Reimagining security | Celia McKeon | TEDxExeter


Translator: Denise RQ
Reviewer: Rachael Williams Hello everyone. I’d like you to look at your hands
and make them into fists. Yep, I mean it. Clench your fingers a bit tighter. Tighter still. How’s your arm feeling now? And your upper body? How would it feel like to keep your fists
clenched like this forever? Now slowly uncurl your fingers, and let your palm stretch
until it is fully open and notice how that feels. And I’d like you to keep
these feelings in mind, of the clenched fist
and the outstretched hand and for the next few minutes
try to reimagine security. Security wasn’t something
I always thought a great deal about. I was lucky enough
that it wasn’t until I was 16 that I realized how important it can be. Then, I went on
an international youth camp in France. You might be able
to imagine it: big tent, lots of young people from all over Europe, I had a great time, a really great time. And I became good friends
with a group of teenagers from Croatia, then part of Yugoslavia. But it was 1991,
and shortly after, we all went home, the war there intensified. My friend Nina and I wrote
to each other for a while. We wrote letters, in fact,
because there wasn’t any email then. But then the fighting forced her
and her family to flee their town and after that, the only news
that I heard from where she lived came on TV bulletins. Some of you might also have seen them where there were journalists
in flak jackets standing in front of burnt-out houses. This experience really woke me up. I was horrified that I could resume
my comfortable life while my friends were exposed
to such experiences. And it convinced me that there must be
other ways of dealing with conflict that don’t require teenage girls,
or anyone else for that matter, to experience the kind of insecurity
my friend Nina had to face. And so I got involved
in the field of peacebuilding, and, for the last two decades,
I’ve worked with people who live on the frontlines
of violent conflict around the world. And what I’ve learnt from them,
time and time again, is, that even in the bloodiest conflicts
and the darkest moments, peace and security are built,
in the end, by talking. By dialogue and negotiation
about the root causes of conflict. In this sense, peace and security
are possible when all parties approach the problems
with an outstretched hand and not that clenched fist. But why does this matter to those of us who don’t live in places
where there’s violent conflict? Well, I think it matters
because what we think about security, how we believe we build security, has a huge impact
on the kind of world we live in. So let’s start with a basic question. What does security actually mean? Is it the same as defense? I recently did a Flickr search
for images of the term security, and this is what I found. Does this make you feel safe? Is this what our security depends on? Actually, wherever we live in the world, the most likely causes of insecurity
are these: financial vulnerability and the widening gap
between rich and poor, concentration of power
among a small elite, and the marginalization
of large numbers of people, climate change,
and competition for resources, patriarchy – systems of male dominance
that exclude or oppress women, and the use of militarized violence by states and by armed groups,
such as ISIS. Now, all of these factors
affect us differently, but they also have something in common. Have you noticed
how they all cross boundaries? As our world gets
increasingly interconnected, our security and our insecurity
are getting intertwined. These are not problems that can be solved
by states working on their own, or states working against each other, or sorted out with automatic weapons
and razor wire. These problems require
collective global solutions. And that’s why the 21 century
requires us to build security with an outstretched hand. But sadly, we’re still trapped
in old ways of thinking. Did you know, for example, that every year the world is spending
1,000 billion pounds on the military,
all in the name of defense? It’s clocking up as you sit here. Wouldn’t you think,
if there was spending on this scale, we should be feeling safe by now? But actually,
we’re being told the opposite, that the threats are increasing, and this suggests to me that there’s something going very wrong
with our current approach. But I’m not the only one saying it. A leading British military think tank
recently described the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya
as strategic failures. Strategic failures, not slight mistakes
but planned actions that have led to the deaths
of hundreds of thousands of people and left huge instability behind. And the British
intelligence services have said that the Iraq war contributed to
the radicalization of many young Muslims. And research on counter-terrorism policy,
here in the UK, is showing that it’s often increasing tension
and division within our society. And yet, there’s no attempt
to change course. Instead, we’re getting more of the same,
but without so many boots on the ground. And so, in response
to the threat from ISIS, governments are deploying air strikes,
and armed drones, and special forces. But what we know
is that violence like this is exacerbating insecurity. Take drone strikes. These are supposedly precision weapons. Yesterday, Obama was apologizing for having killed
two western hostages by mistake, but that is the tip of the iceberg. Did you know that in targeting
one senior al-Qaida official, Ayman al-Zawahiri,
who is, in fact, reportedly still alive, the CIA has so far killed
over 100 people in Pakistan, including 76 children? Actions like those fuel
huge anger and resentment. They make it much easier
for rebel groups to recruit. The clenched fist approach
is making us more insecure. But yet there’s almost no debate
about alternatives. That’s partly because the term
“national security” is often used to close down debate,
and discussion, and scrutiny. We’re told there aren’t any other options. But that is not true. There are other options. It’s just that they begin
from a different starting point. Real security is built by addressing
the underlying causes of conflict. It requires us to deal with inequalities
of power, and wealth, and consumption. It’s based on human rights and on principles of interdependence,
cooperation, and mutual respect. It’s not dictated by our worst fears. It relies on our common humanity. And in this sense,
it’s built with an outstretched hand. This approach is sometimes called
the “human security” approach because it puts people
at the heart of policy making. The Human Security Framework
has seven elements all of which are supposed to be in place
to build basic security for everyone, and these are: access to income ;
usually from work, access to nutritious,
sustainably produced food, protection of health
and treatment of disease, care for our natural world
and protection from disaster, freedom from violence, trust within and between communities, and political participation,
rights, and freedoms. Now, all these seven elements
need to be in place built together to build
basic security for all of us. And it’s a responsibility, not only for states and governments
but for individuals and communities. And it starts with a very simple question: What does security mean to you? What do you need to feel secure? In case you think
this is all just really nice theory that doesn’t have a place
in the real world, I’d like to tell you some stories about how it can make
