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Security A Changing Phenomenon -
new actors, new perspectives


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Security from whom/what?
Security by whom/what?
Security for whom/what?

DEPENDING on one's position in any given society and the world, or one's perspective on what 'security' actually means, a number of different answers to these questions are possible. For a child about to die from malaria, a single mother caring for her family, a Wall Street banker, or a local gang leader or warlord, perceptions of what is 'security' may be dramatically different. To choose a conception of security based on a world-view which recognises the 'state' and inter-state relations as the dominant (or only) factors defining security and the world is to attempt to impose one particular perspective to the neglect of others, much the same as the term 'development' is often taken to mean development towards a 'western' capitalist market and consumption based economy, neglecting and ignoring the tens of thousands of alternative forms of human community which may have different conceptions of development, or which may not even have a conception of 'development' at all!

Thus, rather than speaking of 'security' and 'development', it is necessary to recognise that there are many different securities and developments. What may be secure for one, could be the complete opposite of security for another. Or what may be taken to be 'security' in one day and age, could be seen as promoting insecurity in another. To seek to impose one view or one understanding on those who do not support or share that view may in itself be conflict-provoking and engendering, promoting insecurity and destabilization rather than security. In the same way, enforcing one culture's ideals and standards of 'security' end 'development' on the rest of the world may in itself serve to promote conflicts and threaten security on a global level.

While international relations and security studies throughout much of the last 50 years, at universities and institutions around the world, have focused on the threat or use of direct physical violence in the form of aggression or threat of aggression by one (or more) states against another (or others), other forms of violence and threats to security, such as the structural violence exhibited when large portions of the human population are prevented from fulfilling their potential due to economic and social structures based on inequality and exploitation, or cultures of violence which legitimise and reinforce the role of violence as an 'acceptable' means of responding to conflict, have often been only insufficiently addressed. Taken from this perspective, many of the 'security' institutions which have existed in the past (some of which continue to this day), such as Nato and the Warsaw Pact, can themselves be seen as having been (and continuing to be) direct threats to security. In so far as they served to divide the world between opposing 'blocs', to promote confrontation based on black/white, good vs evil, win/lose, zero-sum thinking, and to militarise their societies (and the world) to the point where mutual annihilation became an all too real possibility, they served, contrary to their own self-justifications, not to increase security, but to promote insecurity. In the same manner, states which promote massive military expenditures and militarisation of their societies at the expense of social spending, health care and education for their people, may themselves be seen as threats to the security of a population.

Perhaps one of the greatest threats to security in the world today, however, is the fact that, long after the implosion of the Soviet Union and collapse of the Cold War, the mindsets and mentality which dominated the world during 45 years of 'superpower' struggle remain dominant even today. Zero-sum, win/lose, competitive and conflict-provoking thinking remains prominent.

However, as the experiences of Nato's war against Yugoslavia and the 50 years before have shown, attempts to enforce conflict 'resolution' or 'security' through diktat backed by military force may in fact worsen the dynamics of conflict and fuel even large-scale violence, while sowing the seeds for further violence in the future.

THE security industry itself can, in many ways, be seen to be a leading contributor to insecurity. By conceiving of security solely in military terms -based on relations of 'force' and one's ability to coerce others to achieve certain goals or to prevent the ability of others to coerce -strategists and planners have long been able to justify the search for ever greater armaments, smart bombs, military alliances and control by elites over the decision-making powers of entire countries and nations.

The fact that something is defined as a 'security' issue is often taken to mean that it is an issue deserving of extraordinary attention and measures, requiring the expertise and knowledge of 'specialists' and those in the position to 'know'. The fact that it is often these very people who have, through their choices and decisions, exacerbated insecurity and brought countries and entire continents to the brink of war, is often neglected. By empowering elites both to define the parameters of discussion for what is a security 'issue' and then to take the steps 'necessary' to deal with that issue, is to promote the disempowerment of large portions of the human population (an inherently undemocratic and authoritarian process).

