Thoughts on National Security Part 1

This semester I am taking a class on National Security and each week we are given a set of questions to discuss in the tutorials. I am going to take the more interesting of these questions and use them as a stimulus for a series of blog posts with the goal of crystallizing my thoughts on National Security related issues.

  • What forces are challenging the ability of states to provide for the welfare and security of their population?

I disagree with the framing of this question (which will become a common theme in my answers) because it seems to view the state as a unified agent with the goal of providing welfare and security to their population. In reality the state is a group of people that have a set of beliefs, information, desirers and biases that are influence by other people with their own sets of beliefs, information, desirers and biases. These people do things that cause other people to do things. from a higher level of resolution (just like a plane is what a collection of atoms looks like from a higher resolution) this looks like states and business and political parties interacting, but I think this level of resolution may lead to incorrect beliefs, like applying agency incorrectly and making incorrect predictions.

To go more directly to the question I feel like the answer that the question writer desires is something like terrorism, increased competing on over resources etc. but I think “people who most people would consider members of the group of people that collectively form the state having incorrect beliefs or desirers that are different to ensuring the welfare of the population is an equally legitimate answer.”

(Note: I’m still working out and formalising this reductionist way of viewing national security and international relations, hopefully there is already a school of thoughts that thinks this way that i can build from rather than starting from scratch.)

  • What is the “natural condition” for states, peace or war?

First I think that the phrasing of the question is unproductive. What does “Natural Condition” mean? and even if we have a coherent definition why should we care about the “Natural Condition” of states unless this is the natural conditions are a common conditions for the states to be in? A similar questions that are in closer to a form that can actually be answered is “statistically are states more likely to be at war or at peace?” There is also not a sufficient definition of peace, war and the many possible situations between (“military conflicts,” cold wars, economic terrorism, proxy wars, states in conflicts with their own citizens) so answering the second half of the question is also problematic.

So my answer would be that it is a non optimally formed question and the answer would change based on different definitions and implicit assumptions. Deconstructing all these assumptions and moving the question to the point where it can be answered and the answering it would be an essay length reply

  • What impact has globalisation had on the viability of the modern state?

Not really sure. The modern state doesn’t seem that much less viable than it did 60 years ago. The UN and other global organizations decrease the powers of certain states in certain areas, but it could be argued that they in effect redistribute power from some states to others. Increase in global trade means theoretically war is even more of a zero sum game than it used to be for states, but the argument “states wont go to war because they trade so much it would be economically disastrous” was used before world one and generated the wrong prediction so I’m sceptical of it being used now. The internet has probably lead to people indentifying less wit there nation relative to other identities so peoples subjective feeling that they are united with the people in the same geographical area as them and should be governed together could be lessening.

  • Can the military be a force for good?

I think this question is quite biased. The phrasing means that to answer in the negative we would have to argue that the military can never be good, which seems very unlikely. SO the only reasonable answer to this question is yes, but accepting the phrase “the military can be a force for good” would make people more likely to accept the statement “the military is a force of good” without actually realising it.

A better question would be “is the Australian military overall a force for good or [bad? not good? evil?]” Again my answer would be that I don’t know, and considering that it is unliekly that the whole Australian military would be disbanded it may be more useful to look at the value of each individual action and component of the Australian military and decide on a case by case basic

  • Are the laws of war appropriate for today?

I think that the implication of this question is that due to new threats (i.e. terrorism) the laws of war may no longer be appropriate. This seems like a step away from arguing that things like torture are ok in the “War on Terrorism.” Or that civilians casualties from drone strike are not that bad, or outweighed by the benefits of drone strikes. Overall I think this argument is wrong and that the laws of war serve an instrumentally useful role as a form of ethical injunction against acts that could seem like a good thing at the time but are more likely to not be.

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