proliferation is a growing threat, but the spread of nuclear weapons technology
and ballistic missiles may not be the gravest danger facing free people
everywhere. The biggest problem could well be governments that increasingly
want to classify every global challenge as a "security" issue.
In the wake of World War II, "national security" became a popular
term of art. In 1947, the U.S.
government created a National Security Council in the White House based on the
idea that protecting the nation from its enemies required more than just
All the elements of national power (political, economic, diplomatic, etc.)
had to work together to keep Americans safe, free and prosperous. It also was understood
that nations competed on more than battlefields. Enemies had to be confronted
in places such as the marketplace and minds of peoples.
When the Cold War ended, many began to question the old defense paradigms.
Increasingly common wisdom argued that national security meant protecting the
nation from all kinds of ills. Thus, whatever the danger of the day, it became
a "national security" problem. Potential pandemics, such as SARS and
bird flu, for example, required the same treatment as enemies of the state.
To make matters more confusing, international organizations such as the U.N.
have created terms such as "human security," arguing for a collective
responsibility to keep people free from want and fear.
Human security suggests international organizations have the right to
order states to intervene when the collective wisdom of these unelected bodies
considers it appropriate to meddle in a nation’s internal affairs.
The upshot is that, increasingly, everything centers on security. The
problem with that approach is the tendency, in dealing with security interests,
to centralize power and decision-making, and restrain individual freedoms and
The centralization of power is worrisome enough in time of war (remember the
hyperbole over the Patriot Act.) Now at the same time folks who cried foul over
creating a Department of Homeland Security to fight terrorists that want to
kill us want to make their pet projects security issues, too.
Dealing with the world’s challenges as a threat to national security often
produces destructive results that may be more of a threat than the ills
allegedly being addressed. It turns out abandoning the checks and balances that
govern free societies often wind up depriving people of liberty and making
their material condition worse, not better.
We are in such a vicious cycle right now. Hysterical concerns about
"energy security" have prompted governments to offer enormous
subsidies and mandates to produce "bio-fuels." Next came frenetic
demands to deal with global warming — and more government emphasis to expand
bio-fuels, regardless of the balance of the costs and benefits.
In the end, the rush for bio-fuels has done nothing to stem the rising price
of gas or affect global climates. It has, however, coupled with the increasing
cost of a barrel of oil, helped drive up the cost of growing food.
for example, has mandated a benchmark of producing 15 million tons of bio-fuel
by 2020, replacing almost 10 percent of its demands for oil. The rush by China and other
countries into corn-based ethanol has led to a doubling of the price of the
grain worldwide in less than a year and a half.
In turn, governments are concerned about "food security," to the
point that some are banning exports of rice to ensure adequate supplies and
keep prices down. Government interventions are helping create a food crisis,
not stem one.
Meanwhile, long-standing government interventions from agricultural
subsidies to export barriers prevent global markets from adjusting quickly to
World leaders could learn a lesson from all these statist policies — driven
by popular fixations about the danger of the day, demanding that governments do
something. When doing something becomes treating every problem through the
rubric of national security, tragic mistakes get made.
Energy and food are problems of the marketplace — best solved by markets,
not by government intervention that warps market behavior. Instead of learning
these lessons, many argue that interventionist policies are even more important
Making every global challenge a security issue trumps free markets and
limits personal freedoms. The concept of national security needs to be put back
in the box, reserved for moments of peril in dealing with people (either states
or non-states) who threaten through the use of violence to take away the
political freedoms that governments are supposed to protect.
Security shouldn’t become an excuse to take away the
power of individuals and communities to decide how best to cope with the
challenges of life.