The Ultimate Weapon is No Weapon: Human Security and the New Rules of War and Peace
, by a career U.S. Army officer, Lieutenant Colonel Shannon Beebe, and Professor Mary Kaldor, director of the Centre for the Study of Global Governance
at the London School for Economics, is the product of an intriguing partnership. Despite the fact that their respective professions have often displayed distrust and hostility toward one another, the coauthors’ combined perspectives have created a particularly prescient and non-partisan challenge to the security status quo.
Beebe and Kaldor add to the growing call to re-evaluate existing constructs of “national security” and to reconsider the roles of Western militaries and international aid agencies in the globalized 21st century world. In particular, they emphasize the urgent need for a more nuanced understanding of security that includes humanitarian considerations as an integral component in these institutions’ agendas. This “human security” is the right of all people to livelihoods, clean drinking water, nourishing food, and education and proper health care, in addition to a safe and secure place to live, free from the fear of personal crime and violence.
Such insecurity affects us all even if it does not directly result in open warfare. According to Misha Glenny in his 2009 book, McMafia, it is estimated that 20 percent of the global GDP is generated through criminal activities, which exploit the weak and the vulnerable on a global scale. It is difficult to say what role the traditional Western military can play under situations in which vast networks of tyranny through corruption are rapidly growing.
Historical and General Context
The Ultimate Weapon is No Weapon is a persuasive argument in favor of deconstructing the conventional credo of war that has dominated U.S. military theory since World War II. Beebe and Kaldor argue that the political and financial capital mined from the Greatest Generation significantly influenced the “state-against-state” model of the American military machine, and then helped perpetuate and sustain it. The United States’ Cold War experience reinforced the notion that the goal of security is to defeat a great enemy, preferably in open battle using the best available military hardware.
But, the authors ask, did such displays of military superiority and readiness actually accomplish the strategic goal of maintaining our security in today’s world? Did we perhaps narrow the definition of security too much, and in using the wrong tools, did we worsen the very problems we set out to solve?
Beebe and Kaldor provide ample evidence to suggest we have taken the narrow approach, from NATO’s involvement in Yugoslavia, to the debacle in Somalia, and the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. The authors are not simply out to criticize the military, but instead suggest that the lines that define nation-states today no longer hold the same power that they once did. Other forces at work, from economic globalization to climate change, must be recognized.
Definitions and Prescriptions for a Changing World
When civilians become targets of violence, their resilience is weakened, write Beebe and Kaldor, for a variety of reasons that are often difficult to ascertain without on-the-ground intelligence. For instance, is violence against civilians intended to provide opportunities for political gain by certain groups, or just cover up criminal behavior intended for monetary gain? In this kind of environment, where does the modern Western military machine fit, and how can international humanitarian institutions be more effective?
Beebe and Kaldor contend that instead of developing strategic operations focused on killing the enemy, the military should be focused instead on creating safe spaces for civilians:
A human-security approach would emphasize bottom-up reconstruction of governance and justice systems, local security capabilities, and, of course, addressing poverty, education, and health. It would, as well, have to be part of a more global strategy for dealing with the transnational criminal networks, especially drug networks, that are nourished by and that nourish conflicts (p. 196).Even if it is not the sole responsibility of the military to provide such resources, the authors argue, failure to recognize the importance of human security or to protect resources will ultimately increase our security risks.
An Unobtainable Utopia or Early Warning?
Undoubtedly, the problems that the authors describe are real; it is time to re-evaluate what kind of world we want to live in and how this might be achieved. What should we do if there is no legitimate state government to negotiate with, and yet there is clearly a violent and deadly situation, such as the 1994 genocide in Rwanda? Would the American people tolerate spending money on a military operation without there being any direct sign of imminent threat or danger to them, and without the ability to declare some sort of traditional military victory? Or would their reaction be the same as Neville Chamberlain’s to Czechoslovakia in 1938, that human security merely describes “a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing?”
The recent intervention in Libya is a case in point. Speaking on Meet the Press recently, Secretary of Defense Gates admitted that the country was of no vital interest to the United States, and instead defended spending money on military air strikes based upon humanitarian grounds. Despite the clear mandate from the UN, NATO, and the Arab League to respond to this human security crisis, there has clearly been little appetite in the United States to lead military interventions in Libya without an obviously defined motive of self-interest.
The difficulty lies in explaining that basic security and instability have grave consequences, even across great distances, and that addressing potential conflicts early prevents the need for making harder choices later on. The U.S. Department of State has tackled that difficult task in the recent Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, which calls for greater focus on human security interventions as a way to avoid or mitigate future military conflicts.
Though a few of the solutions postulated in this book may seem overly idealistic to some, I would argue that Beebe and Kaldor’s ideas represent less a utopian vision than an early warning and plea for change in the years to come. Rather than succumbing to the easy temptation to fear globalization and the world outside our borders, we must learn to engage with and help create a thriving global civil community.
A must-read for a broad range of audiences, The Ultimate Weapon is No Weapon offers a historical and contemporary basis for envisioning a broader context to security and understanding that the “ultimate weapons of the twenty-first century are, in fact, not weapons in the military sense at all” (p. 202).
Tracy Walstrom Briggs is currently the Minerva Associate Chair for Energy and Environmental Security (USAF). She has worked with the Swedish Defense Forces (FOI) and the UN Environment Programme to facilitate more sustainable peacekeeping installations using rapid impact assessment tools. She was also a professor and associate chair for the Graduate Environmental Studies Program at California State University Fullerton.
Sources: HistoryVideos101, McMafia (Glenny), NBC, U.S. Department of Defense.
Photo Credit: “3-6 Soldiers Provide Medical Aid,” courtesy of flickr user expertinfantry.