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L'arma finale: niente armi


Mary Kaldor’s latest book is The Ultimate Weapon is No Weapon: Human Security and the New Rules of War and Peace co-authored with an American serving army officer, Shannon Beebe and published by Public Affairs. The book was primarily aimed at an American audience in the hope that the actual experience of Iraq and Afghanistan may open up an opportunity for rethinking security. It taps into what is already a wide-ranging debate in security circles. Here, our Human Security columnist introduces a special series of articles commissioned for openDemocracy on this theme

One aspect of the global economic crisis that is rarely discussed is the hole in government budgets caused by the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and by the mind-boggling expense of weapons systems like Trident or advanced combat aircraft or aircraft carriers. In the United States, the War on Terror enabled President Bush to double the military budget; excluding the supplemental cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. US military spending accounts for some $700 billion a year, roughly the same as Obama’s stimulus plan, and the cost of the wars may be as much as three trillion dollars. What makes this myopia worse is that conventional military spending does not appear to contribute to a sense of security, if it ever did. Indeed, conventional war-fighting in places like Iraq and Afghanistan has contributed to a cycle of violence and provided an argument for the mobilisation of young men around Islamic extremist causes. This pervasive and contagious insecurity is likely to become worse as the global economic crisis unfolds and the effects of climate change are increasingly felt.


I use the term ‘human security’ to describe what is needed to address the every day insecurities experienced by people in different parts of the world – in violent conflicts, in mega cities riddled by criminal gangs as in Latin America, or even in seemingly safe places in Europe or North America. ‘Human Security’ offers an alternative to the binary language of allies and enemies that characterises the War on Terror. It is about the security of Afghans and Iraqis as well as the security of Americans and Europeans, about the security of individuals and not just states and borders. Human security also links the issues of violence to material deprivation and environmental risk. While my focus remains security in the traditional sense of personal safety, those traditional concerns cannot be disentangled from poverty and joblessness, or vulnerability to disease and natural or man-made disasters.


One of the ways of thinking about human security is in terms of the extension of domestic security. We in the West are used to the idea that security at home is the result of an effective rule of law and the availability of emergency services like police, ambulances or firefighters. Indeed, these were the kind of agencies that responded to 9/11 or 7/7. Security abroad, on the other hand, is assumed to be the responsibility of military forces and to take the form of war or the threat of war. If the 9/11 suicide bombers had been American citizens, it would have been very difficult for President Bush to frame the tragedy as an attack by a foreign power on the United States and to initiate the War on Terror. In the case of 7/7 the suicide bombers were all British. It would have been very odd if the British government had responded by declaring war on, say, Huddersfield where they had all gone to school. The UN Charter prohibits war; nowadays peace should be assured by the enforcement of international law, rather than through war. So human security is about extending the way we do security at home globally.


What this means is that the responsibility for human security lies with governments, but in situations where governments cannot provide security and/or are contributing to insecurity, there is a role for global human security capabilities. Instead of traditional military forces, what are needed is something like global emergency services who can help people in dire situations caused by war, massive violations of human rights, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, oil spills, or famines. These services might include military forces but trained and equipped in quite different ways to undertake law enforcement rather than war-fighting and to protect people rather than to defeat enemies.


During this week, Open Democracy has published a series of articles about what human security should mean in places that are experiencing or have experienced violent conflict – Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, and Africa. One proposition that emerges from all the stories is the notion of war as a kind of mutual enterprise (see Reconceptualising war, February, 2010) in which networks of criminals and political extremists supposedly on different sides are able to strengthen their political and economic positions through violent conflict. On the one hand, conflict provides an opportunity for sectarian politicians to mobilise support on the basis of fear and, on the other hand, it offers a fertile environment for all kinds of war-related businesses –loot and pillage, kidnapping, human trafficking or drug smuggling, etc. If this is indeed the case, then attempts to defeat the enemy as, for example Rosen and Theros explain in Afghanistan, merely fuel the violence. Yet at the same time efforts to reach agreements among the warring parties, as Bojicic and Kostovicova show in the Balkans, entrench the power of those networks and, even if violent conflict is ended, people remain vulnerable to those networks and deeply insecure.


Indeed, the failure of public institutions to guarantee security has opened up a space for private actors such as mafia, warlords, local strongmen of various kinds that further exacerbate the conditions that lead to insecurity. People have to turn to local militias and the like if the police fail to protect them. As Beebe stresses in Africa, the short-term requirements of survival often imperil long term possibilities for security and development.


Human security aims to provide an alternative approach based on dampening down violence and strengthening the rule of law rather than either trying to defeat one side or another or reaching agreements from above. Several elements of this approach are touched on in these articles. One is the importance of protection and of local agreements at the level of civil society. Said asks why the violence in Iraq was rapidly reduced after 2007. His basic answer is the fact that ethnic cleansing was almost complete but more importantly the public backlash against violence, the role of civil society, and the way in which many insurgents both Sadrists and the Sunni Awakening turned against the most vicious groups – Al Qaeda and the so-called special groups. Petreaus’s strategy in the surge did play an enabling role. The reduction in military offensives, the new emphasis on protecting the population, and the brokering role played by coalition forces at local levels did provide space for that public backlash to be effective. Of course there were also limitations – not least due to the very concept of counter-insurgency which sees population security as a means to an end, that of defeating the insurgents, rather than an end to itself. There was arbitrary detention on a massive scale and continuing attacks on the remnants of the insurgency.


Interestingly, the strategy for the Afghan surge, developed by General McChrystal, the predecessor of General Petreaus went even further than the Iraq strategy in stressing population security and stabilisation; the term ‘human security’ was even used. Yet as Rosen and Theros demonstrate, the practice has been increasingly kinetic, as the jargon goes, with many short-term tactical victories at the expense of an overall reduction in violence. Even though there are efforts to minimise civilian casualties, continuing military offensives as well as campaigns like the waves of drone attacks in Pakistan cannot establish overall stability and end up fuelling the violence.


A second element is the salience of justice and legitimacy. Both the articles on Afghanistan and the Balkans stress that reliance on these extremist networks - either as partners in defeating Al Qaeda in the case of Afghanistan, or Serbia in the case of Kosovo, or as partners in a diplomatic process as in Bosnia - is a continuing cause of insecurity, creating weak and illegitimate states. These networks can be treated as criminal both because of their economic activities and because of violations of human rights. In the Balkans they are the explanation for the persistence of weak states. This is why justice mechanisms are so important. Rosen and Theros describe the endemic corruption among Afghan warlords, brought into the Afghan government as a result of their role in helping the Americans pursue the War on Terror. Many of these warlords have American citizenship and could be arrested under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.


All the articles stress the key role of civil society, understood not as NGOs but as those concerned about the public good. Both protection and justice are mechanisms for opening up the possibilities for civil society to put pressure on the various parties to reduce violence and to be more accountable.


A final element is the link between violence and material deprivation. Beebe stresses the importance, particularly of jobs in societies where the unemployed have little choice but to join a criminal gang or an ethnic militia. He sees local African militaries as being transformed into human security services that can contribute to economic development as well as environmental protection.


It is in violent conflicts that foreign military forces have been deployed and it is there that the War on Terror is being played out. This is why the focus in this series has been on violent conflicts and on how to construct practical alternatives. But human security is more than this; it is a way of reframing all the issues that currently are treated as security issues – nuclear weapons, for example, or access to oil. As Beebe points out, it offers us a new language. We have to be able to articulate our current predicament in a way that will enable us to roll back the alarming drift towards ever worsening economic and security conditions that result from the way we are imprisoned by conventional military and economic assumptions.