American foreign policy must look beyond the nation state and toward human security.
Anyone not immediately caught up in the whirlwind of today’s Beltway foreign policy punditry would be driven to hair-tearing at the back-and-forth between defenders of the Bush Administration and the multitude of critics arrayed against it. That’s because while President George W. Bush’s approach has obviously failed, too many of its critics refuse to focus on why. Their alternatives revolve around competence, with perhaps a bit of multilateral fence-mending thrown in. But they also assume as valid the fundamental tenet guiding the Administration’s approach, as defined by George Kennan during the Cold War, that securing the national interest lies in protecting “the continued ability of this country to pursue its internal life without serious interference.” While that approach might have been relevant to the era of Cold War containment, it is untenable today. In a globalized world, it is no longer enough to center our foreign policy on a narrowly-defined concept of “national security” that assumes the continued dominance of the nation-state. What is needed is a fundamental change in the terms of the debate to include a realistic assessment of a world that is both interdependent and increasingly fragmented. What is missing is consideration of human security–and why, if we are to promote effectively our sustainable security, it must be incorporated into a modern American foreign policy.
“Human security” is a concept more familiar to those in the economic development field than the foreign policy world. Some define it in narrow terms, referring simply to the challenges posed by war and mass atrocities. But, increasingly, it is being more broadly defined as a concept that goes beyond a singular focus on the survival of states–as “national security” does–to include the survival and dignity of human beings regardless of national origins. The UN’s Commission on Human Security defines it as protection of “the vital core of all human lives in ways that enhance human freedoms and fulfillment,” while the Human Security Network–an alliance of like-minded countries ranging from Canada and the Netherlands to Jordan and Mali–describes its vision as “a humane world where people can live in security and dignity, free from poverty and despair.”
There is a tendency among national security experts to discount the human security paradigm as idealistic and soft, while advocates of human security criticize those favoring national security for placing too much emphasis on narrow nationalism and military power. To be sure, the nation-state-based concept of national security can provide the foundation for strategies to deal with state-based threats, such as those posed by Iran or North Korea. But it is less relevant to the host of contemporary threats, ranging from climate change and pandemic flu to money-laundering and the international drug trade, threats that transcend state borders and affect people across the globe without reference to citizenship or state affiliation. Only by pursuing both national and human security can the United States hope to achieve a level of security that is sustainable and durable in the long term. This means adopting a strategy that takes into account short- term threats and long-term challenges; that focuses on both state-based concerns and global trends; and that reflects the simple fact that we can no longer pursue our internal life without interference from abroad.
Short-term vs. Long-term Security
With Iraq, Iran, and North Korea all posing greater risks to our security today than when President George W. Bush first lumped them together as the “axis of evil” five years ago, it is tempting to put off the less tangible and seemingly distant trends that are shaping the modern world and our future in it. And to be fair, American leadership must focus its attention on the near-term, state-based threats to our security; to do otherwise would be negligent. Successive presidents had to ensure that we prevailed in the long-running rivalry with the Soviet Union, and Bush rightly chose to prioritize the defense of America against terrorism in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
Yet, the need to confront immediate threats to America’s security must be balanced with efforts to manage our long-term security challenges; in other words, we must do two things at once. The short-term perspective considers how to deal with immediate threats and discrete incidents simply defined; a long-term view defines how a country wants an increasingly complex world to look in a generation and then outlines strategic approaches to make it so. Both approaches are necessary in a sustainable foreign policy package.
Bush, of course, would argue that his foreign policy will produce real security because it not only focuses on the near-term goal of success in Iraq, but also on the need to defeat “global terror.” But even if he were to align his policies with his rhetoric, his vision would not lead to long-term, sustainable security because his fundamental assumption–that the events of September 11 changed everything–is wrong. Central as the war on terror is to our current security, it ignores the long-term human security challenges that existed before September 11 and still flourish today, from a global energy crisis and climate change to weak states and poverty. Responding to these challenges is complicated by the fact that we are facing a world in flux and, significantly, a shift in the arc of global power and influence that makes the simple assertion of America’s prerogatives difficult, if not impossible.
First, today’s centers of power and influence are growing in number and diversity. With growing economic and military power, China and India have established themselves as new and potent powers. The pursuit of nuclear weapons has rendered Iran, North Korea, India, and Pakistan decisive players on the world stage. Latin America is fast realigning as a left-leaning bloc eager to counter the United States. And as the recent collapse of the Doha Round of world-trade talks has made clear, even the world’s poorest countries, by uniting among themselves and with emerging-market nations, have newfound influence.
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