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The concept of national security policy and national strategy. (Part II: National security policy and strategy in a democratic South Africa).

1.1 National security policy

Various attempts at defining national security have been made, although in certain views, there is no universal definition, as it means different things to different countries. A distinction between traditional (and Western-oriented) definitions of national security, broadened definitions and definitions specifically applicable to Third World countries, has also developed.

1.1.1 Traditional views

Cold War definitions of national security tended to emphasise external, and more specifically military threats. It has been defined as "the ability to preserve the nation's physical integrity and territory; to maintain its economic relations with the rest of the world on reasonable terms; to protect its nature, institutions and governance from disruptions from outside; and to control its borders"; (1) as "the condition of freedom from external physical threat which a nation state enjoys. Although moral and ideological threats should be included, it is really physical violence which is generally perceived to be the ultimate leverage against a state and therefore as the real and tangible danger to its survival" ; (2) as "a feeling of confidence that the disasters of war and the vagaries of international political life can be avoided or absorbed, either by ultimate victory or good management, so that the state, its institutions and its way of life can continue to exist in a fundamentally unimpaired fashion"; (3) and also as "(t)he preservation of the reigning political structure against any change, save change through channels which that structure has previously defined as legitimate". (4)

It has even been stated that national security is an abstraction, an idea, a symbol or feeling until such time as a direct military attack is launched against the state's territorial integrity. (5)

1.1.2 Post-Cold War thinking

Definitions such as the preceding, are based on the traditional understanding of security and specifically the security of the state. Although the emphasis on security against military attack had already been questioned during the Cold War period, the demise of the Soviet threat facilitated a re-thinking of the concept of security. (6)

Two aspects in particular, were increasingly debated: firstly, the sources of threats to security, which were seen as not only military, but also political, economic, societal and environmental. Secondly, the referent object of security moved from the state to the individual in many interpretations. Furthermore, Buzan in particular refers to the concept of strong and weak states, the latter having weak institutions and a lack of political coherence, hence being more susceptible to internal rather than external threats. (7)

Buzan also argues that the concept of national security is difficult to define in a universal context, due to the diversity of states as referent objects. "The concept of security can be mapped in a general sense, but it can only be given specific substance in relation to concrete cases". In the case of strong states, national security can be viewed primarily in terms of external threats. In weak states, only the physical base of the state may at times "be sufficiently well-defined to identify national security". (8)

In some interpretations, security is viewed in the widest possible sense, and with individuals rather than states the referent object. Security is seen as meaning the absence of threats, and not only war, but poverty, lack of education, and oppression, are for instance viewed as threats or constraints. True security is therefore provided by emancipation. (9)

In a further extension of the broadened concept of security, environmental security is included as one of the main components, as environmental change could lead to acute conflict and violence. This view links to the concept of various sources of security threats, and while certainly valid in parts, leads to the danger of "securitisation", that is transforming issues into security issues by labelling them as such. This means that regardless of whether the issue leads or could lead to violence or conflict, or poses a threat to the state, it is viewed as a security issue. (10)

The preceding debate is summarised in a view which attempts to find some compromise. With reference to the expansion of the concept of national security, it is stated that "(g)ood reasons have been cited for the changes, which are not objectionable, as long as war remains the central focus." (11)

Mathur identifies a number of factors that will determine national security in any given country, namely geographic and geo-strategic conditions; human and material resources; the level of industrial and economic development; political conditions; socio-cultural conditions; military power; and the types of external and internal threats. However, his very broad view of national security reflects some of the problems of over-extending the concept to include virtually all societal ills. (12)

1.1.3 National security in Third World countries

The distinction between the different manifestations of national security in "strong" states and "weak" states made by Buzan, laid the foundation for the concept of Third World security. The security dilemma for the weak state revolves around domestic threats rather than external threats, and could even include citizens seeking protection from their own state institutions. Static colonial borders have inter alia, however, also given rise to interstate conflict in Third World countries. (13)

The following general characteristics of Third World national security concerns, emphasise the primarily domestic origins of insecurity: (14)

-- There is often no single nation within the Third World state, but rather various competing communal groups.

-- Regimes tend to lack popular legitimacy, as they often represent the interests of an elite or of a specific ethnic or social group.

