11-13 June 2012.
Residence Inn by Marriott, Kingston Water's Edge
The seventh annual Kingston Conference on International Security (KCIS), ‘International Security in an Age of Austerity,’ was held on June 11-13, 2012 in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. The conference was organized by the Centre for International and Defence Policy and the Defence Management Studies program at Queen’s University, the Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) of the U.S. Army War College and the Land Force Doctrine and Training System of the Canadian Forces. It was designed to explore the wide range of security and economic challenges facing Western countries in coming years and outline strategies for coping with these threats in a period of dramatically declining defence expenditures.
While the recession triggered by the 2008 financial crisis seems to have abated in North America, the effects of the collapse of the U.S. financial sector are still being felt worldwide. Several European states are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, while even those countries that have managed to avoid outright insolvency, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, have amassed unsustainable levels of government debt. Confronting the fiscal challenges facing Western countries will require dramatic reductions in government spending, which includes funding related to security and defence. However, while it cannot be denied that Western countries are now entering a period of austerity, a number of questions remain unanswered.
Of particular relevance is the manner in which governments should manage competing priorities, such as balancing the need for security against the desire to rein in massive deficits. In a world plagued by threats from a wide range of state and non-state actors, should national militaries seek to retain existing capabilities, albeit on a smaller scale, or should they sacrifice one aspect of their defence posture to retain a decisive advantage in another? If so, what impact will these shifts have on how countries conceptualize threats to their security and, perhaps more importantly, how they respond to instability abroad? At the same time, if a choice must be made between competing priorities, would it be more prudent to focus on combat capabilities that provide the capacity to prevail in the battlespace on the one hand, and on the other hand security cooperation or stability operations that shape the security environment? Both positions have merit, but in an era of economic instability retaining the capabilities to maintain extensive combat capabilities as well as the ability to conduct stability operations in failed or fragile states may be a luxury that many countries cannot afford. How then to balance these conflicting pressures and ensure that the resources allocated to defence spending are used as efficiently as possible? And how can the armed forces stimulate support from national governments that may be forced to choose between military spending and domestic entitlements?
Ultimately, KCIS 2012 sought to explore these questions and suggest different ways forward as defence budgets enter a period of steady decline. As the age of austerity shows no sign of drawing to a close, this conference represented a valuable opportunity to discuss policy options with a wide range of experts, observers and stakeholders in the broader defence community, and contribute to a dialogue on how best to cope with the changes to come. To read the complete proceedings, select the link below to download the conference report.