Authors: Dhritiman Banerjee & Ayush Banerjee
Traditional Security vs Non-traditional Security
There exist various types of threats that a nation faces in today’s world. These primordial threats, in turn, affect a nation’s security dilemma in ways more than one. These can be of two primary type- traditional security threats and non-traditional security threats. Traditional security threats are threats to national security that arise out of conventional international issues such as water sharing, land sharing, etc. These disputes often result in a full-scale war or conventional conflicts among the nations involved.
Similarly, non-traditional security threats are the concerns that a nation faces due to the increased complexity in the conduct of foreign relations after the wake of the new world order, post-1945. As more nations gained their independence and as more international organisations were formed, these threats spread throughout the world resulting in diplomatic tensions and, intra-state and inter-state armed conflicts. At times these conflicts also involve non-state belligerents as well. Large scale migration, environmental degradation and climate change action, intensification of ethnocentrism towards ethnonationalism leading to ethnic conflicts, cyberspace security risks, terrorism and violent extremism, etc. are examples of such non-traditional security threats.
Traditional security threats were directly aimed at the system of governance of the involved international actors, often involving various proportions of military conduct and an aggressive foreign policy coupled with intelligence operations. Meanwhile, non-traditional security threats are complex systems of organised opposition to a dominant entity or actor. These may not involve armed warfare or an aggressive foreign policy as such. For instance, the 9/11 attack on the twin towers in the United States by Al-Qaeda affiliates amount to a non-traditional security threat, in general, and terrorism, in particular. This attack was not directly aimed at toppling over the regime in power, rather spread the message of radical extremism globally by a non-state actor of violent nature. Such threats are becoming more and more predominant in the 21st century.
Another instance of a non-traditional security threat stemmed out of the growing resentment for the authoritarian regime in power in Syria, which triggered the Syrian refugee crisis in 2011-12. The rapid displacement of people in rural locals within the nation created large scale dissatisfaction in terms of the economy with a rise in unemployment rates and poverty among with the loss of their means of livelihood. This displaced populace travelled beyond the already fragile Syrian border into several European states that triggered a spillover of the Syrian refugee crisis resulting in a security risk for most south European states such as Greece and Italy. Invariably, most of the European states shut down their borders due to an imminent security risk from extremism and rising ethnocentrism that may have resulted from integrating the refugees into their formal economies. More recently, India shut down its borders on the displaced Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, stating the probable cause of extremism being imminent within such a marginalised, persecuted populace.
The Case of Covid-19
This year shook the global political order. By March 2020, the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan turned into a full-scale health crisis across the world. The virus had spread throughout the globe and new epicentres were discovered almost every week. Nations such as the United States, Spain, Italy, India, United Kingdom, among others have been severely affected ever since. However, alongside the health risks associated with the virus, as most governments focus on the research and development of a safe vaccine, the security risks are becoming more important as a part of this discourse with each passing day. There are restrictions on fundamental freedoms such the freedom of movement and assembly. While most major channels of information have shifted to the domains of cyberspace, governments have become heavily reliant on data infrastructures and domestic resource capacities. The transportation industry alongside others has been severely affected, affecting the national economy. The food supply chain has frayed. There have been no practical international trade operations except for highly politicised transfers of essentials and medicare. Millions have lost their employment and means of livelihood. Fear and panic have spread among the public at large. In a few nations, internal displacement has risen hundred folds.
However, as the Covid-19 pandemic spreads chaos, non-traditional security issues may not result in a nuclear catastrophe, but it may directly or indirectly threaten the survival of States. This time period is extremely important for all governments to reshape their policy processes to curtail the social, economic, political, diplomatic and human security risks associated with the outbreak. While many governments have opted to follow a phased lockdown model to tackle the health-related issues associated with the outbreak, they have failed to implement public policy to curtail the other risks associated with it. This nonchalance has resulted in a new age security dilemma that coerces the States into taking policy actions they never planned to adopt.
There are several security threats that pose a risk to major governments due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the economic context, Covid-19 has increased market volatility such that the price of risk assets has fallen sharply with economies both large and small recording a significant drop of at least 30% at the trough. Tobias Adrian and Fabio Natalucci estimate that “Credit spreads have jumped, especially for lower-rated firms. Signs of stress have also emerged in major short-term funding markets, including the global market for U.S. dollars. Volatility has spiked, in some cases to levels last seen during the global financial crisis, amid the uncertainty about the economic impact of the pandemic. With the spike in volatility, market liquidity has deteriorated significantly, including in markets traditionally seen as deep, like the U.S. Treasury market, contributing to abrupt asset price moves.” It is said that all jobs created since the financial crisis in the US, have been completely wiped away during this Covid-19 outbreak. This creates an atmosphere of public agitation against the government that continues to trigger mass protests and activism. The financial security, housing security, employment security concerns are paramount in this distraught for the public and government alike. International trade is at a standstill affecting all the export-oriented economies around the globe. These nations are now bound by self-reliance on domestic industries creating a need to romp up securitisation efforts at the domestic level itself.
