Understanding The Politics of National Security

For many, the end of the Cold War marked a new era in International relations, not only in practice but also in Theory. The Post-Cold War era of International Relations marked a change in the mainstream tradition of the field. It marked the end of the pessimistic-realist outlook on state interaction that was heavily centered around the doctrines of mutual destruction and the arms race, hence having a bipolar understanding of international relations, with the United States of America in one end, and the Soviet Union on the other. And marked the beginning of an era based on a multi power international system which is seen prevalent to this day. However when assessing the international system and the defence expenditure the transition becomes very unclear as to why we still see a continued growth in defense expenditure by USA and China at rates very similar to the Cold-war period.

The rise in defence spending

According to the SIPRI Military Expenditure Database, since 1990 there has been a gradual increase in global military expenditure.

According to the SIPRI Military Expenditure Database, since 1990 there has been a gradual increase in global military expenditure.

The continued growth of defence expenditure brings us to a very important question, what exactly makes people think that military might is the best way to ensure national security? questions of that sort tend to provide us with a framework to better understand how ideas can affect the way institutions and other agents act and respond in such ways that shapes the way a state interacts in the international system. Such frameworks can be understood as memes; a certain unit of culture (idea, belief or batter of behaviour) which is developed in the mind of a certain individual or a group of individuals, and which are able to reproduce and jump from mind to mind till that unit of culture becomes a ‘norm’. A constructivist analysis will identify agents as creators of norms which may in turn govern the international system, to become a universal norm of sorts. If we are to interpret the security dilemma through this lense then we can identify the main cause of such still prevailing perspective on military might as security to the individual norms of people of great influence (Head of State).

A great example of the impact of memes and the constructivist perspective at work would be through India’s former Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh and his push for a new norm in regards to Nuclear weapons ,the ‘no-first use norm’. His aim is to lead the world into an era of where a ‘multilateral framework’ is agreed upon in which the security doctrines focused on the limiting of the salience of nuclear weapons, to guarantee a global system without the burden of a nuclear threat. Former Prime Minister Singh had hoped the steps taken in accepting the ‘no-first use norm’ would result in a slow but gradual disarmament process for all the states with nuclear warheads. The ambitious goals the former Prime Minister act as a very relevant example as to how the socially constructed ideas and norms of one person can influence and shape the actions of a state, and also shape the global norms of the international state system.

China & US defense spending

China & US defense spending

Prominent constructivist theorist Wendt suggests a similar solution to what is understood as the security dilemma. Wendt argues just as socially constructed norms can become the universal norms for the international system, states like their agents can ‘learn’ to trust their opponents ,and state sovereignty may be respected by all other in the international system if pursuit of cooperation becomes the norm of international relations. This in itself can be seen through the recent Iran Nuclear Deal. Barack Obama unlike his predecessors or even his contemporaries in the Republican party ,is self identifying with diplomacy and coming to a cooperative solution as his norm, even though more than half the Senate was against such a deal. Obama unlike his predecessors sought not conflict but rather it was through interaction over time that the sovereignty of Iran became a norm. 

The Iran Nuclear deal marks a new era and furthermore an important move away from the problematic diplomacy of the Cold-War era, which saw the world polarized in its decision making and the international relations system. David Hannay rightly argued that both people or agents and the institutions are a vital piece in unpuzzling the right direction to a nuclear free world. Constructivists argue that the norms of certain people can become the norms of the global system, and it is for this reason, that the human being as an individual plays a significant role in shaping the international system. The constructivist approach can be be exemplified by the signing of the Iran Nuclear deal, because where it down to a Republican President ,such a deal would likely be next to impossible to occur within this time period.


Lessons from Libya

In 2010 Libya had by far the highest Gross Domestic Product and highest average life expectancy in Africa along with a poverty rate lower than that of the Netherlands. Now, fast forward 5 years on. Libya is nothing more than a failed state, with a failing economy, an ongoing civil war, an unprecedented fall in oil production levels, and arguably the world’s largest source of black market of weapons. The turning point in this narrative is the NATO Intervention. So then the obvious question becomes how did it get to such a stage? and why did a ‘humanitarian intervention’ bring about such chaos and uncertainty?

