A global security strategy…for a UNSC member

Overnight, UN members voted on new non-permanent members of the UN Security Council. My country, Australia, concluded a $25 million campaign for the seat successfully, joining Argentina, Rwanda, Luxembourg and South Korea elected for new two-year terms, and Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Morocco, Pakistan and Togo in their final year of membership, and the veto-weilding Permanent Five of China, Russia, the UK, France and the United States.

Australia’s new UNSC role is of great interest to me, as someone who has written often (and critically) about Australian foreign policy, and the limits (and value) of liberal approaches to statecraft flying under the banner of “ethical foreign policy” and “good international citizenship”. I write somewhat ambivalently about this in the 2008 conclusion to my book Fear of Security, and revisit the issue in a new article, “The good state, from a cosmic point of view”, forthcoming in a special issue of International Politics edited by Matt McDonald and Tim Dunne. I also hope to blog in the coming months about a new project on global security ethics and governance, especially a new theory of “security cosmopolitanism” aimed at guiding states, non-state actors and global institutions towards security outcomes that work for all human beings without discrimination.

Becoming a member of the Security Council places an important burden of moral and strategic responsibility on a middle power like Australia. Today in The Conversation I published an article discussing those responsibilities, drawing from a model national security strategy I drafted for a new book, Why Human Security Matters: Rethinking Australian Foreign Policy. I have included a much longer version of that article below. Thoughtful analysis was also published today by Lowy Institute Director Michael Fullilove, scholar of Australian foreign policy and the UN Thom Woodroofe, and RMIT academic Binoy Kampmark.

One major priority not discussed below ought to be a sustained peace and disarmament between India and Pakistan, who have one of the most toxic and dangerous geopolitical relationships in the world. Not only does it negatively affect the security of people in both states and in  neighboring countries like Afghanistan, it is an area where the future use of nuclear weapons seems most likely. Helping these countries to develop a cooperative and trusting relationship will be a long game, but if the UNSC was to provide a platform of encouragement and global expectation, it could not help but be a useful start.

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Security council win a golden opportunity to fix national security at home

The Conversation, 19 October 2012

Australia’s successful campaign to win a two year seat on the UN Security Council is welcome news. While much of the commentary has focused on the domestic politics or the diplomacy of the bid, security experts will be more concerned with how well we are placed to discharge the solemn duty such a position demands. Not only does the Council face ongoing crises in Iran, Syria, the DRC, Lebanon, Palestine and more, but the global security agenda is rapidly changing to take in climate change and environmental crises, natural disasters, pandemics, forced migration and crimes against humanity, in addition to familiar concerns with strategic instability, proliferation and weapons of mass destruction. New issues and phenomena arise quickly but often have deep structural roots that go unrecognised. At the UNSC we will face a twofold challenge: to stake out an independent and constructive position on matters that come before the Council (which may be challenging for a close US ally), and to develop an integrated national approach to the global security agenda that will back our diplomacy with the best analysis and resources.

The first part of the challenge will require us to back our historic record of creativity and “good international citizenship” (exemplified by our role in the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Cambodian peace plan, international peacekeeping, and commitment to the UN millennium goals on poverty) with a morally consistent policy that genuinely contributes to global security and human rights. Avoiding US pressures and domestic agendas will be important here, especially given its veto power on the Council. We will need to stake out a genuinely balanced position on Palestine by strongly supporting self-determination and criticising illegal Israeli settlements while supporting Israel’s legitimate security interests; we will need to avoid the hyperbolic approach to Iran typical of US politics and maintain the kind of pressure that leaves diplomatic doors open; and we will need to use our friendship with the US encourage it to use its power constructively, as it often does so well. America’s decision to block a vote on Palestinian UN membership was a major disappointment, when multilateral pressure was desperately needed to salvage a two-state solution, which is looking less possible by the day. The Israeli-Palestinian stalemate is a genuine threat to global security and serves as a permanent recruiting tool for transnational terrorists.

The second part of the challenge – to develop an integrated national security approach that will support our diplomacy – lies at home. We need to develop a coherent whole-of-government framework that can bring together defence policy, homeland security and international diplomacy under an overarching national security strategy. In the view of myself and the other authors of a new book published this month, Why Human Security Matters: Rethinking Australian Foreign Policy, this strategy will need to be anchored in a commitment to human security, and harmonise our national security interests with those of the rest of the world.

New strategic directions are likely to be mapped out in the two major international policy statements being drafted: a new Defence White Paper due in the first half of 2013, and the Australia in the Asia Pacific Century White Paper. However Australia’s national security strategy lacks an overarching framework, one that unifies all the domestic and international security challenges we face into a conceptual and policy whole. The problem is both structural and moral.

