Z konceptu „resilience“ se stal mocný princip a diskurzivní nástroj v oblasti národní a mezinárodní bezpečnosti. Pro ilustraci vzestupu „resilience“ ve strategickém diskurzu severoatlantického regionu je článek rozdělen do dvou částí. První část analyzuje národní bezpečnostní diskurz dvou mocných států v regionu, jmenovitě Velké Británie a Spojených států. S použitím časového rámce 2010–2015 lze důležitost resilience sledovat v řadě strategických dokumentů. Ve druhé části se úroveň analýzy posouvá ke dvěma významným mezinárodním organizacím – NATO a EU. Cílem této části je poukázat na pozoruhodný nárůst diskurzu o resilienci, který získal pevnou půdu v průběhu roku 2016. Práce tedy zkoumá přitažlivost resilience pro státy, jakož i pro mezinárodní organizace, aniž by implikovala příčinný vztah mezi danými diskurzy. Zdůrazňuje rovněž významnou roli resilience jako hodnoty a principu, stejně tak jako žádoucího stavu, na pozadí komplexních a hybridních hrozeb pro národní i mezinárodní bezpečnost.


Tento článek byl podpořen Grantovou agenturou Univerzity Karlovy v Praze v rámci projektu Human Security and Cities: Urban Vulnerability, Resilience and Politics (č.p. 254715).

Klíčová slova

Resilience; národní bezpečnost; Velká Británie; Spojené státy; Evropská unie; NATO.


“A resilient society featuring democracy, trust in institutions, and sustainable development lies at the heart of a resilient state.”

Global Strategy for the European Union´s Foreign and Security Policy, 2016: 24

The concept of „resilience“ has turned into a powerful discursive tool in science and public policy on multiple scales and levels. From engineering to psychology, development studies to urbanism and security studies – innumerable analyses have appeared across the board trying to understand, measure and quantify resilience. The latter is generally defined as a capacity of a system to withstand disruptions while maintaining its basic functions and structure. In the field of public policy, resilience of things and against things has become a fashionable term. Yet, capturing a true essence of resilience is virtually impossible. Who is to be made resilient, by whom, using what means, and with what effects? It is clear that one´s definition of resilience is shaped by their social and spatial positions – as well as their political agendas. This does not mean that resilience becomes any less powerful as a discursive tool – it simply means that political declarations and policies relying on resilience require some careful analysis.

The objective of this paper is two-fold, which is reflected in two sets of research questions that it poses. The first one concerns the recent proliferation of resilience discourse in the field of national security, focusing on two specific cases: the United States and the United Kingdom. How is resilience understood and used in the US and UK security discourse on the strategic level? What are some specific issue-areas and objectives in which resilience – in both of the studied cases – appears as a dominant framework? And finally, what are the similarities and differences between the resilience discourse in the US and the UK? The analysis suggests that resilience is remarkably adaptable and regarded as an analytical tool, a principle, a quality, or an objective – all at the same time. It is therefore used for a variety of purposes, and acquires different meanings based on the context in which it appears. In any case, it is evident that resilience emerges as an extremely useful framework for national security discourse and policy throughout the period of 2010-2015. Also, by analysing the discourses through the lens of resilience, remarkable similarities between the studied cases are uncovered with regard to the specific issue-areas; these include emergency management, protection of critical infrastructure, global prosperity, conflict management, climate change and global development. At the same time, the analysis identifies an important difference in ontology of resilience understood normatively on one hand, and practically on the other.

The second part of the analysis discusses the surge of resilience on a multinational level. Specifically, to what extent has resilience been adopted by key international organizations in the North Atlantic area, namely NATO and the EU? The analysis suggests that resilience has indeed proliferated in a set of high-profile declarations of these organizations throughout 2016. However, it has not yet reached the degree of prominence that it enjoys in the discourse of national security discussed in the first part of the paper. Given the short timeframe, the purpose of this part is not to draw conclusions regarding the implementation of resilience. Instead, it is to reflect on the surge of resilience in the strategic discourse of the EU and NATO, and relate it to the national security context discussed in the first part. The paper stops short of claiming a direct causal relation between the British and US national security discourse on one hand, and NATO and EU declarations on the other. However, one can notice a remarkable degree of consonance in principles and terminology as used by the mentioned actors, reflecting their shared strategic environment.

Following the introduction, the paper examines the concept of resilience, summarizing its evolution in relevant academic and policy fields, particularly in Security Studies. The subsequent section elaborates on the methodology and methods used for the purpose of the paper. The second part of the paper traces the evolution of „resilience“ discourse in national security policy. The prominence of the term in the context of the United Kingdom and the United States becomes evident. The third part then discusses the subsequent adoption of „resilience“ in high-level documents and declarations of the EU and the NATO throughout 2016. The main findings are then summarized in the conclusion.


The concept of resilience can be generally characterized as a „capacity of a system to constantly evolve and adapt to disturbance while maintaining its basic function and structure.” [1] Given this general definition, one can intuitively sense the wide variety of possible applications and purposes of the term in security policy and practice. The concept first appeared in its English version in the 17th century dictionaries to be later adopted by the 19th century mechanics and the 20th century ecology and psychology. [2] Since the 1970, the principle of resilience has dominated the field of ecology in particular, [3] [4] [5] and has been applied to countless systems on different spatial scales.

Across the broad discipline of Security Studies, the understanding of resilience differs fundamentally in terms of its meaning and purpose. Throughout the 2000s, a rather positivist approach to resilience gained ground in the field of strategic studies [6] and emergency management. [7] This perspective sees resilience as a problem-solving tool which opens up security to a range of new actors, and thereby leaves the state behind to a certain degree. Taken up as an analytical and practical tool, resilience helps to make sense of the complexity that defines the current security environment, and „democratizes“ the responses by engaging – and empowering – other actors. Around 2010, an alternative stream of resilience literature emerged to challenge the problem-solving approaches. Government resilience discourses became scrutinized with regard to the practices they tend to legitimize. That is, political questions were raised about what resilience does and to whom. This approach sees resilience as a largely neoliberal tool, with a state – albeit dressed up in the logic of empowerment – contributing to the existing and unequal power structures. [8] Scholars have argued that one´s ability to be resilient depends on their social and spatial position – that is, resilience does not work on a level playing field. It is therefore seen as fundamentally political – and questions are asked about who is to be made resilient, by what means, and with what consequences. [9]

In extreme cases, resilience-labelled security measures can be seen as undermining security rather than enhancing it. [10] As noted by Alexander, one man´s resilience may be other´s vulnerability. [11] Much of the critical security scholarship focused on „urban resilience“ – a booming research agenda especially after 9/11, with many cities seeking anti-terrorist measures ranging from defensive urban planning [12] to militarization of urban public space [13] and surveillance. [14] Resilience has therefore gained a firm ground in Security Studies throughout the last decade, which was also evidenced by the creation of a specialized journal titled Resilience: International Policies, Practices and Discourses. In early 2017, Routledge Handbook of International Resilience [15] was published, edited by David Chandler and Jon Coaffee.

