A New Security Paradigm Chris Abbott
Abstract: With limited resources governments must decide how best to respond to the whole spectrum of threats that they are presented in the post-9/11 security environment. However, these decisions are not made on a purely objective basis: psychology, emotion, and the next election all play their part. At the same time, there is an assumption from many in power that international terrorism is one of, if not the, greatest threats to global security; an assumption that is not borne out by the evidence. This article argues that future insecurity will actually arise from four interrelated trends: climate change, competition over resources, marginalisation of the majority world, and global militarisation. While all these issues are rising up the political agenda, they are largely ignored as security concerns. Where they are addressed, the response is usually an attempt to maintain the status quo, using overwhelming military force where necessary. However, it is impossible to successfully control all of the consequences of insecurity, and so these responses will ultimately fail. This article outlines a new approach being developed by Oxford Research Group. This system of ‘sustainable security’ aims to resolve the root causes of threats to security - using preventative, rather than reactive, strategies.
In the post-9/11 context, the issue of where the future threats to our security are likely to come from has become a highly charged one. The events played out live on our TV screens on 11 September 2001 have become iconic moments of our times. Forever burned into the public consciousness, they also seem to have affected many world leaders in a profound way: they are now convinced that international terrorism, particularly international Islamic terrorism, is one of the greatest threats to world security. This is a potentially dangerous assumption. It is not enough to insist that international terrorism is such a global threat, when the evidence simply does not support this claim. A recent book from the global security think tank Oxford Research Group (ORG) paints a very different picture of the fundamental threats that we all face. In Beyond Terror: The Truth About the Real Threats to Our World the authors argue that these threats will come from four interconnected trends: • • • • Climate change Competition over resources Marginalisation of the majority world Global militarisation
There are, of course, other trends to consider, but these are the ones that Oxford Research Group concludes are most likely to lead to large scale loss of life – of a magnitude unmatched by other potential threats – and have the greatest potential to spark violent conflict, civil unrest or destabilisation that threatens the international system as we know it. It is worth briefly exploring how each of these trends are related to insecurity and interrelated to each other. Climate change. The environmental impacts of climate change are likely to lead to more extreme weather events and loss of infrastructure, arable land and clean water sources. The resulting massive displacement of people from island, coastline and river-delta areas would contribute to increased human suffering, greater social unrest, and revised patterns of living. This has long-term security implications for all countries which are far more serious, lasting and destructive than those of international terrorism. Indeed, the effects of climate change have the potential to stretch to breaking point local and international systems of governance as they struggle to adapt.
Competition over resources. Linked to the issue of climate change is that of competition over resources. Industrialised and industrialising states are increasingly dependent on imported resources, especially oil and gas (key contributors to climate change). Oil is currently the main marketed fossil fuel and the Persian Gulf is the dominant region, with twothirds of world reserves. It is a deeply unstable region with continuing potential for conflict as the United States seeks to maintain control against opposition from regional state and substate paramilitary groups. As China also seeks to gain access to key oil resources, the potential for conflict is only increasing. Marginalisation of the majority world. This competition will be occurring in an increasingly marginalised world. While overall global wealth has increased, the benefits of this economic growth have not been equally shared, with a very heavy concentration of growth in relatively few parts of the world and with a small global elite. These divisions are being exacerbated by increasing oppression and political exclusion, coupled with a growing sense of marginalisation as a result of improvements in education and modern communication technologies, leading in places to increased levels of political violence. This is a key factor that is largely ignored by Western governments. Global militarisation. The fear is that this marginalisation is also happening in a world where military force is far more likely to be used to control insecurity. The cold war showed that there is a persistent tendency by the authorities to maintain an aura of control and responsibility, when this is very far from what is actually happening. The current focus is still on maintaining international security by the vigorous use of military force combined with the development of both nuclear and conventional weapons systems; the first five years of the "war on terror" suggest that this is failing. Post-cold-war nuclear developments involve the modernisation and proliferation of nuclear systems, with an increasing risk of limited nuclear-weapons use in warfare – breaking a threshold that has held for sixty years. The control paradigm These trends will be major security concerns in the medium-to-long-term. However, in the short term, it is actually our response to international terrorism, rather than terrorism itself, that will be a major cause of insecurity. The so-called "war on terror" is not reacting appropriately to the key trends identified above. In fact, in many instances the policies and abuses of the "war on terror" – Guantánamo Bay, extraordinary renditions, civilian casualties – are actually increasing the likelihood of future terrorist attacks. This is because the "war on terror" is based on the false premise that insecurity can be controlled through military force, thus maintaining the status quo. It is an example of what Oxford Research Group calls the "control paradigm". This approach essentially aims to "keep the lid" on insecurity, without addressing the root causes of that insecurity. This will not work in the long term and, in fact, is already failing in the face of increased paramilitary action and asymmetric warfare. Even when judged by its own goals, it becomes clear that the "control paradigm" simply is not working: • • • • • • • • • Support for political Islam is increasing worldwide The number of significant terrorist attacks is on the rise Peace and democracy are elusive in the middle east The price of oil remains volatile and increases with every new crisis Iraq is in a state of bloody chaos nearing civil war The Taliban is a re-emerging force in Afghanistan Iran, Syria and North Korea are increasingly emboldened US strategic influence is waning, especially in Africa and the Middle East The United States is increasingly viewed as the greatest threat to world peace.