How did the initial conflict escalate?

The most important factor contributing the the escalation was the mainstream narrative of the conflict was flawed.

Anyone who was at the time following the Libyan conflict of 2011 would remember the constant rhetoric of the “prevention of a genocide” , or a possible second Rwanda. From CNN to BBC ,a certain narrative was constructed in which Gaddafi’s security forces were attacking civilians who were peacefully protesting. This narrative then developed into the people of Libya being forced into a military conflict due to the actions of the Dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Such portrayal was dominant from Western governments and mainstream media outlets, eventually leading to a support of the rebel opposition.

Analysing an alternative narrative is very vital, as it not only reveals possibly biases that were present within the generally accepted ‘truth’, but it also reveals the context behind the narrative and the possible functions it might have served. According to reports from the United Nations, and Amnesty International ,the violence was initiated by the protesters, and that the protests were not peaceful, but rather hijacked by multiple militias with different ideological backgrounds. The reports also highlighted the flawed mainstream reporting on the ‘foreseen genocide’ by the Gaddafi forces.

The concept of genealogy affirms that all knowledge is situated in a particular time and place, and constrained to function with particular concepts and categories of knowledge. What this means is that a single particular events can be interpreted in many different ways through different perspectives. Perspectives then not only represent a lense to analyse the conflict, but rather become carriers of meanings and representations.  All representations are based within a certain context. Representations are the foundation by which the status of reality is conferred to events.

The root of the problem found in Libya stems from the NATO intervention of 2011. The intervention was one that took place under the precedence of humanitarian intervention and the prevention of a genocide. Two precedents claims that are very controversial in light of the events that occurred prior to the intervention and are deeply entrenched in the western narrative of the Arab Spring. As Alan Kuperman highlighted in his article “lessons from Libya: how not to intervene”, the failure of the post-intervention Libya is largely due to the way in which a false and flawed narrative was perpetuated about the Libyan conflict of February 2011, which lead to actions taken by Western states that greatly magnified the problem.

Libyan army clashing with Islamist gunmen outside Benghazi

Libyan army clashing with Islamist gunmen outside Benghazi

Why and How did the intervention bring about a failed state?

The Libyan conflict was understood in the context of the Arab Spring, a largely peaceful revolution in which long standing dictators were displaced by peaceful means. In Egypt and Tunisia, such a narrative is more applicable than in Libya. In the case of Libya, a rebellion of militias was forced into the narrative of the Arab Spring, this moulding of the conflict into a ‘peaceful revolution’ brought two major flawed representations into the forefront of the political debate that had a lasting effect.

The first flawed representation was that the rebels were homogeneous in purpose and goal. This assumption proved most costly. Professor Vijay Prashad argues that Libyan cities are like a collection of archipelagos, each city was separated by huge swaths of desert that isolated them from each other. When NATO forces decided to support the rebels logistically than militarily, they did not take into consideration the possible long term effect of arming multiple militias who are of no relation, and who pursue different goals. By arming and supporting multiple different militias NATO paved the way for an unstable society, as after Gaddafi’s assassination and the instalment of the Transitional government, none of the militias gave up their weapons, but rather held on to the territories they originated from.

The second was that the people wanted Gaddafi out and it was his brutal repression of such actions that resulted in the conflict. This flawed reporting played into the Arab Spring narrative. A people’s revolt for democracy might have been what began the initial protests, but from very early on the protests were hijacked by organised armed militias.

What now?

The crisis in Libya can be understood as a tragedy that had little to do with Libya, and all to do with the limitations of international relations and diplomacy. From falling victim to the biases etched in the narratives held by the West, the Libyan people now face a civil war between four different De facto governments. One thing that I believe is vital for the re-stabilization of Libya, is that whatever the solution maybe, it must come from within Libya. The burden of the crisis is carried by the Libyan people, therefore it will be their perspective and shared narrative that must pave the way forward.

