10 December 2018

The forgotten values of national security

Niculae Iancu

National security is not an abstract concept devoted exclusively to history pages, to normative security strategies or to opaque, even classified, professional literature. National security is a cognitive referential, an impulse for an active attitude, and objective practice, all founded on the essential values and the core principles of a nation. The major changes of the global security architecture and the increased uncertainties of security environment and phenomenology are calling for the revaluation of the security concepts, from significations to effectiveness and from arguments to consequences. The endurance of a concept is built through the endorsed values, meanwhile its strength through its capacity to create an increased worth. As for the national security, these valences are multiplied by its intrinsic connection with people’s life and state’s existence, regardless of the context or gradation. This connection is all the more important today as Romania’s Great Union Centenary celebration is creating, for the Romanian society, the outstanding opportunity to (re)define the contemporary significances of national security, at the border between the inconsistences of the past and the uncertainties of the future.

Image source: Mediafax

Multiplying security

The end of the Cold War meant, for the majority of the observers on international security dynamics, the end of threats, with their realistic-traditionalistic accepted meaning, and the idea of founding rousing the “Eternal peace”, thanks to the extension, without major predictable obstacles, of the western liberal democracy. It was the momentum wherein the only uncertainties were connected to the democratization speed towards the great beyond, which was recently out of colonialism’s chains, as well as to the rhythm of national borders’ relevance under the huge pressure of the unifying forces of globalization. The global governance, seen by the classics of security studies as the only conventional guarantee of major conflicts end, was passing from the political utopias plan to the space of realistic options, in the absence of any strong impeachments of the new world order signification. The multiplication of the international agreements in all political, economic, military and social strands, along with the extension of the role of founder organizations of the actual international system, the leading one being the UN, were creating norms and procedures, as well as the behavioural framework of moral and ethical deportment of a global family of states, which was becoming happier and happier, despite its almost exponential growth.

Furthermore, the mutual agreements started to justify the states authority submissions towards superior levels of negotiation and decision, in a more and more interdependent multilateralist world. All these transformations allowed the emergence of some new international cooperation formats, starting from fading the borders, up to adopting unique currencies or founding new common governance approaches. The most relevant example of these transformations is the European Union project, which had developed despite all the scepticism, and had started to inspire also other political-economic integrations, with more or less extended visions as, for example, the Cooperation Organization from Shanghai, the Eurasian Economic Union and the African Union or like the possible future Pan-Arab Union.

In this new world, the classical significances of national security got gradually lost in this new extremely generous and inclusive type of semantics, which encouraged security meanings extension on unseen spaces and depths, since the emergence of the nation state concept, more than three and a half centuries ago. Moreover, security slowly became a complementary term, more like a prefix for the foundation of a contemporaneous speech, dedicated more to activating people emotions, than to adding up some quantifiable force factors. In fact, security had started to be transformed from aim to argument and from value to justification, across some syntactic structures like economic security, energetic security, environment security, food security, cyber security and many other types of sectorial securities embeded in all the fields of some increasing standardized communities, with more and more faded identities due to the globalization impact.

The first instinct of security authorities was to transferee the defining principles of national security to all these emerging sectorial securities. As consequence, besides the dilution of concept intrinsic traditional meanings, this phenomenon led to the continuous corrosion of the theoretical borders of national security, by bringing some multiple exogenous meanings, which previously were seen as pejorative within the elitist circle of traditionalist military strategic thinking, based on the glorious heroism acts on the battlefields. The cognitive unbalances determined by the continuous devaluation of national security field led to the multiplication of such a phenomenon effects, as the increasing of security overall costs and the simultaneous decrease of national security cohesive values. The payback was reimbursed, finally, through the significative decrease of security political discourse coherence, the excessive fragmentation of national security institutions missions and, maybe mostly, by affecting the social trust and appreciation of people who have chosen to dedicate their life, with altruism and devotion, to the defence of national security.

The change

Though, three decades after the start of the beautiful story of unfettered freedom and new multiple securities, the current reactivation of military threats surprised the security scholars maybe more than their earlier evanescence. The return to realism principles and the reaffirmation of statehood central role across the national security strategies of the main actors within the international system provoked leaders’ anxiety regarding the communication approaches of security new references points against their own citizens. They were forced to rediscover the defining valences of the national security traditional language, risking its unsuitability with the new political and social realities. Furthermore, they had to create new meanings for the classical definitions of national security to convince people that what they have had asked them previously to understand it was changed, it is again as beforehand.