Structurally,  we need to be able to bring a range of diverse security challenges  – armed conflict, rising powers, climate change, proliferation, forced migration, terrorism, natural disasters, fragile states, and human insecurity – into a single framework. We need to be able to understand them in isolation and in their (often complex) interaction. The only way to do this is with a fully developed national security strategy and new policy machinery that supports this integration.

Australia has never had such a strategy, unlike the United Kingdom which published a forward thinking document in 2008, and the United States, whose 2010 strategy brought together traditional concerns about proliferation, terrorism and military competition with the environment, food insecurity and dangers to public health. The closest we have come is the National Security Statement presented to Parliament in 2008 by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd – a brief document apparently pulled together quickly from unfinished work on a major national strategy. This statement did much to broaden the agenda, but was unable to assert a coherent national approach. The result has been that defence strategy has tended to drive national security policy, rather than the other way around.

Morally, we need to align our national security policy with international human rights standards, a robust domestic rule of law, and a commitment to the security of our region and the world as a whole. The last decade alone has seen too many blots on our record: military and diplomatic support for an unlawful invasion of Iraq in 2003; obsequious diplomacy with the Musharraf regime in Pakistan, which had suspended democracy and was playing a vicious double-game of support for Islamic extremists in Afghanistan and Kashmir; and most damningly, the elevation of asylum seekers to a national security threat after 2000.

This move licensed the use of military force,  indefinite detention, deportation and systemic violations of international refugee and human rights law in a way that was completely unnecessary. ASIO’s utter lack of accountability for adverse security assessments it makes in regard to refugees – effectively condemning them to indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial – demonstrates how morally compromised our approach to security has become.

Hard-headed security experts will maintain that national security is incompatible with human rights in all cases, and that we should be selective in our approach to international law. Others will maintain that the security agenda should be limited to national defence and military concerns, and avoid including “non-traditional” issues like the environment, refugees, and human security. This disregards the way in which the globalisation of insecurity, whether in regard to conflict, climate, people movements, or nuclear weapons, has overwhelmed the capacities of states to deal with complex problems alone. They all have complex inter-related causes and can only be addressed by cooperative action between governments and affected communities using widely accepted and legitimate rules.

The way to unify traditional and non-traditional concerns in our national security policy, in a way that is morally defensible and supportive of a genuinely secure global order, is by making human security a priority. Human security is a holistic approach to the security of both states and communities that was defined by the UN in 2003 as the creation of ‘political, social, environmental, economic, military and cultural systems that give people the building blocks of survival, livelihood and dignity’. In the chapter I contribute to Why Human Security Matters, I draft the outlines of a model national security strategy that uses human security as a unifying principle.

The strategy argues that human security is a basic global good and is of growing strategic importance. High levels of human security reduce our vulnerability to shocks and crises. If state and non-state actors make human security a priority there is likely to be less conflict, less injustice, and less violence internationally. Human security – in the form of education, healthcare, social safety nets, economic management and policing – is also a routine expectation of national government, so it is natural to see it extended globally. 9/11 and its aftermath proves that we cannot achieve security by depriving others of it, and our national security is in fact enhanced by a commitment to human security.

The model strategy also set outs some new policy machinery to promote national integration and an appreciation of the structural dynamics of insecurity: a new Homeland Security Agency to coordinate our approach to domestic terrorism and disasters; a new intelligence agency, the Future Scenarios Agency, to predict future crises; and a National Security Council that can provide a forum for the balanced consideration of our interests.

From the complex wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, to crises in East Timor and the Solomon Islands, disasters like the 2004 Tsunami, and the resentments of Israeli and US policy that motivate transnational terrorists, we have learned that strategic threats have their roots in human insecurity. Our troops have found themselves in harm’s way, and our interests have been compromised, because we lacked a cooperative global framework to promote human security, one that treats the security of all human beings equally. We obviously need to set our own priorities that reflect our strategic environment and our capabilities, but contributing to such a system must be an overarching objective. As a global human security framework becomes more entrenched, it will form a crucial floor for our national security. It will also enable us to make a contribution to the work of the UN Security Council that is much greater than our role as a middle power may suggest.

Obviously, the world remains a dangerous place, and many states don’t want to play nicely with their neighbours or the global community. This makes a human security strategy challenging, but just as compelling. And with the US committing  in its own national security strategy to collective action aimed at ‘achieving balanced and sustainable economic growth’ and ‘cooperative solutions to the threat of climate change, armed conflict and pandemic disease’, and many other governments committing to similar thinking, there is a crucial opening for Australia to join in creating a better global security system. Our new position on the Security Council only enhances that opportunity.

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