Sri Lanka hosted the international defence seminar in Colombo in August this year. Were non-traditional security issues part of the discussions? (photo courtesy The Morning)

Security is a many-dimensional thing but as far as ‘conversations’ in the global South go on this question, it is traditional security that is currently receiving the bulk of attention and not so much non-traditional security. However, the latter is as vital as the former, and no less an event than the Easter Sunday carnage, in Sri Lanka, proves the point.

Some differentiations need to be made before proceeding with this commentary. Traditional security has essentially to do with external military threats faced by a country. Accordingly, military threats, perceived or otherwise, originating from external quarters, especially global or regional powers that are seen as domineering and intrusive, are the main stuff and substance of traditional security. Consequently, hard power as opposed to soft power of states comes to be stressed in discussions relating to traditional security. That is, countries’ military and coercive capability, namely hard power, is in focus in these deliberations.

On the other hand, non-traditional security is essentially all about threats to life and limb that do not emanate from conventional war and conflict; examples being guerrilla warfare and terrorism. In fact, pervasive and recurring threats to human and animal life, such as chronic hunger, disease and socially-destabilizing conditions of a grievous nature could be discussed under the broad topic of non-traditional security. Not to be forgotten, even cyber warfare and connected issues could be subsumed under the head of non-traditional security. The latter’s range is vast and calls for deliberations of an innovative, comprehensive and exceptionally insightful kind.

The Colombo Defence Seminar 2019 titled, ‘Evolving Military Excellencew in the Contemporary Security Landscape’ was concluded a few days back and we hope the forum did adequate justice to all dimensions of security. We need to say this because top security personnel and thinkers, both North and South, tend to be conventional in their approach to the study of security and lopsidedly focus only on traditional security concerns. Hopefully, the Colombo forum proved an exception to the rule. May be, the organizers of this forum could pass on to us comprehensive information on the forum and of its outcome. Unfortunately, it was more in the nature of an exclusive ‘conversation’.

However, it is of the utmost importance that security forums increasingly  focus on non-traditional security. This is on account of the fact that non-traditional security threats are of a comparatively more surreptitious, pervasive and debilitating nature than traditional security threats. Left untreated and unaddressed non-traditional security challenges could bring states to their knees at a faster pace than traditional security concerns.

There is the contemporary case of Afghanistan. The latter is interesting in that it is a case study of both traditional and non-traditional security threats. The traditional segment consists of the on-going military confrontation between the Afghan government security forces and the Taliban. This is a wasting conflict by itself but on top of it we have a plethora of non-traditional threats in the form of terror attacks on civilians by nebulous militant groups, the hard drug trade that is financing militant groups while harming the civilian population and the economy, with tribal politics to boot. All these ills are combining to relentlessly maim and dismember Afghanistan. It should be plain that ending traditional threats alone would not bring Afghanistan’s suffering to an end.

True enough, the US’ increasing interest in the ‘Indo-Pacific’ region is of considerable concern to the countries of South Asia and those in other regions of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Quite understandably, they are agonizing over sovereignty-linked issues, but virtually unnoticed by all concerned non-traditional security threats are beginning to flourish in these regions of contention. The Easter Sunday terror strikes in Sri Lanka are the proof that these threats are spreading stealthily.

If the world was sufficiently alert it would have noticed that the IS although ‘down’ in Syria is not completely ‘out’ in that war-torn country. It was waiting for opportunities to regroup and hit back. It is not very clear whether the IS was directly linked to the Easter Sunday attacks but it could have been continuing with its efforts to influence and win vulnerable hearts and minds to its cause the world over.

Amongst the many non-traditional security issues is chronic hunger.(courtesy Wikepedia. Org)
Amongst the many non-traditional security issues is chronic hunger.(courtesy Wikepedia. Org)

In fact the weak heart and mind is the arena to be intently watched. Today, the religious demagogue attacks the software of the human which is his mind. And this is done in the most surreptitious and subtle of ways. This ‘brainwashing’ of the vulnerable in religiously diverse countries constitutes a non-traditional threat that could spread fast and wide in the most devious of ways. And it would grow into a law and problem of overwhelming proportions unless efforts are made to secure these vulnerable hearts and minds. Hard power, of course, would not be of much use here. It is soft power that would work. This should take the form of global efforts to influence vulnerable groups into living in peace; favouring, ideally, a democratic way of life.

Efforts must continue in the global South to rid their regions of inimical powers that are seeking to establish and spread their military hegemony in the Southern hemisphere. And we don’t have in mind only the US when we say this. Such independence could be achieved through the adoption of a Non-aligned foreign policy coupled with the acquiring of collective economic power by the South. But all this and more needs to be predicated upon Southern unity and solidarity. The latter condition is a ‘must’ for the acquiring of Southern collaboration and collective strength.

Thus, the South has its work cut out. It has to work towards inculcating in vulnerable groups a zest for collective, peaceful living based on the reverence for life. This is a far cry from a call to arms. The latter usually leads to collective destruction. Hard power has its serious limitations. But value-based living will lead to cordial ethnic and religious relations that are at the heart of peace. This is the cherished goal that soft power could achieve.


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