Mirroring its rise in the academia, „resilience“ also became widely adopted in national security policy, particularly after 2010. While countries around the world incorporated resilience into their national security strategies, others – such as Canada, the Netherlands or Australia, even adopted specific „resilience strategies“. [16] Rather than promising „total security“, which is unattainable in today´s complex security environment, resilience accepts a possibility of occurrence of disruptions and crises. It is no longer about if these will happen – it is rather about how to withstand when they happen. As becomes apparent when analysing security strategies and declarations in the next section, the range of possible security threats that can materialize is virtually limitless. Therefore, two types of resilience are distinguished - specified vis-à-vis known risks and anticipated security events, and general as for coping with the unknown. [17]

In the national security arena, Fjäder argues that resilience challenges the traditional role of the state as a security provider. [18] A broad range of other actors on different levels come into play, reflecting the variety of domains covered by resilience. As will be shown in the following sections, resilience incorporates issues from public health and social cohesion to industrial disasters and terrorism. In terms of its scope and objectives, it far overreaches a government or military authority. Resilience also aims to go beyond the material dimension of security by highlighting the interconnectedness of the natural, environmental, demographic and social domains. [19] Blurring of these different dimensions, and of the formerly clear distinction between internal and external security, becomes clear in analysing resilience discourse of states and international organizations.

The studied strategies and high-level declarations tend to use the language of threats, risks and vulnerabilities on one hand, and offer principles of resilience on the other. Protection, adaptation, collaboration, empowerment and capacity building are among the terms often used in relation to the referent objects of security – be it states, societies, critical infrastructure networks, or vulnerable communities. Resilience represents an all-encompassing principle, serving to understand and analyse threats and responses on any level and scale desirable. Also, resilience in a sense of persistence, renewal and continuity, has an important normative aspect to it, which is difficult to counter-argue. In sum, a remarkable analytical utility and flexibility of the concept have turned it into one of the principal buzzwords in today´s security discourse.


Regarding the case selection for this analysis, United States and the United Kingdom were chosen due to the degree of prominence of resilience in their strategic discourse and relevant policies. Both of these countries were pioneers of introducing resilience thinking in their respective regions. Their political and military power within the North Atlantic area is evident, and thus their ability to shape the strategic discourse of the bloc is unsurprising. The analysed cases therefore constitute prime examples of state actors participating in the „resilience surge“ which is discussed in this paper.

The methodology used for the analysis is of interpretive kind. With regards to specific methods, thematic analysis is employed: texts of national security strategies and declarations of the UK and the US are first screened for a number of times resilience is mentioned in them. The second step is to evaluate the importance of this concept by tracing its usage in the texts. Attention is paid to the cases in which resilience is explicitly used in a title of a document or of its section, or of a particular policy or project. Moving forward, the purpose of resilience is traced, focusing on the content and the use of the term in relation to the objectives of the documents. This helps to distinguish how resilience is understood – as an inherent quality of an entity, as a principle or a value, or as a practice. Two wider categories come up in the analysis, reflecting the domestic and international domains of resilience, with six specific issue-areas within them. These constitute the analytical framework of this part of the paper. Finally, qualitative interpretation of meanings and context is conducted, contrasting the findings of the two case studies. This allows for a deeper comparison of the use of resilience in the national security discourses, distinguishing its normative and practical dimension.

The second part discusses the use of resilience in the official discourse of the NATO and the EU, represented by high-level NATO and EU declarations and documents, the majority of which were published throughout 2016. As was mentioned before, the paper does not seek to establish a causal connection between the use of resilience in British and US documents on one side, and its adoption by NATO and the EU in 2016 on the other. However, one can clearly identify a significant mobility of the core concept, innately related to a common strategic environment characterized by similar threats and shared objectives. The methods employed in this part of the analysis mirror the ones described above. However, the nature of the documents somewhat differs, as it concerns international organizations rather than nation states. Also, the timespan of the collected primary sources is much more limited compared to the first part of the analysis. This is due to the above-mentioned fact that resilience does not become widely adopted in this context until 2016.


It was not until the 2010s when the concept of resilience gained momentum in national security strategies across the board. In the North Atlantic area, explicit references appeared in national security documents of the United Kingdom, USA, Canada, or the Netherlands. In addition, Australia also started to refer explicitly to resilience in outlining its national security objectives at around the same time. [20] This section focuses on the emergence of resilience as a core principle in strategic documents and programs of the United States and the United Kingdom in the timeframe of 2010-2015. The analysis traces two principal dimensions of national security – first, the domestic, defined by emergency management on one hand and protection of critical national infrastructure on the other. Second, it focuses on the international dimension, with special emphasis on global prosperity, conflict management, climate change and global development. The first part of both sections is dedicated to a description of resilience use in the analysed documents, while the second part focuses on data interpretation.


The rise of resilience has been remarkable in national security declarations and strategies of the United States. For analytical purposes, this paper focuses on five key strategic documents and eight policy programs and declarations in both domestic and international arena, which use resilience as a core principle. These include the respective National Security Strategies of 2010 and 2015, and some of the Department of Homeland Security´s strategic documents and programs.

