The first duty of government, it is often said, is to provide for the security of its people. But what is security? For whom, and from what? UK governments typically view security through a military lens; but the real threats affecting the security of people in the UK and worldwide, most urgently the climate crisis, are not susceptible to military force, and indeed military interventions by the UK and its allies this century have had an overwhelmingly disastrous impact on peace and security.
The central role of the military in the government’s understanding of security is reflected in budgetary allocations. There is thus a widespread consensus on maintaining military spending at a minimum of 2% of GDP, the NATO target, with many politicians calling for far higher levels. Meanwhile, the climate crisis, the most urgent threat to human security worldwide, receives far less funding.
Military security or sustainable security
This report argues for a shift of focus both in understanding of security and in resources away from military security and towards a concept of sustainable security that prioritises the security of people over that of states and addresses the underlying causes of conflict and insecurity. In particular, the climate crisis needs to be treated as the urgent, devastating and present threat to human security that it is, with resources allocated accordingly.
Arguments for higher military spending typically start from the premise that the world is an ever more dangerous place. While this contains an element of truth, such arguments are based on a narrow and fundamentally flawed understanding of security centred on military power. The conclusion that what is needed is greater military force from the west is fallacious. Indeed, it has often been the actions of the UK and its allies that have made the world more dangerous, as in Iraq.
Non-military security challenges are minimised or ignored. Climate change, for example, is barely mentioned in the Government’s most recent Strategic Defence and Security Review. When mentioned, they are often framed in terms of the impact on national security, and approached with ‘hard’ security responses, such as militarised borders to deal with mass migration. Meanwhile, ambitions for the UK to retain or regain status as a ‘great military power’, able to project military force around the world, are presented as essential requirements for security, on a par with ensuring the survival and sovereignty of the nation.
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