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Security In International Relations

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 4497 words Published: 15th May 2017

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Security has posed a major cause of concern to many states in the world in the last few decades. Everyday people are faced with tough choices of survival, even more significant ones collectively as a group, as insecurity has plagued eventually every part of the world today. In the whole world, in diverse ways and for many different reasons mankind is faced with a period of terror, torture and destruction and people are killed, starved, raped, imprisoned, displaced etc., with the third world states as the most vulnerable and with little or no hope of stability in the nearest future. Though it may not be at the same ratio, yet it is quite evident year by year as shown by the annual report of the United Nation Development Programme (UNDP).

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Security studies is the main focus of international relations, as a result of the aftermath of the massacre of the First World War and the urgent need to put a stop to such horrific event from re-occurring again, thus this coined the discipline international relations in 1919. The concept of security is broad but its core objective is to deepen our understanding of it, this simply means that individuals can draw a conclusion(s) from their understanding of what politics means, derived from different approaches or schools of thoughts (Krause and Williams 1997: 111). Security studies is usually associated with “threat to survival” (Buzan 1991:1), according to (Booth 2005:21), security means, “the absence of threats”, meaning the possibility of being safe from danger or feeling safe. Yet it is quiet unfortunate as the absence of threat is something that is exaggerated, as security studies recognizes dangers of pandemics like HIV/AIDS, cholera, environmental degradation and even focusing more on matters like war, terrorism, interstate rivalry, patriarchy. All these and more has made security a more topical issue especially since after the Cold war (Alan 2010:2). National security is central as a state determines conditions of security for itself as it is said to be the most important referent, yet states find it difficult coexisting in total peace with one another and this they seek through military might, yet many threats and pandemics are predicted yearly, seeking states’ attention (Buzan 1991:1).

“The concept saturates contemporary societies all around the world” (Williams 2008:1), it is embedded in the speeches and debates of politicians and regimes, visual pictures in the news, on radio, television and newspapers, all these makes security captivating yet deadly. In social science terms, security can be said to be an “essentially contested concept”, which means that there is no generally accepted meaning or definition to it (Williams 2008:1, Buzan 1991:7). But for the purpose of public relations, it may mean “the alleviation of threats to cherished values, especially to which, if left unchecked, threaten the survival of a particular referent object in the near future” (Williams 2008:5), meaning that security is highly political. Therefore security should not be for academic purposes alone as it involves real people, real events and happening in real places (Booths 2007, as cited in Williams 2008:1) to a large extent. Security portrays the worst fears that perpetually reside in the minds of the population. However, it is vital to consider who is secured, who takes security decisions for a state, what should be considered fit for a security agenda and how these security issues should be treated (Williams 2008: 1-9). With the continuous assumptions and studying of the concept of security as a military might, or as to maintain its status quo which is its main focus gradually deepens and broadens it that it blurs its comprehension or meaningless (Alan 2010: 3).

Security studies is a wide subject area and have various approaches and perspectives of which one can study it to gain knowledge of the concept. But this work will be looking at the meaning of security, as all step to be more secure creates more room for insecurity and the struggle for survival, even though scholars like Booth (2005: 22) has argued with example of refugees in long-term camps, that security should not be mistaken for or associated with survival because people can and have survived even without necessarily been secured. It will consider if security comprise of freedom from military threat. What are the referent objects of security; the states or its citizens? Despite the contest of security, the basic interest of international relations is to know how the referent objects are threatened and what they do to survive. The aim of this work is also to differentiate between traditional and non-traditional security. And finally, this essay gives an overview of human security, the implementation and its operational impact.

Some definitions of security have been proffered by some scholars and I intend looking at a few of them. “Security itself is a relative freedom from war, coupled with a relatively high expectation that defeat will not be a consequence of any war that should occur” Ian Bellamy, cited in Alan (2010:3). According to Giacomo Luciani, cited in Buzan (1991: 17), “National security may be defined as the ability to withstand aggression form abroad”.

Walter Lippmann defined it as “a nation is secure to the extent to which it is not in danger of having to sacrifice core values if it wishes to avoid war, and is able, if challenged, to maintain them by victory in such a war” (Buzan 1991:16).

Jozsef Balazs says that international security is determined basically by the internal and external security of the various social systems, by the extent, in general, to which system identity depends on external circumstances. Experts generally define social security as internal security. Its essential function is to ensure the political and economic power of a given ruling class or the survival of the social system and an adequate degree of public security” (Buzan 1991:16).

According to Ayoob (1995:9), “security-insecurity is defined in relation to vulnerabilities- both internal and external- that threaten or have the potential to bring down or weaken states structures, both territorial and institutional, and governing regimes”.

