National security

National security
Security measures taken to protect the Houses of Parliament in London, UK. These heavy blocks of concrete are designed to prevent a car bomb or other device being rammed into the building.

National security is the requirement to maintain the survival of the state through the use of economic, diplomacy, power projection and political power. The concept developed mostly in the United States of America after World War II. Initially focusing on military might, it now encompasses a broad range of facets, all of which impinge on the non military or economic security of the nation and the values espoused by the national society. Accordingly, in order to possess national security, a nation needs to possess economic security, energy security, environmental security, etc. Security threats involve not only conventional foes such as other nation-states but also non-state actors such as violent non-state actors, narcotic cartels, multinational corporations and non-governmental organisations; some authorities include natural disasters and events causing severe environmental damage in this category.

Measures taken to ensure national security include:



There is no single universally accepted definition of "National Security" since there are some differences on describing National as State and everything consist in a nation. The variety of definitions provide an overview of the many usages of this concept. The concept still remains ambiguous, having originated from simpler definitions which initially emphasised the freedom from military threat and political coercion to later increase in sophistication and include other forms of non-military security as suited the circumstances of the time.[1]:1-6[2]:52-54

A typical dictionary definition, in this case from the Macmillan Dictionary (online version), defines the term as "the protection or the safety of a country’s secrets and its citizens" emphasising the overall security of a nation and a nation state.[3] Walter Lippmann, in 1943, defined it in terms of war saying that "a nation has security when it does not have to sacrifice its legitimate ínterests to avoid war, and is able, if challenged, to maintain them by war".[1]:5 A later definition by Harold Lasswell, a political scientist, in 1950, looks at national security from almost the same aspect, that of external coercion:[1]:79

"The distinctive meaning of national security means freedom from foreign dictation."

Arnold Wolfers (1960), while recognising the need to segregate the subjectivity of the conceptual idea from the objectivity, talks of threats to acquired values:[4]

"An ambiguous symbol meaning different things to different people. National security objectively means the absence of threats to acquired values and subjectively, the absence of fear that such values will be attacked."

The 1996 definition propagated by the National Defence College of India accretes the elements of national power:[5]

"National security is an appropriate and aggressive blend of political resilience and maturity, human resources, economic structure and capacity, technological competence, industrial base and availability of natural resources and finally the military might."

Harold Brown, U.S. Secretary of Defense from 1977 to 1981 in the Carter administration, enlarged the definition of national security by including elements such as economic and environmental security:[6]:5

"National security then is the ability to preserve the nation's physical integrity and territory; to maintain its economic relations with the rest of the world on reasonable terms; to preserve its nature, institution, and governance from disruption from outside; and to control its borders."

In Harvard history professor Charles Maier's definition of 1990, national security is defined through the lens of national power:[7]

"National security... is best described as a capacity to control those domestic and foreign conditions that the public opinion of a given community believes necessary to enjoy its own self-determination or autonomy, prosperity and wellbeing."

History of the national security concept

The origin of the modern concept of "national security" as a philosophy of maintaining a stable nation state can be traced to the Peace of Westphalia, wherein the concept of a sovereign state, ruled by a sovereign, became the basis of a new international order of nation states.[8]:19 It was Thomas Hobbes in his 1651 work "Leviathan" who stated that citizens yield to a powerful sovereign who in turn promises an end to civil and religious war, and to bring forth a lasting peace, and give him the right to conduct policy, including wage war or negotiate for peace for the good of the "commonwealth", i.e. a mandate for national security.[9] The Clausewitzian view of diplomacy and war being the instruments of furthering national cause, added to the view of national security being sought by nations by exercising self-interest at all times.[9] This view came to be known as "classical realism" in international relations.

