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The Building and Unraveling of Security Communities
The Building and Unraveling of Security Communities
With Asia rising and the West still confronting crises, power is diffusing and the world is becoming ever more complex. This shifting landscape presents decisionmakers across the globe with increased uncertainty. Meanwhile, the need for financial austerity confronts governments with the dilemma of providing for their countries’ security without overspending. Amid enduring expectations that living conditions will continue to improve and social welfare will increase, a government’s ability to wisely economize security expenditure is becoming key to its success and popular support. For some states, smarter defense spending in the face of mounting security challenges may even turn out to be necessary to survive.
One way to reasonably scale down defense and security budgets
is to form a security community. A security community
is a group of states that refrain from
The most successful security community to date is that of the
What Makes a Security Community?
To prove their benign intentions, members of a security
community put in place certain institutions and practices. The nature
of these practices has been the subject of
Many explanations of how these communities work are based on the construction of new common identities. This implies, first and foremost, shared interpretations of history, values, and goals among the nations that form a security community. Common identities are believed to emerge with time as a result of intensive communication across a group of states that may initially be drawn together by shared security concerns. A classic illustration is the transition of Western European countries from a legacy of fratricidal war and mutual distrust to an economic union and security alliance.
While common identities do play a role in holding security
communities together, other important mechanisms allow states to reassure
each other of their
These types of principles underpin the Southeast Asian security community, the core of which is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Faced with pressure from the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War, smaller Southeast Asian nations coalesced to collectively resist being drawn into superpower games in the region. Ever since, the ability of ASEAN members to uphold their sovereignty has depended on preventing bigger powers from driving wedges into the association.
Yet common security challenges and even the
For a state’s policymaking to reassure other security community countries, it usually has to meet a number of criteria. First, foreign and security policy resources should not be concentrated in the hands of a single government body or leader. Second, a robust system of checks and balances should surround the creation of foreign policy. While independent parliamentary involvement in foreign policy making could compromise the credibility of a country’s commitment on key international issues, such involvement would protect against the vicissitudes of «strong leader» foreign policies. Third, there should be domestic consensus on the benefits of cooperating with fellow security community members. Fourth, states should have no history of counterbalancing for populist reasons, such as to drum up domestic support for the authorities. Fifth, government representatives and other influential political figures should refrain from calling for curbs on the power of other community members.
While these criteria are more likely to be met
by democracies, the policymaking process (and the political system
in general) does not need to be robustly democratic for
a state to provide assurances of nonthreatening behavior.
A security community may exist even in the presence of strongman
leaders if they can prove their
Transparent domestic politics keep the
For example, the official relationship between Russia and China
is characterized by an implicit agreement not to openly
question mutual intentions. Moscow and Beijing bottled up their mutual
suspicion in 2001 when they signed a
Now, Russia is close to finalizing a security community with China, despite a number of Russian concerns about China’s international strategy, such as its growing involvement in the Arctic. That is a major feat for Russian diplomacy. One can only imagine what it would take for Moscow to contain Beijing if China chose to become assertive vis-à-vis Russia.
Conditions of Peace
Those who believe in the power of common identity tend to see
peaceful relations within security communities
A security community will get into difficulties if its members lose confidence in one another’s benign intentions. If that happens, states will be left with no other choice but to become adversarial, with destructive consequences for the community.
To cite one example, in 2003 the George W. Bush administration
publicly raised the possibility that the United States would begin balancing
against France after Paris’s consistent and vocal opposition to the
U.S. intervention in Iraq. The White House wondered whether
France’s behavior was ad hoc and unlikely to be repeated
or whether it signaled a strategic shift by Paris toward
alliances directed against Washington, such as the
Of course, requiring transparency from members of a security community is one thing. Asking for states to agree on a common vision of challenges and threats is setting the bar too high.
Disagreements over which states should be considered adversaries can weaken a security community. ASEAN, for one, would not have survived if a common view of security threats had been required of its members. While some ASEAN countries increasingly view China as a direct challenge to their security, others are less concerned. All ASEAN members, however, are determined to retain independence in decisionmaking from Beijing and other great powers.
In a similar vein, as long as the
Since 1996, Moscow has been on a quest for «multipolarity»-the key
official yet vague notion driving the country’s foreign policy.
If for Russia multipolarity implies limiting the clout of the
Both Russia and the European states would have to make compromises
if Moscow were to move closer to the
Interestingly, virtually all Russian mainstream commentators expressed indignation with the breach of diplomatic norms when several Western European nations, clearly honoring a request from Washington, forced the landing of the Bolivian president’s airplane on July 2 in Austria, where it was searched for the fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. However, only a few, if any, of these experts felt envious of the degree of commitment European NATO members have to their alliance with the United States. What would Russia’s allies and partners, including China, do in a similar situation?
Indeed, adhering to a benign position vis-à-vis the
Yet Russia’s participation in one community (for example, the
Russia could refrain from counterbalancing the
Political Will and Economic Calculations
Despite the clear economic difficulties facing the European Union,
no nation that seeks to join the EU or NATO has reversed course
and moved away from integration into the
Bringing Russia and its
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