Young Australians can help shape security policies
17 Jun 2021| and

Australia confronts a new and compounding set of security challenges. Traditional modes of geopolitics are giving way to sharper styles of statecraft, whether in the form of economic coercion, cyber espionage, disinformation or the weaponisation of aid and infrastructure.

All the while, climate change is stress-testing political systems, in some cases to breaking point. Together, these dynamics amount to a paradigm shift for security planners. Many governments are only starting to grapple with the new reality.

Unsurprisingly, young people do not have a seat at the table deciding our future. And yet, we’re the only generation that will live through the arc of strategic change and full ramifications of policies put in place today. If things go wrong, we will have to pick up the pieces.

Beyond being unjust, our absence from the table is a missed opportunity. As a cohort, we benefit from a unique historical perspective. As digital natives, we have learnt to navigate a hyper-connected world, not one separated by walls or blocs.

Many of us were born after the 9/11 attacks and spent our childhoods under the shadow of terrorism, not nuclear war. And we have witnessed the waning of our US ally, in a story punctuated by recessions, populism and now the pandemic. For all these reasons, our priorities are different. This gives us a fresh lens through which to understand current security challenges and propose novel solutions.

Our work is founded on the conviction that young Australians represent an untapped resource when it comes to national security. Our mission, then, is to mobilise their perspectives.

Many young leaders are already thinking creatively about emerging challenges. We want to elevate their voices in the debate. Other young Australians are brimming with ideas but have never thought of national security as a space that includes them. Our hope is to inspire their participation in the broadening security community, to bring to bear their diverse perspectives and skillsets in solving our nation’s next set of challenges.

To achieve this mission, we are running the Youth National Security Strategy. The initiative will assemble 42 of the nation’s brightest young thinkers to produce a national security strategy for Australia.

Why is this needed? Our current approach is no longer fit for purpose. Australia has typically planned its security through the prism of defence white papers but today’s threats no longer fit squarely in the box of ‘defence’. Whether it’s climate change or Covid-19, the challenges that increasingly unsettle Australia’s security spill over into every aspect of our society. Young people understand this but the policy establishment is yet to shift towards a more holistic national security frame.

Via the strategy document they will co-author, the Youth National Security Strategy will give emerging leaders the opportunity to begin shaping this new approach.

The initiative will produce more than a document. It will culminate in a week-long symposium at the Australian National University in December. This will allow the strategy’s co-authors to test their ideas and build relationships with leading academics, industry figures and policymakers in the national security space. Travel and accommodation will be fully funded.

Ultimately, the strategy promises to sharpen the thinking, skills and networks of a cohort of emerging leaders in national security. Crucially, it will also break ground in bringing a diverse and unheard set of voices and ideas to the security sector.

Applications are now open to be one of the 42 co-authors of this nationally significant document. We are searching across the nation for emerging leaders who want to contribute to this debate. Whether you are a student or in the workforce; a climate scientist, defence strategist or a health specialist; regionally or city-based; we want you. If you are interested in applying or know someone who would be, visit or share our website, which will lay out everything you need to know about how to get involved.