To live in interesting times – allegedly an ancient Chinese curse. Although the phrase appears as though it is a harbinger for blessings and good fortune, it has come to mean the opposite. Come interesting times, come trouble and panic.
It seems we may be entering interesting times.
Security remains at the forefront of international affairs, with states scrambling to safeguard their sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as protect the wellbeing of its citizens. That is not necessarily an easy task, particularly because of the plethora of threats to national security that continuously emerge within the international power structure. Threats to national security can manifest themselves in both tangible and intangible ways.
Most would be familiar with tangible security threats.
They mostly manifest in the form of military aggression from foreign countries or through the proliferation of violence within territorial boundaries of a country. Most of these threats can be easily understood as threats; in most cases, their origins are clearly defined and they have direct harm, both physically and financially, on a nation. This traditional concept of security dates as far back as mankind learned to live as organized members in a society.
Lesser known are the non-traditional security threats. Unlike traditional threats, they have no defined origin or cause. Some trace the threats to the disturbance of the natural and ecological balance by human interference, like overpopulation and deforestation. They are transnational in nature and their impact may not be limited to a few countries but could rather, impact an entire region or even the entire world.
They pose as much, if not more, of a serious risk as traditional security threat. While these threats do not impact territorial or political sovereignty, they do impact citizens directly, in terms of loss of life and financial losses as well. Considering this, it is also worth understanding that unilateral or national solutions may not be adequate, and it may require multilateral and international cooperation.
The concept of non-traditional security is given credence because of how many intangible threats have now emerged to challenge a nation’s security. From infrastructural developments to industrialization to health care and global transportation networks, the constant evolution and progression of technology has brought numerous benefits for society and states.
Food security, the farmers of Pakistan and coronavirus https://t.co/euLdzoPPIo
— Kasim Gilani (@KasimGillani) March 29, 2020
However, the exponential advances in technology have also brought numerous challenges, which manifest themselves in the shape of non-traditional security threats. These intangible threats are ones that may not have any link or origination to the shift in the international power structure.
It has been predicted by some that the constant rate of growth of the global human population will open the world to more non-traditional security threats, unique in nature but devastating none the less. For the past decade, the human population has been growing at a steady rate of one percent.
Even though this growth rate has slowed down as compared to the past four decades, the world population is expected to reach ten billion by the year 2057. The constant and steady increase in population is expected to have a strain on the existing global health infrastructure and it may also allow the global transmission of diseases, due to existence of so many carriers.
The ongoing case of the 2019-novel Corona Virus (2019-nCoV) is a key example. With its origins in China’s Wuhan province, the 2019-nCoV has quickly become a pandemic, and is serving as a reminder of the seriousness of the threat in the non-traditional security paradigm. While the virus itself does not impact a state’s territorial or political sovereignty directly, it impacts the citizens of the state.
As soon as news emerged of a deadly new virus strain claiming lives in China, there was pandemonium in many countries. This only goes to underscore how misinformation and miscommunication can enhance the dangers posed by non-traditional security threats. Panic ensued, with people starting to stockpile on basic necessities, medicines and food.
A plethora of misconceptions on the danger that the 2019-nCoV poses began to fill the air. While it has been portrayed as one of the deadliest viruses to have ever proliferated, facts on ground suggest otherwise.
As per the World Health Organization, the 2019-nCoV has a mortality rate of an estimated three percent, whereas by comparison, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus had a mortality rate of nearly 10 percent and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) had a mortality rate of around 34 percent. Therefore, to argue that the 2019-nCoV is the most dangerous and potent virus known to man, is simply just gross exaggeration.
It is still a cause for global concern, however. Even after stern and concerted efforts by Chinese authorities to contain the endemic, the global nature of modern days’ transportation system has meant that the virus has been able to proliferate to almost all regions of the world. This proliferation is something of a consequence of modern-day advances in technology and transportation infrastructure. This makes it a very efficient and suitable carrier for transnational transmission of infectious diseases.
It has been argued that due to their intangible nature, non-traditional security threats aren’t perceived as serious of threats as traditional ones. Traditional security threats are easy to comprehend, partly because they have been around since the existence of nation-states. Therefore, it does become difficult to realize the true nature of peril that the non-traditional security threats actually pose. With time, there is a developing notion as to the real dangers that non-traditional security threats pose but it still requires a lot of concerted effort and cooperation at an international level.
Constant deliberations and a more comprehensive understanding of the dangers of non-traditional security threats is required at a global level, in order to draft a global action plan to tackle non-traditional security threats like the coronavirus.
World leaders ought to be reminded that non-traditional security threats are global in nature and so tackling these threats require international collaboration in order to mitigate its effects. Otherwise, there is no way to fully protect countries against the effects of such non-traditional security threats like infectious diseases.
These are interesting times we live in, and if we constantly try to implement old world solutions in a new age, then it might be too late to reverse the damage that these threats have already done.
Mr. Zeeshan Javed is currently working as a Consultant at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute. He holds an M.Phil in Strategic Studies from the National Defense University, Islamabad. His area of expertise is in the integration of modern technologies with the civilian and military domain. In addition to this, he also holds extensive knowledge on the issues of military technology development, nuclear deterrence, strategic stability issues, and conventional force balance. He has also served as a Research Fellow at the South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI). The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.