Position paper for the Bologna meeting (2-3 July 2004) By Lorenza Sebesta

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What security is about
The definition given by Arnold Wolfers remains unequalled for elegance: “(…) while wealth measures the amount of nation’s material possessions, and power its ability to control the actions of others, security, in an objective sense, measures the absence of threat to acquired values, in a subjective sense, the absence of fear that such values will be attacked”27.

The “conservative” feature of the definition rests on the expression “the acquired values”. Realism appears here as a “status quo oriented” discipline28. Every change of the status quo is seen with suspicion. The reasons of this suspicion have been synthesized in three categories –futility (any attempt at change is bound to be ineffective), perversity (any change is open to create instability and new problems) and jeopardy (any change is due to undermine what already achieved)29 .

Realism, therefore, can be defined as an attempt to master change and, most of the time, to discourage it.

No surprise that realists have been so frequently attacked for being the herald of the strongest powers on the international scene.

In the realist view, challenges to security involve first of all the territorial integrity of the state, their physical borders and the protection of the values expressed by its people. No attention is devoted to “which people” and “whose values”. These questions are of limited value for realists, not because of a moral disregard, but because they consider necessary to frame them within another context of analysis: the one pertaining to the internal functioning of the state.

This is clearly a vision based on XIX century European organic nationalism, whereby a state is the product, and the home, of one community: but this is not certainly the case of most societies in contemporary times.

The best way to cope with international anarchy is, in the realist logic, to look at the geopolitical realities. Geopolitics has to do with those features of the international arena which help to establish taxonomies or/and classifications –based on geographical locations, demographic characteristics, energy sources, capacity to produce technical and scientific innovations, military arsenals. These elements can change in time, but they are measurable –even public opinion is considered, by the most recent geopoliticians as an important factor, provided that it can be measured through opinion polls. What is highly discretional, however, and not measurable in any objective way, is the judgement on how and why a balance of power needs to be redressed or an international actor punished by exerting violence.

The basic tenet of liberals on that issue is that there is a plurality of arenas where menaces are located (menaces may come from the internal as well as from the external realm, may encompass one or more state) and, consequently, a plurality of actors are required to cope with these different levels. Wars do not represent neither the most destructive nor the most frequent among all security challenges. The most pervasive menaces to peace have many different roots, such as poverty, ethnic and religious conflicts, gross violation of human rights, terrorism, environmental fragility. Their roots are not so much to be found in the break of a previous geopolitical balance, but in new challenges coming, typically, from new developments occurring in technology and social life.

The integrity of human body and of its borders of dignity and respect is the very basic aim to be pursued within this concept of security. The security of the borders of a state is not sufficient to grant the survival of its society and, therefore, the security of people living within its borders30. Menaces to individuals appear to be much straight-forward compared to menaces to states and communities.

This consideration is very important in that it explains why law and jurists have acquired such a prominent role in liberal recipes for granting peace. However, the more powerful law and layers are becoming, the more evident the social components of a viable and durable peace become, and rights do not stand out, as they used to do , in a sort of crystal clear simplicity, as the panacea for all security concerns. The influence of granting individual rights, especially through international tribunals, on the social habits and living conditions of the victims and perpetrators appears unclear.
Apparently, as far as the contents of security are concerned, realists seem to mix up moral imperatives and realities more than liberals, in that the first stick to a kind of analysis which is clearly anachronistic, based as it is exclusively on states, and offer solutions which seem to be geared to arbitrary decisions more than objective evaluations.

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