The current approach to security is deeply flawed, and is distracting the world's politicians from developing realistic and sustainable solutions to the non-traditional threats facing the world, among which terrorism is by no means the greatest or most serious.
Sustainable security In contrast, Oxford Research Group proposes a new system of "sustainable security". The central premise of sustainable security is that you cannot successfully control all the consequences of insecurity, but must work to resolve the causes. In other words, "fighting the symptoms" will not work, you must instead "cure the disease". The key elements of such a sustainable response to the trends outlined above might include: Climate change. Introduction of a carbon tax and rapid replacement of carbon-based energy sources by diversified local renewable sources as the primary basis of future energy generation. Competition over resources. Comprehensive energy efficiency, recycling and resource conservation and management policies and practises. This would be coupled with large-scale funding for alternatives to oil. Marginalisation of the majority world. Reform of the global systems of trade, aid and debt relief in order to make poverty reduction a world priority. Global militarisation. Alongside non-proliferation measures, states with nuclear weapons must take bold, visible and substantial steps towards disarmament, at the same time as halting the development of new nuclear weapons and new bio-weapons. While focussed on non-traditional elements of security policy, this approach does not – as some claim – underestimate the impact of so-called “hard” security issues such as terrorism. A truly effective counter-terrorism strategy would tackle and police immediate dangers whilst implementing policy changes to address longer-term trends that fuel terrorist recruitment, finance, legitimacy and effectiveness. The current approach prioritises the former; a sustainable approach would commit as many if not more resources to the latter. A sustainable security approach to terrorism would therefore include: • • • • • • • • Rapid coalition troop withdrawals from Iraq, replaced by a United Nations stabilisation force, with United states recognition that a client state or puppet regime cannot be sought there The closure of Guantánamo Bay, the cessation of "extraordinary renditions", and the observance of the Geneva convention on detainees Sustained aid for the reconstruction and development of Iraq and Afghanistan A genuine commitment to a viable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and third-party brokerage of the wider Arab-Israeli confrontation A firm and public commitment to a diplomatic solution to the current crisis with Iran Police targeting of the international funding networks that support terrorism An opening of political dialogue with terrorist leaderships wherever possible Intelligence-led counter-terrorism police operations against violent revolutionary groups.
By aiming to cooperatively resolve the root causes of threats using the most effective means available, sustainable security is inherently preventative in that it addresses the likely causes of conflict and instability well before the ill-effects are felt. Moving forward Over the next decade a radical shift towards sustainable approaches to security will be hugely important. If there is no change in thinking, security policies will continue to be based on the mistaken assumption that the status quo can be maintained: an elite minority can maintain its position, environmental problems can be marginalised, and the lid can be kept on dissent and insecurity. In this scenario, little attempt will be made to address the core causes of insecurity, even if failure to do so threatens the elite minority as well as the marginalised majority. Alternatively, a change in thinking could lead to an era of substantial progress in developing a more socially just and environmentally sustainable world order.
What is ultimately needed is recognition by governments that current security measures will be ineffective in the long-term and that a radical rethink of what is meant by ‘security’ is long overdue. However, this is unlikely to happen without pressure from below, as governments are all-too-often focussed on their own narrow interests. Therefore, NGOs and the global civil society will need to co-ordinate their efforts to convince governments that this new approach is practical and effective, and is the only real way to ensure security. A new linking between the peace, environment and development movements will be necessary for this. We must now work together and recognize that we all have an urgent responsibility to embrace a sustainable approach to global security. The obvious failure of current policies may present the best chance yet for such a shift to come about. Chris Abbott is the Programme Coordinator and Researcher at Oxford Research Group and lead author of Beyond Terror: The Truth About the Real Threats to Our World (Rider, 2007). www.oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk
Chris Abbott, “A New Security Paradigm”, Cosmopolis (January 2008)