Open-source security: James Stavridis at TEDGlobal 2012

Posted by: Ben Lillie

James Stavridis

Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Admiral James Stavridis is the Supreme Commander of NATO. He is a proponent of what he calls open-source security. He is looking at 21st century security in a very different way than we’ve looked at security before.

From walls to bridges

Looking back to the security paradigm of the recent past, he shows an image of Verdun, a battlefield in France in World War I, where over 300 days, 700,000 people were killed — about 2,000 per day. Later, in World War II, at the battle of Stalingrad, 2 million were killed over 300 days. We keep building walls: The Maginot Line, The Berlin Wall, the Iron Curtain. But “Walls don’t work.”

Stavridis thinks we need a different model: “Instead of building walls to create security, we need to build bridges.” He shows the Drina River, which forms the border between Bosnia, Herzegovina and Serbia. It’s a symbol of how we must move forward to create connections and a strong image of his sweeping model. “Open-source security is about connecting the international, the interagency, the private and public — and lashing it together with strategic communication largely in social networks.”

Threats to the global commons

What are the threats that we will face in the 21st century? He shows a slide of ship draped in barbed wire. As a Navy man himself, he knows, “This is not what a ship should look like.” The concertina wire is there because shipping is under attack from pirates, in the Strait of Malacca, the Gulf of Guinea, and all across the world. Last year 20 ships and 500 people were held hostage.

There are, of course, also threats from the cyber-sea. Stavridis shows two men who committed credit-card fraud worth $10 billion. There is a giant industry in fraud, with over $2 trillion in profit. Just about the GDP of the United Kingdom.

Another threat he worries about is illegal trafficking: the movement of narcotics, the movement of weapons — potentially weapons of mass destruction — and, above all, human trafficking. All this is occuring in the global commons. “Trafficking moves largely at sea, but also in all other parts of the global economies.”

He shows a photo of a submarine under way and says: “I wish I could tell you this is a very high-tech piece of US Navy gear we’re using to stop drug trafficking.” It’s not. In fact, it’s a drug-running submarine built in the jungle of Columbia carrying six tons of cocaine, sophisticated equipment and a crew of four.

Finally, pulling it all together, he shows a photo of poppy fields in Afghanistan, the nexus of opium and heroin. He points out that Al Qaeda is a global network, and terrorism is a part of the global commons.

What are the solutions?

“We will not deliver security solely from the barrel of a gun,” says the Supreme Commander of NATO. He does believe we will need military force, and that when it’s needed, force must be applied well and competently. But security in the 21st century is a far more complex idea.

A few examples: He shows a photo of Afghan soldiers holding books. It’s a population that is largely illiterate — 85%. NATO, as part of their military training, is teaching them to read and write — so far they’ve taught over 200,000. When you become a literate person in Afghanistan, you carry a pen in your pocket. He’s been at those ceremonies and seen the recruits put the pen in their pocket with great pride: “This is 21st-century security.” They are also teaching to fight, but more is required. “Open-source security is about connecting in ways that create longer lasting effect.”

A different example is a hospital ship, the Comfort. It is a military ship, but it has a crew of 500, from the military, civilians from government, physicians and volunteers from many organizations. This multi-connected crew goes to sea for 4-5 months doing 400,000 treatments on a voyage. On that ship, “You begin to see the power of creating security in a very different way.”

There are also contributions in wide-ranging areas, from promoting physical fitness to disaster relief.


Stavridis puts up a picture of the world, covered with lines connecting different points of the map. These are not sea lanes or any other map one might expect a military officer to be thinking about, but the world according to Twitter. That map, he says, shows how connected we are. There are growing connections between the largest nations in the world, in order: “China, India, the United States, Twitter, Facebook and Indonesia.”

Recently, after giving a talk he asked people to friend him on Facebook. A story ran on the wires with the headline, “NATO Admiral Needs Friends.” And from the countries where it was printed, he got a multitude of friend requests, saying hello, and asking, “What is NATO?” It’s an interconnected world, and even the Commander of NATO is a part of it.

Stavridis believes, “Life is not an on-and-off switch; you don’t have to have a military that’s in hard combat or in the barracks.” Though it needs to be ready for combat when necessary, there are also many ways that it can contribute. It should, he says, be thought of not as a switch, but as a rheostat that one can dial in.