Domestic resilience

The Obama administration´s first National Security Strategy (NSS) from May 2010 [21] adopts resilience as a core concept, referring to it 26 times in the 51 pages long document. Selchow observes that the Strategy constructs resilience as a global value and a prerequisite for US national security on one hand, and a distinctly American disposition on the other hand. [22] In the section titled „Strengthen Security and Resilience at Home“, the Strategy admits that the US „will not be able to deter or prevent every single threat“, which is why it must „enhance its resilience“. It specifically refers to threats of terrorism, natural disasters, pandemics and cyber-attacks. It emphasizes the effort to protect the nation´s critical infrastructure, and the role of the private sector which owns or operates the most of it. [23] In addressing emergency management, the Strategy pledges to build resilience capacities on all levels – from the government to communities and citizens. It goes on to claim that „resilience has always been at the heart of the American spirit“. [24]

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) incorporated resilience into its National Preparedness Goal from 2011, as well as into its second edition from 2015. [25] The baseline objective of national preparedness is a „secure and resilient Nation with the capabilities required across the whole community to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from the threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk“. [26] Further, the 2014 DHS Quadrennial Homeland Security Review [27] lists the key objectives, including the one to „Strengthen National Preparedness and Resilience“ to all kinds of disasters and crises, with a strong emphasis on natural disasters and threats inherent to cyber space. It also refers to the Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience – a Presidential Policy Directive from 2013. [28] Beyond many strategies and declarations, the DHS also explicitly uses resilience in its existing programs and policies. The Regional Resiliency Assessment Program is run by DHS´s Office of Infrastructure Protection. DHS Office of Health Affairs has developed the Community Resilience Planning program. The Department also runs the Resilience STAR, which is a labelling mechanism for resilient homes and critical infrastructure. [29]

The National Security Strategy issued by the White House in February 2015 [30] refers to resilience 13 times across its 29 pages. Its second chapter places a strong emphasis on issues of homeland security. It lists potential crises ranging from terrorist attacks to natural disasters to which America is now „more responsive and resilient“. [31] In this regard, the Strategy refers to the Boston Marathon bombings and Hurricane Sandy, respectively. In order to „make sure America is resilient in the face of adversity“, it aims to bring all of the societal elements together – including individuals, local communities, private and non-profit actors, faith-based organizations, and all levels of government. [32] On the critical infrastructure side, the Strategy mirrors the DHS in highlighting resilience of both cyber and physical networks, and emphasizing the need of collaboration of private sector, civil society, and other stakeholders in this effort. [33]

Global resilience

Resilience has also become an important principle in guiding the US strategy vis-à-vis other countries and international organizations on the global stage. This is evident throughout the National Security Strategies of 2010 and 2015, which refer to resilience in the following four principal dimensions.

The emphasis on healthy and resilient global economy is evident in the US Strategies. The NSS of 2010 maintains that there is a „fundamental connection between [the US´s] national security, competitiveness, resilience, and moral example“ [34] . In the NSS from 2015, President Obama highlighted the „resilient and diversified economy [35] – despite the global recession from which the US rebounded to maintain an economy that is „the most dynamic and resilient on Earth“. [36] This is seen as a cornerstone of the US global influence, which in turn puts the country in a leadership position in dealing with military aggression, terrorism, climate change or global health issues. [37]

With regards to the US Armed Forces, NSS 2010 praises „tremendous resilience, adaptability, and capacity for innovation“ of America´s all-volunteer force in „meeting increasingly sophisticated security threats“. [38] Their activities range from counterterrorism to stability operations and conflict prevention. Regarding the latter, the US pledges to work with its allies across the board to build „resilience to crisis and shocks, strengthen governance, end extreme poverty, and increase prosperity“ - as a failure to do so would provide a fertile ground to extremism, especially in fragile states. [39] Relating radicalization in conflict zones to the possibility of violent attacks on the US homeland, the Strategy portrays terrorism as „persistent“ and virtually „borderless“. [40]

The Strategies also tackle the issue of climate change, particularly in connection to regions which are most exposed to its impacts, and the least equipped to deal with those. The NSS of 2010 pledged to work with partners to „support the resilience of the poorest nations to the effects of climate change, and strengthen food security“. [41] The NSS of 2015 goes further to single out some concrete tools to „strengthen resilience and address vulnerabilities to climate impacts“. These strategies range from cutting carbon emissions to supporting sustainable agriculture in developing countries. [42] That is, resilience to climate change is to be fomented by both global and local measures.

Resilience also has a central role in the field of global development, in which the US pledges to play an active role - be it as a direct aid donor, or as a global innovator. In terms of specific objectives, the 2015 Strategy highlights the effort to end extreme poverty in developing countries across the world. Citing the Millennium Development Goals, the Strategy emphasizes the principles of sustainability, education, and good governance as key prerequisites for development. Connecting this effort to the resources of the US innovation sector, the NSS sees the American scientific, technological and entrepreneurial strengths as tools for „promoting food security, enhancing resilience, modernizing rural agriculture, [and] reducing the vulnerability of the poor“. [43]

Interpretation and critique

The studied documents representing the United States´s national security discourse place a strong emphasis on resilience. The latter is constructed as an inherently American attribute, a desired ability of the referent objects of security, as well as a general objective relevant to individuals, states and societies – both domestically and internationally. „American values“ are emphasized as „a part of our resilience at home and a source of [the US] influence abroad“. [44] It becomes clear that resilience is understood as both a means and a goal – strong and resilient US economy, institutions, society and individuals are seen as a prerequisite to attain the objectives of national security. Thus, resilience is seen as a value, a quality and a desired characteristic of the country and its constitutive elements. At the same time, resilience logic is also projected externally – it is a goal to be achieved vis-à-vis the US´s allies, be it NATO countries or the developing regions and states.

While the appearance of resilience in the studied documents is plentiful, it raises certain concerns regarding its consistency. In other words, resilience is used ontologically in so many different contexts, it leads to questions about what it actually means. It is portrayed as a value, principle, and prerequisite on one hand, and as a goal and end-state on the other hand – all of this on multiple levels and scales. A critical viewpoint would lead to a question: How can resilience be analytically useful in a context where it means everything – and does the unlimited application not empty the concept of its original meaning? In this understanding, does resilience serve the analytical, practical and normative purpose for which it has been so ambitiously deployed?

Be it as it may, it is clear that resilience was taken to the highest-level discourse by the Obama administration – and on many occasions, by the former President himself. In the last year of his Presidency, he praised America´s „resilience that sustained us“, referring to people´s reactions to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. [45] Three of his executive orders also explicitly used this term – the Climate-Resilient International Development from 2014, Building National Capacities for Long-Term Drought Resilience and the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience from 2016. [46] These examples make evident the broad adaptability of the term in a context where threats are blurred across borders and sectors – political, societal, and environmental. The focus on these interconnections brings the US resilience discourse in consonance with the one in the United Kingdom to which we now turn.