a difference in practice. The Philippines has suffered
from decades of armed conflict. Back in 1992, President Ramos
decided to take a different approach to the country’s problems and he started peace talks
with the armed groups. But community leaders urged him
not to limit the conversation to those with the guns, usually the men, but to initiate a process to unite people around a common vision
of a just and peaceful society. And so a commission was created
which toured the country and reached out to people
from all walks of life and asked what they thought about
the causes of conflict where they lived and what could be done. And as a result, it identified
six pathways to peace, key structural reforms that enjoyed
widespread public support. But in places where there’s been
ongoing violent conflict, government commissions
are not always trusted. That was the case in northern Mali, where government commissions
had, in fact, come and gone, without making any real impression
on long-standing persistent insecurity. And so there, a group of community leaders
came up with their own response. They decided to organize
inter-community meetings on a huge scale across the north of the country. Hundreds, and sometimes thousands,
of people took part in each meeting, and they found solutions to local disputes
over land and water. As a result, markets reopened,
some combatants turned in their weapons, the process met
people’s basic security needs. But maybe this all feels
just rather far away. So how about somewhere closer to home? Well, before the IRA ceasefire in 1994, a group of people in Northern Ireland
decided to set up, what they called, a citizens inquiry
into options for the future. They wanted to know
what ordinary people thought about the causes of conflict
and what could be done. And so they too set up a commission
which traveled around Northern Ireland and it organized public meetings,
and discussion forums, and focus groups, and you could write your submissions
if you wanted to. And their report identified the ideas that became key concepts
in the negotiation process. But, actually, crucially, what people say
is the big difference it made was encouraging people
to talk to each other in their communities about options for the future. Now, I’m not suggesting that the human security approach
is some sort of magic solution. But I do think all those stories
show the powerful impact of enabling public conversations
about the causes of insecurity. And they started with
an outstretched hand, a willingness to listen
to each other’s needs and fears and seek common solutions together. Some governments
have applied this approach to the way they do
international relations. Canada, for example, has at times put human security
at the heart of its foreign policy. So what’s to stop us
from applying an approach like that to the way we do security here in the UK? Or how we think internationally
for the wider world? Well, some might say that
that’s too risky a strategy at the moment. “What use is an outstretched hand if someone’s trying
to punch you in the face?” But after 13 years of the war on terror I think we can confidently say
that punching back isn’t working. Responding to violence
with yet more violence is making us all more insecure. We need the courage
to try something different. So instead of asking the question how can we build our security over here
by defeating our enemies over there, we need to be asking a different question: how can we contribute
to building basic security for everyone? Now, if we ask that question, we need to think differently
about two things: power and vulnerability. Let’s talk first about power. The growing violence that we see
in the world right now isn’t an accident. It’s the result of deliberate choices that are reinforcing
inequality and marginalization. Our political and economic elite
are working very hard to secure their own privileges, but they’re not thinking
about the population at large. And their decisions are backed up by an arms trade
and a global security industry that are making vast,
vast amounts of money by feeding the narrative
of fear and threat and selling weaponized solutions
to anyone who’s willing to pay. These power dynamics will need to change
for us to do security differently. But we also need to change
how we think about vulnerability. We’ve been conditioned to think that an outstretched hand
is more vulnerable than a clenched fist. And if we just clench our fists
a bit tighter or make them a bit bigger,
perhaps forever, we can see off any kind of threat. But common sense tells us
that no model guarantees total security, and the evidence tells us
the current model is making things worse. In my experience
of the biggest breakthroughs in ending violent conflict
around the world, they’ve come when the parties
have taken the risk of reaching out and responding
to the vulnerability of the other side. And when they’ve accepted for themself that the other side
will need to have a role in providing their security. I remember being
at a workshop once in Colombia where we were discussing all kinds
of obstacles to ending the conflict there, and lots of really interesting
suggestions were made. But the one point that stayed with me
from that conversation was made by a Jesuit priest,
Padre Alejandro. And he’d spent a long time
on the frontlines of the conflict. And he had the courage to say simply, “The main problem is
that we haven’t loved each other enough.” The most transformative moments
in peace processes around the world have come when the parties
have responded to each other’s humanity, when they’ve taken the risk,
perhaps after a long time, of rebuilding a relationship
across the divide. They’ve slowly unclenched their fists, and they’ve tentatively offered
an outstretched hand. A few years after meeting my friend Nina,
I went to live in Croatia and Bosnia, and there I met all kinds of people who were working to rebuild relationships
to build security from the bottom up. That is a photo I wanted to show you of a workshop organized by friends
at the Center for Nonviolent Action. And they’ve been bringing together
war veterans from all the different communities to sit together and listen
to each other’s experiences. Efforts like this,
all around the world, are vital, but our political leaders desperately
need to learn from their example. Here in the UK that would mean investing far more in addressing
the underlying causes of conflict, far less of those billions
we saw earlier in the military, far more in peacebuilding and diplomacy. But a transition
to a new model of security probably needs to start
with a conversation. So next time you hear politicians
talking about security, ask yourself whether their approach represents
an outstretched hand or a clenched fist. Does it make you feel more secure,
or does it feed your fear? And if you were part
of a conversation about security, what would you say? What are your basic security needs? What do you know about the security needs
of people elsewhere in the world? I’d urge you to have those conversations
with people around you, and I would also urge you to remember that we have choices about how we respond
to today’s security challenges. Are we doomed to endless war? Or can we harness our creativity,
our intellect, and our humanity and build a new kind of security
for our world? In the end, our future is likely to depend on the kind of security
we choose to believe in. Thank you. (Applause)

Danny Hutson

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