Immanuel Kant, in his 1795 essay, "Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch" (Zum ewigen Frieden. Ein philosophischer Entwurf.), proposed a system where nation-states and dominating national interests were replaced by an enlightened world order, a community of mankind where nation-states subsumed the national interests under the rule of the international law because of rational insight, common good and moral commitment. National security was achieved by this voluntary accession by the leadership to a higher order than the nation-state, viz. "international security". Thus was born the "idealism" school of international relations.[9]

As an academic concept, national security can be seen as a recent phenomenon which was first introduced in the United States after World War II,[1]:2-4 and has to some degree replaced other concepts that describe the struggle of states to overcome various external and internal threats. The earliest mention of the term national security, however, was made in Yale University in 1790 wherein reference was made to its relation with domestic industries.[2]:52

The concept of national security became an official guiding principle of foreign policy in the United States when the National Security Act of 1947 was signed on July 26, 1947 by U.S. President Harry S. Truman.[1]:3 Together with its 1949 amendment, this act created important facets for American national security such as the precursor to the Department of Defense), subordinated the military branches to the new cabinet level position of the Secretary of Defense, established the National Security Council and the Central Intelligence Agency.[10] The Act did not define national security which was conceivably advantageous as its ambiguity made it a powerful phrase to invoke whenever issues threatened by other interests of the state, such as domestic concerns, came up for discussion and decision.[1]:3-5

The realization that national security encompasses more than just military security was present, though understated, from the beginning itself. The US National Security Act of 1947 was set up "to advise the President on the integration of domestic, military and foreign policies relating to national security".[2]:52

Gen. Maxwell Taylor's essay of 1974 titled "The Legitimate Claims of National Security" has this to say:[11]

The national valuables in this broad sense include current assets and national interests, as well as the sources of strength upon which our future as a nation depends. Some valuables are tangible and earthy; others are spiritual or intellectual. They range widely from political assets such as the Bill of Rights, our political institutions and international friendships, to many economic assets which radiate worldwide from a highly productive domestic economy supported by rich natural resources. It is the urgent need to protect valuables such as these which legitimizes and makes essential the role of national security.

Current American views

The United States Armed Forces defines national security (of the United States) in the following manner :[12]

national security — A collective term encompassing both national defense and foreign relations of the United States. Specifically, the condition provided by: a. a military or defense advantage over any foreign nation or group of nations; b. a favorable foreign relations position; or c. a defense posture capable of successfully resisting hostile or destructive action from within or without, overt or covert.

In 2010, Barack Obama included an all-encompassing world-view in his definition of America's national security interests as:[13]

• The security of the United States, its citizens, and U.S. allies and partners;
• A strong, innovative, and growing U.S. economy in an open international economic system that promotes opportunity and prosperity;
• Respect for universal values at home and around the world; and
• An international order advanced by U.S. leadership that promotes peace, security, and opportunity through stronger cooperation to meet global challenges.

In the same National Security Strategy, Obama mentioned that polarization between the Republicans and Democrats could pose a threat to national security. In the President's estimation, polarization had the potential to affect the country's policies and posture around the world.

Elements of national security

As in the case of national power, the military aspect of security is an important, but not the sole, component of national security. To be truly secure, a nation needs other forms of security. Authorities differ in their choice of nation security elements. Besides the military aspect of security, the aspects of diplomacy or politics; society; environment; energy and natural resources; and economics are commonly listed. The elements of national security corelate closely to the concept of the elements of national power. Romm (1993) lists security from narcotic cartels, economic security, environmental security and energy security as the non-military elements of national security.[1]:v, 1-8

Military security

This is traditionally, the earliest recognised form of national security.[2]:67 Military security implies the capability of a nation to defend itself, and/or deter military aggression. Alternatively, military security implies the capability of a nation to enforce its policy choices by use of military force. The term "military security" is considered synonymous with "security" in much of its usage. One of the definitions of security given in the Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, may be considered a definition of "military security":[14]

A condition that results from the establishment and maintenance of protective measures that ensure a state of inviolability from hostile acts or influences.
—Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms

Political security

The political aspect of security has been offered by Barry Buzan, Ole Wæver, Jaap de Wilde as an important component of national security, Political security is about the stability of the social order. Closely allied to military security and societal security, other components proposed in a framework for national security in their book "Security: a new framework for analysis", it specifically addresses threats to sovereignty.[15] System referent objects are defined, such as nation-states, nations, transnational groups of political importance including tribes, minorities, some religious organisations, systems of states such as the European Union and the United Nations, besides others. Diplomacy, negotiation and other interactions form the means of interaction between the objects,

