Time for Canada to get serious on rethinking security for a post-pandemic world

Rethinking security needed now more than ever

On the occasion of the deployment of the UK’s new aircraft carrier to “Japan and back”,  Professor Paul Rogers has written another powerful article on the futility of our current approach to security in the face of catastrophic global threats. He writes:

For any hope of the human race’s survival, the lesson that must be learnt, first through COVID-19 and even more so with climate breakdown, is that war is increasingly irrelevant.

But the article also demonstrates the utter failure of war to address more traditional security challenges.

Discussing British airstrikes in Iraq on 4 May, he writes:

The strike was claimed to be against Isis ‘remnants’ in Iraq, the implication being that the war against Isis is virtually over. That stance is difficult to maintain at the same time as the top US general in Africa warned of a “wildfire of terrorism” on the march across northern Africa, from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, involving groups linked to Isis and al-Qaida, and a report confirming a powerful and growing Isis presence in Eastern and Central Africa, as well as across the Sahel.

Likewise, he references Afghanistan, “where the security situation worsens by the day”.

His conclusion:

[war] should be shelved as an obsolete practice in an era of common global threats that can only be met by cooperative action — and certainly not by warships.

To this we must add a comment made by Mansoor Faizy, editor-in-chief of the Afghanistan Times Daily, in an article printed in the Global Times. That media outlet is notoriously biased, but that makes Faizy’s question no less apt and poignant:

Imagine if the US had not declared war on terror, and the response to the 9/11 was rooted in police work, international law, intelligence sharing methods and winning hearts and minds and engag[ing] in talks instead of waging deadly war….

Human Security

Back in March 2021, before the UK Integrated Review 2021 had been officially released, but when it was clear it would eschew any concept of human security, Richard Reeve, of the aptly named rethinkingsecurity.org, wrote an article entitled The Case for a Human Security Strategy, which he describes as:

an approach first promoted by the United Nations in the 1990s that puts the experience and wellbeing of the individual at the centre of security policy.

The article goes on to describe some innovative efforts among some UK opposition parties and local governments to inject human security into the security discourse.

He concludes with the announcement that:

Rethinking Security is launching its own Alternative Security Review … to develop a Human Security Strategy for the UK.

We aim to change the way that security policy is generated, towards an approach that fundamentally promotes peace, human wellbeing and environmental sustainability.

For more on this initiative click here.

For more analysis of the tragic missed opportunity to chart a new course for Britain on human security, see another article by Professor Paul Rogers, entitled New security report shows UK government is content to swim in delusion (opendemocracy.net, 20 March 2021).

Rethinking security means putting international collaboration on shared challenges first

We have expressed concern in past blogs about the G7 Summit Declaration and particularly the NATO Summit Communiqué highlighting China as an adversary.

Those documents also contain language regarding cooperation with China, including this assertion by the G7:

we will cooperate where it is in our mutual interest on shared global challenges, in particular addressing climate change and biodiversity loss in the context of COP26 and other multilateral discussions.

This strange formulation (which is immediately preceded and followed by confrontational language regarding China) raises the question — where would it not be “in our mutual interest” to cooperate on “shared global challenges”?

This grudging acknowledgement of an existential cooperation imperative suggests the weight of Western efforts will continue to be elsewhere.

Geopolitical ‘old-think’ must be jettisoned

Geopolitics is traditionally the study of how political power is reinforced or undermined by geographical arrangements (boundaries, coalitions, spatial networks, natural resources, etc.).
From: International Encyclopedia of Human Geography, 2009

In his article on the lineage of the term “geopolitics”, historian Harold James reaches a refreshingly blunt and most astute conclusion:

Using “geopolitics” promiscuously achieves nothing, because invoking the term is no substitute for substantive discussions and an airing of conflicting interpretations.

Thinking in terms of great-power clashes, and sparring over who is the bigger hypocrite, will neither resolve international disagreements nor solve common problems. The only way to do that is to focus on what achieving common goals actually requires.

(For a non-paywalled version of this article, click here.)

On the issue of what will constitute a great power in the future, a former German Foreign Minister and Green Party leader, Joschka Fischer, has written an incisive article entitled The Last Thing This Century Needs (project-syndicate.org, 21 June 2021):

The idea of a Cold War II between the West and China has quickly evolved from a misleading analogy into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But contemporary China is nothing like the Soviet Union, and in today’s world, we simply cannot afford another clash of mutually exclusive systems.

Fischer asks what are the western goals in this new and dangerously counterproductive rivalry:

  • To force China to become more Western and democratic?
  • To contain (or slow down) China’s power?

He continues:

Given the scale of the Chinese market and the economic interdependencies it engenders, the idea that China can be isolated is absurd.

The article ends on a surprisingly positive note, with Fischer arguing that

the looming climate crisis… [is] a global challenge that will force the great powers to embrace cooperation for the sake of humankind, regardless of who is “Number One.”

In any event, in his view, the question of “who is on top” will not be decided through “traditional great-power” politics, but

by which powers step up to provide the leadership and competence that the situation demands.

This is a challenge that western democracies can and must meet. But our approach to date on vaccine equity, “the challenge of our time” in the words of the WHO Chief, finds us wanting.

(For a non-paywalled version of the Fischer article, click here.)

Whither Canada?

As we wrote in our blog on the defence aspects of the 12 April 2021 federal budget, there is no evidence whatsoever of any pandemic pivot in Canadian security priorities, with planned defence budget increases continuing apace.

In the view of Ceasefire.ca:

Once the pandemic is fully under control, it is essential that the government start to meaningfully engage in the global examination of what security means going forward.

We are not suggesting an integrated review like the UK has just completed, not least because of the drastically reduced capacity of Global Affairs in comparison to National Defence and our national security apparatus.

But a good starting point would be the launching of a Commission on Rethinking Security, to hear expert and other views (both within and without Canada), but also to undertake relevant studies and reports, to take account of, and contribute to, the burgeoning analyses in this area.

We call upon the Government of Canada to begin to prepare for the launch, as soon as the pandemic is fully under control, of a Canadian Commission on Rethinking Security to promote peace, human well-being and environmental sustainability

For a more positive view of the merits of Canada undertaking a UK-type integrated view, see: A foreign policy review for Canada – is Global Britain a model to emulate? (tandfonline.com, 24 June 2021).

Photo credit: CDC (coronavirus)

Tags: G7 Summit Communiqué 2021, geo-political, geo-politics, global cooperation, global cooperation to address global problems, Global War on Terror (GWOT), historian Harold James, Human security, Joschka Fischer, NATO Summit Communiqué 2021, Professor Paul Rogers, rethinking security, rethinkingsecurity.org, UK integrated review 2021, vaccine equity