-- The state does not have the institutional capacity to maintain peace and order.

-- Threats are perceived to be from and to the regime in power.

The above results in competing concepts of security advanced by different groups in society. The distinction between national security, state security and regime security therefore becomes blurred.

Ayoob identifies three features which have specifically contributed to distinguishing Third World national security from that of the First World. These are the latter's external orientation; the correspondence of state security with alliance security; and the link with systemic security. (15)

Ayoob concurs with Job that "(t)he low level of social cohesion and of state and regime legitimacy is the root cause of domestic insecurity in Third World states". (16) He justifies what he terms the adoption of a distinctively "state-centric" approach to security not only to realistically limit the unlimited expansion of the concept, but also because of the role played by political elites in defining security issues in Third World states. (17)

1.2 National strategy

A country's national strategy embodies the broad and specific policies as set out in the national security policy. Its aim is to determine the most effective way in which these national policies are to be attained. National strategy has thus been described as "the art of mobilizing and directing the total resources of a nation ... including the armed forces, to safeguard and promote its interests against its enemies ...". (18)

In the national strategy the broad aims of every departmental (specialised category of) strategy, for example political-diplomatic, military, economic and social-psychological, are defined. The linking of these categories at the national strategic level in order to ensure the most effective execution of the national strategy in its totality, is of crucial importance. In turn operational strategies are determined by the departments concerned.

In this regard, it is also stated that national strategy "recognizes the organic relationship between foreign and domestic interests, and coordinates political, economic and military power in pursuit of these interests". (19) At this level, strategic guidelines are of necessity broad and general, the detail to be added at lower levels of strategy formulation. The terms "national strategy" and "national security" strategy are sometimes used interchangeably, although the latter is specifically directed at achieving security objectives.

The link between various levels of strategy can be depicted as in Figure 1, with specific reference to the military sector.


(1.) Brown, H, Thinking about national security, Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, 1983, p 4.

(2.) Louw, M H H, "Introduction to the national security concept", in Louw, M H H (ed), National Security A modern approach, institute for Strategic Studies, University of Pretoria, 1978, pp 10-11.

(3.) Garnett, J, "Introduction" in Garnett, J (ed), Theories of peace and security: A reader in contemporary strategic thought, The Macmillan Press Ltd, London and Basingstoke, 1972, p 31.

(4.) Smoke, R, "National security affairs", in Greenstein, F 1 and N W Poisby (eds), Handbook of Political Science, Vol 8, Addison-Wesley Publishing Co, Reading, Massachusetts, 1975, p 248.

(5.) Ibid. p 250.

(6.) Mutimer, D, "Beyond strategy: Critical thinking and the New Security Studies", in Snyder, C A (ed), Contemporary Security and Strategy, Macmillan, London, 1999, p 77.

(7.) Buzan, B, People, States and Fear, Second Edition, Harvester Wheatsheaf, Hertfordshire, 1991, pp 112-116.

(8.) Ibid, pp 97-101.

(9.) Mutimer, D, op cit, p 83.

(10.) Ayoob, M, The Third World security predicament State making, regional conflict and the international system, Lynne Rienner, London, 1995, p 8; and Mutimer, D, op cit. pp 88 and 89.

(11.) Odam, W, "National Security policy making", in Shultz, R H (et al) (eds), Security Studies for the 21st Century, Brassey's, London, 1997, p 404.

(12.) Mathur, K M, Crime, human rights and national security, Gyan Publishing House, New Delhi, 1996, p 307.

(13.) Job, B L, "The insecurity dilemma: Nation, regime and state securities in the Third World", in Job, B L, The insecurity dilemma, Lynne Riener, London, 1992, p 12.

(14.) Ibid, pp l7-18.

(15.) Ayoob, M, op cit. P 8.

(16.) Ibid, p 190.

(17.) Ibid, p 191.

(18.) Malik, J M, "The evolution of strategic thought", in Snyder, C A (ed), op cit, p 14.

(19.) Guertner, G L, "Discussion", in Shultz, R H, et al, op cit, p 201.
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Publication:Institute for Strategic Studies
Article Type:Topic Overview
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:Nov 1, 2000
Previous Article:Selected excerpts relating to security arrangements and threat perception: 1991-1993.
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