Security: More Than Simply Defense

By Martino, Antonio | Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly, April 15, 2005 | Go to article overview

Security: More Than Simply Defense


Martino, Antonio, Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly


When dealing with problems of security one is often confronted with the idea that poverty is the underlying breeding ground for terrorism, today's principal threat to our security. This is not as self-evident as it is at times assumed.

Let me clarify by first dealing with the contemporary concept of security. The world we face today is poles apart from the world of the XX Century, when the threat to our security, which marked the whole Century, was that of war: two World Wars with an unprecedented number of victims and enormous destructions, and the Cold War which, had it become "hot", would have caused a planetary holocaust.

This is why the key concern at the time was that of defending Western Europe and its values - the Rule of Law, Freedom, Democracy and the Free Market - from the Soviet threat. The disintegration of the Soviet Union and of the Warsaw Pact has resulted in a revolution both in Europe and in the entire world.

After the collapse of the Soviet Empire and even more after September 11, the nature of the threat changed from that of global war to that of global terror. That's why we have been obliged to move from the concept of defense, the appropriate answer to global war, to that of security, the answer to terrorism.

Due to its nature, security differs from defense, in that it is an inclusive concept because - under certain conditions - the larger the number of countries belonging to a security organization, the more efficient it can be. This change has had a strong impact on the Atlantic Alliance and it helps to explain the enlargement of both NATO and the EU, the new relationship with Russia, and NATO's policy of "open door" towards new potential members.

In order to face these new threats the traditional concept of the armed defense of a country's territory is no longer applicable. It is clear that the new threats cannot be faced only with military action, but it is necessary - more so than in the past - to resort also to political, diplomatic, economic and cultural instruments. Phenomena such as international terrorism, illegal immigrations, arms and drugs trafficking cannot be faced only with weapons.

The historical moment we are living in is characterized, furthermore, by other challenges which are completely different from those of the recent past. The complexity of the world has increased as a consequence of increased "globalization" and of massive migration flows. All these aspects affect our security.

Let's go back to the interrelation of economic prosperity and security. Poverty and economic inequality do not seem to be the driving force behind terrorist organizations (some of their members, as we know, come from very wealthy parts of society) but can they offer, as it is often argued, a breeding ground for recruiting the cannon fodder of terrorist activities?

I doubt it. Can anyone seriously believe that terrorism is an effective way to improve one's economic condition? Or, to put it differently, can anyone believe that economic inequality can be reduced by killing innocent civilians?

On the other hand can the unequal distribution of wealth foster a sense of tolerance towards terrorism in those who consider themselves victims of neglect because of the inequitable sharing of the benefits of globalization? Again, it's hard to believe that the murder of civilians can be viewed as an acceptable way to redress real or supposed injustices.

I believe that in many cases it is simply futile to ask ourselves what motivates terrorists. That approach is implicitly based on the assumption that terrorists are rational. To the extend that some of them may be called rational, it seems to me that their rationality is different from ours: terrorists' motives in most cases are not for us to understand.

This does not mean that we should do nothing to help poor countries better their condition. …

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