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Security addresses questions of force: how to spot it, how to stop it, how to resist it, and occasionally use it. It considers the conditions that encourage or discourage organized violence in all types of international affairs and the conduct of all types of military activity. The first debate of security starts from its definition. There is no individual or state that defines it in the same way. Factors like the geo-political position, the resources and the historical background would be some of them. Security in international relations therefore deals with the most fundamental questions of war and peace. For this reason it continues to be an area of academic endeavor for it is considered both possible and accurate for scholarships to feed into the policy process. The reason to have all these debates lies with the fact that state policy is most influenced by security. It is the first parameter that the state looks to ensure to its citizens. For international relation the relation between states and their foreign policy is of the utmost importance and this too is heavily dependent on the perception of security of the different states.

Security, as this essay mentions earlier isn’t just to use force but to resist it as well. As if there is investment in defense of a country it would be less likely that another state would wish to test its strength in war. Hence it establishes itself as a deterrent. The argument then lies. How much security is enough? There is no clear boundary that defines this. If a state keeps increasing its militia, it is perceived as a threat to the rest of the global world. Instead of being a deterrent, that leads to it being seen as a potential enemy. This is not a pathway that would lead to peace. On the other hand, if there were nations like the US that in the name of security acting as a deterrent keeps increasing its force to become hegemony (leadership or dominance, especially by one state or social group over others) or invade foreign territory it would not lead to peace either. Theorists have therefore thought deep about this and tried to predict global happenings, but all this crashed when the berlin wall fell. A time of predicted peace went into violence. This was due to the narrow-minded approach of the scholars that didn’t consider the other social and economic factors in play. This is also a case of debate as the scope isn’t just military prowess, but security also covers social, cultural, economic and environmental issues. After the cold war there was a loss of a second big world power and the global system became uni-polar. There was then a divide between expressing it as an arms conflict or ethnic control. A shift from the realism viewpoint that focused mainly on military capabilities to the idealistic one that focused on the other parameters like peace and other cultural factors. Focusing solely on military power is a mistake and there are so many other things like spread of deadly diseases and earthquakes that hamper security.

Earth’s global society creates mutually respecting and mutually dependent states. Military focus shouldn’t be required at all. On the other hand, consider the United States in World War I. If the state didn’t participate, the opposition would have had their way; the axis powers would have gained global control by the end of the war. Hence, the United States looks at its involvement in foreign problems as a security duty of the state, just as the carter administration advocated. Even in public opinion, a military investment is more justifiable than to invest money in a foreign nation, regardless of the fact that it could help its security more. The question is if there should be involvement in a foreign state in the name of security. Where do we draw the line? The US clearly looked to Iraq for oil and other benefits rather than help the people of the host nation. The same could be said about Russia in Afghanistan in 1979. The interest of these superpowers has more to do with national gains than security threats. The Saudi Arabian administration therefore also has a very skeptical view on the subject about the United States. There is a stockpile that the US views to create as oil is seen as one of the only resources whose sudden stoppage of distribution could send the nation crashing. This in a viewpoint is the US trying to ensure its national security by means of keeping a stockpile that could last the emergency and to stop the Saudi from holding them prisoners in the debate over Israel. On the other hand this is seen as a wrong doing as they are looking to provide resources that are limited at a moderate price and the American methods threaten their objectives.

Thomas Hobbes in his book leviathan described security as the reward that the citizens get from the state. But there also must be sacrifices to reap this reward.

He says,

“There is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof Is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth, no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force, no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time, no arts no letter; no society; and which is worst of all, continual feare, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish and short.”

For Hobbes, it didn’t matter much if the threats to security came from within or outside the territory; the security was the duty of the state. Security for him was an absolute value. In exchange for providing it the state can rightfully ask the citizen for anything save that he sacrifice his own life. This in the modern context is liberty. Every citizen does sacrifice part of his sovereignty to attain that security. Liberty and security then become intriguing concepts. Human rights and state security are intimately related. But how much power to we concede to the state and its intelligence community? Does compromising once liberty in the tradeoff for security look like a fair deal? For example the recent snoop gate scandal, which created this problem with privacy and civil liberty. The NSA, which is an American intelligence organization was caught spying on people in the country and was exposed to widespread protest. A similar situation can be seen in some airports in the middle east where it is a compulsion to keep your phone switched on to enable security against phone bombs. Can you imagine not having the choice to keep you phone switched off in the 21st century? A common quote on the issue reads,  

”Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”  -Benjamin Franklin

Thomas Hobbes himself called the state a leviathan (a mythological monster). Is it really essential to concede so much liberty to this untamed beast?

There isn’t much to draw a line at but definitely leaves the people prone to a totalitarian government. This all adds up to the already raised question on foreign intervention by the state as well. These are all important aspects to attain security. Is it really for the best of objectives is a mystery.

Security which causes states to boost weaponry seems like a good decision but these weapons that might never get used in the field of war all add up to inefficiencies. The same resources could be used for other welfare activities but they are drained out by these expenditures. Also, the question of security choices is equally vexing if they are not equally profound. Should the US prepare military intervention in the Persian Gulf to ensure continued oil from the Saudi? Or should it spend that money on gaining alternate energy resources? A second choice involves collaboration with regimes that are antithetic to the host nations own. For example, should America forge a relationship of greater military cooperation in South Africa and face possible racial conflict in its cities? Or should it continue to treat South Africa as an international outlaw and enhance domestic racial harmony at the risk of the soviet posing a greater threat in the sea-lanes around Africa? The third question could be the choice between national security and global threat. With reference to America that lies on the saint Andréa’s fault is in danger of seismic activity. At the same time there is a rising global threat of a nuclear war. Limited resources to invest create huge problems. Security is also directly related to vulnerability. So the higher the security the lower the assumed vulnerability is. But how much security do we buy when we expend a given increment of resources to reduce vulnerability?

In conclusion, the fact that security is such a vital and necessary measure creates cause for so much attention and debate. These questions are what make formulation of foreign policies a difficult task and security such a contested concept.  

Why is so contested about what security actually mean?

How much security is enough?

Planet of sums

David zous

Shift from  human inter national


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Written By Ameya Singh

Founder - Young Bhartiya MSC International Relations London School of Economics and Political Science National water polo player National shooter

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