By Vitoria Basham
Using and maintaining military force as a means of achieving security: a flawed idea?
In my recent article published in Security Dialogue I critique the longstanding idea that military force and the maintenance of strong armed forces provides security. This idea forms part of the social contract between liberal democratic states and their citizens, whereby individuals agree to abide by laws, and so relinquish some of their freedoms, in exchange for order and security. Taking the UK as my focus, I suggest that when we pay closer attention to how gender, race and class shape different members of society’s lives, there is a problem with this assumption that using and maintaining military power enables the state to make all of its citizens secure. Indeed, the old adage that military force equals security can be challenged because military interventions and maintaining a strong military capability can actually make some members of the population more insecure. For example, maintaining a strong military capability often entails trade-offs with other spending needs such as social security and welfare provision. Investing in the former to the detriment of the latter, can mean that the poor and sick become more vulnerable. Moreover, women disproportionately take on caring roles for children and sick and elderly relatives when the state retreats from providing key services.
…the old adage that military force equals security can be challenged because military interventions and maintaining a strong military capability can actually make some members of the population more insecure…
By looking particularly at the UK’s involvement in recent airstrikes over Syria and at attendant debates on Syrian refugees I also explore how particular groups within society are disadvantaged by policies of military intervention that seem to rely on drawing racialized boundaries around the UK and fostering suspicion and hostility towards racial minorities. These ideas can make the wider population question who belongs, generating hostility towards migrants and asylum seekers fleeing military violence but also to people within society who may come to be seen as a drain or scourge on that society just because they look like ‘the enemy’. Therefore, by paying closer attention to the gendered and racialized aspects of militarism, security is revealed to be, at best, partial.
Finally, my article tries to highlight why we should all be much more concerned as citizens about the military interventions and the maintenance of military power that the state carries out in our name on the assumption that these practices make us more secure. Though liberal democratic populations often reject the kind of militaristic fervour often exhibited by the state when it calls for military intervention and the prioritisation of military spending, I argue that we need to be much more attentive to our ambivalence towards the militarism (waging war and constantly preparing for it) of the state. This is because militarism can thrive and go unchallenged just as much when it becomes seen as a normal feature of a chaotic world as it can in societies that fervently celebrate it. If the outcome of militarism, as I suggest is insecurity for citizens of other nations where our military intervenes and citizens within our own society, this is all the more urgent.