This pandemic must change states’ ideas of national security
In a contemporary strategic environment, states rely on a conventional understanding of international politics to formulate alliances and have common security. Usually, reliable means for state security is military power. But in the 21 century, states must understand new patterns of global security which are not a part of traditional decision making processes. The entire concept of national security needs revision at the national, regional and global level.
For the shared future of humanity and for collective security, states need to think about non-traditional security parameters, which include providing security in environmental degradation, economic crises, mass migrations, pandemics, communal and cultural identities and many other areas.
Developing countries with major investments in military power, are at a disadvantaged position to counter emerging non-traditional security threats. These include states in South Asia like Pakistan and India which have never brought non-traditional security threats into national security institutions. Such states will have difficulty developing the capacity of their institutions to deal with new threats.
For the first time in the history of Pakistan, a disease has been discussed in the National Security Committee (NSC) and the Corp. Commanders Conference has viewed it as a threat to national security. Since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic, more than 186 countries have over 15,000 fatalities as of Monday.
Now, a new national security definition needs to be part of Pakistan’s national security apparatus-- covering the environment, public health, pandemics, economic crises and other areas of public interest.
NSC is the highest body for taking measures on national security issues, and one which has never discussed public health as a national security risk. This has given new meaning to the national security of the country since the platform brought the Prime Minister, provincial chief executives, services chiefs, federal and provincial health advisers and ministers, and the surgeon general of the Pakistan army and other officials to the same table.
Meanwhile, public health is a provincial subject and provinces have to spend money on health looking at their priorities, population and resources. Additionally, provinces and the central government may have to ink a new agreement about how to deal with such situations because airports and borders fall into the federal government’s domain while public health is a provincial subject.
Meanwhile, the NSC needs to develop a comprehensive strategy to bring issues of non-traditional security into its platform. Now, all provincial governments have requested the army to assist in aid of civil power because the civilian apparatus lacks the capability and outreach required.
Pakistan was among six countries back in 2017 who took steps to evaluate its ability against a global pandemic according to the World Bank. Now, a new national security definition needs to be part of Pakistan’s national security apparatus-- covering the environment, public health, pandemics, economic crises and other areas of public interest. The army already considers the economy a national security subject in Pakistan.
All of South Asia has been affected by Covid-19, so there must be a regional response to the pandemic. For a time, SAARC has been largely dysfunctional in part due to India’s designs to isolate Pakistan diplomatically.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Modi called a special session of SAARC heads of state and pledged $10 million toward a coronavirus emergency fund. But there remains a trust deficit among states for cooperation. States need to sit together to address the changing nature of national security for the two billion people of South Asia.
The international community must call a special session of the General Assembly for innovative policy actions. The international labor organization has said that by the end of the year, workers could lose $3.4 trillion dollars in income.
The fact is, disease outbreaks in the world have multiplied since 1980 and it is clear to see that the way international society has responded to the current pandemic by closing down borders and reversing globalization, countries everywhere are poorly prepared for dealing with non-traditional security threats. When this pandemic is over, long-term measures must be taken for global society at large and not in isolation for only specific regions.
*Qamar Cheema is a strategic and political analyst. He teaches International Politics in the Department of International Relations” in National University of Modern languages, Islamabad.