The United Kingdom (UK) is undoubtedly one of the pioneers of resilience on all levels of government and in different policy arenas. Although resilience appeared on numerous occasions throughout the 2000s (see below), it was the UK´s 2010 National Security Strategy which introduced the concept to the highest-level strategic discourse. While resilience was mentioned 18 times in the 2010 National Security Strategy, five years later it became a conceptual and analytical cornerstone of Britain´s latest Strategy. The 88 pages long document from 2015 referred to resilience 61 times. In addition to these two Strategies, the analysis in this section incorporates materials from cyber and defence sectors, and also some relevant local emergency management documents. All in all, nine key strategic documents are analysed, complemented with relevant materials such as policy and media reports.

Domestic resilience

A good portion of the UK´s 2010 Strategy adopts a domestic „emergency management“ focus, aiming to „predict, prevent, and mitigate the risks to [Britain´s] security“ and „develop resilience to reduce their impact“. [47] The principal risks and threats of concern include terrorism, hostile cyber-attacks, major accidents and natural hazards. [48] Referring to the networked and complex world characterized by uncertainty and change, then Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to make UK´s „institutions and infrastructure as resilient as we possibly can“. [49] Resilience for the UK in the sense of preparedness for „all kinds of emergencies, and the ability to recover from shocks and to maintain essential services“ [50], corresponds to the definition of the term as described previously. The response requires „building corporate and community resilience“, [51] which bears implicit that although disasters and accidents are sometimes portrayed as national security issues, their effects are likely to be local, and the responses should thus be calibrated to actions on a local (and increasingly urban) level.

This perspective is echoed and enhanced in the Strategy of 2015, especially in the „Crisis response and resilience“ section. It emphasizes the role of sub-state entities, such as emergency services, local governments, businesses, and the public, on whose relationships „the resilience of the UK ultimately rests“. [52] The strategy commits to develop a "new set of resilient standards" to help bring together businesses, rescue services and local organizations to face the existing threats. [53] It also refers to Britain´s National Security Council´s special sub-committee on Threats, Hazards, Resilience and Contingencies. [54]

By making clear that resilience is far from being a solely national issue, „local resilience“ is emphasized, referring to „immediate risks of civil emergencies occurring in the UK“. [55] Perhaps the best example of this in practice is the resilience policy of the city of London, which has been underway for over a decade. Under the auspices of the Mayor, London Resilience Forum was established as early as 2002 to coordinate crisis response organizations across the city. [56] One of its purposes is to represent over 170 organizations that participate in London Resilience Partnership – a multi-agency collaboration designed for large-scale emergencies, be it a natural disaster or a terrorist attack. The summary of the Partnership´s objectives and activities was published in London Resilience Strategy in 2013. [57]

Perhaps one of the most salient objectives with regard to domestic resilience is the prevention and mitigation of terrorism-related activities in the UK. The National Security Strategy from 2015 pledges to achieve this goal by investigating and disrupting terrorism activities on one hand, and protection of „crowded places“ on the other hand. [58] The recent terrorist attacks across the UK make evident just how difficult the protection of soft targets in cities might be. „Resilient“ became once again a widely used term to describe London and the UK as a whole in the wake of the March 2017 Westminster attack – be it by the media [59] , world leaders [60], or the London Mayor Sadiq Khan. [61]

In addition to managing crises and disasters, protection of critical infrastructure – including its cyber component – is innately connected to resilience in national security discourse. In 2009, the UK´s Cyber Security Strategy was published with a subtitle „safety, security and resilience in cyber space“. [62] Both analysed National Security Strategies are clear about adverse effects of cyber-crime. The latter is portrayed as a threat of an enormous cost, with major British companies relying on the „resilience of the networks upon which commerce relies“. [63] The 2015 Strategy goes further to announce a permanent collaboration platforms with vital industries titled Defence, Cyber, and Security and Resilience Growth Partnerships.

A potential disruption of UK´s critical infrastructure has an important cyber component to it; however, the cyber threat is not exclusive. Indeed, the 2015 Strategy places a strong emphasis on „critical national infrastructure“ which needs to be „resilient to future threats“. These might also include widespread power cuts, or a wider disruption of energy imports to the UK. [64] As hazards of this kind far exceed the UK´s national borders, the focus is on working with partners across the world to mitigate the impacts of potential contingencies.

Global resilience

Perhaps not surprisingly, Britain links the nation´s power to its prosperity, security and freedom - the aspects which are innately connected to Britain´s global influence. All the instruments of the national power are to be used „to build a secure and resilient UK to help shape a stable world“. [65] In the Strategy of 2010, the undisrupted trade is emphasized several times as a national security issue for Britain. Promoting the country´s prosperity is an inherent part of the 2015 Strategy as well, with ample references to resilience. The UK aims to maintain its economic security and opportunities, fomenting exports in general and defence industry sectors in particular. In this vein, resilience became the key concept of the document Defence Contribution to UK National Security and Resilience, [66] issued by the House of Commons in 2009. Britain´s recent political changes notwithstanding [67], the objectives remain to ensure resilience of the economy and businesses to shocks and crises, and maintain a secure and resilient trading environment. [68]

International military crises and Britain´s ability to respond to them are also one of the core priorities of its 2010 Strategy. [69] Britain´s role as one of the major military powers of NATO implies the obligation to deal with conflict management all over the world. In „projecting global influence“ of the UK, the 2015 Strategy aims to focus on fragile states and regions and help them „develop their resilience and preparedness, and respond more effectively to the impact of conflict and crises“. [70] In comparison to the previous Strategy, the 2015 document indicates a significant shift from „what to do“ towards „how to do“ to strengthen Britain´s national security. The „Protect Our People“ chapter discusses all major issues relevant to national security, including the protection of British [71] nationals overseas, strengthening the Armed Forces“ capacities, maintaining a nuclear deterrent, and combatting extremism and terrorism.

