Common Security

A collection of keywords and thoughts

Common Security – A policy of common security today

In 1980 – 40 years ago – following a decision of the UN General Assembly, the so-called Olaf Palme Commission better independent commission on disarmament and common security was established.

In 1982, it presented the report that was perhaps the most groundbreaking document for a common security policy and a response to Ronald Reagan’s policy of military superiority and limited nuclear war.

What does “common security” mean?

The core ideas underlying the term are:

  • interdependence,
  • shared responsibility
  • and “security with” rather than “security against” the other.
  • In the nuclear age, security can no longer be created alone but only in partnership.

What are the core recommendations of the Palme Commission?

The Palme Commission formulated the following principles of common security:

– All nations have a legitimate right to security.

– military force is not a legitimate means of resolving interstate controversies

– Restraint is necessary as an expression of national policy

– Security cannot be achieved through military superiority

– Reductions and qualitative limitations of weapon systems are necessary for common security

– Links between disarmament negotiations and political events should be avoided.

In June 1982, the Palme Commission of the 2nd UN Special Assembly on Disarmament made the following recommendations in its Palme Report:

– Conclusion of a treaty on mutual troop reduction in Europe (MBFR)

– Negotiations on the reduction of strategic weapons (START)

– Agreement on the Establishment of a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone in Europe

– Agreement on the establishment of a chemical weapons free zone in Europe

– Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

– Treaty on the dismantling of medium-range missiles in Europe

– Treaty on the Prohibition of Space Weapons

Politics at the end of the 80s was partly shaped by this report; Gorbachev made it suitable for world politics. Georgi Arbatov’s memoir “The System” makes it clear that in his (Arbatov’s) role as the lead Soviet figure involved in the Palme Commission, his world view was transformed by the discussions in and around the Commission, and that he in turn influenced Gorbachev and others in the senior Soviet leadership.

But the opposing forces (especially the USA and NATO) were always strong and have been dominant again since 2001 at the latest.

Almost 40 years later and in preparation for the anniversary, the questions arise: What does this report mean today? Can we still anticipate from it ?

Now it is not only unhistorical and would be a denial of the changed geostrategic situation in world politics if the situation at the beginning of the 80s were to be equated with the situation today.

Despite, or perhaps because of, some superficially similar political characteristics: did Donald Trump’s rhetoric and actions not resemble those of early Ronald Reagan?

  • we are living again in a situation of insane rearmament plans,
  • we are again challenged by a global policy of confrontation, and proxy wars that claim enormous victims.

Comparisons of the historical situation should nonetheless be made with extreme caution.

The geostrategic political world situation at the beginning of the 80s has changed fundamentally and irreversibly:

  • From the block confrontation between a liberal-capitalist camp with the hegemonic power USA and a socialist camp with the hegemonic power Soviet Union, a struggle for a new world political order has emerged. The superpower of the 90 years, the USA, is losing influence, while others, especially China, are significantly expanding their political and economic influence. This also applies to India. Regional hegemonic forces are gaining influence in the middle of the fight for a new Multipolar regional world order.
  • There is only one worldwide military system, NATO. In it, and partly detached from it, the USA is the absolute and globally dominant military force. NATO accounts for more than 75% of military expenditure.
  • The continent of Asia is increasingly playing a dominant role in world politics. Its conflicts are increasingly shaping international politics.
  • Asymmetric wars involving the major powers determine regional wars and conflicts (see Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq).
  • With the EU, a new political player with global geostrategic demands has emerged and is becoming increasingly militarized.
  • The ecological crises of the planet, especially the climate disaster, are shaping development, are becoming the central politically dominant challenge and can lead to an increase in wars and conflicts.

For the actors critical of society, it is certainly also important: the peace movement of the 80s was a political force (power) that was considered positively or negatively by governments and parliaments. Today, the peace movement as an international movement is much weaker but a partly accepted political partner (UN; NGO- system).

An understanding of a fundamentally changed situation is necessary to develop a political concept of what a common security policy would look like today.

Based on the basic statements of “common security”, the recommendations from 1982 can be seamlessly linked to the core ideas of “human security” and the SDGs. The focus remains on the peacebuilding principles.