At the same time, by promoting security on one level, one can often promote insecurity on another. Just as one country increasing its ability to 'defend' itself may lead another country to feel threatened and to feel that it too must increase its efforts to 'defend' itself, leading to an arms race and an ever escalating spiral of insecurity, promoting security of self without recognising the need for security of the other, is itself a source of conflict and insecurity between the two (as seen so clearly during the years of 'super'power confrontation and, today, in the rivalry and confrontation between India and Pakistan, and in Israeli-Palestinian and so many other relationships).

Thus also the worker at an armaments factory who faces being laid off because of reductions in military spending may face a high degree of personal insecurity while the security of the country as a whole may rise through reduction of its dependence on military force, allowing for increasing spending in other areas. A more extreme example of insecurity for one at the expense of 'security' for another can be found in societies in which minority questions or conflicts with neighbouring countries and peoples are 'resolved' through the annihilation and eradication of the 'other' - an attempt to achieve the ultimate 'security' by removing even the possibility of threat from one's opponent (or perceived opponent).

A similar process can be seen in the ever-expanding world of the 'free' market in its attempts to make countries 'safe' for investment. The increasing alienation and impoverishment of large portions of the human population, together with the culturocide by which differences are eliminated as the world is transformed into one homogeneous commodity exchange, are the reverse side of this safety.

The logic which founds security on the elimination of threat by force can often give birth to far weightier dynamics, which may, in turn, consume the very society they were meant to protect. Just as a conflict cannot be said to be 'resolved' if it is based on the annihilation of the other, so can 'security' based on destruction (either real or threatened), be no more than a mirage -a mirage that may often be more dangerous than what it seeks to protect against.

However, human beings and societies exist not only in interlinking relationships with one another, but in their relationship to the world at large, and the environment which they inhabit and which surrounds them. For thousands of years, human beings lived in a precarious balance with the natural world. With the birth of industrialisation (a process multiplied a thousand-fold by the subsequent rise of 'technologization'), one aspect of security was conceived of as security over and above the natural world.

Nature became conceived of as a threat and a resource -a frontier to be constantly conquered and pushed back, and a source of materials fuelling the expansion of industrialised society. Our ability to dominate nature, to extract from it the resources we needed to survive and to fuel our mode of economic production, became the centrepoint of 'man's' (humanity's) relationship to the natural world in all societies ('communist' and 'capitalist') which based themselves on economic processes founded on industrialisation and ever-increasing and expanding rates of production and consumption.

THE linking of indigenous peoples and cultures with states of 'backwardness' and 'savagery' which needed to be 'tamed' and 'civilised' through the process of colonisation is also extremely interesting in this respect. By identifying peoples and cultures with a state of 'savage nature', colonial rulers justified their attempts to take control of an area through forcing its 'natives' and its environment to obey the civilising whip of the white man. Thus, the aim of colonisation became not only to conquer territories, but to conquer peoples and nature, and to subjugate that which was 'wild' and 'untamed', through a combination of railways (domination over nature), and courts, prisons and schools (domination over the minds and bodies of the ruled).

Security of the 'mother' country, was guaranteed through the exploitation (extreme threat to security) of the colonised. Later, as colonisation became more developed, it was recognised that internalising the chains of slavery by educating and inculcating the 'colonised' in the ways of thought and living of 'civilised', 'Christian' Europe and North America, was a more effective way to guarantee the stability and permanence of colonial rule. Thus, even after formal independence, many colonised countries found themselves applying for help to their former colonial masters in order to follow in the steps of development pioneered by their colonisers.

The entire history of colonisation -a history which, in many ways, continues to this day - can, to a very great extent, be seen as a process of securing the resources (and later markets) necessary for the growth of capitalism in the countries of Western Europe and North America. The fact that this process could not have taken place without the legacy of colonialism is one of the key factors holding back the 'rapid development' of many formerly colonised countries.

Security in the 'traditional' sense -how it is most often perceived by military and strategic planners and in institutes and universities around the world -is viewed as security against or security from. Our relationship with the other is seen as being one, not of harmony, but of confrontation, that is, in fulfilment of the Hobbesian conception of the world as one of 'bellum omnium ad omnes'. Security is guaranteed by making oneself secure, often through weakening the security of others. While major steps were taken to go beyond this conception of security, in the work of the UN Palme Commission and its embrace of concepts such as mutual and common security, and in Gorbachevian policies of unilateral disarmament and troop reductions, the road to travel, from egocentric conceptions of security to more holistic approaches, remains a long one.

