National Security and History Part I A

Singapore, 10 January 2009

I have explained my belief that history must have a meaning beyond the mere collection of dates, incidents and episodes to every day life of the common man. It is another matter that a majority does not have any abiding interest in history. The other thread that I want to draw is of history being directly connected to national security. Currently, i.e after the attacks on the World Trade Centre in NY on 11 September 2001 and the subsequent increase in terrorist activities, national security has taken centre stage in all international discussions. The definition of national security itself has undergone a radical change.

What is National Security?

From about 1500 A.D. national security was defined as protecting the borders of the nation and ensuring its existence as an entity. This obviously meant that the military forces of a nation was the protector of the nation and the general populace could continue to live their lives without having to worry about their safety irrespective of the fact that their nation was at war. Of course the towns and villages at the border would suffer a certain amount of hardship, but any nation that had geo-strategic depth would not really be affected other than in terms of the expenditure of national resources. Before the advent of democratic governments the kings and other autocratic rulers were also military commanders of their armies for two main reasons. The first obviously was that they had to be at the forefront in protecting the geographic sanctity of the nation or kingdom in order to ensure that the people looked up to them for safety and peace. The second was perhaps a bit more personal. The army of a nation was always the most powerful group and if not directly controlled by the king, its commander could become a potential contender to usurp control of the nation and replace the king. History is replete with instances of such actions.

Under these arrangements – the king/queen assuring the protection of the people and the people in return giving their loyalty to him/her – worked well for a long time in history. In fact if the fielded armies of a nation was defeated in battle, the control of a nation passed to the victor without any tangible taking place in the lives of the common people in a majority of cases. I discount the oppressive measures instituted by the victors in wars fought over religion, and also generalise this for wars fought after 1600 A.D. or thereabouts. (The issue here is not really the actual date or battle that delineate the change in the aftermath of a conflcit, but the change itself).

This state of affairs continued even when democracy became the norm in the so-called civilised world (the demarcation of the world into civilised, first world and thrid world, developed and under-developed or developing [dependent on the political correctness of the writer] are all somehow not correct. I believe, that if there has to be a disctinction made, it should be between democratic and not democratic nations. I will list and explain my reasons in another post.) with the democratically elected government promising security, tranqulity and the freedom to improve themselves in all aspects of life to the general population in return for their adherence to the laid down laws of the land. Living within the law meant that the individual was willing to give up a certan amount of his/her personal freedom in return for the asurance that safety would be asured. This assurance of safety in return for security is a covenant between the government (elected by the people) and the people. The quantum of freedom that one was willing to give up normally equated to the percieved threat to the nation at large as viewed by the common individual. There is obviously an element of personal interest in this. What is acceptable to one culture and ethos, may not be acceptable to another and therefore the restrictiveness of the law will vary from nation to nation and people to people. This is where history comes into play.

History is a major factor in altering the perceptions of a people mainly through the collective subconscious and has a direct impact on how security is perceived and what they are willing to give up to ensure their safety. For example a nation or people who have been continuously at the receiving end of aggressive invasions, will always be more receptive to greater restrictions placed on their individual freedoms as compared to a people who have not historically suffered any great privations directly as a result of war or agression. This is an indelible connection between national security perceptions and history, purely in terms of the physical or geographic security of the nation. In this domain of national security, the military forces of a nation is the lead agency in ensuring the security. However, when the security of a nation starts to encompass domains other than the physical, then the role of military forces proportionaltely reduces.

The changes that take place in what constitutes national security, as defined by individual nations, and how history affects this will be discussed in the next part.

About Sanu Kainikara

Sainik School Kazhakuttam (Kerala), National Defence Academy 39/A, 108 Pilot's Course IAF, fighter pilot, QFI, FCL, psc, HACC, Voluntary Retirement as Wing Commander. Canberra-based Defence Analyst specialising in air power and national security. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Executive Masters in Public Adminsitration (ANZSOG) Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS) Distinguished Fellow Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)

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