Economic security

Historically, conquest of nations have made conquerors rich through plunder, access to new resources and enlarged trade through controlling of the conquered nations' economy. In today's complex system of international trade, characterised by multi-national agreements, mutual inter-dependence and availability of natural resources etc., the freedom to follow choice of policies to develop a nation's economy in the manner desired, forms the essence of economic security. Economic security today forms, arguably, as important a part of national security as military security.

Environmental security

Environmental security deals with environmental issues which threaten the national security of a nation in any manner. The scope and nature of environmental threats to national security and strategies to engage them are a subject of debate.[1]:29-33 While all environmental events are not considered significant of being categorised as threats, many transnational issues, both global and regional would affect national security. Romm (1993) classifies these as :[1]:15

  • Transnational environmental problems that threaten a nation's security, in its broad defined sense. These include global environmental problems such as climate change due to global warming, deforestation and loss of biodiversity, etc.[1]:15
  • Environmental or resource problems that threaten a nation's security, traditionally defined. These would be problems whose outcomes would result in conventional threats to national security as first or higher order outcomes. Such disputes could range from heightened tension or outright conflict due to disputes over water scarcity in the Middle East, to illegal immigration into the United States caused by the failure of agriculture in Mexico[1]:15. The genocide in Rwanda,indirectly or partly caused by rise in population and dwindling availability of farmland, is an example of the extremity of outcome arising from problems of environmental security.[16]
  • Environmentally threatening outcomes of warfare, e.g. Romans destroyed the fields of Carthage by pouring salt over them; Saddam Hussein's burning of oil wells in the Gulf War;[1]:15-16 the use of Agent Orange by the USA in the Vietnam War for defoilating forests for military purposes.

Security of energy and natural resources

A resource has been defined as:[2]:179

"...a support inventory... biotic or abiotic, renewable or expendable,... for sustaining life at a heightened level of well-being."
—Prabhakaran Paleri (2008)

Resources include water, sources of energy, land and minerals. Availability of adequate natural resources is an important for a nation to develop its industry and economic power. Lack of resources is a serious challenge for Japan to overcome to increase its national power. In the Gulf War of 1991, fought over economic issues, Iraq captured Kuwait in order to capture its oil wells, among other reasons. Water resources are subject to disputes between many nations, including the two nuclear powers, India and Pakistan. Nations attempt to attain energy and natural resource security by acquiring the needed resources by force, negotiation and commerce.

National security and rights & freedoms

The measures adopted to maintain national security in the face of threats to society has led to ongoing dialectic, particularly in liberal democracies, on the appropriate scale and role of authority in matters of civil and human rights.

Tension exists between the preservation of the state (by maintaining self-determination and sovereignty) and the rights and freedoms of individuals.

Although national security measures are imposed to protect society as a whole, many such measures will restrict the rights and freedoms of all individuals in society. The concern is that where the exercise of national security laws and powers is not subject to good governance, the rule of law, and strict checks and balances, there is a risk that "national security" may simply serve as a pretext for suppressing unfavorable political and social views. Taken to its logical conclusion, this view contends that measures which may ostensibly serve a national security purpose (such as mass surveillance, and censorship of mass media), could ultimately lead to an Orwellian dystopia.

In the United States, the politically controversial USA Patriot Act and other government action has brought some of these issues to the citizen's attention, raising two main questions - to what extent, for the sake of national security, should individual rights and freedoms be restricted and can the restriction of civil rights for the sake of national security be justified?

