Marking 20 years of addressing new issues in security: What is emerging today?
20th NISC 2019 GCSP photo
Marking 20 years of addressing new issues in security: What is emerging today?

For 20 years the New Issues in Security Course has been addressing what is new in international security.

By Ms Emily Munro, Deputy Head, Emerging Security Challenges, Geneva Centre for Security Policy

Each year, around 20 participants from around the world form a group in Geneva and interact with experts from different professional settings to discuss how best to address international security policy issues and how these approaches may evolve in the future

This year is the 20th anniversary of the New Issues in Security Couse (NISC) and thus it is an opportunity to look back at the founding of the course, celebrate its 20-years existence by reaching out to all NISC alumni, and to look ahead at what the emerging issues in security are with a workshop during the 20th NISC.

In 1999, the GCSP decided to start a third advanced long course in addition to the International Training Course (now the Leadership in International Security Course ­­– LISC) and the European Training Course (now the European Security Course – ESC) to focus on the changing face of security. Overseen by Roland Dannreuther, then a GCSP faculty member and the first NISC director, and supported by GCSP Foundation Council members – in particular those from Central and Eastern Europe – the NISC recognised the changing nature of international security dynamics. This included a move away from a strictly state-based, military-focused outlook to one that included a broader set of actors and issues. In the post-Cold War era, the global implications of security increased and our understanding of the drivers of conflict expanded to include factors related to the environment, technology and social inequalities. As the notion of human security took even greater prominence in government policy spheres in the early 2000s, this concept became central to the course.


Map today's security environment to meet tomorrow's challenges with the 21st New Issues in Security Course in 2020.

Over the last 20 years, the course has evolved to include new topics while other topics have remained.  An analysis of the curriculum shows that the state- and human- security themes have remained central alongside topics such as the environment, terrorism and migration. Recently, the focus on climate change and emerging technologies has grown in prominence. The course has also returned its focus to states and the multilateral system’s dysfunction when it comes to managing new issues. NISC 20th anniversaryAnother aspect of change in the course is related to its participants. The NISC participant group has grown increasingly global over the years, thus enriching all the discussions held on these topics, and has led the way at the GCSP in terms of diversity. In the early years of the course, participants attended from Europe and North Africa, gradually extending to Asia and West Africa (in 2005) and Latin America (in 2009). Reflecting the variety of actors discussing international security, the diversity of NISC participants also has included a wider range of government ministries (foreign affairs, defence, interior, the environment, health, justice etc.) and other organisations (MSF, various UN departments and agencies, NGOs). Lastly, the methodology to deliver the NISC continues to evolve as more time for interaction between participants is introduced, a balance between the knowledge elements and skill-development is sought, and technology is used to enhance the learning experience.

Alumni NISC Stories

For Insights into individual NISC alumni please see the NISC Stories series.

Thanks to all those that have contributed.

As a part of the reflections on the 20th anniversary of the NISC, a survey was conducted of all NISC alumni on emerging issues. The results of this anonymous survey provided a glimpse into the challenges and opportunities being faced by alumni with regards to international security around the world. We received 64 replies to this survey, with a good distribution across the 20 years of the course. For the respondents, issues dominating their current agendas related to terrorism, cyber security, conflict management and environmental security. What was interesting in the response to the question of “what are the top three issues in international security for you today”, firstly, that it was difficult for participants to identify three separate issues but they drew connections to other issues (terrorism and … technology or the environment) and, secondly, it was often less about the issue itself than their difficulty to respond adequately (related to weaknesses in governance structures or application of international law).

NISC 20th anniversary 2019 articleThe emerging issues that currently impact NISC alumni in their jobs relate to disinformation, global health, environmental security and are development-related (poverty, education, economic). The challenges that exist to address them relate overwhelmingly to the complexity of interconnections (almost 50%), to the speed of change (20%), and to the range of actors (16%). The difficulties in the multilateral sphere, related to a challenging environment for international cooperation, returned as a theme in the answers to this question with the absence of trust being singled out as a challenge to finding an adequate response to new issues.

At the end of June to mark the 20th anniversary and as a culmination to the 20th NISC edition, the participants of the 20th NISC, four of the former and current NISC directors, GCSP staff and fellows addressing emerging issues, and local alumni gathered at the GCSP for a workshop to discuss emerging issues in international security.

Group Photo NISC Anniversary

The workshop took place under the Chatham House Rule. The programme was designed to address different aspects of emerging issues surrounding the impact of technologies, human security themes (related to environmental and health challenges, in particular) and re-emerging issues – those long-standing issues that have taken on new dimensions. Participants were challenged at the workshop to ensure that they were addressing an issue as it may evolve over the next three to five years, how it interacts with issues outside of its immediate domain, and to look at the opportunities it offers as well as the challenges it raises. The workshop consisted of three main sessions:

  • The first session addressed different regional vantage points on emerging issues, with perspectives from Latin America, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East and North Africa. There were two common themes during this session. Firstly, the need to break down barriers between issues that cannot be divorced from each other. Secondly, the need for responses to emerging issues to be handled nationally with a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach and internationally to redouble efforts for multilateral cooperation.
  • Breakout groups were formed in the afternoon for a deep dive into four specific topics: Illicit Trafficking in Small Arms and Light Weapons, Climate Change and Migration, Women’s Role in Terrorism, and Artificial Intelligence: A Challenge or Opportunity? Addressing these diverse topics, discussions served to highlight the individual and community level, the role that technology can play in providing solutions to risks – or amplifying them, and the importance of regulation and legal concerns. The creativity and innovation required to shape the solutions in this space were emphasised in the session’s concluding plenary discussion.
  • A final session brought together three former NISC directors (Roland Dannreuther, Rama Mani and Christina Schori Liang), together with a 20th NISC participant, to explore New Issues in Security 2000-2019-2039: How New Issues in Security Evolve Over Time. An innovative and participatory foresight exercise was undertaken by the 20th NISC participants to envision the NISC curriculum of 2039. How will technology have transformed the world by 2039? What will the world look like once the “climate has changed”? What does multistakeholder cooperation look like in 20 years? And therefore, what will the NISC be addressing as a result of these developments?

Exploring where the international security landscape of today is headed is not an easy exercise; there is much uncertainty about the issues faced and on how they will evolve and interact with each other, but equally there is concern about the global community’s ability to respond in time and as cooperatively and effectively as required. However, if the collaboration and mutual understanding that takes place each year in the NISC and other GCSP courses provides any indication, then we are in good hands thanks to the efforts and commitment of all our alumni working in the international peace and security sphere.


What is the most overlooked issue in international security for your today and how can it be best addressed? 

Emily Munro, Deputy Head, Emerging Security Challenges, Strategic Anticipation Cluster Leader, and New Issues in Security Course Director 2017-2019

Learn more about Emily Munro