Security is still commonly seen as the need to protect against threats from others -other states, peoples, cultures, societies, nature, etc. The attempt to go beyond or transcend 'threats' by addressing the underlying structures and causes which give rise to them remains virtually unheard of.

One of the reasons for this is that security itself, and the world view it endorses, is one of the key dynamics and causes which must be transcended in order for any real 'security' to exist. Perhaps here, however, security is no longer the right word, for, as discussed above, security is most often conceived of as security over and against, rather than for and together. Though mutual and common security may seem to go beyond this tendency, they still remain within the dominant structures and parameters of the security paradigm and the world-view it both enforces and rests on.

What is suggested here is the need to question those very structures and parameters, to go beyond the concept of security and to recognise that other alternatives exist which may be more constructive and fruitful. Thus, one concept which comes to mind is that of 'co-operation', of peace by peaceful means, and the positive transformation of the underlying structures and causes which give rise to 'insecurity' and 'threat'.

Here, however, it becomes necessary to replace the concept of threat with that of challenge, not along the lines in which 'challenge' has often been conceived, but as a challenge to our imagination and creativity to be able to come up with new approaches and new ideas when we find ourselves presented with a situation which appears conflictual or insurmountable. Whereas, according to Jean-Jacques Rousseau's dictum, 'wars occur because there is nothing to prevent them', according to this way of thinking, both wars and 'security threats' occur because we lack the creativity and imagination to think up alternatives, and the understanding and wisdom to transform the underlying structures of conflict through a creative and constructive process.

Thus, whereas security most often embraces the concept of conflict the destroyer, and prepares for ever greater levels of destruction in order to protect against the possible outcomes of conflict, co-operation and peaceful conflict transformation base themselves on the concept of conflict the creator, recognising the positive and constructive opportunities which conflict makes available to transcend the existing status quo, and to go beyond compromise (at the heart of theories of detente and mutual security), towards an area in which the needs and interests of all parties can be).

While state-centred, international relations approaches both accept and enforce the dominance of elites and their control of information and decision-making powers, a broader conception which recognises co-operation as the fundament towards guaranteeing 'security' for (rather than against) all people and the environment (living and non-living) would embrace more horizontal, or web-like and holistic conceptions of society. Domination above and against would be replaced with co-operation for and with.

This does not mean that the state would not play a role, but that the nature and position of the state itself be left open to question, that rather than enforcing this model of human community on all the peoples of the world and accepting a state-based system as the only and natural structure of the world, other approaches and other forms of human community be identified. This would demand both creativity and imagination, and the ability to transcend traditional conceptions of society and security as enforced through the state-centred model.

In carrying out this task it is also necessary to go beyond the recent trend in Western Europe and North America (repeated in many areas throughout the world) to recognise everything which is not the government as being 'non-governmental'. Would it not perhaps be a better idea to recognise citizens' organisations and associations of people outside the structure of the state as people's organisations, making states 'non-people's organisations.' These ideas are not meant to be radical (though if radical is taken in its original meaning, that of 'going to the root', than that is exactly what we must be), but to emphasise the need to approach our understanding of concepts such as the 'state', 'security', the 'environment' and 'development' from a variety of perspectives and approaches, and not to limit ourselves to the dominant discourses and structuring of thought and the patterns they enforce.

Just as it was necessary for Gorbachev to break free of the logic (or, rather, psycho-logic) of the Cold War in order to provide for at least a minimum of the security sought by all sides to the conflict, so it is necessary, in turn, to go beyond the concept of security in order to transcend the limitations of compromise and antagonism and move towards the possibilities of holistic, transformative co-operation and creativity.

Kai Frithjofr Brand-Jacobsen, with Carl G. Jacobsen
Extract from: Searching for Peace: The Road to TRANSCEND. Johan Galtung and Carl G Jacobsen. Pluto Press.


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