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Common Security

What is ‘security’? If a country or community is ‘secure’, it’s likely that its government is efficient and its business dealings are successful. Its people are reasonably well looked after: they have access to basic needs such as clean water, housing, power supplies, food, education, health care, and work. They are able to make their views heard by the people they work for, by the people who run the social systems providing their needs, and by their government. The police and the justice system are efficient and fair, and crime is kept to a minimum.

For all that to work well, people have to be tolerant and understanding. If everyone’s human rights are to be respected, people must respect each other, even when some make it very difficult. There are communities all round the world which manage to live in social harmony. These citizens solve their problems and disputes with understanding, imagination, and the will to get things right.

But to be really secure a country or community needs other things as well. It needs to have good relationships with other countries and communities. And all countries and communities need to respect the planet and the atmosphere that surrounds it: all the parts of Earth in which living things – plants and animals as well as humans – are found. Living organisms are dependent on each other in all kinds of ways, and the natural world must be cared for – by us. Humans have been too eager to exploit the planet’s resources, indifferent to the harm they cause.

For some people ‘security’ means ‘national security’: a system providing armed forces against an aggressor. But what does this kind of ‘security’ mean to people who are starving, or living in an area where the ground or the air is polluted? What does it mean to people who are afraid to go out at night, or who have been made homeless by crime and war? What does it mean to people ruled by an oppressive government, or who are badly treated simply because of their beliefs, their ethnic roots, or their particular way of life?

And what about the others, the people who are well-off and well-protected? Can any of them think themselves truly ‘secure’ when the very activities that make them rich are taking jobs and land from others, causing conflict and also seriously harming the planet?

There’s no escaping the fact that when people are treated unjustly, or when they are deprived of what they need (it may be a piece of land, or somewhere to live, or a job, or citizenship, or fundamental human rights such as freedom, or even hope itself) the results are disastrous. Even greater suffering and bitter conflict follow. Armed forces – police, paramilitaries, armies – are specially trained and encouraged to suppress rebellion with brute force. Governments become dictatorial and oppressive. Social systems and supplies of resources become erratic and may collapse. In these conditions societies are divided, the economy fails and poverty grows.

Too many people, groups and leaders are driven by ambition to get rich and stay rich. In doing so, they exploit other people and devastate the environment. Conflict is the result of this, too.

And increased conflict means more armed forces and armed violence. The very existence of huge armies and vast supplies of weapons and other machinery of war creates dangers to society and to the environment – dangers that can do even more damage than war itself.

From all these facts it is clear that ‘security’ and the problems that create conflict are inescapably intertwined. None of these problems can be solved by itself: the others have to be solved too. Countries and communities cannot ‘develop’ – become more prosperous, efficient and caring of their people – without development of those qualities everywhere else as well.

In fact, without such global development, there can be no real security anywhere. Without such development, the world cannot become less violent and more just. But global development is hard to achieve (let alone sustain) when wars continue, leaders oppress their people, and wealth-seekers exploit the poor. In short, ‘security’ policies created in these conditions actually keep insecurity alive.

Some people are lucky enough to live in a country that is relatively secure. But their particular security is never free from risk. For example, famine in one part of the world leads to over-working the farmland locally, and so creating deserts. Earth’s climate is affected by such changes, which can alter the climate elsewhere in the world.

Another example: wealth-seeking businesses and organisations can take advantage of poverty and repression in one region to exploit people elsewhere. The world’s finances are affected by moves like this. Social support systems run out of resources, and people suffer. With the growth of armed force and poor administration of justice, conflicts break out, causing more problems: disrupted populations, money spent on war instead of necessities of life, and continued damage to the environment. Insecurity spreads like a disease.

So what is the answer? It has to begin with thinking differently about the world. Everyone on the planet depends on its atmosphere and resources to be alive at all. So far we have treated the planet with too little respect, greedy for its resources and reluctant to share them around. Because of this the global system is threatened, which means we are all threatened too. We risk losing fresh air, fresh water, unpolluted land, a tolerable climate – we risk losing land, homes and life itself.

The Nobel Peace Prize committee showed that they recognised this truth. They awarded the Prize to a Kenyan environment specialist, Wangari Maathai, in 2004. She challenged people ‘to see things differently’, urging us all to understand the importance of the close relationship between protecting the environment, empowering the people, and creating peace. Leaders, she says, should create a social environment in which people are able to take action for the good of everyone. She also reminds us that ‘progress’ too often means the pursuit of wealth, when what really matters is ‘quality of life’. Quality of life has less to do with possessions and more to do with basic necessities, human rights, and good relationships.

Only global action by all countries can hope to save our global environment. People have to work together, with a shared determination for a shared survival instead of a shared extinction. Security can only be stable when it is universal – ‘common’ – to us all.

In the face of these facts, it ought to be obvious that war must be abolished. The most effective and practical way to do that is to get rid of the equipment of war.

First on the list for demolition must be weapons of mass destruction. As long as nuclear weapons, chemical weapons and biological weapons continue to exist, our human civilisation will continue to be at risk.

Some people think that nuclear weapons cannot be eliminated. They say that these weapons can’t be disinvented – and that even if they could be, the countries possessing nuclear weapons would be reluctant to scrap them. But it’s time to realise that no-one actually needs to keep them. Already, in the 21st century, we can see that the world has changed. We could, if we choose, accept that we can make new and wiser decisions about keeping the world, and ourselves, alive. Who are ‘we’? Any one in the world. Each one of us can make a difference, often just by speaking out.

In and outside governments, things are already happening which may one day help to abolish war. Back in 1990, the Charter of Paris for a New Europe was signed by the member countries of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (now the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE). By doing this Europe, the United States and Canada agreed to create security by working together, rather than against one another. The idea of co-operative security – common security – was now accepted as worth putting into practice.

This was a hopeful first step. It also brought about another agreement: the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. Since it was signed, there has been a substantial reduction of weapons in Europe – the world’s most heavily-armed continent.

Of course change needs time. It will take time for people to stop thinking that military action solves problems. It will take longer for some countries to leave behind their current militaristic habits of mind. It will take time for countries and peoples to work out ways to agree with each other, let alone carry them out successfully.

But maybe all this could happen a bit faster. If we want to see a more humane world, a fairer world, a world that unites to ensure its survival, we must keep asking for exactly that. We have to keep telling people, anywhere and everywhere, that such a world is really possible. We have to keep working out the steps that will lead to it, and telling the rest of the world about it.

No-one is secure when anyone is threatened. If we dismantle the systems of thinking, governing, trading and living that depend on using threats, all of us can share a common security. We created those systems ourselves. We also have the ability to understand that they are terrible mistakes, mistakes that must be put right.