As consequence, the security institutions started to rethink their priorities. People serving throughout these institutions started to rediscover new professional cultures and profiles, which seemed lost or obsolete. In their minds and souls emerged distressful dilemma: Which way to go? The comeback to the old values of national security or the anticipation and forging of the new national security values?

National security values

Which are those national security values that we are trying to rediscover today, without even thinking we could understand them anymore in the depth of their inspirational significances for what, in the bygone era, our predecessors were simply calling, love or human sacrifice for an ideal, uplifting through its ennoblement capacity?

Maxwell D. Taylor was publishing in the prestigious American magazine Foreign Affairs, in May 1974, a brilliant essay about “The legitimate claims of national security”. In his paperwork, Taylor was underlining the apparently critical decrease, at that time, of the national security’s capacity to aggregate the American society’s resources to face the more and more extended gamma of dangers, either natural or man-made. Its arguments were based on a definition of “national values”, coming from the core nation-state concept: “The national valuables in this broad sense include current assets and national interests, as well as the sources of strength upon which our future as a nation depends. Some values are tangible and earthy [like the economic assets and natural resources], others are spiritual or intellectual [like the identity reference points and sovereignty arguments]. […] It is the urgent need to protect values such as these which legitimizes and makes essential the role of national security”.

Starting from this definition, one can make a great examination of the deep significances and contemporary meanings of national security intangible values and, especially, of the methods by which these can still use, naturally, the energy and resources to create the final desideratum of any security architecture, the current and future wealth of any country’s citizens. Restraining the analysis to intangible values is forced by space bindings, but also by their priority comparing it with national security’s tangible values.

National identity. Theoretically speaking, the national identity is not such an old concept as one may think. In fact, it emerged as an admittedly concept created by the old syntagma like “national sentiment” and “national consciousness”, which came along with the national consolidation processes in the post-Westphalian era. This is why the national identity is so profoundly subjective and can be comprehended as the common denominator of the traditions, culture, language, history and even political behaviour of a nation. This identity is internalized by community’s members and becomes part of people’s identities as beliefs, values, expectations and, furthermore, it has the power to reflect itself throughout their human, moral and professional behaviour.

It is leaders’ duty, regardless of the time and space of their existence, to make national identity manifest itself throughout the communities led by substantial loyalties, intellectual solidarities, eloquent narrations and rational allegiances. Failing in accomplishing such a mission will emerge from the contingency and identity alienation, callosity and concession, from impeachment and disintegration. The national identity includes the pride to be part of a nation and brings with it the feeling of responsibility against it, by freely assuming the duty to protect it, throughout the entire nation. This is why the majority of security theoreticians are approving the idea that the national identity is becoming the leading force of people’s actions against major threats, in crisis and conflict situations. As consequence, the national security is deeply dependent on the intensity of the collective feeling of national identity and appears in the analysis and political discourse as some concepts, like nationalism or patriotism, sometimes with the unfortunate tendencies towards ultra-nationalism or chauvinism. The huge impact of these in security study it is one of its essential dimensions, classified in the security literature, specifically the subjective dimension of security.

National sovereignty. The Westphalia Peace from 1648 marked the instauration of the reality of a system of responsible states against their own internal affairs, with a distribution of foreign interactions to ensure the equilibrium of their individual influence and expansion ambitions. The working principles of the new international system would have been embedded in what we call today sovereignty concept, and the system central agent, since than moment and until now, would become the state. The confluence of nation and state concepts during the revolutions from the first half of 19th centuries created the idea of nation-state, around which even now gravitates the meanings of national security, together with the national identities’ ones. State supremacy throughout the international system is one of the fundamental principles of a significant number of existing security theories and ensures the continuous increase of national security policies and strategies, regardless of the governance approaches or dominant ideologies. The sovereignty uniqueness conveys its protection mission full scope and, implicitly, its dimension in defending all statehood constitutive elements. Moreover, the sovereignty territoriality, together with the nation’s auto-governance capacity, are defining the concept of independency.

