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Shifting Paradigms in Contemporary Security Studies

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Zaeem Hassan Mehmoud

“Every age has its own kind of war, its own limiting conditions, and its own peculiar preconceptions. Each period therefore, would have held its own theory of war, even if the urge had always and universally existed to ensure security on scientific principles”              -Carl von Clausewitz

The 20th century from a perspective of security and strategic studies has seen unprecedented developments that continue to influence and guide policymakers to this day. It remains to be one of the most studied and debated theme by scholars, journalists, historians, political scientists and military professionals. The period commands respects, as there is a degree of consensus among the intelligentsia that 20th century shaped the global order. It witnessed growing multipolar rivalry in Europe which had devastated effects in terms of two total wars, the First World War (1914-1918) and the Second World War (1939-1945), followed by a new kind of war, “The Cold War” where there was “no shooting but bleeding”. There were a number of after effects that stemmed out as a result of these developments, these included decolonization and emergence of independence states, the formation of the United Nations (to replace the defunct League of Nations) and vast array and additions in the definition of security that was now not limited to security of the state but was now extended to contemporary matters such as human security, environmental security, maritime security, nuclear security and from other non-state elements. The age provided what is called in strategic studies, Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), the concept of security was extended to the high seas with the developments of submarines and frigates, similarly it was extended to the airspace with the emergence of the Air Force in the latter half of First World War, with bombers and missiles adding a new dimension of war in the strategic security equation. In the latter part of 20th century, during the Cold War, there were discussions on the use of using the outer-space for defence purposes, which under the US administration of the then President Ronald Reagan was known as “Strategic Defence Initiative” (SDI) or simply called the “Star Wars”. The significance of the difference between international security in the 20th century and that in 21stcentury, maybe understood by the shift in terminology where increasingly scholars and political experts prefer to use “global security”instead of the former, as the definition now extends to non-state actor groups such as corporations (some of which, for instance Fortune 500 are financially stronger and amass influence greater than a group of few developing countries), supra-national bodies such as the UN and non-state terrorists.

The concept of security is one that evolving on the basis of development. It can be said that previously pandemics were not considered as major security threat prior to the Covid-19, however in the post-Covid era, experts are of the opinion for many number of years it will continue to overcast shadow on the strategic thinking of the policymakers. Major security threats in the 21st century include: cyberwarfare, information warfare, media warfare. Although propaganda has remained a cornerstone principle of major wars from historical times, which was well utilized by ancient civilization of Greece to that of Nazi’s during the Third Reich and continues to be strategically employed by nation-states today, however it has become easier and much widespread thanks to technological developments. Now a person, can get regular disinformation and propaganda based news on their cellphones (via whatsapp and other social media). There is so much information out there (termed as information boom) that a layperson may have hard time discerning the truth from that of politically motivated propaganda.

Most part of the 20th century, security was associated with “use of force between states,” it revolved around the territorial integrity of states. However, that territory since later developments in the century has resulted in a degree of interdependence, which has made the states borderless. For centuries, Europe was the “centre of war and conflict”, today with the creation of European Union (EU), it acts as one on monetary and fiscal policy. There is the European Central Bank (ECB) which determines the interests rate for investment and saving, a European Parliament which oversees different regulatory and legal task, a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that has the power to even overrule the state courts, according if member states are in violation of the signed European Convention on Human Rights. In the previous times, this could have seen as a violation of security and sovereignty, but remains perfectly accepted and legal by members of the EU. The new developments in the concept of security are actively practices by bodies such as EU.

Nevertheless, despite the attempts to “broaden and deepen” the meaning of security, the concept remains contested in international relations and politics. For Walter Lippmann, it is the extent to which a nation state is not in the danger of giving up its core values. For Hedley Bull, it means safety that may be objective (that is it actually exists) or subjective (that is felt or perceived). Barrey Buzan calls it “an underdeveloped concept” due to complex nature. He is of the opinion, that there is an overlap between concept of security and power. Buzan also argues that it so as the “policymakers find the ambiguities in ‘national security’ as useful,” therefore the concept is neglected.

Mark Twain famously said that, “History does not repeats itself but rhymes”. A situation similar to that of 20th century is being witnessed in the present era. A number of leading states such as the US have now shifted their focus from “counter-terrorism to great power rivalry” terming China and Russia as major security concerns. France has recently released military doctrine that has called for “war preparation by the armed forces to be completed by 2023”. Lessons of the past have been forgotten, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism is on the rise with the populist right-wing neo-nazis and fascist regimes gaining followers in Europe.  Summarizing the above, security in the 21st century has become more complex than ever before. Previously it was only the states that were central in the security apparatus, however today in the globalized world, the concept of security may well be extended to the citizens of a particular country that maybe living elsewhere, the economic and the environmental interests. A number of the above mentioned threats have taken shape of being transnational and some even borderless. If there is a trade war between US and China, the whole world gets to have its trickle down effects that include slowing down of global economy, possibly less industrial manufacturing, and lower demand of energy products such as crude oil. Globalization, lately has been on a rather back front, nationalism is being promoted by so-called major democracies. Free trade by states such as US, is out of favor being replaced by tariffs and regulations that has the potential to spiral into a never ending trade war.

Zaeem Hassan Mehmood is PhD scholar International Relations & Political Science at Greenwich University. He has a Masters of Philosophy in Strategic Studies from National Defence University Islamabad. He was associated in the capacity of Research Analyst with the National Institute of Maritime Affairs (NIMA), a center of excellence established by Government of Pakistan to provide policy guidelines to address various challenges in the maritime industry. During this time, he was an Associate Editor for Maritime Watch, Pakistan’s first monthly news digest on maritime affairs. His writings have appeared on reputed national and international policy platforms including Austral: Brazilian Journal of Strategy & International Relations, Malaysian Journal of International Relations and Andalas Journal of International Studies. Zaeem serves as a reviewer for International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences. He can be reached at zhmehmood42[at]gmail.com