In all the above definitions, the key things emphasized as objectives to states are the protection of the state territory which involves military aggression, values of states against foreign imposition, the timing and the intensity of threats and the political nature of the subject matter (Buzan 1991:18; Booth 2005:23). All these can do more damage than good as it gives off an unnecessary appearance of strength and masculinity which it does not worth. The word security gives an “absolute condition” of peaceful condition and well-being (Buzan 1991:18). According to (Booths 2005: 22), “security is always relative”, as it gives individuals or groups some choice to become what they aspire to be, not merely existing on the earth surface. Yet arousing too many unanswered questions; is war the only form of threat common to a state? Is there really security in national security? Who exactly is a secured, particular dominant group or citizens? What right does the state have to implement security values within its state, which may likely extend outside his territory to influence beyond its jurisdiction? These are evident that these definitions are not adequate enough to cover the scope of security, yet notwithstanding provides political power. Even though it has no generally accepted definition, it does not prevent constructive discussion as security depicts the ability of states and individual societies to maintain their substantive identity and functional integrity. However, Booth (2005: 23) introduces his own definition after the consideration of all other definitions; “Security in world politics is an instrumental value that enables people(s) some opportunity to choose how to live. It is a means by which individuals and collectivities can invent and reinvent different ideas about being human”.

In traditional approach, security is perceived as military phenomenon as the military were said to protect its territory from threats posed by other armed forces of other states, as “a state and its society can be in their own terms, secure in the political, economic, societal and environmental dimensions, and yet all these accomplishments can be undone by military failure” (Buzan 2010b: 35 as cited by Alan 2010:170). Thus, military security was mainly about identifying real and feasible enemies that posed a threat to its state and eliminating them either by acquiring more military might or by entering into alliance or ally with other states to possess the required power or force needed. Meaning that the only way of been secured was through war (Alan 2010:172). For traditional realists where the system is seen as anarchy, states are persuaded to build their military security through their own efforts which may appear threatening to other states in the system, hence sending out negative impression which may cause in a violent reaction in kind, resulting in arms racing with other states, hence creating “security dilemma” (Alan 2010:173). All the same, states strive to acquire and maintain appropriate military strength as much as it can afford. Yet, “acquiring military capability can have consequences that threaten as well as secure a state’s values” (Alan 2012:158). Security is paramount, that explains why government continues to pay much attention even as it is extremely expensive to acquire. However, it is important to know that though security is fundamental, yet it’s insufficient in giving its citizens the complete sense of security needed as seen in the widespread of wars and the necessary humanitarian interventions predominant in the post-Cold War era. Moreover, most of these wars facing the states today are more internal than external armed forces of foreign states e.g. Nigeria, Syria, Argentina, Greece, Libya, South Korea and many more in very recent decades, mostly because of high-handed, totalitarian or monarchy regimes ran by rulers of these nations. Ayoob in Krause and Williams (1997:122), argue that many conflicts have been more intrastate since 1945 especially in the Third World where the processes of making a state is not complete or is not as developed as the legitimate states that are present in the industrialised world. And the pressure on the Third World states to mature into legitimate states in the shortest possible time. So the assumptions that states needs to maintain and maximize its own military capabilities to face external threats squarely did not take into cognisance certain realities as mentioned above (Alan 2010:171). War and strategy is not something that will completely disappear in the near future from the system, hence it requires adequate attention to contain it effectively (Krause and Williams 1997:112).

The concept of human security has received popular attention very recently, especially for the students of international relations and social sciences in general and resources on development to help vulnerable people, those who have been displaced by wars or some sort of violent conflict, hence it is humanitarian based. It emerged after the Cold War epoch as a way to unite the various humanitarian, economic and social issues in a way to mitigate human suffering and assure security. It posit human protection, promoting peace and assuring sustainable development with emphasises placed on individual by using people-centred approach to resolve issues of inequalities that affect security. (Human Security Initiative, 2013). Some of the issues that human security addressed are; “organized crime and criminal violence, human rights and good governance, armed conflicts and intervention, genocide and mass crimes, health and development, resources and environment” (Human Security Initiative, 2013).

According to Alan (2012: 106), human security is a contested concept, just like security is and it was established to serve for various reasons; one of such is to oppose or resist the traditional core view of security which is that individuals rather than states are the referent object of security. It proposes the protection of individuals rather than the defence offered by states from external threats or it says that humans should be the entity to be secured rather than the state.

