Non-military aspects of security

Dietrich Fischer (author)

The book fleshes out a conceptual framework consisting of five aspects of security: survival, health, economic well-being, environment, and political rights. Concern with the first two is as old as humanity. Economic well-being became a concern when social organization transcended kinship bonds, i.e., with the birth of civilization. Concern with political rights is only about two centuries old and concern with the global environment a few decades. Only a portion of humanity is now concerned with the last two components, but solutions for problems generated by the first three depend on how the last two are addressed.

All five are identified as non-military aspects of security-and rightly so, since none of the problems posed by them seem solvable by military applications.

Throughout the book discussion is summarized in the form of tables. For example, the five non-military aspects of security are displayed along one dimension of a table and the sources of associated problems (internal, external, global) along the other. (See illustration.) In another table, the sources are causal, e.g., indecision, lack of feedback (unawareness), rejected feedback ("irrational behavior"), etc. The entries in the cells are the effects of the causal components on erosion of each aspect of security. For example, the effect of rejected feed back on economic well-being could be rejection of sound economic advice.

Considerable attention is devoted to interactions between major global problems. Here one dimension of a table represents causes, the other effects. Both the former and the latter are identified as environmental damage, underdevelopment, overpopulation, political rights violations, ideological nationalism, and war. The cause-effect interrelations are cyclic. For instance, environmental damage as cause interacts with overpopulation as effect to produce high infant mortality, which leads to high birth rate, which aggravates overpopulation, which aggravates environmental damage. Ideological nationalism as cause interacts with war as effect to produce expansionism. Conversely, war as cause interacts with ideological nationalism as effect to produce desire for revenge and exacerbate nationalism.

The emphasis on cyclic causation reflects the systemic approach to the complex interconnections of causes and events. It avoids "linear" causal thinking in the form of "A causes B, which causes C." Instead, causes and effects are represented as networks: each effect is produced by many convergent causes and, in turn, produces a multitude of divergent effects.

The cycles characteristic of systems are called feedback loops. These are of two kinds: negative, which correct deviations of a system from some equilibrium condition, and positive, which magnify such deviations, i.e., make equalibria unstable. In dealing with problems of security, both negative and positive feedback loops can be "good" or "bad." Bad positive feedback loops are called vicious cycles. Examples are hyperinflation, environmental degradation, and arms races. Examples of bad negative loops are political repression and intellectual conformity. Good positive feedback loops offer the best hope of reversing the disastrous trends of our time. Just as the trend toward war is self-reinforcing, so is potentially the trend toward peace. Each success makes the next move likely. To the extent that self-reinforcing economic growth is beneficial (as it is sometimes), it illustrates the working of a good positive feedback loop. Good negative feedback loops account for trade balance, stable market prices, equalization of wages, and population dispersion.

The book is in two parts. Part I is devoted to analysis of problems, Part II, approaches toward solutions. These are fitted into the same scheme. In one table, for example, the columns represent levels of approaches to solutions: individual, local, national, regional, widely international, global. Thus the problem of health can be attacked on all seven levels. On the individual level it calls attention to personal hygiene, healthy life style, avoidance of harmful addictions, etc.; on the local level, to clean water supply, sewage systems; on the national level, to banning dangerous products; on the regional level, to controlling disease-bearing insects; on the widely international level, to vaccination and medical research; on the global level, to saving the ozone and banning nuclear tests.

The author calls the book a sign post-a list of options and likely outcomes of different courses of action. Fischer notes that global integration is a prerequisite of human survival in the age of megadeath technology and environmental degradation. The maxim "Think globally, act locally" is extended in both directions: both thought and action are recommended on all six levels, fitting both to appropriate levels (Chapter 6).

Most problems require simultaneous application of several measures, which reinforce each other through feedback loops (Chapter 8). For instance, economic cooperation is primarily a means of enhancing economic well-being. On the other hand, international economic cooperation can inhibit aggression. "A country can try to play a useful, preferably almost indispensable role for its neighbors, but make it clear that, should aggression occur, this cooperation would naturally cease."

