home        author        address        articles        books        contact               


The Evolution of the Concept of Security

after the End of the Cold War*

Oleg Arin

1.   The Soviet Union's international security concept

 A strange fact draws attention: absent from the main foreign policy documents of today's Russia (the national security concept, the military doctrine, the foreign policy concept of the Russian Federation) is a clear formulation of the category of international security. In the Soviet Union's foreign policy documents this category was not just clearly defined; it was the core around which the USSR's foreign policy developed. Initially, the concept of international security was formulated as a set of regional concepts of collective security in Europe or in Asia. They were then transformed into the concept of all-encompassing international security, worked out in detail during the rule of Mikhail Gorbachev. This latter concept consisted of many components, but its main specificity was contained in two points. Firstly, it was stressed that security cannot be unilateral, i.e. serving the interests of just one country or group of countries (coalition); it can only be all-encompassing, i.e. serving the interests of every country in the world. Secondly, all security problems, including those in the military sphere, must be resolved through political means. Finally, a grandiose programme of universal disarmament was proposed for the period to year 2000.[1] In concentrated form the concept of international security was formulated thus: "National and international security is a factor of preservation of peace, founded on the mutual dependency of national and international security. The ensuring of individual states1 national security and international security in general is part of the general task of the current era: the preservation and strengthening of universal peace and prevention of nuclear war".[2]

 This formulation identifies two important points. The first one is the connection between international and national security. The second one is this: the prevention of nuclear war is the main goal of national and international security.

 It turns out that the latter goal was achieved through the defeat and removal from the political map of the world of precisely that power that was campaigning most actively for the prevention of nuclear war. In other words, the bipolar system had to be wrecked and replaced with a unipolar system for the topic of nuclear world war to be relegated to the backyard of world politics.

 The international security concept of the Soviet period did include some other components besides the nuclear weapons aspect. Professor M. D. Proector participated in the formulation of official concepts of international security. This is how he formulates this category: "Apparently international security is that state of international relations that creates the most favourable conditions for the sovereign development of states. For ensuring their full political independence, for defending their national, or alliance, or general interests from aggression and military-political pressure, for equitable relations with other states". [3]

 Great importance was accorded at that time to the concept of state sovereignty; this was less than 15 years ago. Today this concept is still mentioned in Moscow's official documents, but it does not occupy such a place of honour as before.

2.    National interests and national security

 It was said above and needs to be repeated: the official foreign policy documents of today's Russia no longer contain formulations of international security. But then, neither do the official documents of the USA. The same is true of non-official documents. A search of the Web for materials on international security (specifying the words international + security) once produced 234,000 entries, but in none of the hundreds of files could a definition of international security be found. At the same time thousands of materials on national security can be found in both Russia and the USA. This is quite symptomatic and indicative of rather curious regularities that will be explained below. Before proceeding to the explanation, I want to offer my variants of formulations of the terms international security, national interests, and national security.

 Thus interest is a category of politics that reflects the realization (subjectivization) of the state's objective needs. The foreign policy interests, i.e. national interests directed outward, are the expression of the state's general and particular needs that stem from its socio-political nature and also from its place and role in the system of international relations.

 Security (national) is a category of politics that means the ways, means and forms of ensuring the state's national interests both inside the country and in the system of international relations.

 Security (international) is a category reflecting that state of international relations which ensures the fundamental national interests of all subjects of world politics.

The difference between national and international security must be noted. National security is a policy, while international security is a state of affairs. The answer to the question which state of international security a given country prefers depends on how it understands its own national interests. Since these interests usually differ substantially between different powers, they are the internal sources of "danger", i.e. tensions, conflicts and wars in the world arena. This is why the formulation of the concept of national interests and the identification of threats to these interests must precede the formulation of national security policy.

3.    The fundamental external interests of Russia and the USA: differences and coincidences

 But first let us ponder the question: is it possible to construct a system of international security that would serve the fundamental interests of all countries? To answer it, one must analyse these fundamental interests, or rather, their formulations by the important actors of

 world politics. [4] Two countries may serve as examples: Russia and the USA, but to obtain a full picture, one must analyse the national interests of at least the ten most important countries in world politics.

