The Facelift of Global Security and Non-State Actors

Article co-authored with Svetlana Izosimova, Master’s student of International and European Relations at Linkoping University, Sweden.

Since the two World Wars and the end of Cold War, the concept of international security has become more complex and wide. Back then, international security was largely focusing on such fields as national-state security policy, strategic studies, defense studies, military studies, war studies, etc. The era of globalization created a context for the transformation of the international security studies arrangements. Today this field includes an increasing number of studies on economic security, human security, environmental, resource security and HIV/AIDS as a security issue.

Globalization and International Security Studies

The notion of the state as the primary unit of interest has similarly  changed. Globalization may exert influence upon global security through different means: producing economic changes, technological development (particularly involving communications and transportation) and border reduction (reflected in trade flows in goods, cross-border travel). Reaction to globalization may lead to a reassessment of key security threats and bringing in new actors.

More specifically, economic disparity and inequality cultivates social polarization and ends in protests and social unrest, international terrorism and civil wars. Cheap and fast access to advances in computers, communications and software leads to cybercrime and diffusion of power. The elimination of geographical borders, once heavily guarded,  moved such dangers as organized crime and the possibility of weapon proliferation to the new level.

Globalization transforms patterns for interdependence and cooperation by changing the environment under which nation-states operate. The key point is that globalization reduces the ability of states to unilaterally protect themselves in terms of responding to specific security threats which result from greater openness. The need for states to cooperate in managing the threats increases.

Change in the quality of threats

Traditional state-centric views of military security are challenged by globalization responsible threats. Almost none of these contemporary security threats are “new.” Concerning terrorism, proliferation, and civil war, they have existed as national threats since the 1940s.For example, in the nineteenth century, terrorism was used by anarchists and transnational revolutionaries who killed half of the  heads of state. In the twentieth century, World War I was triggered partly by such a terrorist-turned-assassin. It can be argued that with the spread of globalization and interdependence not only has the amount of transnational threats increased but they are of a new quality and type.

The ability to cross national boundaries with little hindrance undermines the security idea established by a system based on sovereign nation-states. All of the mentioned threats, from civil war, terrorism,  transnational crime, the proliferation of small arms, to HIV/AIDS are transnational. Using the same technologies and means of transport that have benefited globalization, these transnational security threats in fact do not target states but societies and individuals.

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Source: Erwin [email protected]

Another main feature that illustrates the quality change among security threats is the probability. In comparison with interstate war, civil conflicts have not only been on average about five times more frequent but the number of internal conflicts has also been steadily increasing since the end of World War II, while the occurrence of intrastate war has been relatively stable.

In addition, the new security threats are more diverse in terms of their scope and intensity. Intrastate wars can last for decades and might not involve a clear beginning and end point. Many such conflicts start with very low levels of violence, or they might involve long periods of low violence where it may seem that no war is taking place. The recently ended intrastate conflict in Sri Lanka, for example, lasted for over 25 years. Many such wars therefore are very ambiguous in terms of measuring precisely when they start or finish, or how they might shade into acts of terrorism, insurgency, genocide, organized crime, violence, or even interstate war.

Emergence of new actors

Globalization provides international actors with additional tools for enhancing their interests and power. More actors which assume the shape of threats are actively and directly involved in everyday international  affairs. That is why extremist and terrorist ideological groups for example achieved the ability to manipulate an audience by cultivating fear on the global scale. Rebel or resistance movements, warlords, criminal organizations, local militias, ethnic groups, and many other forms of armed opposition act on both national and international levels. The preferences and interests of these groups can vary widely from political goals to profit-making.

Nevertheless, non-state actors have not only contributed to the emergence of new security threats such as terrorism and transnational crime but they also play an important role in conflict managing and provision of security. Non-state actors included into patterns of interstate relations can be grouped into the categories of private actors and intergovernmental organizations. The former includes such actors as private companies, charities, local pressure groups, as well as national and international NGOs. The latter refers to multilateral institutions formed by sovereign nation-states.

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Source: Massy [email protected]

What makes the mentioned actors “new” in contemporary security is that they are challenging the role of the nation-state. States  no longer own the ‘monopoly’ on the legitimate provision of security. Moreover, some of these actors lay claim to a higher legitimacy than states because they are not operating in the interest of a single nation. With the increased complexity of the international system, the task of providing security became complicated. A system based on national sovereignty can be rather ineffective when it comes to tackle transnational challenges. Thus, non-state actors appear to be more suited for addressing contemporary threats because they can operate across boundaries by building on multilateral cooperation.

To be more precise, sovereignty is not lost but transferred from national to other levels: supranational and regional. States still play the central role in providing security. The changing nature of the global arena requires though a reconsideration of a exclusive state-centric approach in international security. This reconsideration can be observed in the fragmentation of political authority among governmental and nongovernmental actors.

The fragmentation of political authority is characterized particularly by the delegation of security functions from the state to such organizations as NATO and the European Union on the regional level, and on the global level to such actors as the United Nations or to private actors such as NGOs and private security companies. The functions and policy-making arrangements can be spread between all the actors. For instance, in the conflict with former Yugoslavia the United Nations and NATO provided military security, while NGOs dealt with humanitarian aid, and private security companies offered logistical support.

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Source: Medien [email protected]

For the last decades non-state actors have proved their significance and expanded their contribution to security policies. NGOs have become key actors in the provision of human security during conflicts. Private military companies increasingly offer military support services for national armed forces. International organizations, such as NATO and the European Union, have extended their functional and geographical scope and address a new range of security threats.

Conclusion

Globalization posed a new challenge to international security studies. During the recent period the meaning and nature of  primary national and international security threats have changed. A multitude of threats, such as terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, civil war, HIV/AIDS danger, ethnic conflict together with an increase in the number of non-state entities characterizes the world today. The state as the central focus of security studies found itself in the complex interdependence with various other international actors. While states continue to play a central role at the national level, they have to share authority in the formulation, implementation and monitoring of international policies, rules, and regulations with international organizations, NGOs and multinational corporations at the regional and international levels for the purpose of achieving international security. Moreover, the changing nature of threats and actors is making the concept of security more profound and wide by bringing it from the level of the state to societies and individuals and shifting from military to non-military issues.

References:

  • Kapitonenko, Mykola. Globalization, Nation-state, and Global Security, Arrangements. Europolis, 2009, Issue 6, p585-603
  • Krahmann, Elke. New Threats and New Actors in International Security. Gordonsville, VA, USA: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005
  • Nye, Joseph S. The Future of Power. New York: Public Affairs, 2011
  • Smith, Michael E.  International Security: Politics, Policy, Prospects. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010
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Claudiu Sonda
Passionate student of IR and European politics with an interest in developing a high-level expertise in International Security and geopolitics.