Wednesday, March 7, 2012



( Paper prepared for delivery at the third Asian Relations Conference being organised by the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) at Sapru House, New Delhi, on March 9 and 10,2012)

There has been a steady expansion of the list of non-traditional threats to human security ever since this subject started receiving serious attention in 2001.From about 10 threats identified in the past, it has expanded to over 50 since then---including new additions such as threats to information security, threats to economic development due to corruption etc. I notice that some Chinese scholars have included threats to economic stability arising from financial turmoil also as a non-traditional threat to human security.

2. If we have to deal with non-traditional threats effectively through national and multilateral action, we have to be careful in identifying such threats, prioritising them for attention and action and promoting multilateral co-operation where necessary and possible and avoid politicising the concept for exterior purposes.

3.We have to make a clear distinction between issues of core concern relating to human security and clearly identified and universally perceived non-traditional threats to human security. Everything which is of concern need not necessarily be a threat. A clear example is corruption which has been figuring since 2003 in the expanded agenda of Western scholars as a non-traditional threat to human security because it stands in the way of economic development and effective governance. Corruption has been sought to be included in the list ostensibly for benign reasons, but its inclusion also provides the Western countries with a malign stick with which to beat States whose economic and other policies are not in consonance with the desires of these States.

4. I would divide the constantly expanding list of non- traditional threats to human security into three categories:

( a ).Firstly, threats that are universally accepted as such and in meeting which there can be regional and international co-operation. I would place in this category threats arising from natural and man-made disasters, industrial accidents with catastrophic and/or trans-national consequences, nuclear accidents, epidemics, environmental damage on land as well as in the sea and piracy. There is already considerable multilateral co-operation in dealing with such threats in the form of advance information sharing, joint action, crisis management and mutual assistance in capacity building. This co-operation needs to be further encouraged and enhanced by setting up regional consultancy and brain-storming mechanisms so that we constantly improve our state of preparedness for dealing with such threats when they materialise.

( b ).Secondly, non-traditional threats over which there was some inter-State consensus till some years ago, but it has been steadily weakening due to the tendency of some States to use non-traditional means of creating problems for their adversaries and weakening them internally. Two such threats that can be clearly identified are trans-national terrorism and trans-national crime. The use by certain States of trans-national terrorists and criminals as a strategic weapon against their adversaries has created a new category of para-military threats to security---- that is, threats that are neither traditional or conventional in the sense of being military in origin nor non-traditional in the sense of being not military in origin. Whereas there is growing acceptance of the need for regional and international co-operation in dealing with trans-national terrorism, efforts towards co-operation have been stymied by the use of such non-traditional means by certain States against their adversaries. The UN Security Council Resolutions adopted after 9/11 had clearly called upon member-states to act against this evil. But very few States that sponsor terrorism have done so.

( c ).Thirdly, new areas of concern such as threats to computer networks of critical infrastructure, corruption, and lack of transparency in the policies of foreign companies setting up industrial projects of a potentially hazardous nature in other countries. While threats to computer networks of critical infrastructure from non-State hackers are increasingly recognised as a new non-traditional threat to human security with potentially catastrophic implications, the debates over the scope for multilateral co-operation in meeting this threat have been desultory. This needs serious attention and calls for a meaningful debate. The dangers of the lack of transparency in the policies of foreign companies setting up potentially hazardous industrial projects in foreign countries were dramatically illustrated by the accident in the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal in 1984, which led to the death of thousands of innocent persons. Neither the local Government nor the local population had been kept informed by the company of the threats that could arise from an accident and the precautions to be taken in the event of an accident. While transparency in the policies of the private sector has certainly improved, it is not yet totally satisfactory. Companies whose manufacturing involves hazardous products and/or processes still avoid total sharing of knowledge of the dangers. This affects the effectiveness of the state of preparedness. Improving transparency in the policies and practices of the private sector needs priority attention.

5. I am still not convinced about the wisdom of including corruption as a non-traditional threat to human security calling for multilateral action to combat it. Corruption has been a major evil in India retarding our economic development. Since last year, there has been a groundswell of public opinion in India against corruption. But it is an evil that has to be countered nationally. Action against corruption should not be allowed to be used as a political weapon against inconvenient States.

6.Finally, there is an unfortunate and disquieting tendency on the part of some non-governmental organisations and experts to create a paranoia about non-traditional threats to human security. They do not understand that this tendency to create paranoia is itself affecting human security. A typical example is the campaign unleashed by some motivated NGOs and individual activists against a nuclear power station constructed at Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu. Even though the people of the State have been suffering from acute power shortages, these NGOs and activists have prevented the commissioning of the power station on the ground that it could pose serious threats to human security and the environment. The Government has taken all the precautions mandated by various national and international protocols on nuclear safety. It had appointed experts’ committees to certify that all necessary precautions had been taken. Despite this, the agitators have till now prevented the commissioning of the power station. This is a clear attempt to misuse the idea of non-traditional threats to human security to create irrational fears in the minds of the people for non-professional reasons and prevent the development of nuclear power. Such ill-motivated attempts need to be decried. ( 8-3-12)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: Twitter : @SORBONNE75 )


Esoteric said...

Corruption is surely a pre-eminent threat to humanity and not just security.

- RTI activists have been killed as some found their zeal inconvenient
- Playing favorites in defence deals in cases like Bofors and about to be uncovered deals are a threat to national security.
- Allowing companies such as Etisalat operations in India create a threat of cyberwarfare etc.Their entry is linked to corruption directly.
- Corruption in procuring bullet proof jackets cost precious lives on 26/11

List is endless.

srikanth said...

Sir, you are absolutely right that corruption has been added just to create a new pressure point on countries, not necessarily with an intent for international cooperation eradicate corruption. Corruption in India would be better handled with a more informed and demanding public, rather than through multilateral cooperation.

Also, cooperation in the cybersecurity arena may not be useful given that cyberattacks by a competent attacker will be sophisticated enough to hide the identity of the attacker.

Furthermore, countries like India need to ensure that all computer controlled systems, such as those running the Delhi or Bangalore Metro system are isolated from the broader internet, to avoid security threats from the internet. International cooperation in this domain is more likely to provide cover of plausible deniability to attackers from countries that are part of any such international grouping on cybersecurity.