 On the level of theory the following are usually included in fundamental interests: (1) territorial integrity; (2) independence, or political sovereignty; (3) preservation of the prevailing system, i.e. the political-economic regime; (4) economic development and prosperity, which depend to a large degree on interaction with the external environment. Let us see now how these interests are formulated in Russia and in the USA. It is convenient to use the two main documents: Russia's National Security Concept (approved in January 2000) and the latest variant of the American National Security Strategy For a New Century, prepared by the US National Security Council and approved by the President.[5]

 First let us note where the two countries' interests coincide: concerns about international terrorism and drug trafficking, ecology problems, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. All of these concerns are not fundamental interests, though. Between the fundamental interests of Russia and the USA, the differences are quite substantial.

 In particular, in the Russian variant we read: "The national interests of Russia in the international sphere boil down to ensuring the sovereignty... ". The idea of sovereignty is mentioned in other parts of the Concept as well. In the American document, the topic of sovereignty is not mentioned at all. This means that the USA does not accord much importance to the sovereignty of other states. US vital interests (the term "vital interests" is identical in content to the term "fundamental interests") include: "... the physical security of our territory and that of our allies, the safety of our citizens, the economic well-being of our society, and the protection of our critical infrastructures - including energy, banking and finance, telecommunications, transportation, water systems and emergency services - from paralysing attack".

I draw your attention to the word "our." The whole US national security strategy is targeted towards the protection and realization of precisely Americans' and their allies' interests. For example, the key US goals in the international arena as stated in the Strategy are: the strengthening of America's security; stimulation of America's economic prosperity; assistance to democracy and establishment of human rights abroad. It is this latter goal that gives Americans "the right" to interfere in the internal affairs of those countries which are deficient (in Washington's opinion) in democracy and human rights. This results in violations of those states' sovereignty. In the Russian variant of the national security concept, national interests are formulated in a neutral fashion - in the general mode, so to say. It is never made clear that this or that national interest relates precisely to Russia and the Russians.

 The most important theses of the two Concepts are also in conflict. The Russian variant states that Russia's national interests in the international sphere are in "reinforcing the position of Russia as a great power and one of the influential centres of the multipolar world." The American variant states clearly that "The United States remains the world's most powerful force for peace, prosperity and the universal values of democracy and freedom". Other US official documents specify in advance US preparedness to counteract any power's attempts to assume a dominant position in this or that region. For example, the year 2000 Annual Report to the President and the Congress of the US Secretary of Defense contains a very important phrase that is absent from the Strategy. "Preventing the emergence of hostile regional coalitions or hegemons".[6]

 To these fundamental differences, some minor ones can be added. For example, Russia insists on "equal and mutually beneficial relations with all countries" while the USA specifies clearly which states should be treated "equitably" and which ones must be "punished" - the rogue states in particular.

 We see here a clear divergence in the formulation of the two countries' national interests. We would have found equally substantial differences if we were to compare US fundamental interests with those of India, China, etc. This divergence implies a different understanding of the category of international security, which leads to contradictions and inevitable struggles. The outcome of these struggles will depend on the national security policy.

4.   National security and the country's foreign policy potential

 A reminder: national security is policy directed towards the protection and realization of the country's national interests. This policy can take different forms and use different means: economic, diplomatic, military, etc. One way or another, all states protect their external interests when they implement national security policies. The difference between states is in the amount of financial resources allotted to this branch of policy. The funding of the state's external policy depends not only on the state's external goals in the international arena, but also on the state's financial resources, which in turn depend on the country's economic potential. If, say, a state aspires to the role of a great power and allots only $1 billion to foreign policy, one can tell in advance that its attempts are doomed and the $1 billion is wasted. The practice of great powers shows that the acquisition of this status requires foreign policy expenditures of at least $50-60 billion per year. But if, say, a state spends $50 billion annually on foreign policy while its economic potential (measured as GDP) is about $200-250 billion, then this state is ruining its own country, because a foreign policy potential of $50 billion requires a GDP of at least $1 trillion.

 These regularities were demonstrated "brilliantly" by the Soviet Union, a country where more than half of the economy was working towards external goals, and these goals not only failed to correspond to the country's national interests; they were in fundamental conflict with the state's internal needs. That is, the leaders of the USSR failed to harmonize the expenditures on foreign policy with expenditures on domestic policy. This inability to count was one of the main reasons for the collapse of the Soviet empire.