Technical aspects

Because of the highly competitive nature of nation states, national security for countries with significant resources and value is based largely on technical measures and operational processes. This ranges from information protection related to state secrets to weaponry for militaries to negotiations strategies with other nation states. The national security apparatus depends largely on combinations of management practices, technical capabilities, the projection of images both internally and externally, and the capacity to gain enough of the will of the people to gather taxes and spend them on useful efforts. While some nation states use power to gain more power for their leadership, others provide quality of life improvements to their people, thus creating larger geopolitical conflicts between types of governments. These all have foundations in internal education and communications systems that serve to build the nation states on strategic and tactical bases and create the conditions for success and failure of the nation state. Increasingly the world is replacing transportation with communication and thus the ability to communicate effectively and convey messages in the information environment is critical to national security for the Western nations. Issues like global warming and research priorities increasingly dominate the reality of competition between nation states. All of these lead to the need to have a clear understanding of the technical issues underlying national security in order to create and sustain the institutions that ultimately feed the future of the nation state.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Romm, Joseph J. (1993). Defining national security: the nonmilitary aspects. Pew Project on America's Task in a Changed World (Pew Project Series). Council on Foreign Relations. pp. 122. ISBN 9780876091357. Retrieved 22 September 2010 (full view). 
  2. ^ a b c d e Paleri, Prabhakaran (2008). National Security: Imperatives And Challenges. New Delhi: Tata McGraw-Hill. pp. 521. ISBN 9780070656864. Retrieved 23 September 2010. 
  3. ^ Definition of "national security" from the Macmillan Dictionary (online version), Macmillan Publishers Limited. Accessed 22 September 2010.
  4. ^ Quoted in Paleri (2008) ibid. Pg 52.
  5. ^ Definition from "Proceedings of Seminar on "A Maritime Strategy for India" (1996). National Defence College, Tees January Marg, New Delhi, India. quoted in Paleri 2008 (ibid).
  6. ^ Brown, Harold (1983) Thinking about national security: defense and foreign policy in a dangerous world. As quoted in Watson, Cynthia Ann (2008). U.S. national security: a reference handbook. Contemporary world issues (2 (revised) ed.). ABC-CLIO. pp. 281. ISBN 9781598840414. Retrieved 24 September 2010. 
  7. ^ Maier, Charles S. Peace and security for the 1990s.Unpublished paper for the MacArthur Fellowship Program, Social Science Research Council, 12 Jun 1990. As quoted in Romm 1993, p.5
  8. ^ MacFarlane, S. Neil; Yuen Foong Khong (2006). S. Neil, MacFarlane; Yuen Foong Khong. eds. Human security and the UN: a critical history. United Nations intellectual history project (illustrated ed.). Indiana University Press. pp. 346. ISBN 9780253218391. Retrieved 23 September 2010. 
  9. ^ a b c Haftendorn, Helga (March 1991). "The Security Puzzle: Theory-Building and Discipline-Building in International Security". International Studies Quarterly (Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The International Studies Association) 35 (1): 3–17. JSTOR 2600386. 
  10. ^ Davis, Robert T. (2010). Robert T. Davis. ed. U.S. Foreign Policy and National Security: Chronology and Index for the 20th Century. Praeger Security International Series (Illustrated ed.). ABC-CLIO. p. xiii-xiv. ISBN 9780313383854. Retrieved 25 September 2010. 
  11. ^ Taylor, Gen Maxwell (1974). "The Legitimate Claims of National Security". Foreign Affairs (Council on Foreign Relations, Inc.) (Essay of 1974). 
  12. ^ "National security." in US NATO Military Terminology Group (2010). JP 1 (02) "Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms", 2001 (As amended through 31 July 2010). Pentagon, Washington: Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Department of Defense. p. 361. Retrieved 19 September 2010. 
  13. ^ Obama, Barack. National Security Strategy, May 2010. Office of the President of the United States, The White House.[1]. Accessed 23 September 2010.
  14. ^ "Security." in "Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms", 2001 (As amended through 31 July 2010) op.cited. Pg 477. Accessed 26 September 2010.
  15. ^ Security: a new framework for analysis. Lynne Rienner Publishers. 1998. pp. 239. ISBN 9781555877842. 
  16. ^ Diamond, Jared. "Malthus in Africa: Rwanda's Genocide". Retrieved 26 September 2010. 

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