Engaging not Threatening

The military-industrial complex always wants to place discussions on defence in the context of images of territorial integrity under attack from some projected foreign enemy. It has become increasingly difficult for them to conjure up an actual invading state which might take up residence but the prospect of missile attack from (non-credible) locations like North Korea or Iran has continued to be pedalled. In fact the UK Government’s most recent risk assessment, the Strategic Defence and Security Review 2011, cited cyber attack and terrorism as ‘tier-one’ risks, not missile attacks by foreign states. Yet the response to cyber attack requires essentially civilian expertise and terrorism requires policing not armed forces. But there are major economic and status interests in big hardware projects and, of course, in a continued nuclear strategy.

This distortion of any realistic assessment of risk makes it important for us to change the discourse of the defence debate to the broader concept of ‘human security’. Traditional military objectives need to be placed beside the public risks which we know confront our communities. Unemployment, crime, climate change, pollution and environmental health risks, food and energy security. The question of what will make more people secure is a more fundamental question from which policy choices can emerge than a narrow debate about military hardware based on the ‘you never know what will happen’ assertion which is the last refuge of people who have lost the rational argument. We need to put investment in traditional defence projects up against investment in renewable energy to protect against climate change and energy shortage, investment in serious organised crime units and violence reduction units, investment in cleaner public transport to reduce urban air pollution, investment in agriculture to increase food security.

One of the most important contributions to our security is not to be a threat to others and to be appreciated as making a positive contribution to peace-making. We are not short of models of countries, mainly small ones, who have developed a positive, peaceful engagement with the rest of the world. The have provided a home for a variety of international organisations as Switzerland and Austria have done. They have supported peace and disarmament research like the Swedish International Peace Research Institute. They have encouraged conflict resolution initiatives like Norway, Finland, Ireland, Switzerland. They have strongly opposed nuclear weapons like New Zealand and Mexico. They have actively promoted environmental sustainability like Costa Rica. It was a Finnish initiative that contributed to the end of the Cold War with the Helsinki confidence building and human rights process. It was Ireland and Norway who took forward the Cluster Bomb Treaty. Austria has a constitutional clause prohibiting nuclear weapons and Scotland could certainly follow. Given that we are a major nuclear weapons base, this would give us substantial goodwill among the great majority of UN members. Many of the countries who are most highly regarded internationally are small; they don’t owe their status to military strength but to a focus on human rights, conflict resolution and economic and environmental justice – a Commonweal approach.