“The Others”

As of September 20th 2015, Hungary had built a fence to keep refugees from crossing the border, its politicians have threatened hostility towards the refugees thinking of passing through Hungary, and the rest of the EU scrambles in panic every time the word ‘refugees’ is mentioned. All these symptoms present within the EU as of today form a giant structure that’s foundations are based on xenophobic, and empty rhetoric that feeds off the centuries old fears of “the Orient and his savagery”.

Even through a brief and surface analysis of the prevalent discourse within the EU in regards to the ‘refugee crisis’ and the repeated talking points spouted by politicians from all across the EU xenophobia can be identified as a running theme. From the economic to the social oppositional views to the notion of accepting more refugees, an old but very familiar set of generalizations and misrepresentations of the Syrian refugees are witnessed within the mainstream discourse.

Before I get into the prevalence of such rhetoric and its possible dangers, a quick revision of the refugee crisis is needed. Since 2012 Syria has become the greatest source of the world’s growing refugee population with roughly half its population displaced and 4 million settling in refugee camps in its neighbouring countries. As Refugees enter the EU at a rate of 3000 a day, the western discourse on the issue of refugees has become increasingly dominated by racialized and generalised framing of the incoming migrant/refugee population.

A constant voice of opposition to the acceptance of great numbers of refugees into the UK, or the rest of the EU have continuously identified refugees in negative light, some even go as far as identifying them as potential terrorists, a burden to the welfare system, and crippling to the already with struggling economies of the EU. These generalizations can be understood as a form of the Orientalist perspective that Edward Said advocated against. Orientalism is the perspective taken by the European towards Eastern culture and eastern people as being a homogenous populus that can be understood through a set of generalizations that are deeply rooted within the historical colonial experience. Edward Said argued that “In a sense the limitations of Orientalism are, as I said earlier, the limitations that follow upon disregarding, essentializing, denuding the humanity of another culture, people, or geographical region.”. Out of this process comes the notion of the ‘othering’, it places refugees in a naturally opposing binary against the European population to create a dichotomy in which on one side the EU is seen as the rational and enlightened actor, while on the other side of the dichotomy is the Syrian/Arab/Muslim refugee who are repeatedly characteristics linked with barbarism, backwardness, and other forms of social and moral ills. Such simplistic perspectives theorist Siba Grovogui argues is very dominant today as “pretentious civilisational discourses provide sustenance to the belief that Muslim emigres within the gates of Europe would work in tandem with Muslim barbarians beyond in order to destroy Europe”.

Such categorization can be seen in the political discourse by EU states such as Hungary, Slovakia ,UK in a move to limit the influx of refugees. Among these voicing their opposition to the settlement of refugees is Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban who stated that “Let me be clear: Europe will not be able to carry this burden on our own,” and he later goes on to conclude that “If there is no change in the current trends, Europe will be destabilized.” Such Orientalist forms of thinking have also resulted in near extreme measures , including Slovakia considering to only allow Christian refugees into the country.

So how do these assumptions of refugees being an economic and a social burden actually hold up?

Firstly, in regards to the refugees being an economic burden, according to an article by The Washington Post, citing several research articles they found that in the Long run refugees are not a burden but rather serve as a healthy economic stimulus to the economy as an “Influx of lower wage immigrants into a community tend to raise wages for everyone else”. This question of burden was also refuted by an article by the New York Times titled “Europe should see Refugees as a Boon, not a Burden” due to the findings proving that “immigration benefited local population in 19 out of the 20 industrialized countries they studied”. More studies can be sighted that show that the EU is in need of more migration due to the issue of aging population which is seen as significant threat to the EU’s workforce productivity in the following few decades.

It becomes quite clear that the fear mongering and political rhetoric opposing the acceptance of refugees does not hold as an empirical argument.  It becomes quite clear that the arguments forwarded by Orientalism are factually incorrect, as by definition the perspective held depends on vague and sometimes pretentious assumptions, due to this, much of what is argued can be classified as empty rhetoric. It is clear that certain nations in the EU are opposed to the refugee quota that is being promoted by the EU. Yet it is also of great importance to note that in countries like Germany, Sweden and Finland, the public and the governments have been more receptive to the possibility of accepting more refugees.