Politics and policies regarding defence and security still think about the world too much in terms of their own agenda, rather than taking a comprehensive approach. We have to change how we think about and how we “do” our security and defence systems.
The ongoing COVID19 pandemic should be seen as a great window of opportunity to step out of our routine way of thinking. Now, before the shock is absorbed, it is a good time to search for different perspectives.
This text advocates for a holistic point of view and a comprehensive approach when it comes to security and defence. While there is nothing especially new nor revolutionary about this, it not reflected in our polities, politics and policies.
In order not to sink into theoretical arguments, let us pinpoint several real-world examples of how desperately we need to rethink our traditional sectoral perception of security. More importantly, we should abandon so-called institutional myopia, by which the author means the tendency for a one-sided self-perception of a particular institution as being the only relevant and overemphasising the importance of its agenda.
If, for example, you would want to curb down paramilitary entities, then the ministries of defence, interior, education and the intelligence services should be coordinating closely together.
There is a problem when everyone is focused and aware only of their own agenda, with limited understanding and recognition of the interests of others.
Vulnerabilities and deficiencies exposed
COVID19 exposed several vulnerabilities and deficiencies in our security and defence systems. We have been cruelly reminded that corruption and bad governance are direct threats to human security manifested by empty stocks and missing medical supplies not only in V4 but virtually everywhere.
We have been cruelly reminded that highly vulnerable Roma minorities – ignored for a long time – in Slovakia can easily become victims of the most tragic COVID19 outbreaks, which are not the only issues of health and the protection of life but also mean the ever-looming threat of further antagonising this community.
Let us not forget we have a neo-Nazi party in parliament, which primarily rose on a platform of anti-Roma sentiments.
We equally witness the circumvention of emergency state laws in the Czech Republic or the invention of ad hoc structures such as the permanent crisis staff in Slovakia, as well as direct abuses in the form of a shameful power grab in Hungary and to some degree in Poland.
Crisis communication is rather chaotic, and many institutions are just now discovering Facebook as a major tool for their communication strategy rather than a peripheral and unwanted child.
Structures for strategic communication that could be in place for a long time only now warrant the attention of our policymakers, as something that would be nice to have.
Most ironically, the armed forces which were for a long time on the very margin of public interest and seriously underfunded are now the first to be called upon, the first to fill in deficiencies of other institutions and agencies even in areas which should not be their responsibility.
Crisis management and emergency responses in our countries seem to be somehow troubled by the lack of experience of joint actions, cooperation, and coordination between involved actors.
This leads to several important questions. How many exercises with various emergency scenarios, based on engagement with all levels of management have been realised in the last ten years? What were their findings? What measures and how were they implemented based on those outcomes?
While institutional myopia is surely not the only factor behind the above-mentioned issues, it is a common denominator connecting them and narrowing down our perspective into a tunnel vision – to think about the world only in terms of our own agenda.
In an interconnected world full of interdependencies, high uncertainty, unexpected chain causes and consequences, this is both reckless and dangerous. Acknowledging the character of the contemporary security environment is at the very core of whole hybrid threats or the new wars debate.
It is not about new, unprecedented or unique challenges we have never faced before. It is about unexpected complexities and their combinations, such as the local dispute over the Konev statute in Prague that was wrapped in an information campaign and led to an attack on the Czech embassy in Moscow and a diplomatic scandal.
Or, for example, insurgents who sustain violence not because of their ideological motives or political goals but for simple economic interests – since their leaders are heavily involved in organised crime.
We should challenge our mental models and our routines to changed realities. But are we ready for that? Are we ready to accept that our way of life, which we hope to protect, can be a source of threats to itself, for example in a case of climate change, environmental degradation, overpopulation, and other compound threats?
Are we ready to move from thinking about military, economy or any other sectoral security towards the security of critical societal functions? The answer is simple – no we are not.
The traditional perception that internal (typically the main competence of the ministry of the interior) and external security (of the ministry of defence) or any other sectoral security as isolated entities should be taken care of by dedicated, specialised institutions, is still too deeply embedded in our security and defence systems.
Our institutions and their cultures are permeated by Cold War-ridden bureaucracies, which any interaction with representatives of these ministries easily demonstrates.
Our great journey to remedy needs to start with a simple yet hardest thing. We must admit we have to change how we think about and how we “do” our security.
The business world already understood it. Many successful start-ups fuelled by digital technologies are going cross-sectoral and are effectively combining solutions from different worlds, such as a Dutch company producing automated aeroponic urban farm modules or a Polish company that developed a mobile laboratory device for disease diagnosis, which is able to identify dangerous pathogens.
Also, in academia, a multidisciplinary approach is a big thing, for instance in the field of design we see an intersection between materials engineering, biology and 3D printing technology.
The same should be applied to our security and defence systems, and if we say systems, we should think about them as having organic rather than mechanical nature. Let us go a little bit deeper around the lines of which such a paradigm reboot should go ahead.
A willingness to cooperate
Social cohesion is one of the key critical functions of society we need to secure. As such it is threatened by economical inequalities, differences between people from somewhere and anywhere, as David Goodhart defines it, corrosive outcomes of the ongoing digital revolution, poverty, general mistrust, and many other interconnected factors.
Social cohesion can be defined as the willingness of a society to cooperate witch each other in order to survive and prosper. Such cooperation cannot be based only on shared interest but also on shared values, culture and morality.
Except for totalitarian social engineering, it is important to stress that also democratic states have tools on how to cultivate social cohesion. Broadly speaking these come from the principles of good governance, transparency, and inclusive public and social policies.
Good governance is governance able to deliver and fulfil its part of the Lockean social contract. Transparency is a precondition of trust and elementary understanding of governmental policies. Inclusiveness in public and social policies is producing social capital is curbing down polarisation and creating space for participation and integration.
More specifically for security and defence, it is civil-patriotic education, an all-hazard approach to emergency planning, strategic communication, building a participatory partnership with the private and third sector, mechanisms of civic engagement in defence and security, frameworks for a self-organised community response, volunteer networks and active civil-military relations that are needed.
Many things can be learned from Baltic states and Scandinavia where a lot was done in recent years regarding the integration of citizens into the national system and improving the preparedness of individuals and society towards a broad spectrum of emergencies.
To put it simply we need to bring people in, offer them engaging opportunities for participation and cultivate their competences towards individual preparedness and responsibility for their communities. That is how we can get real resilience.
Meanwhile, we cannot forget about the need to reform our security and defence architecture focusing on horizontal channels for cooperative interactions between involved actors, strengthening joint decision-making, control, and evaluation on the top and coordination on all levels.
A good first step forward would be strengthening the executive competencies of national security council-like bodies, in other words, turning them into genuine above-sectoral security institutions.
Such configuration of our security and defence systems promise flexible, comprehensive and 360-degree wide responses towards threats and risk.
Author: Matej Kandrík