 All the categories are interconnected in the chain international security - national interests -national security - foreign policy potential - economic potential; their interrelations are defined by the law of economic mass, the law of centre-of-power, the law of power and the law of optimal proportion between expenditures on foreign and domestic policy.

 Let us compare the foreign policy potential of today's Russia and the USA on the basis of everything said above. The figures are clearly stated in the two countries' budgets. Let us use for our comparison the two countries' executed budgets for FY1999. The item "International Activities" consumed $2.7 billion in Russia and $22 billion in the USA. Let us add to these figures the outlays on other main kinds of activities directed towards the protection of national interests, especially defence spending, and the total we get for Russia is about $10 billion; for the USA, about $300 billion.

The conclusion follows: when two countries' fundamental national interests are in conflict, that country which wins is the one which spends more on national security policy or on foreign policy in general. Napoleon used to say, quite justifiably, that three things are needed to make war: firstly, money; secondly, money; thirdly, money again.

The foreign policy potential of the entire West, of which the USA is the recognized leader, is about $550 billion annually (in the roughest of calculations). This potential enables the West to maintain a unipolar world with the USA at the top. It makes sense for all pretenders to multipolarity to at least calculate first the amount of economic and financial resources they need to earmark in order to wreck the existing structure of international relations.

5.   The foreign policy potential and international security

To return now to the problems of international security. There is more than a simple connection or interconnection between the structure of international relations and the content of the international security system. Rather, this interconnection is defined through a regularity: whoever dominates in the geo-strategic space of international relations, gets to determine the content of international security. The latter then ultimately coincides with the national security of the country that is the hegemon or leader.

This conclusion is confirmed by historical practice. After the defeat of Napoleon, the context of security in Europe was determined by the victorious countries: Russia and Great Britain, until the former was defeated in the Crimean War. In the Cold War years, international security was defined by the bipolar structure of international relations, or in other words, by the two superpowers: the USA and the USSR. Since we currently have a unipolar world led by the USA, international security is defined by the "G-7". This is why they have no need to formulate separately the concept of international security; they have actually formulated it in their concepts of national interests. As a result, the current global structure of international security serves largely the interests of the Western countries. Wherever these interests are infringed, the Western countries quickly "correct" the situation, not shying away from using military power. Examples abound around the world: in Europe, in the Middle East, in Latin America.

 I feel no need to give any moral assessments of the West's conduct, since I believe that power rules the world - not morals, not even international law. Marx said once that when two equal rights meet, power decides who comes out on top. I agree with him entirely on this issue.

6.   The evolution of the structure of the international security system

 For some reason it has become customary to say that earlier, during the Cold War period, security concepts, whether international or national, had military aspects in the foreground, while after the end of the Cold War, other aspects of security became more important: economic, ecological, demographic, etc. In my opinion this is not quite true. Even in earlier

times, more than just military aspects were included in the category of security. For example, Japan's policy in the early 1980s was based on the doctrine of comprehensive national security that consisted of three blocs: military, political and economic. The previously mentioned concept of universal security included as many as ten different aspects of security, though the military aspect was certainly the single most important one.

But the problem is that even now, after the end of the Cold War, the military aspect remains the most important one in the cause of ensuring both national and international security. It suffices to compare the funds allotted to different aspects of security in practically any influential country in the world to find out that "defence" outlays are the biggest by far, usually by a whole order of magnitude or even more. It is no use nurturing illusions that the military factor in world politics has ceased to matter, or at has lost much of its importance. It is true that one does not hear any more talk about the possibility of nuclear war. But the real probability of nuclear war has hardly decreased; on the contrary, it has likely increased, considering that several more states will acquire nuclear weapons in the 21st century.

Nonetheless, today one certainly hears more about problems relating to the geo-economic situation in the world, i.e. relating to internationalization, integration, globalization. It is problems of the world economy, finances, energy supplies, information technology, and so on, that agitate the world most of the time. But one has to admit that at least at the current historical moment, all the mentioned-above spheres are sufficiently professionally controlled and governed by the West. It does not particularly need helpers for solving problems in these areas.