There have been continuous debates on human security as the subject matter seems more daunting, dividing themselves into two schools of thoughts, the narrow and broad schools (Alan 2012: 106). According to (Williams 2008:230), there are three arguable concepts that shape these debates; firstly to implement it as a natural right(s) to gain the support of the liberal assumption of basic individual right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, so that the international community can uphold and protect such rights. Secondly, human security is humanitarian. This is directed at human intervention which is done on specific humanitarian grounds, whereby on rare occasions the military is used as a tool to curb and restore peace/stability of some sort to citizens of genocides, especially to restore basic human rights and dignity. However, it is a way of improving living conditions of refugees and/or those who may have survived some form of violent conflicts. This view of human security is what (Alan 2012) called the narrow school. Mack, the proposer of the narrow school “argues that threat of political violence to the people, by the state or other organised actors, is the main reason for the concept of human security”. This definition simply has to do with the “freedom from fear” which is in contrast to the broad school which argue that human security should not be perceived as the freedom from threat only but to widely constructed to include wants, other forms of dangers and general live threatening events of human existence (this is the third concept of Williams (2008:231). This school of thought is considered to be the most controversial, receiving weighty criticisms and dismissal of the whole concept as what they perceive to be threat cannot be defined or seem infinite. This approach of human security makes it even more impossible to achieve especially if the states remain the major actor in world politics (Alan 2012: 107). Even though these two schools are in contrast, it has given rise to a dual conceptualization of security (narrow-human centric and the state-centric) as it emphasizes thes interrelatedness of both threats and responses, in the sense that threats feed or depend on one another, for example, violent conflicts can lead to poverty, deprivation as a result of bad governance and vice versa, as bad governance can lead to violent conflicts, extreme poverty and deprivation of rights of its citizens. This connection in their approach is inevitably interlinked with one another, thus gaining a common ground (Alan 2012: 108-114).

How then can human security be defined? Or how has it been defined? Human security according to the Commission on Human Security in its final report says that, it is “to protect the vital core of all human lives in ways that enhance human freedoms and human fulfilment. Human security means protecting fundamental freedoms. Freedoms that are the essence of life. It means protecting people from critical (severe) and persuasive (widespread) threats and situations. It means using processes that build on people’s strengths and aspirations. It means creating political, social, environmental, economic, military and cultural systems that together give people the building blocks of survival, livelihood and dignity” (CHS: 2003: 4, Williams 2008: 232).

The above definition presents a shift in paradigm from the traditional concept of security, which is obtained through military protection through force or aggression, but entrusting security to individuals or people. It also recognises the multitude of threats that plagues human well-being (economic, environmental, political, cultural, health etc.), promoting people-centred approach of security and development within and across nations (United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security, 2013a).

According to Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, “during the cold war, security tended to be defined almost entirely in terms of military might and the balance of terror. Today, we know that ‘security’ means far more than the absence of conflict. We also have a greater appreciation for non-military sources of conflict. We know that lasting peace requires a broader vision encompassing areas such as education and health, democracy and human rights, protection against environmental degradation, and the proliferation of deadly weapons. We know that we cannot be secure amidst starvation, that we cannot build peace without alleviating poverty, and that we cannot build freedom on foundation of injustice. These pillars of what we now understand as the people-centered concept of ‘human security’ are interrelated and mutually reinforcing” (Human Security Initiative, 2013).

Embedded in the literatures of human security is a common belief that human security is crucial to international security as international order cannot rest exclusively on the sovereignty and viability of states- it depends to a larger extent on the individual and what they consider to be security (Williams 2008: 232). Even as human security have raised debates and criticisms, so has its implementation because of its insufficiency and daunting nature, yet some states like Canada, Norway, Japan, have been said to have adopted its concept already. According to (Alan 2012: 115), the league of Arabs states can be seen as one of such in the international community that has approved of the concept of human security. Human security and the responsible to protect (R2P) works hand in hand, yet the regime of Bashar al-Assad has continued to suppress the peaceful protest since 2011 and deprive his citizens the ‘so called peace and equality’, and no proper measures of humanitarian intervention have taken place as tens of thousands of people have lost their lives.

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The argument on the above subject matter enhances the understanding of security by showing that realism which is the bedrock of state-centric security argument is necessary, yet insufficient. Hence, should not be the dominant understanding of security. “Because human security makes people the referent object, it puts an onus on realism to explain why the state is the referent object if it is not a means to people’s security. Unless the ultimate purpose of state-centric security is the security of the people, then the relevance of the state is questionable and likewise state-centric security arguments” (Alan 2012: 114).

According to the Human Security Initiative, the United Nations Millennium Development Goals passed in 2000, was an attempt to make rules that will guard its introduction in order to make it measurable, probably in terms of success or failure. Chandler and Hynek (2011:38) says that human security has nothing to offer beyond the meaning in its name, as it has indirectly been proven by scholars who have tried to measure human (in)security. The approach of security has come to a point where it is “insufficient to capture the essence of the contemporary human security discourse” (Chandler and Hynek 2011:39). They pointed out more failures of human security, especially in places where post-conflict peacekeeping was implemented like in Haiti, or Kosovo but did not reduced the insecurities of the people living within the region or geopolitical zone and the defenders of realism have earned more advantages and control of security approach. Although, it is a very topical issue today, its implementation seem bleak as it yet to define what could be consider as threat to security, it is all too encompassing and has failed to achieve its ambitious goals for improving the human condition (Human Security Initiative, 2013).

