ALLAN BEHM. Time to Rethink National Security

Following the summer bushfires, the COVID-19 pandemic has smashed even further the livelihoods and the lifestyles of many Australians. The hit to the national economy will be comparable to that of WW2.

Australia has not been at war. Yet millions of Australians are significantly less secure now than they were six months ago. And if our citizens are not secure, how can the nation be secure?

People around the world no longer feel safe. Nor are they confident that their governments can keep them safe. For the individual citizen, security now has more to do with a decent and fulfilling life than with fighting wars.

Social inclusion, the protection of rights, the promotion of values and resilience – all of them supported by a strong economic base – are basic elements of security policy.  The scope of national security policy needs to transcend traditional defence and law enforcement models by comprehending climate change, human security against pandemics, environmental (and soil) degradation, food security, water shortages and refugee flows – to identify just a few issues.

An evolved national security policy must resolve a set of intersecting binaries that constrain national well-being rather than promoting it.

First, the relationship between the citizen and the state needs to be redefined, especially in a world where more people want protection from the state rather than protection by it.

Second, we need to move from the reactive planning model to a proactive one that deals with threats by preventing rather than defeating them.

Third, we need to replace the ‘control’ mindset with one of empowerment – less enforcement and more encouragement.

And fourth, it is important that the ‘intervention’ focus of public policy design is tempered by an emphasis on ‘prevention’.

The well-being of both the citizen and the state is the goal of all sound policy. Traditional security thinking fails to deal with the emergent existential threats to human security that are not amenable to solution by military forces.

Allan Behm is head of the International and Security Affairs Program at The Australia Institute

This is an abbreviated version of an opinion editorial that appeared in The Guardian (Australia) on 20 April 2020


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2 Responses to ALLAN BEHM. Time to Rethink National Security

  1. Avatar Michael G Smith says:

    Allan Behm is right! Australia urgently needs a national security strategy to guide the work of the National Security Committee of Cabinet in a proactive manner. This strategy must focus on national resilience, equality and prosperity, and be far broader than defence and diplomacy. Importantly, the strategy must promote our independence in the changing world order while at the same time honouring our global commitment to justice and order. Behm is also right when he noted in the Guardian that the government’s “fundamental duty is to ensure the safety and security of their citizens against all threats, not just the threat of armed force”.

  2. Avatar Philip Bond says:

    The current restrictions, business shutdowns and shortages are only the beginning. The following recession/depression will cut deeply into our society.

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