May 17, 2008
By James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
Weapons proliferation is a growing threat, but the spread of
nuclear weapons technology and ballistic missiles may not be the
gravest danger facing free people everywhere. The biggest problem
could well be governments that increasingly want to classify every
global challenge as a "security" issue.
In the wake of World War II, "national security" became a
popular term of art. In 1947, the U.S. government created a
National Security Council in the White House based on the idea that
protecting the nation from its enemies required more than just
All the elements of national power (political, economic,
diplomatic, etc.) had to work together to keep Americans safe, free
and prosperous. It also was understood that nations competed on
more than battlefields. Enemies had to be confronted in places such
as the marketplace and minds of peoples.
When the Cold War ended, many began to question the old defense
paradigms. Increasingly common wisdom argued that national security
meant protecting the nation from all kinds of ills. Thus, whatever
the danger of the day, it became a "national security" problem.
Potential pandemics, such as SARS and bird flu, for example,
required the same treatment as enemies of the state.
To make matters more confusing, international organizations such
as the U.N. have created terms such as "human security," arguing
for a collective responsibility to keep people free from want and
Human security suggests international organizations have the
right to order states to intervene when the collective wisdom of
these unelected bodies considers it appropriate to meddle in a
nation's internal affairs.
The upshot is that, increasingly, everything centers on
security. The problem with that approach is the tendency, in
dealing with security interests, to centralize power and
decision-making, and restrain individual freedoms and free
The centralization of power is worrisome enough in time of war
(remember the hyperbole over the Patriot Act.) Now at the same time
folks who cried foul over creating a Department of Homeland
Security to fight terrorists that want to kill us want to make
their pet projects security issues, too.
Dealing with the world's challenges as a threat to national
security often produces destructive results that may be more of a
threat than the ills allegedly being addressed. It turns out
abandoning the checks and balances that govern free societies often
wind up depriving people of liberty and making their material
condition worse, not better.
We are in such a vicious cycle right now. Hysterical concerns
about "energy security" have prompted governments to offer enormous
subsidies and mandates to produce "bio-fuels." Next came frenetic
demands to deal with global warming - and more government emphasis
to expand bio-fuels, regardless of the balance of the costs and
In the end, the rush for bio-fuels has done nothing to stem the
rising price of gas or affect global climates. It has, however,
coupled with the increasing cost of a barrel of oil, helped drive
up the cost of growing food.
China, for example, has mandated a benchmark of producing 15
million tons of bio-fuel by 2020, replacing almost 10 percent of
its demands for oil. The rush by China and other countries into
corn-based ethanol has led to a doubling of the price of the grain
worldwide in less than a year and a half.
In turn, governments are concerned about "food security," to the
point that some are banning exports of rice to ensure adequate
supplies and keep prices down. Government interventions are helping
create a food crisis, not stem one.
Meanwhile, long-standing government interventions from
agricultural subsidies to export barriers prevent global markets
from adjusting quickly to global needs.
World leaders could learn a lesson from all these statist
policies - driven by popular fixations about the danger of the day,
demanding that governments do something. When doing something
becomes treating every problem through the rubric of national
security, tragic mistakes get made.
Energy and food are problems of the marketplace - best solved by
markets, not by government intervention that warps market behavior.
Instead of learning these lessons, many argue that interventionist
policies are even more important than ever.
Making every global challenge a security issue trumps free
markets and limits personal freedoms. The concept of national
security needs to be put back in the box, reserved for moments of
peril in dealing with people (either states or non-states) who
threaten through the use of violence to take away the political
freedoms that governments are supposed to protect.
Security shouldn't become an excuse to take away the power of
individuals and communities to decide how best to cope with the
challenges of life.
Carafano, a senior research fellow in national security issues
at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org), is the author of "G.I.
First Appeared in the FOXNews.com
Weapons proliferation is a growing threat, but the spread of nuclear weapons technology and ballistic missiles may not be the gravest danger facing free people everywhere. The biggest problem could well be governments that increasingly want to classify every global challenge as a "security" issue.
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
Vice President, Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, E. W. Richardson Fellow, and Director
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