As a student of this discipline, from all the books and knowledge acquired during the study this subject matter I will say, that human security is intended for the good of individuals or citizenry of a nation, as its primary goal behind it suggests that it wants to restore the security of the people. It covers a wide and ever growing infinite list of challenges or dangers to human (in)securities, it is daunting to implement. It is impossible to allocate resources and/or make public policies that will adequately govern human security in its totality because as human threats are increasing, how does one identify or assess the population group that faces the most risk as evaluated by (Williams 2008: 238) e.g. The pandemic of HIV/AIDS, or events of natural disaster, terrorism, or intra-state civil war etc. how does humanitarian intervention get to everybody who truly need it pending on the overwhelming situation at a given time especially those third world countries or developing countries like the sub-Sahara African, where the tendency that her governments may loot all the funds for personal threat to his life and family’s. I agree with (Alan 2012:114) that there will be continuous research and expansion on the concept of human security as people will further study other variables that may affect it positively or negatively, write more textbooks to educate students in this principle of international relations and social sciences as whole, thus the security issues may keep widening and deepening until it is achievable or discarded.

I also agree with (Alan 2012 :115) that the UN has a lot of role to play as the leader, whether by developing a practical agenda and implementing human security or by reducing conflicts through the role of the International Organisations, Regional Grouping, like the European union, African Union and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to continue the fight for peace-building and keeping, and humanitarian intervention to civil war areas.

The post-cold war ushered in the deepening and broadening of the concept of security, posing principal issue in world security and politics, thus, the need to distinguish between the traditional and non-traditional security gained increased attention. “Non-tradition security issues stands in sharp opposition to traditional security issues” (CICIR, 2013). Non-traditional security issues encompass all live threatening dangers evident in the world today. “Rather than security issues caused by the military, political and diplomatic conflicts, it refers to issues that pose a threat to sovereign states, human survival and human development. With the advancement of economic globalization and material civilization, non-traditional issues came into being” (CICIR, 2013), therefore, operating across national boundaries.

Security is primarily associated with war and peace while non-traditional deals with creating equality of people, harmony within the international community and human development (CICIR 2013). With the production of heavy weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons, could it be the source of peace and maintenance in the state?

The security debates has for long focused on traditional view of security i.e. on military threats towards a state and the non-traditional issues such as transnational crime, environmental degradation, trade, human security, has not been recognised as potential threats. Potential threats have been viewed as against a state and the state is the referent object of security. The security of a state is threatened if the survival of the state as an entity was at risk (Institute for Security and Development Policy, 2013).

Security is still viewed in terms of military strength or force and has a clearly defined enemy which can be defeated militarily unlike when compared with economic security, transnational crime and environmental issues. This perspective or approach of security has been in place since 1948 during the Westphalia peace treaty and that is where today’s concept of nation-state can be traced back to. That was before it gained academic attention in the 1970s, then political interest and much later in the 1980s, environmental issues gained prominence, at least academically (Institute for Security and Development Policy 2013).

Non-traditional security applies both positive and negative impact on world politics as it is evident in the concept of security (CICIR, 2013).

Non-traditional security issues have caused a “shift in nation’s focus from competition to mutual communication, seeking common ground and cooperating while reserving differences between states. For individual countries, it has shifted the focus from military and political security towards economic, societal, environmental and public security” (CICIR, 2013). The call for universal peace is stressed, dialogue, advocacy and cooperation is now tolerated and accommodated.

Regardless of the broadening of the concept of security, the state remains the referent object for the traditionalist while individual states are assumed to have little or no reason for cooperation, else will fail if initiated, as the international system is anarchic and survival of states is its only aim. With the rapid progress of international trade, increased globalization, and the interactional within the international and regional organisation, the interest of states are no longer singular (Institute for Security and Development Policy, 2013).

Previously, utmost importance was given to sovereign security and territorial integrity whereas today a call for national unity is prevalent, as health social development is essential for peoples’ well-being (CICIR, 2013).

State security was the prevailing character of traditional security, which focuses on threats directed at states while the non-traditional presents the humanitarianism, deals with threat directed at individual or people (CHS, 2013).

Consequently, since non- traditional security is largely transnational, its threats are limitless, plagued with many uncertainties’ and its referent object is plural, hence creating room for more political actors, both state actors and non-state actors, who have become active in the world politics today (CICIR, 2013).


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