Moreover, Covid-19 is set to increase political instability in countries such as Japan, South Korea, India, Italy, China and the US due to the economic repercussions of the lockdown and also due to the public reaction to governmental policy in efforts towards eradicating the virus. In fact, if the virus causes a global economic meltdown or a global recession, it will perhaps be due to the economic perils the US economy shall face in the coming years. This will also considerably influence Trump’s reelection campaign, as he may be forced to prioritise digital media campaigns over public campaigns due to the risks emanating from Covid-19. There will be rising security concerns with regard to the same considering the fact that there has already been illegitimate involvement of foreign actors in the previous election campaigns wherein Cambridge Analytica was allegedly charged for deliberating manipulating audience content with the help of the Russian Federation.
The Covid-19 pandemic has increased the dependence on cyberspace as software applications such as Google Meet, Skype and Zoom gain in popularity. This gain has been noticeably triggered by the idea of working from home and due to the conversion of physical classroom education to online learning modules. This brings into focus the need for an enhanced cybersecurity mechanism that can allow easy access while also protect the private and personal data of the users. There have already been reports which suggest that the security at Zoom has already been breached. This called for close inspection and proper securitisation of the features to ensure its clients’ next-generation data protection, as a remarkable landmark in the domains of cyberspace security. It is also said that the spread of Covid-19 will increase strategic disinformation campaigns leading to the spreading of propaganda, fake news and manipulated content. Much of this content may also undertake dubious angles on the virus outbreak itself inciting public dissatisfaction leading to panic and mass hysteria. While governments may also attempt at withholding valuable information and data on the actual consequences of the virus especially by downlisting the rate of mortality and infection behind the veil of public security.
The Council of Europe Cybercrimes division has reported that there is valuable evidence that malicious actors are exploiting the cyberspace vulnerabilities to cater to their own advantage. For example, it stated that phishing campaigns and malware distribution through seemingly genuine websites or documents providing information or advice on Covid-19 are used to infect computers and extract user credentials. Attacks against critical infrastructures or international organizations, such as the World Health Organization are becoming seemingly probable. Such agents also use ransomware targeting the mobile phones of individuals using applications that claim to provide genuine information on Covid-19 in order to extract financial information of the user. They can also obtain access to the systems of organisations by targeting employees who are teleworking or video conferencing. Fraudulent schemes where people are tricked into purchasing goods such as masks, hand sanitizers and fake cheap medicines claiming to prevent or cure Covid-19 are also being used for the same purpose by the cybercriminals. These are a few instances that add to the security dilemma the nations face due to the rapid spread of Covid-19 across the world.
Alongside these, the defence industry is set to experience a major slowdown due to the pandemic. Production, manufacturing facilities and supply chains could be affected as the requirements shift towards civilian and police equipment from heavy military equipment. More importance will be given to recovery and aid systems than weapons and ordnances. However, defensive readjustments continue to remain important for ensuring adequate security especially with respect to border control, protection of personnel and institutions, protection of natural resources from exploitation, ensuring law and order as law enforcement and paramilitary operations remain the primary preventive measures at the monopoly of the governments. This crisis will also have profound geopolitical consequences, particularly for the US-China relationship.
Tarık Oğuzlu believes, “the years ahead will likely see the geopolitical rivalry between the U.S. and China intensify. This power competition will likely transpire within a post-liberal international order in which neither the U.S. will continue to act as the chief provider of global public goods nor China will acquiesce in the role of norm-taker.” We already know that the USA under President Trump’s presidency has already begun questioning the liberal international order from within. Notwithstanding Trump’s reelection in November, the isolationist and nationalist tendencies within the current American society will continue to grow more radical and dominant. There may be smear campaigns that could affect the well-settled Chinese populace in order to expunge them from the integrated American society. Instances of racism and ethnocentrism will grow and lead to civic hostilities threatening public order and human security norms. Similarly, China under President Xi Jinpinghas adopted a more assertive and claimant role in international politics, and China has changed its course from the ‘bide your time and hide your capabilities’ dictum in history. Trade between the two major powers has already come to a standstill.
In the words of Ahyousha Khan, “…it is essential for states to counter non-traditional security threats because they can potentially reduce national resilience of states to prosper. The consequences of these threats would be more damaging for developing world, where there is population density, lack of medical facilities and most importantly economic vulnerability of the state to handle such threats for a prolonged period of time.” It is evident from the aforementioned instances that Covid-19 is, in fact, a non-traditional security threat in ways more than one. It leads to multitudes of security concerns hat encompasses most major domains of politics including the economy and cyberspace. Securitisation and protection services are of paramount importance in the same regard. It can be stated that the need to protect the civilians from such non-traditional security threats will lead States to assume a more authoritarian role whereby the State will increase surveillance on its citizens and will curtail the freedoms of movement and expression. Political leaders often exploit these non-traditional security threats to fulfill their own political interests and to secure their own position as the leader of the party. Such is the security risk arising out of the pandemic at large.