Significance for today:

  1. Overcoming confrontation: back to (crisis) dialogue
    1. NATO/Russia
    2. China
    3. Regional conferences for security and cooperation as in 1975 as a process with many intermediate steps
    4. Resolution of regional crises/conflicts, development of regional cooperation
  2. Renegotiations on nuclear weapons
    1. START
    2. Ban Treaty
    3. Nuclear weapon free zones up to and including military free zones
    4. Arms Control
    5. Disarmament including conversion
    6. Life for NPT
  3. Regionalization of common security as a doctrine
    1. Europe
    2. Southeast Asia: That region is perhaps the most dangerous trigger for great power war, and how to adequately address the potential tensions between a G-2 U.S.-China arrangement and the needs of the peoples of S.E. Asian countries (inclusive of the Philippines) will require a lot of consultation and thought
    3. South Asia
    4. Korean Peninsula
    5. India/China
    6. Middle/Middle East/ Iran
  4. Ecological crisis management: ecological crises as a pledge of common security policy: no one can do it alone or against the other
    1. Prevention
    2. New non-military ecological security structures
    3. International ecological security structures and forces
  5. Dissolution of military pacts, especially the NATO, bases
    1. Defensive structures
    2. Conversion
    3. Disarmament as a link in the chain and an absolute necessity
  6. Global disarmament process
    1. Away from the 1,95 trillion in current global military expenditure and the 2% of GDP target of NATO
  7. Strengthening international cooperative structures
    1. UN and regional organizations
    2. OSCE regional structures everywhere
  8. Civil society and the peace movement: Diplomacy from below. Involvement of the peace movement. Overcoming the concept of governments alone of the 70s
  9. Dialogue between civil society and governments on development common ideas for common security
  10. Ban Treaty
  11. Common security requires development / development requires common security
  12. Global transformation and conversion process
  13. Internal demilitarization
  14. International law and common security: safeguarding, further development, peace treaties.

In view of the changed geopolitical but also social and ecological challenges, there has been intensive discussion of the relationship between “common security” and “human security”.

State, individual, and social peace strategies must be brought together.

The links with human rights are obvious.

Absolutely needed is a differentiation between the current moment and the past, the geopolitical reality was quite different.

However, it must not be forgotten that the concepts can also be misused for wars and interventions. Keywords such as “regime change policy” and “human rights imperialism” must not be policy.

What is human security?

Human Security is an extended concept of security which, in contrast to traditional security concepts, does not focus on the protection of the state but on the protection of the individual and their human dignity. The political concept combines aspects of human rights, human development, peacekeeping, and conflict prevention. As a result of the end of the Cold War, it became clear that the main threats to individual security are not interstate wars, but rather threats such as state arbitrariness, civil wars, crime, climate change, the threat to the environment, unpredictability, hunger and poverty. The change can be justified not only by the humanization of international law, but also by the growth in the diversity of civil society actors. This means that not only are more states regarded as internationally relevant actors, but the individual is increasingly becoming the focus of attention. The concept of human security seeks to counteract the fact that the current, nation-state understanding of security does not correspond to the main threats like nuclear war, climate damages or pandemics. It thus opens our eyes to the vulnerabilities of the individual.

Despite the different definitions of human security, structures can be identified, and many common elements can be named. The 1994 Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Program formulated the urgent change in the concept of security in two principles:

  • from an exclusive emphasis on territorial security to a much greater emphasis on the security of the population; and
  • from security through armament to security through sustainable human development.

The report also identified the following seven main categories of threats to human security:

  • Economic security
  • Food security
  • Health security
  • Environmental safety
  • Personal safety
  • Social security
  • Political security

For more information see the UN General Assembly’s report from 8.03.2010. (http://responsibilitytoprotect.org/human%20security%20report%20april%206%202010.pdf)

Both strategies are different:

  • By the political and societal actors
  • By political levels: states versus individuals
  • By the content (much broader in human security)

They cannot be unified, but a peace strategy for the 21st century can reflect elements of both, which is partly done in the Helsinki declaration 1975 and in the Charter of Paris 1990. But in the present, the environmental aspects must be much more central.

From a peace perspective, civil conflict management, prevention, and peace building are noteworthy themes, although there are often no general statements on disarmament included in these concepts.

Now the discussion can start.

Berlin, September 11th                                                               Reiner Braun

(text developed by IPB Executive Director Reiner Braun with suggestions and ideas of IPB Vice President Joseph Gerson and Co-President Philip Jennings)