Tuesday, September 15, 2009

If you Want Peace, Prepare for War (Si vis pacem, para bellum)


Do we have to go in war just to learn peace in one country?

THE LATIN motto Si vis pacem, para bellum (if you want peace, prepare for war) was emblazoned on the Imperial Ministry of War in Vienna. It reflected a security approach now every bit as extinct as the Austro-Hungarian empire. We have happily, if somewhat accidentally, moved beyond inter-state wars. As with all changes, this good news is tinged with feelings of insecurity about the unknown

Divide a sheet of paper into two columns. List all those your country might attack in one column and all those likely to attack your country in the other. Both columns will come up blank for the overwhelming majority of people whether they live in Ballinasloe, Bangkok or Buenos Aires.

Dick Cheney, as US vice-president, clearly demonstrated his belief in military power as the primary tool of statecraft. He continues to argue for US military intervention in, for example, Iran – while claiming that the systematic use of torture is vital for the defence of the United States.

A similar, if inverse logic, appeared in Eoghan Shorthall’s letter to the editor of September 9th where he advances the hypothesis of EU battle groups being used under Article 28 of the Lisbon Treaty to combat terrorism in support of a future US invasion of Iran or Syria. Although terrorists of one hue or another, citing their deities or spurious mandates from long-defunct assemblies, remain as dangerous as they are ludicrous – as the 275kg Forkhill bomb reminds us – such a scenario flies in the face of experience, capacity and reality.

New realities oblige humanity to blend its two traditionally separate security paradigms – “security with” and “security from”.

“Security with” comes to us from our distant ancestors who felt secure in their small family groups and later in their clans. It is a feeling which has become instinctive, feeling safe with people you know, on your street, in your town or even in your country.

“Security from” is the flip side. Since you felt secure in your group, there was an argument for preparing to defend it from the actions of the cattle-raiding clan in the next valley. “Security from” reached its nadir during the Cold War confrontation that dominated global politics for much of the second half of the 20th century. Almost every conflict and many governments were analysed, tagged and treated in function of their degrees of support for, or inclinations towards, one camp or the other.

At its core lay a scenario where the armed forces of Nato and the Warsaw Pact would slug it out on the plains of Germany in a mobile battle involving tens of thousands of tanks and thousands of combat aircraft, with the genocidal shadow of global thermonuclear war ever-present in the background.

The various permutations all involved a race between Warsaw Pact forces reaching Europe’s Atlantic ports in time to prevent the arrival of massive US reinforcements. The security policies and arms procurements of those concerned reflected this through significant investments in ever more sophisticated tanks and aircraft.

In that context, neutrality was one plausible “security from” approach. Then, in 1991, the unpredicted, the almost unthinkable, happened – the Soviet Union collapsed, the Warsaw Pact dissolved, taking the menace of global war with it.

States found themselves with expensive armed forces configured and equipped to fight a war that was no longer possible. Significant, if often unannounced, reductions in defence expenditure became the norm. Military service was progressively abandoned, major equipment replacements shelved, inventories run down and training cut back.

The real political challenge of determining what security policy might mean in our new world was marginalised when it was not completely avoided. As we faced bitter conflicts of considerable barbarity, from Yugoslavia to Darfur, this absence of policy made itself painfully felt.

States, having failed to develop new security approaches and instruments, were obliged to fall back on their armed forces – forces which not only lack appropriate training and equipment, but also much of what they do have no longer works.

Internal German army documents about the Bundeswehr mission in Afghanistan bemoan the fact that over half its deployed armoured vehicles cannot be used because of “missing replacement parts and insufficient repair resources”.

Even when the vehicles do work, many drivers lack off-road training.

Melding the traditional external “security from” approach into the local “security with” one is a common global challenge. It involves dropping some traditional military approaches – the UK stopped tank production this year – with the creation of new structures and the elaboration of new policies.

Today’s security threats come in many guises, including financial meltdown, economic recession, social inequality, food insecurity, climate change, epidemics, migration, and terrorism. They require a much broader and more comprehensive response within which military action can only be one element, however vital.

A primarily academic contribution to this process comes from the UK’s Oxford Research Group and its 2006 Global Responses to Global Threats publication. This group has launched a new website (www.sustainablesecurity.org) dedicated to exploring these issues.

On the far side of the Atlantic in Rio de Janeiro, a more hands-on dialogue on very similar themes has begun. It involves humanitarian bodies, government officials, UN staff and Brazilian military commanders and is organised by Viva Rio, a non- governmental organisation that began life in 1993 in response to Brazilian street violence.

The dialogue seeks to build on the generally positive experiences of the Brazilian-led UN mission in Haiti, a dialogue in a country which itself suffered under military dictatorship 1964-1985. A problem for those locked in the past is that military neutrality is a completely obsolete concept when it comes to developing a planetary “security with” approach.


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