Amid a sense of surprise and, in many quarters, shock at the result of the US presidential election and the UK’s referendum to leave the EU, there was one constant in 2016 – that the global security environment remained as unremittingly bleak as before.

Amid a sense of surprise and, in many quarters, shock at the result of the US presidential election and the UK’s referendum to leave the EU, there was one constant in 2016 – that the global security environment remained as unremittingly bleak as before. Perhaps the only bright spot of note was the peace accord in Colombia.

Many current security challenges have endured for years; most are transnational in impact. These may include real or perceived threats from non-state actors or newly assertive states to access to the global commons; they may stem from the proliferation of defence technology or military know-how, or the use of cyber power by state and non-state actors; they also include climate change and natural disasters and may derive from the increasing pace of technological and social change. Within this context, newly assertive states – particularly Russia but also including China and, recently, some Gulf states – continue to flex, and in some cases use their military muscle. This not only raises the risk of heightened international tension but also of possible military confrontation.

Wars in Syria and Yemen, hugely damaging to these countries’ populations, infrastructure and futures, grind on remorselessly. In Yemen, Gulf states remain confronted by formidable adversaries with still-potent capabilities. Conflict continues on Europe’s doorstep, with Ukraine’s east still witnessing daily combat. Russia’s military activity has prompted modest hikes in NATO defence budgets and, for the Alliance’s larger states, a renewed focus on conventional-combat capabilities and deterrence. In the Asia-Pacific region, North Korea conducted two nuclear tests and further, more complex missile tests in 2016.

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