This morning I attended a discussion with the authors of “The Ultimate Weapon is No Weapon: Human Security and the New Rules of War and Peace” at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars as a part of their Environmental Change and Security Program.

The book was co-authored by LTC Shannon Beebe (representing his own opinions and not those of the Department of Defense or the Army) and Mary Kaldor. Beebe played an instrumental role in the development of the unified command for Africa (AFRICOM) and is one of the most recognized authorities on Africa within the Department of Defense. Beebe has been recognized as one of the leading thinkers on 21st century security and his work has focused on reaching out across traditional bureaucratic boundaries to open dialogues on African security through leveraging human security.

Kaldor is a professor and co-director of LSE Global Governance at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She previously worked at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and the Science Policy Research Unite and the Sussex European Institute at the University of Sussex.  She was a founding member of European Nuclear Disarmament (END), found and co-chair of the Helsinki Citizen’s Assembly, and a member of the International Independent Commission to investigate the Kosovo Crisis.

Security Gap

Beebe and Kaldor wrote the book to address what they perceive as a gap in the current security doctrine. They started with the idea of multiple interconnected crises that seem to be appearing more and more rapidly. They asked themselves if it was simply improved global communications that explained why more of these crises were reported on the news each week, however they soon asked if perhaps the underlying factors from globalization—factors that result in violence—were the cause.


Beebe argued that we live in a situation with a profound security gap because the Western world is using a  20th century kinetic definition of security (i.e. counting physical and tangible objects as the key to security policy) whereas the 21st century security concerns are condition-based and driven by creeping vulnerabilities. He described these creeping vulnerabilities as threats from a lack of water    and sanitation, threats from gender inequality, threats from lack of health care, threats from climate change—not threats in the traditional sense where a threat would be another nation stockpiling weapons, but threats in the sense that each factor can be considered a card in a house of cards. When a card is pulled out, the house will fall and it’s unknown if that fall will also take out other houses nearby or “just” implode upon itself.

Kaldor expanded on the problems with living under a security gap, namely that because the United States does not have a unified and comprehensive human security narrative, other actors are stepping forward to fill this gap. These actors might not necessarily be those who we want to fill the gap, while non-governmental organizations might be helpful, warlords and paramilitary militias might not.

Expanding the Vocabulary

Both Beebe and Kaldor argue one problem with creating a wide-ranging human security framework is it lacks a shared and easily-understood vocabulary. As Beebe argued in the discussion, it’s hard to achieve those things for which we don’t have words. As a part of expanding the vocabulary, Beebe and Kaldor argue for a wider definition of human security with three main sections.  According to Beebe and Kaldo, human security is:

  1. The security of individuals and the communities in which they live
  2. Protection from violence, material deprivation, and environmental disasters
  3. What we experience in well-ordered society (i.e. taking what we assume the government will provide if we life in the developed world and applying it to developing nations).

Kaldor and Beebe stressed that this last point was key in developing effective strategies to prevent conflict. Essentially, they argued, the last point is about spreading the rule of law to other nations as provided by a legitimate political authority. Kaldor pointed to the USA’s engagement with Afghanistan, arguing that one major policy failure was the installation of Afghan leaders who did not have the respect or trust of the people being governed.

Changing Minds

Expanding the definition of human security requires a change in mindset, where the military’s main role is carving out space for civilian operations to occur. In Beebe and Kaldor’s understanding of human security, the military is not undertaking humanitarian and development work, but rather ensuring civilians who have the training and tools to do such work can operate without fear of violence.

Watching Beebe and Kaldor

If you’re interested in watching the conference in-full online, just head here to watch the archived video.

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