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Redefining National Security for the Post-Pandemic World

Summary:
Three decades of efforts to broaden the definition of “national security” have largely failed, and it is time to try a new approach. Thinking instead in terms of global security would expand policy discussions beyond national governments and lead to a stronger emphasis on making societies more resilient. WASHINGTON, DC – The world has spent the last 30 years trying to redefine “national security” in ways that will allow nation-states to prepare for and tackle a wider range of threats to our existence and wellbeing. Alternatively, national security has been juxtaposed with “human security,” again in an effort to focus money and energy on dangers to humanity as much as to national sovereignty.

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Three decades of efforts to broaden the definition of “national security” have largely failed, and it is time to try a new approach. Thinking instead in terms of global security would expand policy discussions beyond national governments and lead to a stronger emphasis on making societies more resilient.

WASHINGTON, DC – The world has spent the last 30 years trying to redefine “national security” in ways that will allow nation-states to prepare for and tackle a wider range of threats to our existence and wellbeing. Alternatively, national security has been juxtaposed with “human security,” again in an effort to focus money and energy on dangers to humanity as much as to national sovereignty.

But those efforts have largely failed, and it is time to try a new approach. Instead of widening our definition of national security, we need to start narrowing it. That means distinguishing national security from global security and putting military security in its place alongside many other equally important but distinct priorities.

We must begin by asking four essential questions: What or who is being protected? What threat or threats are they being protected against? Who is doing the protecting? And how is protection being provided?

In its classic form, national security involves protecting nation-states from military aggression. More precisely, as Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter states, it is about preventing or countering “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”

Nation-states now face other threats, including cyberattacks and terrorism, although such attacks generally must be sponsored by one state against another to threaten a country’s territorial integrity or political independence. Hence, these threats really qualify as subsets of military security. Climate change, on the other hand, poses an existential threat to many island states as a result of rising sea levels, and similarly endangers already arid countries by contributing to desertification and water scarcity.

Moreover, whereas the world of 1945 was almost entirely defined by nation-states, today’s security experts must also focus on threats that transcend national borders. Unlike military aggression, phenomena such as terrorism, pandemics, global criminal networks, disinformation campaigns, unregulated migration, and shortages of food, water, and energy do not necessarily threaten the political independence or territorial integrity of a particular state. But they do endanger the safety and wellbeing of the world’s people.

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