National Security

We Must Expand the Definition of National Security

August 28, 2020  • Aspen Ministers Forum

If the COVID-19 pandemic has made one thing clear, it is that the definition of national security must be expanded and that some challenges require global cooperation to address. The need to bring different perspectives together to address modern challenges is the focus of Aspen Ministers Forum members Tzipi Livni and Malcolm Rifkind, in their discussion on the intersection of military and foreign policy and civil-military relations. They bring insights on this topic from their unique shared vantage points having served as both Foreign and Defense Secretaries of Israel and the United Kingdom respectively.

Tzipi Livni offers insights on her experience as a female decision-maker in Israeli national security, including the doubts she faced on her ability to be effective in the role. She believes that, far from being less effective than men, women can provide a broader perspective in national security decisions as they generally think beyond traditional military considerations to ensure decision-making is more comprehensive and holistic.

Livni and Rifkind also discuss the value of Israel’s system of mandatory military service for all citizens. In such a system, the military becomes a melting pot, broadening citizens’ perspectives by introducing them to a more diverse cross-section of society than they would otherwise encounter. Livni posits that an additional benefit of mandatory service is that it makes decision-makers more responsible as they are likely to personally know some of the people that they are putting at risk.

The pandemic has shown that security goes beyond military and intelligence operations.

Rifkind raises two key issues in addressing the concept of national security. The first is the fluid definition of what national security encompasses. As the pandemic has shown, security goes beyond military and intelligence operations. Climate change, public health, and other borderless threats are also national security issues, though they do not fit the traditional definition. The second challenge is that countries such as China have politicized the use of the term by using national security legislation to expand control over their populations. One recent example of this is the new national security law imposed by China in Hong Kong to limit political freedoms and criminalize the opposition.

Democracies tend to have a more limited definition of what encompasses national security than autocracies, but the pandemic has revealed that even among democracies there are varying degrees of acceptance of limitations on personal freedoms in the name of national security. Rifkind argues that only national governments could have taken the lead on the pandemic response because they have the legitimacy of being elected and therefore, accountable to the public. International organizations lack this legitimacy, which raises the question of how international organizations can be effective in future times of crisis when national security is threatened.

Watch the full discussion between Malcolm Rifkind and Tzipi Livni on national security and civil-military relations below.

The Aspen Ministers Forum (AMF) was founded in 2003 by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to bring together former Foreign Ministers from around the world to discuss critical international issues and develop concrete policy recommendations. In this AMF fireside chat series, different pairings of former Foreign Ministers draw upon their expertise gained from years in the arena of global politics to provide insights that can be applied to current challenges.

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