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The Seven-Power Summit as a New Security Institution

John Kirton

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The International Security Agenda

Since the end of the new cold war of the early 1980s, and the ensuing disintegration of Soviet power and settlement of several Third World conflicts, it has become fashionable for practitioners and analysts of international politics to turn their attention to a host of non-traditional subjects under the rubric of the new international security agenda. This tendency to label as a new security threat every fashionably discomforting feature of world politics, beyond the familiar cold-war conflict in its East-West axis and North-South extension, is understandable. However, to assess the ability of alternative international institutional arrangements to manage the international security order in the post-cold-war -- or, more accurately, post-World War II era -- requires a more disciplined conception of which of the multitude of new issues are genuine security threats.

This analysis thus divides the security agenda of post-1945 international politics into the three broad categories of old, new, and emerging security threats. In all cases a security threat consists, by definition, of any directly death-causing physical penetration from abroad against which national governments can provide protection. The distinctions between old, new, and emerging varieties of security threats are based on the four dimensions in which a process in international politics may constitute a clear internationally originating threat to the security of citizens within a nation-state the directness with which death is inflicted, on a widespread basis, on citizens within a polity; the physical nature of the death-causing agent; the transborder penetration of such physical objects; and the ability of the national government to protect its citizenry from these physically penetrating objects from abroad.

In the case of the old or traditional security threats, these dimensions had a distinctly military cast. Citizens' lives were disrupted and taken by the direct application of armed force on the part of the military services of a foreign government intruding into their territory, or that of an ally. The home government responded with military force, either through border measures (against invasion or incursion) or through action abroad, including multilateral policy co-ordination (such as forming and contributing to alliances and despatching troops to distant theatres). In short, nationally organized armed forces served as the primary instruments and institutions of both the transborder threat and the national protection against it.

In contrast, the new security threats have an overwhelmingly nonmilitary character, in that armed force plays a minimal role. Although transborder intrusions of this kind do directly cause widespread death, they often do so in an incremental and invisible way that distinguishes them from invasions. Second, the physical agents of the new security threats range from terrorist bombs to toxic wastes and atmospheric chemical reactions to drugs and viruses. Third, their transborder trajectories are often unplotted: the originators neither know nor care who gets killed. Finally, they do not arise from specific sources abroad (known enemy countries) that can be directly countered, but have multiple, often-changing, global origins, which means that they can flow from anywhere to anywhere, and be far more difficult to defend against.

Emerging security threats share with new ones the non-military character of their physical agents and their unknown, unintended transborder trajectories. They differ, however, in the nature of their impact in the recipient country, and their origins in the initiating locations outside. Although emerging security issues may in the future represent large, direct death- causing threats (and are for that reason worrisome in the present), they currently constitute a threat not to human life itself, but to other national values (e.g., economic prosperity, international competitiveness, plant and animal life, historic social and linguistic balances). Second, efforts to protect against them can be, and often are, directed against the particular locations from which they emanate; these may include attempts to alter conditions within the originating societies to prevent their transborder export. The deathly threat is thus both indirect (logically and temporally) and distant (spatially).

Using these distinctions, the issues most central to the post-1945 security arena can be categorized as follows. The old security agenda has at its core the East-West conflict (including armed defence, non-military sanctions, arms control, and other confidence-building and conflict-resolution measures). It includes regional security issues, whether or not those are linked to the East-West cleavage, involving the actual or threatened use of armed force. It also embraces, on both the East-West and North-South axes, the issues of horizontal arms proliferation (including nuclear, missile, chemical, biological, and dual-use technological measures, and recent efforts to control relative military capabilities through linkage of international development assistance to national defence spending).

The new security agenda as defined above includes four central threats. The first and most familiar is terrorism (including air hijacking and diplomatic hostage-taking), with the novelty of these venerable threats coming from the instruments and agents used. The second is the transborder transport of several items on the global environmental agenda, notably hazardous waste, chlorofluorocarbons, and other substances directly causing human death (but arguably still excluding carbon dioxide). The third is the international flow of addictive and death-causing narcotics. And the fourth is the international transmission of diseases such as AIDS.

The emerging security agenda consists of a long list of potential concerns. For example, among the 'transborder physical penetrations' that may, but do not yet directly, cause death to home-country citizens are refugees and migrants. Efforts to prevent such potentially threatening flows by altering conditions in the originating country include such agenda items as democratic governance, human rights, and various assistance programmes (targeted to both East and South) aimed at alleviating international conflict causing poverty, disease, and death.

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