The post-Cold War era questioned the consistency of national sovereignty traditional meanings, in a world which was profoundly marked by the dynamic of the all-embracing forces. Statehood centrality throughout the international system was more and more exposed to impeachments, which was the perfect timing for the emergence of new types of super-stately and non-national sovereignty. Paradoxically, the conceptual break down of national sovereignty determined the increase of national budgets dedicated to security and defence, despite the supposedly pacifying meaning of the global evolutions. Consequently, on how the current governances will be able to identity the coincidences between national sovereignty and the other types of sovereignty, to incorporate them in national identity points, will depend the success of the unifying projects, emerged from the universalist principles of the society and, implicitly, of the security future. The abstract level of national sovereignty concept and, briefly, of the state, is creating what the scholars assert the symbolic dimension of security.

Individual liberties. People are the irreducible unit of analysis of the national security concept. People’s security has multiple faces, regardless if it is about health, statute, wealth, education or freedom. Individual security complexity is creating numerous ambiguities, but as for the current essay, it can be assumed the general idea accepted by a vast majority of scholars, as well as by the public, that, in fact, it represents the feeling of safety or, in other words, the feeling of protection against perils of any kind.

Security, regardless of the extension, it can be better defined if related to the threat concept. This duality allows the better understanding of the fact that the subjective feeling of safety and the objective existence of security, which is the condition free of threats, are different aspects of the same reality. Individual’s security is becoming an intrinsic value of the national security because of human social nature, and the simple fact that they are belonging to a nation creates the idea of multiple types of threats, from the physical ones up to the ones against civil liberties and rights. Regarding the last ones, we can see that there are some continuous concerns of the majority of philosophy and political sciences studies various fields to explain the fundamental dilemma: security vs. freedom. This is about the fragile equilibrium, when established, between the individual freedom of action and its possible transformation into a threat against other individuals’ freedom throughout society. Additionally, it emerges the issue of how the state can ensure society protection against such unitary threats, without falling into oppression. The dilemma is increased by the Hobbesian hypothesis of the anarchical nature of human behaviour, which decides the collision between individual liberties, so that people insecurity level it becomes proportional with their level of freedom. This hypothesis allows the security scholars to say that if a state wants to protect their own citizens rights and liberties, then it must accept and assume the existence of an inevitable insecurity level, which cannot be neglected throughout the national security analysis. The relevance of such an analysis is increasing across the democratic regimes, wherein the governments have the responsibility to protect civil rights and liberties, as a fundamental purpose of the national security and a fulcrum of any state major objective and of any security strategies.

Even if some disputable indulgences appear, it can be accepted the idea that the individual has the largest openness to direct measure, comparing it with state’s security or the international system and, consequently, at this level of analysis, it can be established the existence of the objective dimension of security.


The huge relevance of the fine line between freedom and security allows us to measure the exceptional importance of national security strategic decisions impact over the citizens and of the direct effect of people’s safety feelings in shaping the collective behaviours, up to the highest level of the national identity. Implicitly, patriotism tendencies and national sovereignty size already passed through threats screen, assessed or increased by the national security political discourse. To that end, the current transformation of the international systems is demanding the necessary time to come over the multiple meanings of the forgotten values of national security and, possibly, their interpretation according to the contemporary realities of the security environment. Returning to concepts will offer the opportunity to discover some national security definitions which do not really need to be reinterpreted, modified or adapted. Reconsidering the national security values will allow the interpretation of a constellation of sentences whereon are built, today, security’s thinking schools, as well as the definition proposed by Barry Buzan, when the post-Cold War era emerged, in 2001: “Security is taken to be about the pursuit of freedom from threat and the ability of states and societies to maintain their independent identity and their functional integrity against forces of change which they see as hostile. The bottom line of security is survival, but it also reasonably includes a substantial range of concerns about the conditions of existence”. And to draw in for such an analytical process, it could be explored, even empirically, the changes the national security concept had over time, resorting to the national security definition proposed by David Omand in 2011: “National security today should be defined as a state of trust on the part of the citizen that the risks to everyday life, whether from man-made threats or impersonal hazards, are being adequately managed to the extent that there is confidence, that normal life can continue”.

Specifying the national security intangible values for what else does national identity and Romanian sovereignty mean and discussing its convergence and divergence points with other identities, especially with the European one, without any infatuation or steep generalization, is a necessary process in shaping the national security strategies to prove that Romanian strategic thinking is up on our times. This is all the more necessary, as today we are about to cross the threshold of the centenary of the Great National Union, at the end of a century of which successive sequences of major national security events have inspired generations of Romanians.