 2016

SECURITY - The future of borders, boundaries, sovereignty and security [ES2016D3]

15 June 2016

A review of the global security environment – from the Middle East to the European Union to Crimea to the South China Sea – reveals a world in which modern borders are in flux and the capacity of central sovereign governments around the world to control effectively all of the territory, populations, resources and institutions within their borders is increasingly tested.

Challenges within states and contested borders between states ensure that shifting borders and boundaries will play a critical role in establishing new de facto and de jure borders. New models of governance and sovereignty will be required to better affect competitions for control and to manage the crises and conflict these competitions will produce.

Once the domain of failed or failing states, challenges to existing borders and boundaries as well as to Westphalian concepts of sovereignty are now more or less ubiquitous. Somalia, Libya, Crimea, Ukraine and, of course, Syria and Afghanistan are among the most acute and violent manifestations of this phenomenon, but sovereignty disputes, governance challenges, and resulting security crises are felt more frequently in previously stable and established states, as starkly demonstrated by the increasingly fractured and dysfunctional American polity, the restive, but extant, independence movement in Scotland, and enduring conflict in Ukraine.

A new political geography Contested boundaries and new dimensions are not new phenomena. The dimensions of the international system have long been both ill-defined (the UN has 193 members, but more than 200 ‘countries’ have recognition from at least one member of the UN) and dynamic. Over the past 70 years, a hyper-proliferation of sovereign states has resulted from two world wars, crumbling empires, and the fall of the Soviet Union.

However, the current challenges to borders and boundaries are different from those that radiated out from the geopolitical ‘big bangs’ of the 20th century. Current tests are more fundamental, resulting from a series of powerful and interconnected forces that are challenging not just specific boundaries and borders, but also the core Westphalian concept of the primacy of central sovereigns.

Globalisation; the information revolution; proliferation of dual-use technologies and advanced weapons; poor/corrupt governance; ossified institutions; demographics; population and resource issues (the global population is approximately 7.5 billion people, nearly 5 billion more than just a century ago); environmental strain; ethnic, historic and religious nationalism; and retrenched responses to modernity are all colluding to create disconnects between centres and peripheries; separate historical and cultural allegiances from state allegiances; and drive migration both across borders and into cities.


The global trend towards urbanisation is one of the most affecting trends shaping the future of sovereignty and governance. The UN now estimates that just over half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a percentage expected to grow to nearly two-thirds by the middle of the century.

The intensity, scale and pace of urbanisation over the past 20 years have led to notable decentralisation of responsibility for governing these increasingly sprawling and complex metropolises to local authorities. As a June 2016 UN Habitat report on urbanisation noted, “as cities grow… they have been the recipients of a worldwide trend to devolve power from the national to the local level. The fact that so many states have chosen to move along the path of decentralization constitutes a remarkable phenomenon”.

The success of this decentralisation in maintaining healthy and secure cities is unclear. Modern cities and mega-cities are exceptionally complex ecosystems, increasingly burdened by the same forces and trends that are undermining state sovereignty: inequality; resource scarcity; immigration tensions; the expansion of informal/parallel settlements within cities; environmental strain; corruption; crime; and insecurity.

Smart cities

An increasingly popular response to the challenges, stresses and inefficiencies inherent in modern urban life is the development of smart cities, which IHS Technology defines as “cities that have deployed – or are currently piloting – the integration of information, communications and technology (ICT) solutions across three or more different functional areas of a city… mobile and transport, energy and sustainability, physical infrastructure, governance and safety and security”.

In its July 2014 Smart Cities: Business Models, Technologies and Existing Projects, IHS Technology forecast that the number of smart cities will more than quadruple from 21 in 2013 to 88 in 2025. The Asia-Pacific region will have the most smart cities with 32, buoyed by national programmes such as India’s 100 Smart Cities and Singapore’s Smart Nation that prioritise investment in smart city technologies. Europe, the Middle East and Africa regions will have a combined 31 smart cities. North America will have 25.

The rapidly growing requirement for connected devices in urban areas presents a commercial opportunity for the global security industry, particularly those companies focused on smart sensors, biometrics, big data analytics and other ICT solutions that can be applied to safety and security functions and in support of other smart city functional areas.

The market will no doubt be highly competitive and entry will require focused market intelligence. Nonetheless, IHS Technology forecasts spending on smart cities to jump from around USD1 billion in 2013 to more than USD12 billion by 2025, while global unit shipments of internet-connected smart city devices will increase from 115.4 million in 2015 to 1.2 billion in 2025.

In addition, increased connectivity in cities throughout the world will introduce valuable efficiencies, but it will also create new vulnerabilities as a wide range of valuable information related to the functioning of critical infrastructure, traffic management, resource flow and allocation, health care, emergency response and security and defence operations may be accessible via connected smart city systems. Some of these cyber-challenges are known and currently being addressed.

The expansion of smart city connectivity will produce new types of challenges from a growing range of clever actors.

Identifying, understanding, assessing, dissuading, detecting and defeating threats, both known and novel, presents opportunities for the security industry to partner with central sovereigns and local authorities to develop more secure, stable and sustainable models for responding to a growing range of emerging sovereignty challenges.

(991 words)