munich security conference

A New Force in Addressing Global Security: The Emerging Role of Private Sector Actors

March 5, 2024

In mid-February, the world’s most influential policymakers, business leaders, journalists and activists descended on Munich from over 100 countries for the world’s leading security and defense confab, the Munich Security Conference. This year marked a special edition of the Conference, its 60th, offering a chance to reflect on its raison d’être of fostering peace through dialogue.

This year was also marked by growing concerns of an international order that is contested more than ever, leading MSC Chairman Christoph Heusgen to call on attendees to find a path forward against the backdrop of “lose-lose dynamics” and seek out “silver linings.”

From the host of sessions, roundtables and bi-lats the APCO team participated in at MSC one such silver lining prominently emerged: private sector entities are playing a pivotal role in addressing the world’s most pressing challenges, be it addressing cybersecurity threats, combating climate driven migration and conflict, tackling shortages driven by resetting global supply chains, or forging collaborative solutions with government to navigate new and evolving security threats.

Perhaps, no such silver lining was as apparent as the role business has played in the war in Ukraine. MSC discussions highlighted the role corporations play in supporting the war effort, from technological solutions and communication infrastructure to driving reconstruction. Calls were made for business to double down on priority sectors such as housing, logistics, infrastructure and education to facilitate the return of the Ukrainian diaspora. Ukraine’s GDP remains strong, highlighting an extraordinary recovery capacity and resilience, attracting investments from companies with a long-term vision.

This year, MSC’s longstanding focus on cybersecurity pivoted to the role of AI in driving disinformation and combatting cyber threats. Here too, businesses illustrated their leadership in addressing concerns raised by this year’s cohorts of MSC conference-goers. Tech hyperscalers including Microsoft, Google, Meta, OpenAI, TikTok and X convened during the conference’s first day to establish common actions and commitments to counter the spread of AI-generated content that could threaten electoral integrity.

Emerging Markets: Opportunities for African Businesses

APCO hosted its annual side event breakfast, this year focusing on “Recalibrating the Compass: Evaluating Geo-Economic Paradigm Shifts in Collaborations with Africa.” Leaders and experts chimed in such as former Kenyan Minister of Foreign Affairs Raychelle Omamo, International Crisis Group President Comfort Ero, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Europe Director Anja Langenbucher, as well as DP World Group Senior Vice-President Federico Banos-Lindner.

The lively discussion focused on where key African countries stand in the international landscape and the continent’s main challenges and opportunities. Business was undoubtedly a central theme of the debate, which outlined Africa’s immense potential when it comes to natural resources, green energy, infrastructures or tech projects. As this potential is increasingly recognized, the competition for doing business with key African countries intensifies, which offers their leaders the possibility to choose the right partners for their country and their people. While private sector actors can and should play an important role in African countries’ economic development, it is essential that they do so in a win-win perspective: giving back to local communities, providing training to local staff, developing local capabilities, empowering local management to contribute to developing the business, etc.

African countries still have a lot of very different challenges to address—high inflation, food security, access to education and to employment, anti-corruption mechanisms, adaptation to the consequences of climate change—but the multi-polarization of the international landscape now offers them a better chance to make their voices heard within multilateral institutions and on the international stage, as shown by the integration of the African Union to the G20 a few months ago.

Challenges Ahead

Interactions at this year’s conference made it clear that challenges undoubtedly remain for business—and these challenges are increasingly complex and manifest.

  • Reconstruction and stabilization in Ukraine. The private sector will play a crucial role in supporting the intricate process of reconstruction and stabilization in Ukraine, necessitating navigation through the complex economic and political terrain typical of post-conflict areas.
  • Strains on global trade and supply flows.As private companies navigate regional crisis, for instance the naval blockades in the Red Sea, they must reevaluate their business models. These regional shifts also present opportunities for adaptation and forging new partnerships.
  • Navigating new markets. Corridor discussion made it clear that access to new markets continues to be of utmost importance for private sector leaders globally. This is particularly seen in high-growth areas like the Gulf countries, Africa and the Indo-Pacific region, where APCO’s expertise is increasingly recognized and diversified. Against this backdrop, challenges undoubtedly remain. Companies find themselves caught between markets that are at odds, making messaging, commerce and market entries increasingly challenging.
  • Growing cyber risk—the impact of disruptive technologies.Having just as much potential as a concern, technology and AI were a strong feature of the conference debate. Such debate made it clear that global businesses can play a pivotal role in building trust in these technologies, while also facing increased threats from malign actors.

Discussions at MSC 2024 sent a clear message to business leaders globally: while it was expected businesses would need to continue to work in partnership with civil society, governments and international organizations to achieve real impact, business’ role in addressing global security is growing and becoming more sought out than ever before. It is increasingly expected that corporations address global issues more consciously and hand in hand with other leaders.

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