The traditional concept of national security dates back to the 1648 Treat of Westphalia’s formalization of the nation-state (or some would say, ‘national security state’) in Europe. It defines ‘security’ narrowly, as the deterrence of external military threat, and, most damaging of all, buys such security as it possesses at the expense of others: a costly ‘zero-sum’ model. Thus we have a potent “buzz word,” security, used to justify endless sacrifices of treasure and democratic rights, with at best a highly unstable and unsatisfactory result.
In recent years a number of alternatives have arisen to replace that narrow and outmoded concept. There is human security, that the proper referent for security should be the individual rather than the state; total security, aimed at security not merely from military attack but through sufficiency of food, clothing, healthcare and shelter and all the necessities of a decent life for all; and perhaps most importantly common security, which recognized that the only way to be truly secure for any nation or individual is with others, not against them. Common security consists of acknowledging that the safety of a nation is determined by the safety of all, including the fundamental rights to safety and security of every nation, even those of political antagonists (member states of the European Union have banished the death penalty in the interest of fundamental rights to all).
Common security practices are rooted in cooperation and trust among nations, including cultural exchange programs and economic incentives, with an emphasis on arms reductions and nuclear disarmament. The traditional concept of ‘security’ is based on threat power while these alternatives are based on integrative power: in a word, they are nonviolent in conception.
Alternative security is a portmanteau term for these complementary approaches.