3. the Changing Strategic Environment

By Griffith, Ivelaw L. | McNair Papers, October 1996 | Go to article overview

3. the Changing Strategic Environment


Griffith, Ivelaw L., McNair Papers


The world witnessed dramatic change and turbulence as the 1980s gave way to the 1990s. The changes critical to the Caribbean are examined in this section. But before doing this it is important to offer a commentary on the subject of security.

MEANING OF SECURITY

Security has long been a highly contested concept with a variety of definitions and usages, founded mainly on traditional realist theory. Hence, the traditional approach to security emphasizes the military variable, focuses on the state as the unit of analysis, and sees states as rational actors pursuing their national interests. Threat orientation is mainly external, and the utility of security countermeasures is measured largely in military terms. Security is considered part of a country's "high politics." Traditional realism has long been challenged, but the end-of-Cold War turbulence has led scholars to question increasingly the validity of the realist conceptualization of international politics generally, and of security in particular. (1) Consequently, advocacy for a postrealist definition of security has developed.

Postrealists believe that nonmilitary developments can pose genuine threats to long-term security and quality of life; that traditional concepts of sovereignty cannot cope with torrential transborder flows of narcotics, money, AIDS, arms, and immigrants; that no single country can combat these threats alone; and that new regional and international rules and institutions will be needed to cope with the nonmilitary threats facing most countries. (2) They do not exclude the military variable from the security matrix, but the economic, political, and, for many, the environmental variables are considered as equally important. Postrealists posit that internal security issues are important in their own right, complicating and sometimes aggravating external ones. Indeed, circumstances often are such that the distinction between "internal" and "external" threats and apprehensions is blurred. Moreover, not only are states no longer the only critical actors in the international arena, nonstate actors abound, and some of them wield considerable power, oftentimes more than states.

This new approach to security is progressively being embraced by professional military officers, (3) and not just by security scholars. Yet understandably, not all security analysts support it. Moreover, this "new thinking" does not represent a total debunking of traditional realism, for as Richard Falk has noted correctly,

   To challenge to centrality of realism does not imply its total
   repudiation. States do remain important actors, war does remain
   profoundly relevant to international relations, and many
   international settings can better be understood as collisions of
   interests and antagonistic political forces. (4)

If one adopts the postrealist approach to security, there are three structural and operational features of the still-transforming global environment with direct implications for the region:

* The changed structure of global military and political power

* Alterations in economic relationships

* Policy reprioritization by states which traditionally have had an interest in the Caribbean.

GLOBAL MILITARY AND POLITICAL POWER

The collapse of world communism and the concomitant end of the Cold War are at the center of the transformation in the first area. The bipolar character of global military-political power has been replaced by the reemergence of a multipolar global system. Not only is there evidence of multipolarity, but some scholars point to the development of the multidimensional basis of global power. One reputable scholar, for example, discerns the development of different currencies of power affixed to different poles of international power: military, economic and financial, demographic, and military and economic. He sees the poles varying in their productivities, with demographic power as more of a liability than an asset, and the utility of military power being reduced. …

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