Security and Defence


How security strategies can harm our interests

26 Mar 2014 - 15:16

New challenges such as climate change and pollution supersede traditional priorities at the top of the international agenda. Countries will have to find a balance between protecting narrow national interests and investing in international cooperation to promote common interests. This is easier said than done, however, argues Clingendael associate fellow Bas ter Haar in the journal Studia Diplomatica. He points out that most security strategies are so concentrated on protecting the national interest against traditional threats of other countries and parties that they remain blind for threats and challenges that are of a different nature and require completely different instruments to address them. These security strategies thereby damage national interests because they prevent governments from seriously addressing new risks that are at least as urgent.

This article is not about foreign policies, but about the strategies upon which these policies are built. On the surface, it might look that pragmatic governments deal flexibly with all the challenges they are confronted with. In reality their flexibility is limited by their, often implicit, strategic concept. In other words: their flexibility is restricted by the ideas they have about how the world works and what their interests, values and priorities are. If these ideas are outdated, their policies risk to be incoherent and inefficient.

The recent international security strategy of the Netherlands is an example of a traditional security strategy that ignores the new, much broader international agenda. The British security strategy looks more promising, as it recognises that the international agenda has fundamentally changed, but it is still based on traditional concepts that were developed for the old, much narrower security agenda.