Britain´s role is also significant on the global stage in the field of climate change and mitigating its effects. The Strategy of 2015 reflects on this by pledging to build „international resilience“, referring to poor and fragile countries that face disasters, shocks and climate change. [72] The structural conditions that put many of these places in the position of vulnerability are exacerbated by disproportionately large impacts of pollution, industrial hazards, or sea level rise. To help address these problems, Britain continues to lead the International Agreement for Disaster Risk Reduction in which disaster preparedness and resilience are seen as fundamental principles. [73]

Innately connected to climate change, the issue of global development also stands out in the Strategies. They particularly focus on the problems of global health, which disproportionately affect developing countries, and especially the most vulnerable communities within them. The 2015 Strategy pledges to provide continuous funding and effort to help develop these areas, with British-led expertise and technologies that help „build resilience of the poorest and most vulnerable people“. [74] As this effort cannot succeed as a one-way street, the international dimension of development is also emphasized. In this regard, Britain pledges to work even more closely with international and regional organizations to „build stability and resilience“ globally. [75]

Interpretation and comparison

Summarizing the main strategic objectives, Britain pledged in its 2015 Strategy to maintain and create „resilient and agile structure, able to deal with a wider range of threats and hazards in the 21st century and to plug into local, national and international partners“. [76] This is in line with the complexity-based conception of resilience of systems interconnected across scales and levels. Assuming that disruptions and crises of different kinds are virtually unavoidable, resilience aims for preparedness and adaptation in the face of the uncertain.

The analysis shows that there is a great deal of consonance not only in identifying strategic risks and threats to national security in the United States and Great Britain, but also in the language used to label the objectives and tools across the analysed Strategies. The main difference lies in the ontology of resilience as understood by the majority of the studied documents. With certain simplification, it can be argued that while the American conception of resilience inclines towards values and normativity, the British conception tends to prefer practice. In other words, the British approach seems to be much more closely related to implementation of resilience than its philosophy. This is reflected in the degree to which the UK documents focus on the specific actors and practices of resilience, while the US documents portray resilience as a somewhat abstract value or quality inherent to the country and its people.

The local and urban dimension of resilience is thereby much more salient in the UK than in the case of the US. This is not to say that this dimension is entirely absent in the United States – many of similar urban resilience questions are indeed addressed in local and state policies and declarations concerning US homeland security. The important difference, however, is the degree to which local security is discussed in national security documents in the UK – such as the National Security Strategy. This local-sensitive and practical approach can potentially lead to a more actionable type of resilience –that is focused more on vulnerable sites, localities, and cities.

At the same time, there is an important element of resilience as understood by both US and UK strategic documents – the continuity of business. This applies to all levels – from local entrepreneurs to complex corporations and the global economy as a whole. Resilience of markets and undisrupted international trade is thereby innately connected to stability and security – both at home and internationally. This way, resilience in a sense of economic prosperity is discursively related to national security. All in all, it is clear that resilience serves as a dominant analytical and conceptual framework for national security. A similar tendency has appeared in the context of NATO and the EU, which is discussed in the following sections.


While resilience was barely mentioned in NATO Strategic Concept of 2010, it has turned into one of the core principles referenced on the highest levels throughout the last year. The prominence of resilience in high-level declarations became especially significant in the run-up to the 2016 Warsaw Summit. Indeed, NATO´s Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges Jamie Shea declared resilience „a core element of collective defence in a globalised, confrontational and complex environment, which requires constant adaptation as new vulnerabilities and threats emerge“. [77] In his contribution to the NATO Review magazine, Shea sets out five specific areas for the Alliance´s resilience:

  1. Cyber resilience, with the aim of handling incidents, protecting networks, sharing information, and developing a NATO-industry cyber partnership;
  2. Resilience against hybrid threats, such as false information, propaganda, lies and myths designed to undermine governments or foster social conflict;
  3. Civil-military readiness, in a sense of reinforcement and defence of Allies southwards and eastwards;
  4. Enhancing the existing NATO-EU cooperation, including harmonizing key procedures, and sharing intelligence and information;
  5. Cooperation with external partners, such as Finland, Sweden, and other countries, in countering hybrid threats. [78]

Shea´s analysis reflects the specific purposes of NATO as a political and military organization in a strategic context similar to the one of the states analysed previously. Cooperation with partners within and beyond the Alliance is an old principle which now becomes discursively related to resilience. In 2016, NATO also explicitly linked resilience with the Article 3 of the Alliance´s founding treaty, which reads as follows: [79]

„In order more effectively to achieve the objectives of this Treaty, the Parties, separately and jointly, by means of continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid, will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack“. [80]

Going further, NATO links resilience to deterrence, stating that by making „civilian-military cooperation more effective and resilient, the likelihood of attacks against NATO is reduced“. [81] This again evidences the wide applicability of this new term to the long-standing objectives of the Alliance.

Resilience also turned out to be the principal concept that cut across themes and objectives of the NATO Summit in Warsaw in July 2016. Among other high-level declarations, heads of state and governments participating in the Summit issued a Commitment to Enhance Resilience. [82] As one of the most explicit resilience-focused documents on such high political level, it states that „resilience is an essential basis for credible deterrence and defence and effective fulfilment of the Alliance´s core tasks“. In line with the notorious complexity argument, the declaration relates military and non-military security challenges, and emphasizes the need to effectively engage with a range of actors, from governments to private sector, and international bodies such as the EU. Using a discourse very similar to the one of the European Union, NATO´s Commitment to Resilience calls for upholding the values of „individual liberty, democracy, rule of law“ as a sole pathway to „enhance our resilience“. [83]

The final Communiqué of the Warsaw Summit, published on the 8th July 2016, mentions resilience 16 times, while its article number 73 is dedicated to this principle as follows:

„Today we have made a commitment to continue to enhance our resilience and to maintain and further develop our individual and collective capacity to resist any form of armed attack. Civil preparedness is a central pillar of Allies´s resilience and a critical enabler for Alliance collective defence. While this remains a national responsibility, NATO can support Allies in assessing and, upon request, enhancing their civil preparedness. We will improve civil preparedness by achieving the NATO Baseline Requirements for National Resilience, which focus on continuity of government, continuity of essential services, security of critical civilian infrastructure, and support to military forces with civilian means. In this context, we welcome the Resilience Guidelines approved by Defence Ministers in June 2016“. [84]

Resilience of the complex systems that NATO refers to is extremely difficult to measure or quantify. In order to operationalize it, the baseline requirements for „national resilience“, referred to in Article 73 of the Communiqué, aim to set some principal benchmarks. The Alliance and its members can be considered resilient as long as they are able to maintain the following:

  • Resilient critical government services;
  • Resilient energy supplies;
  • Dealing with uncontrolled movement of people;
  • Resilient food and water resources;
  • Ability to deal with mass casualties;
  • Resilient civil communications systems (cyber);
  • Resilient transport systems (for NATO´s purposes). [85]

Some of the items on the list, such as „critical government services“, could be problematic to define in terms of actual ownership, which is often private. Nevertheless, listing a set of clear benchmarks can bring at least a certain degree of „measurability“ into the resilience implementation, however complex the task may be.