He concludes with a comment about Wikipedia — he’s always looking up facts. And it’s important to remember that Wikipedia is not created by 12 geniuses in a room. It is, every day, tens of thousands of people inputting information and tens of thousands of others taking information from it. It is a perfect example of the axiom: “No one of us is as smart as all of us thinking together.” Sharing and connecting is what makes 21st-century security possible.

His final thesis is that by by combining everyone together, “We can create the sum of all security.”

Comments (9)

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  • Leet Shiva commented on Jul 26 2012

    He is one bullshiter a real bullshiter firstly of all who give him a right to speak on intelectual conference like Ted is. He is stupid military sucker. What he justify attack on Afghanistan by the idea that they teach their ppl now to read what a fool …

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  • Hugh Dugan commented on Jul 6 2012

    The Admiral’s expertise is stellar and his thesis is today’s astrolabe for our defense. It is all about movement, particularly the movement of social resources (of people, data, ideas, and resources), that creates cross-border interests hence various markets of social, financial, spiritual material and other equities (now including enhanced social equities due to social networking), making war simply too expensive for all. Within the month the world’s largest single “movement”, the Olympic Movement, will bear this out again soon, as it is enabled by the Olympic Truce that has heralded the secure passage and participation for all involved in the Games over the centuries. This movement to include safe, open cyber-passage, whereby billions of people participate in this tournament of tournaments, altogether creating the largest global festival every Olympiad. The Olympic Movement connects the international, the inter-agency, the private sector, the public sector, the sporting community, the media, cultural institutions, schools, clubs, households, and the individual. Open-source security might consider this phenomenon a pilot program for lashing together key state and key non-state actors through strategic communication toward the acceleration of cross-border mutual interests.

  • coco grace commented on Jun 28 2012

    Gosh, what a PR move to have this clown spout this nonsense. Look closely…I can almost see his halo…

    Not for nothing, but …heck..wherever NATO goes, drug trafficking increases. I’d hardly take a lecture of consternation about drug trafficking from the head of NATO. Geez…..the Taliban could have only HOPED to achieve the levels of opium production that occurs in Afghanistan today. The opium is then trafficked by NATO thru Manas air base, then off thru Russia and its being used as a NATO weapon to kill off Russian youth , to the current tune of 30,000 youth per year. …kinda like how the British used the trafficking of opium in China in the 1800s to break the culture and heap huge profits off of the trafficking.
    As per “terrorists” attacking around the world….who’s the real terrorist? NATO employed Operation Gladio terrorists in Italy to kill innocent Italians up to the 1980s.

    NATO is the threat to the world. This general, geez..what a goofball…. if he were sincere about creating peace, would disband NATO, and stop spreading it / forcing it upon former Soviet eastern block countries. ..then he could be taken seriously.
    As per the wah-wah about drug trafficking….the entire country of KOSOVO was artifically created in order to make profits off of drug trafficking. The country of KOSOVO, run by the mafia in concert with NATO…is for no other reason than geo-strategic, and profits of drug trafficking. The drugs of Colombia are shipped/trans-shipped thru KOSOVO to hit the European market. Big bucks. Wall Street launders that money; Wall Street survives off that drug trafficking money for its mere existence. Its NATO’s job to ensure that stream of income to Wall Street, continues unhindered. Duh, Mary.
    And lastly…as per “pirates ” in the straights of Malacca in Malaysia…its probably a false flag. The US put a military base in Darwin, Australia, for no other reason than to be a thorn in the side of China’s oil ship transitways thru the straights of Malacca. That straight…is the next big show-down, geostrategically. The US, all over the world…is fully and actively engaged, in interferring with the energy sources of China…be it Iran, South Sudan. That’s the strategcy game now….turn off your enemy’s oil spicket anywhere/anyplace ya can. That’s NATO’s strategy.

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  • Kevin Parcell commented on Jun 26 2012

    Combine everyone together but completely decentralize authority so that the combination doesn’t generate totalitarianism. We can do this through complementary structures: the global money we have is a communication tool that combines all of us to share information and produce collectively; but we need local money that empowers communities everywhere with an autonomous intracommunity communication to develop and control their own human and natural resources.

  • commented on Jun 26 2012

    Reblogged this on txwikinger's blog.