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The Security Dilemma

Security is anything that ensures the person a sense of safety or assures him/her of their well-being, which in other words means safety from any kind of threat. It doesn’t necessarily mean military security and/or can mean as a guarantee that an obligation will be met. Security is the degree of resistance to, or protection from, harm. It applies to any vulnerable and valuable asset, such as a person, dwelling, community, nation, or organization. Security provides “a form of protection where a separation is created between the assets and the threat.” These separations are generically called “controls,” and sometimes include changes to the asset or the threat.

A narrow interpretation of security focuses on the state and its defence from external military attacks. In response, various scholars have wanted to include non-military threats as a concept of security. The Copenhagen school highlights that it shifts its perspective from the traditional military concept of security which is solely about survival. It’s when an issue is presented posing as an existential threat to a designated referent object (traditionally, but not necessarily, the state incorporating government, territory, and society). 

With a realist perspective, the focus on security is mainly on the character of states rather than that of an individual. This focus means that the concept of security is primarily an idea that led to an intractable dilemma. In the wake of Arnold Wolfer’s article where he talks about the ambiguity of security as a concept was also based on the perspective of national security, which further reinforced the decision that security was unlikely to prove fruitful as a broad concept. It stated, ‘It would be an exaggeration to claim that the symbol of national security is nothing but a stimulus to semantic confusion, though closer analysis will show that if used without specifications it leaves room for more confusion than sound political counsel or scientific usage can afford’. Here it suggests national security, not only as a means but also as an end. Traditional security thinking has been associated with the intellectual hegemony of realism, which has dominated the subject for half a century. 

Ever since the cold war period, security scholars have focused their approach on a military basis. If military force was relevant to an issue, it was considered to be a security issue otherwise, it was consigned to the category of low politics for the state. Barry Buzan, Professor of International Studies, has mentioned over and again how a central concept like security can be ignored with military studies being the central concept of security studies rather than security. He not only argues that security is an ‘essentially contested concept’ defying pursuit of an agreed definition, but it asserts that there is not much point struggling to make it uncontested. He also offered to make terrorism a “part of normal politics” which means equating terrorist attacks with that of car accidents or other everyday risks that people are aware of and are willing to take. This concept can be considered similar to that of not negotiating with terrorists as it legitimizes their cause.

A policymaker should be aware that while military security may still dominate, at any moment the other sectors are still present, by and wide, and may bypass military security. Here, one tends to think about environmental safety and the likelihood that if global warming and rising sea levels begin to affect the lives of both people and states where they will have no option but to rethink their security priorities. In the 21st century, we have to realise that we need a new approach to security as it has already cost a lot of lives and if left untreated, they could have serious consequences. Repression of human rights, ethnic and religious rivalry, economic breakdown, and so on can create dangerous domestic instability that, in turn, can exacerbate tensions leading to violence, refugees, and possibly inter-state conflict.