In sum, it becomes clear that resilience found its way to the NATO strategic discourse throughout 2016, applicable to the founding objectives of the NATO Treaty, as well as to today´s globalized and complex security environment. NATO now defines resilience as „the combination of civil preparedness and military capacity“, [86] referring to disruptions such as natural disasters, failure of critical infrastructures, or military attacks. The term seems to be a perfect fit for addressing a network of complex threats, in different dimensions and sectors, and with a multiplicity of actors involved.

The prominence of resilience as the new defence buzzword was summarized by Jiří Šedivý, the permanent representative of the Czech Republic to NATO, in November 2016. In his article titled Security and Resilience in the Context of NATO-EU Cooperation, he argues that „resilience against a full spectrum of challenges, including hybrid ones, is becoming an indispensable condition or enabler for achieving stable security and a credible defence“. [87] His conceptualization of resilience is in line with the definitions and approaches exposed previously in this paper. That is, he understands resilience as the ability to absorb shocks, recover from them and adapt for future ones.

Šedivý observes that while the growth of resilience in the NATO discourse has been significant, the EU had been, until relatively recently, somewhat more hesitant in using the term. He points to the EU´s program of protection of critical infrastructure launched in 2006, arguing that the EU´s focus back then was already closely linked to resilience principles in its objectives and scope. This, however, was not accompanied by the use of „resilience“ term as such at the time. [88]


Indeed, neither the European Security Strategy of 2003, nor its Implementation Report from 2008, referred to the concept of resilience. However, there was a significant shift in 2016, when several important documents and declarations adopted resilience as a core principle. This included the Joint Framework for Hybrid Threats from April of that year, the Global Strategy for the EU´s Foreign and Security Policy published in June, and the Joint EU-NATO declaration made in Warsaw in July 2016.

In May of 2015, the EU Foreign Affairs Council called for „actionable proposals to help countering hybrid threats and foster the resilience of the EU and its Member States as well as partners“. [89] This was a formal beginning of a year-long drafting process of what would become the EU´s new security strategy. Also in 2015, the EU Institute for Security Studies published a lengthy preliminary report titled Towards an EU Global Strategy: Background, process, references. [90] It explicitly referred to the 2003 European Security Strategy, as well as the Strategic Concept of NATO of 2010, and the United States National Security Strategy of 2015. The emphasis of the latter on „resilience“ was discussed previously. The 2015 EU report also called for a transformation of humanitarian assistance tools in order to enhance „resilience, disaster risk reduction, and [a more effective] development cooperation“. [91] Furthermore, Europe´s immediate neighbourhoods were to be made „more democratic, prosperous and well-governed, as well as more resilient and secure“. Resilience is therefore used externally, with regard to partner countries, as the report stops short of addressing resilience of the EU member countries or of the Union itself.

As the resilience discourse was gradually building up in the EU, the Joint Framework on Countering Hybrid Threats was presented to the European Parliament and the Council by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security policy in April 2016. [92] This document explicitly called for „building resilience“ as one of the principal objectives. This time, resilience of the member states and the Union as a whole was emphasized, noting that many networks critical for security of multiple members are interconnected across borders. [93] The Framework´s stated objectives are „improving awareness, building resilience, preventing, responding to crisis and recovering“. [94] It explicitly calls for improving resilience in the majority of the 22 stated Actions, from energy and cyber security to building resilience against radicalization and violent extremism, and cooperation with external partners. [95] All in all, the 18 pages long document refers to the key term 29 times.

The Global Strategy for the European Union´s Foreign and Security Policy was finally presented in June 2016, only a couple of weeks before the above-mentioned NATO Warsaw Summit. With a range of conflicts and crises having developed in Europe´s „backyard“ throughout the last decade, a new strategic document outlining EU´s security priorities and objectives had been long overdue.

Its executive summary starts with a bold declaration: „Our Union is under threat“, as the EU must „navigate in this difficult, more connected, contested and complex world“. [96] At home, prosperity of the people of the EU and „the resilience of its democracies“ are central questions, which in turn determine its „external credibility and influence“. As is the case with the mentioned British and US strategies, the EU document commits to build „partnerships with civil society and the private sector [which are seen as] key players in a networked world“. [97] Among the strategic priorities of the External Action of the EU, the Strategy refers to resilience in relation to security of cyber infrastructures, networks and services within the „European digital space“, as well as energy security and strategic communications.

The section titled State and Societal Resilience to our East and South offers the EU´s definition of resilience: „the ability of states and societies to reform, thus withstanding and recovering from internal and external crises“. [98] It goes on to note that „a resilient state is a secure state“ and „a resilient society featuring democracy, trust in institutions, and sustainable development lies at the heart of a resilient state“ [99] (emphasis added).

The Strategy thus calls for „resilience in our surrounding regions“, referring to „repressive“ and „failed“ states, where it seeks to support inclusive governance, to fight against terrorism, corruption, and organized crime, and to support the rule of law and human rights. In sum, resilience is again seen as external, a „strategic priority across the EU´s east and south“.

State resilience also refers to Western Balkans, Turkey, Central Asia, Central Africa, emphasizing resilience as a key principle of the Enlargement on one hand and the European Neighbourhood Policy on the other. The EU pledges to „support different paths to resilience, targeting the most acute cases of governmental, economic, societal, and climate/energy fragility, as well as develop more effective migration policies for Europe and its partners“. [100]

The Strategy adopts a perspective of societal resilience as well, noting that no state can be resilient unless it deals with humanitarian issues, development, trade, investment, infrastructure, education and health – all the aspects central to resilience of societies. [101] The EU commits to deepen its efforts along these lines and support states that wish to participate. The strategy also emphasizes environmental resilience in relation to climate change mitigation and adaptation. [102]

Innately connected to state, societal and environmental issues, the plight of migrants and refugees is to be a „special focus in [the EU´s] work on resilience“. The Strategy calls for a multi-dimensional approach, from addressing the root causes of migration in countries of origin all the way to managing migration within Europe, stemming irregular flows, and making the asylum system more effective. [103]

In sum, the traditional focus on multilateralism, development, human rights and the rule of law emanate from the 2016 Global Strategy of the European Union. The emphasis on resilience, which is mentioned 41 times in the text, brings it to consonance with the strategic documents analysed previously.