Yet there are certain aspects of international security where the West is interested in cooperation with everyone: international drug trafficking, terrorism, corruption, ecology, and especially the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The latter subject concerns the USA primarily in connection with Russia. Many experts in the USA, particularly those in the Heritage Foundation, express doubts about Russia's ability to control its own nuclear weapons. This is why the Bush Administration, having cut many kinds of aid to Russia, will not only keep intact the funding for programmes of liquidating nuclear weapons in Russia, but may even increase this funding. In other words, there is a rather large zone of international security where the West will gladly admit volunteers for solving problems.

There is one more area where the West, or rather the USA, is interested in Russia's participation.

7.   China and the system of collective security in Asia

To begin with, one needs to remember once again the idea of a collective security system in Asia proposed by the USSR in 1969. It eventually suffered an undignified demise, since everyone viewed it as Moscow's policy intended to encircle or at least neutralize China which was at that time conducting an active anti-Soviet policy.

 In general, peace initiatives in the cause of forming collective security are usually only needed by weak states. Hegemonist powers have no use in principle for multilateral organizations, since these organizations' rules require endless coordination between members in pursuit of unanimity. This limits members' freedom of action and at the same time reduces the set of means that can be used to achieve goals. As S. Blank observed, "hegemonist powers usually prefer to deal with potential challenges on a bilateral basis rather than face organized challenges".[7] It is no accident that the United States was always quite cool towards such ideas.

 The situation started to change in the 1990s. Academic circles in the USA that belong to the political-academic complex started showing heightened activity in proposing all kinds of initiatives for the zone of East Asia concerning the creation of some collectivist-type structures. For example, J. Nye (who later became an Assistant to the Secretary of Defense) in 1992 suddenly proposed convening a conference on security and cooperation in North-East Asia - a quasi-organization that would include the USA, Japan, China, Russia, both Koreas and possibly Mongolia and Canada.[8] Some scholars even suggested a variant that copies the OSCE.[9]

 Many examples of this kind of initiative can be mentioned here. The reason for their appearance is quite "transparent", or rather clear as day: the intention is to engage China in these organizations and "bridle" its "hegemonist ambitions". All these American initiatives coincide almost 100% with the previously mentioned Soviet collective security initiative of 1969. The reason is that many American experts, as well as some non-American ones, see China and none other as a potential superpower capable of wrecking the current unipolar system. They only keep guessing when it will happen: in fifty years or in twenty. Some believe that it will happen even sooner. This is why engaging Russia in precisely the American variant of "collective security" would amount to killing two birds with one stone: firstly, a real strategic alliance between Russia and China would be prevented; secondly, America would have a strong rear in the event of a real confrontation with China in the future.

 Another concept works in the same key - the currently fashionable Preventive Diplomacy concept, analogous to the concept of Preventive Security Policy. UN Secretary General Boutros Ghali was probably the first to use this phrase. Outwardly, this concept looks quite decorous; it is about preventing conflicts emerging between states or inside states. Quite a few enthusiasts are even proposing to create organizational structures for implementing this concept, for example, the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific with headquarters in Singapore.[10] But when one starts pondering the goals and functions of such an organization, it turns out that in order to function on the basis of political means, Preventive Diplomacy needs (in the words of Robert M. Gates) "to have recourse to powerful military forces and be prepared to use them". [11] In other words, diplomacy will not work without recourse to guns - even a preventive one. Next, it turns out that since there is no recognized leader among Asian countries, leadership must willy-nilly "fall on the shoulders of the USA", since "because of America's wealth, military power, and pervasive political and cultural influence, the United States today still exercises a preponderance of power".[12] Gates discloses "reality" quite frankly in his conclusions. Having given a polite nod towards international organizations, he concludes his article with these words: "Nonetheless, as OSCE, NATO and UN demonstrated vividly in Bosnia, no multilateral organization - anywhere - can be effective in dealing with serious potential conflict unless one country is willing to assume the responsibilities and burdens of leadership and others are willing to follow. Such leadership can be exercised through multilateral organizations such as ASEAN, but one nation with credibility and resources appropriate to the problem at hand must take a lead. Further, consultation among nations is ever more important, but it is of value in preventive diplomacy only if action - not endless debate - is the result".[13]

 Gates is right, of course. Practice has shown already that all the organizations listed here never could and never can stop conflicts, i.e. ensure international security. A particularly telling example of uselessness is presented by the OSCE which failed to stop conflicts in both Yugoslavia and Russia.