The last chapter relates functions of international organizations to initiatives already existing within the United Nations. Others are recommended, reflecting Fischer's emphasis on the importance of action on the global scale. Inevitably this development will be stimulated by, and will in turn stimulate, erosion of the nation state as the ultimately sovereign unit of social organization. Fischer's emphasis on the responsibilities of organizations transcending national sovereignties serves to keep the idea alive and ready to be implemented when national sovereignties must be abandoned in areas affecting security.

In this context the ameliorative measures proposed by Fischer appear practical and promising. Examples include expansion of peacemaking and peacekeeping activities as contributions to survival; global clearinghouses of research and data banks for raising the general level of health; systematic people-oriented (rather than commercially-oriented) transfer of technology to improve economic well-being; globally coordinated development of clean sources of energy; the establishment of an International Criminal Court to enforce human rights; a Centre for Legal Education and Research, which "could compare constitutions and legal systems from around the world, study their pros and cons, and explore what works well under what conditions..." to enhance the spread of fundamental human rights.

Fischer's vision is not utopian. It is rooted in objective observations of present realities and is based on a sober assessment of potentials for improving the human condition. The world we leave to our descendants will depend on the spreading of such ideas and on the mobilization of will to implement them.

Chapter 7 is devoted to amelioration procedures with respect to the five aspects of security, noting obstacles to problem solving, such as conflict over incompatible goals, distortion of feedback, and lack of available remedies.

Unfortunately, the title of the book may create an impression that in addition to non-military aspects of security there are also "military" aspects, and that the two sets complement each other. However, it becomes apparent that traditional conceptions of security as military are actually an obstacle to security as conceived by most humans-that is, in terms of survival, health, and economic well-being. Indeed, some of the policy recommendations reveal the incompatibility of the two conceptions of security. For example, to recruit resources for environmental protection, Fischer suggests converting "existing military organizations, with their well-endowed means of transportation and communication, to this new task. Satellites could be used to measure levels of pollution, the decay of forests, desertification, poor harvests and other problems. Troops could assist victims of natural and industrial disasters, to bring food to hungry nations, and to participate in massive reforestation and the rebuilding of decaying inner cities..."

So far the proposal can be interpreted as use of the benevolent "spinoffs" of a defence establishment. However, Fischer goes on, certain aspects of conversion, e.g., reduction of military personnel, "are likely to meet with their resistance.... Care should be taken ... that the antagonistic military mentality of seeing 'the enemy' as the problem is not transferred to these new fields of endeavor. Daniel Deudney speculated whether the military, if it had been negotiating a treaty to protect the ozone layer, might have kept some stock-piles of CFCs as a 'deterrent' against other countries using them. For that reason, military personnel, especially those in top leadership positions, may need retraining or have to be replaced."

Considerable attention is devoted to "non-offensive defence"-military technology that is useless for aggression. The invariable interpretation of the military potential of others as a threat rather than as enhancement of "security" fuels arms races.

Throughout the book, proposed solutions of security problems are formulated with a view to their effectiveness and their realizability. Thus conversion and non-offensive defence are presented as feasible in the contemporary political climate and with regard tothe possibility of mobilizing public opinion.

With regard to war, however, the ultimate goal is kept in sight. It is no less than the eventual abolition of the institution of war by making it unacceptable, as slavery and colonialism have become. After all, institutions, as all other living systems, are notoriously mortal.

Intentional Dangers (Threats)
Danger toInternal sourceExternal sourceGlobal source
SurvivalViolent crime, civil warAggression, terrorismNuclear winter
Healthsale of addictive drugsExport of toxic wastesGlobal drug trade
Economic well-beingCorruption, theft, sabotageEmbargoes, blockadesUnequal exchange
EnvironmentEcological vandalismEcological warfare
Political rightsSubversion, false propagandaMilitary coups, torture
Peace Magazine Jan-Feb 1994

Peace Magazine Jan-Feb 1994, page 28. Some rights reserved.

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