The July 2016 Summit of NATO was yet another high-level opportunity to declare the EU´s commitment to resilience. In this context, the above mentioned Joint Declaration was presented by the EU (represented by the EU Council President and the President of the EU Commission), and NATO (represented by its Secretary General). Published on 8th July 2016 at the Warsaw Summit, the declaration refers to the interconnected security challenges faced by the EU and NATO. It highlights their mutual objective to „bolster resilience“ against the existent and future hybrid threats. [104]


Resilience has come to play a significant discursive role in the field of national and international security. The first objective of this article was to trace the use of this term in a set of strategic documents of the United States and the United Kingdom. The analysis strongly suggests that resilience has become the new buzzword of national security. This is evidenced by positioning resilience as a core concept in many key strategic documents. In line with its broad applicability, the term has dominated security discourse on the strategic level. Indeed, this sometimes happens at the expense of a clear definition of what resilience actually means. The variety of purposes and contexts in which it is used has somehow diffused its analytical clarity.

The analysis carried out identifies two broad dimensions and six specific areas in which resilience is explicitly used in both of the studied cases. In the domestic context of security, the two specific areas are emergency management and critical infrastructure protection. In the international context, the four areas identified are global prosperity, conflict management, climate change and global development. Multiple references to resilience cut across these categories throughout the analysed documents. Although the degree of similarity of the „resilience use“ is remarkable, some key differences have been identified. These are mainly to do with the contrasting conceptions of resilience; in the US discourse, it is often understood as a somewhat abstract value or a principle, inherent to the country and the American spirit. In the UK discourse, resilience is seen in more practical terms, focusing on relevant actors and different levels of government. In this context, the local or urban dimension of security and resilience is particularly salient.

The objective of the second part of the paper was to discuss the recent adoption of the resilience discourse in high-level declarations and strategic documents of international organizations, namely NATO and the EU. Although the discursive surge of resilience recorded throughout 2016 was remarkable, it is perhaps too early to assess its prospects in terms of policy making and its actual implementation.

Both NATO and the EU tend to adhere to their traditional missions, principles, and values in the analysed discourse. This is what creates a certain contrast in their understanding of resilience. NATO has discursively applied resilience to the traditional principles of defence cooperation and deterrence on one hand, and to the „new“ challenges of infrastructural, environmental or demographic nature on the other hand. The EU, for its part, has used resilience in the context of state-building, good governance, human rights, and sustainable development. In other words, the mission and nature of these two organizations inform the ways in which resilience is used in both cases.

In any case, resilience seems to be the new analytical framework used by both NATO and the EU in order to make sense of the complex security environment. This brings their discourse in line with that of the individual countries studied in this paper. In a context of a broad understanding of security, the adaptability of the concept seems particularly useful. However, only time will show to what extent the ambitious discourse of resilience can be translated to a set of actionable practices in international security.

[1] WALKER, Brian; David SALT. Resilience Thinking: Sustaining Ecosystems and People in a Changing World. London: Island Press 2006.

[2] ALEXANDER, David. Resilience and Disaster Risk Reduction: an etymological journey. Natural Hazards and Earth Systems Sciences. Vol. 13, 2013, pp. 2707-2716.

[3] HOOLING, Crawford S. Resilience and Stability of Ecological Systems. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics. Vol. 4, 1973, pp. 1-23.

[4] FOLKE, Carl. Resilience: The Emergence of a Perspective for Social-Ecological Systems Analysis. Global Environmental Change. Vol. 16:3, 2006, pp. 253-67.

[5] METZGER, Panscale; Jeremy ROBERT. Elementos de reflexion sobre la resiliencia urbana: Usos criticables y aportes potenciales. Territorios. Vol. 28, 2013, pp. 21-40.

[6] FJÄDER, Christian. The nation-state, national security and resilience in the age of globalization. Resilience: International Policies, Practices and Discourses. Vol. 2:2, pp. 119.

[7] ROGERS, Peter. ‘The etymology and genealogy of a contested concept’, in David Chandler and Jon Coaffee (eds.). The Routledge Handbook of International Resilience. New York: Routledge, 2017, pp. 13-25.

[8] CHANDLER, David. Resilience: The Governance of Complexity. Routledge: New York, 2014.

[9] VALE, Lawrence J. The politics of resilient cities. Whose resilience and whose city? Building Research & Information. Vol. 42:2, 2014, pp. 191-201.

[10] COAFFEE, Jon; Pete FUSSEY. Constructing resilience through security and surveillance: The politics, practices and tensions of security-driven resilience. Security Dialogue. Vol. 46:1, 2015, pp. 86-105.

[11] ALEXANDER, ref. 2.

[12] COAFFEE, Jon. Terrorism, Risk and the Global City. Towards Urban Resilience. Burlington: Ashgate, 2009.

[13] GRAHAM, Stephen. Cities Under Siege. The New Military Urbanism. London: Verso Books, 2011.

[14] LYON, David. Surveillance after September 11. Oxford: Polity, 2003.

[15] CHANDLER, David; Jon COAFFEE (eds.). The Routledge Handbook of International Resilience. New York: Routledge, 2017.

[16] FJÄDER, ref. 6, p. 119.

[17] SCHOLZ, Robert et al. Risk, vulnerability, robustness and resilience from decision-theoretic perspective. Journal of Risk Research. Vol. 15:3, 2012, pp. 313-330.

[18] FJÄDER, ref. 6, p. 128.

[19] PICKETT, Steward et al. Ecological resilience and resilient cities. Building Research & Information. Vol. 42:2, 2014, pp. 143-157.

[20] FJÄDER, ref. 6, p. 118.

[21] White House. National Security Strategy. White House, Washington, DC, May 2010.