 To a large degree this has to do with the fact that all these organizations - UN, NATO, APEC, IMF, WTO, etc. - do not serve the interests of international security; instead, they serve quite obviously the interests of the "magnificent three": the USA, Western Europe and Japan. They fund these organizations, control them and, naturally, use them for their own purposes. The same will be true of any international organizations that may yet be created with the participation of this troika. They do not object to these organizations; though they are a financial burden, they do perform certain useful ideological and propaganda functions - they function as international parliaments of sorts where the discontented can let off steam. But the Western states themselves will keep relying on bilateral security structures which are more reliable and less troublesome.

8.   Conclusion

 The history of international relations shows that most "peace initiatives" come from weak states. The subtext of this activity consists of intentions to use peaceful diplomacy on a multilateral basis to "bind" all the subjects of a certain strategic space with mutual obligations into some system of collective security. The idea of such systems is quite simple: the initiating state wants to draw the state that presents a potential threat to it into the "collective" security system and thus neutralize its hegemonist aspirations with collective obligations.

 But even in the event of success, i.e. the creation of such a system, it cannot last long. It lives for exactly the time needed by the state that aspires to leadership to accumulate the economic mass for turning into a centre of power capable of wrecking the existing status quo. Recall the example of the League of Nations and Germany prior to World War II. In other words, such a system is wrecked in accordance with the law of power that means: as soon as a state reaches a level of economic might and military potential comparable to the might and potential of the world's leading states, it demands a new status for itself, which means a re-division of spheres of world influence. Since the old great powers usually resist such demands, acquisition of spheres of influence is usually possible only through the destruction of the old structure of interrelations, including the corresponding system of international security.

 Nonetheless, the idea of "peace initiatives" as such together with collective security makes some sense for all states, regardless of their might at the current moment. The weak seek to blend into a "collective" and become sort of equal with everyone, including the strong. The strong seek to exercise their hegemony while referring to the support of the "collective" which cannot avoid supporting the hegemon's deeds, since the whole system of collective security is practically subsidized by this hegemon (approximately like the UN is currently subsidized). The middle-level powers that do not aspire to hegemony are enabled by this system to accrue quietly their military and economic potential without advertising their true intentions, so that after a while they can break free of the "collective" and start a new re-division of spheres of influence.

 In connection with everything said above, it has to be stressed one more time: international security is a reflection of the world's geo-strategic structure. The main framework of this system is formed by the states that are mightiest economically and strongest politically. This enables them to force their national interests .on the rest of the world, turning them into international interests. There are two ways towards this goal: either become a strong state, or side with the strong states.

 * Published in Integrating Regional and Global Security Cooperation/ eds. Klaus Lange and Leonid Fituni. – "Studies and Comments 3", 2002. Hans Seidel Stiftung, Munchen. P. 67-75.

 [1] See details in: Materialyi XXYII syezda Kommunisticheskoi partii Sovetskogo Soyuza. Politizdat, 1986. pp.62-76: Politika silyi ili silyi razuma? (Gonka vooruzhenii i mezhdunaroednyie otnosheniya). Politizdat. 1989. pp.291-301.

 [2] Chto est' chto v mirovoi politike. Slovar'-spravochnik. Progress, 1987, p.47.

 [3] Proector. D. M: Mirivyie voinyi i sud'byi chelovechestva. Razmyishleniya. Myisl'. 1986, p.252.

[4] Those actors of world politics should be considered important whose activities form the structural framework of the system of international relations. It is usually superpowers and great powers that are included in their number.

[5] Konzepzia national'noi bezopasnosti Rossiiskoi Federezii, Nezavisimoye voennoye obozreniye, 14 January 2000; A National Security Strategy For A New Century. The White House. December 1999.

[6] Cohen, William S. Secretary of Defense: Annual Report to the President and the Congress. 2000, p.4.

[7] Blank, Stephen J.: Helsinki in Asia?: Towards a Multilateral Asian Order, in: The Journal of East and West Studies, April 1994, p. 102.

[8] Nye, Joseph Jr.: Coping with Japan, in: Foreign Policy, Winter 1992/93, pp.101, 103.

[9] See: The Washington Quarterly, Winter, 1994, p.94.

[10] PacNet Newsletter, No.44, 1 November 1996.

[11] Gates, Robert M.: Preventive Diplomacy: Concept and Reality, in: PacNet Newsletter, No.39, 27 September 1996.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.