[22] SELCHOW, Sabine. Resilience and resilient in Obama’s National Security Strategy 2010: Enter two ‘political keywords’. Politics. Vol 37:1, 2017, p. 47.

[23] White House, ref. 7, p. 18.

[24] Ibid. p. 19.

[25] Department of Homeland Security. National Preparedness Goal: Second Edition. DHS, Washington, DC, September 2015.

[26] Ibid. p. 1.

[27] Department of Homeland Security. The 2014 Quadrennial Homeland Security Review. DHS, Washington, DC, June 2014.

[28] Ibid. p. 23.

[29] Department of Homeland Security. Resilience. DHS, Washington, DC, September 2015. Available at:

[30] White House. National Security Strategy. White House, Washington, DC, February 2015.

[31] Ibid. p. 8.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid. p. 13.

[34] White House, ref. 7, p. 1.

[35] White House, ref. 8, p. 11.

[36] Ibid. p. 3.

[37] Ibid. p. 11.

[38] White House, ref. 7, p. 14.

[39] White House, ref. 8, p. 11.

[40] White House, ref. 8, p. 9.

[41] White House, ref. 7, p. 34.

[42] White House, ref. 8, p. 12.

[43] Ibid. p. 18.

[44] Ibid. p. 11.

[45] ADAMS OTIS, Ginger. President Obama praises country’s ‘resilience’ after 9/11 in radio address: ‘Americans will never give into fear’. New York Daily News, 10.9.2016. Available at:

[46] Federal Register. Barack Obama Executive Orders. National Archives and Records Administration. Available at:

[47] Her Majesty’s Government (a). A Strong Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The National Security Strategy. Her Majesty’s Government, London, October 2010, p. 25.

[48] Ibid. p. 27.

[49] Ibid. p. 5.

[50] Ibid. p. 33.

[51] Ibid. p. 34.

[52] Her Majesty’s Government (b). National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015. Her Majesty’s Government, London, November 2015, p. 43.

[53] Ibid. p. 45.

[54] Ibid. p. 44.

[55] Her Majesty’s Government (a), ref. 10, p. 25.

[56] Mayor of London, London Resilience Forum. Available at:

[57] London Resilience Partnership, London Resilience Strategy, June 2013. Available at:

[58] Her Majesty’s Government (b), ref. 10, p. 38.

[59] AYED, Nahlah. After a nightmare attack, the resilience of Londoners resurfaces. CBC News, 23.3.2017. Available at:

[60] POWELL, Tom. Barack Obama hails UK’s ‘strength’ and ‘resilience’ after terror attack on Westminister. Evening Standard, 23.3.2017. Available at:

[61] DEARDEN, Lizzie. Westminister attack: Sadiq Khan says London will not be cowed by terror as defiant capital returns to work. Independent, 23.3.2017. Available at:

[62] Cabinet Office. Cyber Security Strategy of the United Kingdom: safety, security and resilience in cyber space, Cabinet Office, London, June 2009.

[63] Her Majesty’s Government (a), ref. 10, p. 29.

[64] Ibid. p. 44.

[65] Ibid. p. 10.

[66] House of Commons Defence Committee. Defence Contribution to UK National Security and Resilience. House of Commons, London, May 2009.

[67] The importance of international trade, with the declared principles of global economic openness and interconnectedness in Strategies of 2010 and 2015, have come into a new light in the context of Britain’s decision to leave the EU, and its possible implications in terms of trade.

[68] In this respect, the section 6.31 portrays the UK as a world leader in financial services, and aspires to remain the top choice for European and global bank headquarters.

[69] Her Majesty’s Government (a), ref. 10, p. 27.

[70] Her Majesty’s Government (b), ref. 10, p. 12.

[71] Ibid. p. 23.

[72] Ibid. p. 65.

[73] Her Majesty’s Government (b), ref. 10, p. 66.

[74] Ibid. p. 66.

[75] Ibid. p. 67.

[76] Ibid. p. 83.

[77] SHEA, Jamie. Resilience: A core element of collective defence. NATO Review, 2016. Available at:

[78] SHEA, ref. 13.

[79] North Atlantic Treaty Organization (a). Resilience and Article 3. NATO, 22.6.2016. Available at:

[80] North Atlantic Treaty Organization (b). The North Atlantic Treaty. NATO, 4.4.1949, Washington DC. Available at:

[81] North Atlantic Treaty Organization (a), ref. 14.

[82] North Atlantic Treaty Organization (c). Commitment to Enhance Resilience. NATO, press release 118, 8.7.2016. Available at:

[83] Ibid.

[84] North Atlantic Treaty Organization (d). Warsaw Summit Communiqué, 9.7.2016. Available at:

[85] SHEA, ref. 12.

[86] North Atlantic Treaty Organization (a), ref. 14.

[87] ŠEDIVÝ, Jiří. Security and Resilience in the context of NATO-EU Cooperation. Permanent Delegation of the Czech Republic to NATO, 29.11.2016. Available at:

[88] ŠEDIVÝ, ref. 15.

[89] Foreign Affairs Council. Conclusions on CSDP. 8971/15 Annex, Brussels, 18.5.2015, p. 3.

[90] MISSIROLI, Antonio (ed.). Towards an EU Global Strategy: Background, processes, references. Paris: European Union Institute for Security Studies, 2015.

[91] Ibid. p. 145.

[92] High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Joint Communication to the European Parliament and the Council. Joint Framework on countering hybrid threats a European Union response. Brussels, 8.4.2016. Available at:

[93] Ibid. p. 2.

[94] Ibid. p. 3.

[95] Ibid. p. 14.

[96] European Union. Global Strategy fo the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy: Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe. Brussels: European Union, June 2016, p. 7.

[97] Ibid. p. 8.

[98] Ibid. p. 23.

[99] Ibid. p. 24.

[100] Ibid. p. 9.

[101] Ibid. p. 26.

[102] Ibid. p. 27.

[103] European Union, ref. 17, p. 28.

[104] North Atlantic Treaty Organization (e). Joint Declaration by the President of the European Council, the President of the European Commission, and the Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Press release 119, 8.7.2016. Available at:

Title in English:


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Obrana a strategie


University of Defence


ISSN 1214-6463 (print) and ISSN 1802-7199 (on- line)




Volume 17, Number 1 (June 2017)







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