National security

This article is about security. For the American film, see National Security (2003 film). For the South Korean film, see National Security (2012 film).
Security measures taken to protect the Houses of Parliament in London, UK. These heavy blocks of concrete are designed to prevent a car bomb or other device being rammed into the building.
President Reagan in a briefing with National Security Council staff on the Libya Bombing on 15 April 1986

National security is a concept that a government, along with its parliaments, should protect the state and its citizens against all kind of "national" crises through a variety of power projections, such as political power, diplomacy, economic power, military might, and so on.

The concept developed all in the United States after World War II. Initially focusing on military might, it now encompasses a broad range of facets, all of which impinge on the non-military or economic security of the nation and the values espoused by the national society. Accordingly, in order to possess national security, a nation needs to possess economic security, energy security, environmental security, etc. Security threats involve not only conventional foes such as other nation-states but also non-state actors such as violent non-state actors, narcotic cartels, multinational corporations and non-governmental organisations; some authorities include natural disasters and events causing severe environmental damage in this category.

Measures taken to ensure national security include:


There is no single universally accepted definition of national security. The variety of definitions provide an overview of the many usages of this concept. The concept still remains ambiguous, having originated from simpler definitions which initially emphasised the freedom from military threat and political coercion to later increase in sophistication and include other forms of non-military security as suited the circumstances of the time.[1]:1–6[2]:52–54

A typical dictionary definition, in this case from the Macmillan Dictionary (online version), defines the term as "the protection or the safety of a country’s secrets and its citizens" emphasising the overall security of a nation and a nation state.[3] Walter Lippmann, in 1943, defined it in terms of war saying that "a nation has security when it does not have to sacrifice its legitimate ínterests to avoid war, and is able, if challenged, to maintain them by war".[1]:5 A later definition by Harold Lasswell, a political scientist, in 1950, looks at national security from almost the same aspect, that of external coercion: "The distinctive meaning of national security means freedom from foreign dictation."[1]:79

Arnold Wolfers (1960), while recognising the need to segregate the subjectivity of the conceptual idea from the objectivity, talks of threats to "acquired values": "An ambiguous symbol meaning different things to different people. National security objectively means the absence of threats to acquired values and subjectively, the absence of fear that such values will be attacked."[4] The 1996 definition propagated by the National Defence College of India accretes the elements of national power: "National security is an appropriate and aggressive blend of political resilience and maturity, human resources, economic structure and capacity, technological competence, industrial base and availability of natural resources and finally the military might."[5]

Harold Brown, U.S. Secretary of Defense from 1977 to 1981 in the Carter administration, enlarged the definition of national security by including elements such as economic and environmental security:

National security then is the ability to preserve the nation's physical integrity and territory; to maintain its economic relations with the rest of the world on reasonable terms; to preserve its nature, institution, and governance from disruption from outside; and to control its borders.[6]

In 1990, Harvard University history professor Charles Maier defined national security through the lens of national power: "National security... is best described as a capacity to control those domestic and foreign conditions that the public opinion of a given community believes necessary to enjoy its own self-determination or autonomy, prosperity and wellbeing."[7] According to Prabhakaran Paleri, author of National Security, Imperatives and Challenges, national security may be defined as:

The measurable state of the capability of a nation to overcome the multi-dimensional threats to the apparent well-being of its people and its survival as a nation-state at any given time, by balancing all instruments of state policy through governance, that can be indexed by computation, empirically or otherwise, and is extendable to global security by variables external to it.[2]:52–54

A concise working definition by Premaratne[8] that paraphrases the aspects of the definitions of Brown,[6] Romm[1] and Paleri[2]:52–54 defines national security as

Safeguarding the sovereignty, territorial integrity, citizenry and socioeconomic functionality of a nation from an aggressor intent on undermining a particular valued aspect of a nation through violent or unjust means


The origin of the modern concept of "national security" as a philosophy of maintaining a stable nation state can be traced to the Peace of Westphalia, wherein the concept of a sovereign state, ruled by a sovereign, became the basis of a new international order of nation states.[9]:19 It was Thomas Hobbes in his 1651 work Leviathan who stated that citizens yield to a powerful sovereign who in turn promises an end to civil and religious war, and to bring forth a lasting peace, and give him the right to conduct policy, including wage war or negotiate for peace for the good of the "commonwealth", i.e., a mandate for national security.[10] The Clausewitzian view of diplomacy and war being the instruments of furthering national cause, added to the view of national security being sought by nations by exercising self-interest at all times.[10] This view came to be known as "classical realism" in international relations.

Immanuel Kant, in his 1795 essay "Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch" Zum ewigen Frieden, proposed a system where nation-states and dominating national interests were replaced by an enlightened world order, a community of mankind where nation-states subsumed the national interests under the rule of the international law because of rational insight, common good and moral commitment. National security was achieved by this voluntary accession by the leadership to a higher order than the nation-state, viz. "international security". Thus was born the "idealist" school of international relations.[10]

As an academic concept, national security can be seen as a recent phenomenon which was first introduced in the United States after World War II,[1]:2–4 and has to some degree replaced other concepts that describe the struggle of states to overcome various external and internal threats. The term was used during discourse on war, for example, Walter Lippmann in 1943 criticized an unwillingness of political pundits to discuss "the foundations of national security" in a time of peace.[11]:49 However, the earliest mention of the term national security, can be traced to 1790 in Yale University in reference to its relation with domestic industries.[2]:52

Elements of national security

As in the case of national power, the military aspect of security is an important, but not the sole, component of national security. To be truly secure, a nation needs other forms of security. Authorities differ in their choice of nation security elements. Besides the military aspect of security, the aspects of diplomacy or politics; society; environment; energy and natural resources; and economics are commonly listed. The elements of national security correlate closely to the concept of the elements of national power. Romm (1993) lists security from narcotic cartels, economic security, environmental security and energy security as the non-military elements of national security.[1]:v, 1–8

Military security

Main article: Military security

Military security is traditionally the earliest recognised form of national security.[2]:67 Military security implies the capability of a nation to defend itself, and/or deter military aggression. Alternatively, military security implies the capability of a nation to enforce its policy choices by use of military force. The term "military security" is considered synonymous with "security" in much of its usage. One of the definitions of security given in the Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, may be considered a definition of military security: "A condition that results from the establishment and maintenance of protective measures that ensure a state of inviolability from hostile acts or influences."[12]

Political security

The political aspect of security has been offered by Barry Buzan, Ole Wæver, Jaap de Wilde as an important component of national security, Political security is about the stability of the social order. Closely allied to military security and societal security, other components proposed in a framework for national security in their book "Security: a new framework for analysis", it specifically addresses threats to sovereignty.[13] System referent objects are defined, such as nation-states, nations, transnational groups of political importance including tribes, minorities, some religious organisations, systems of states such as the European Union and the United Nations, besides others. Diplomacy, negotiation and other interactions form the means of interaction between the objects.

Economic security

Main article: Economic security

Historically, conquest of nations has made conquerors rich through plunder, access to new resources and enlarged trade by controlling a conquered nations' economy. In today's complex system of international trade, characterised by multi-national agreements, mutual inter-dependence and availability of natural resources etc., the freedom to exercise choice of policies to develop a nation's economy in the manner desired, invites economic security. Economic security today forms, arguably, as important a part of national security as military security. The creation and protection of jobs that supply defense and non-defense needs are vital to national security. Third world countries are less secure due to lack of employment for their citizens.

Environmental security

Environmental security deals with environmental issues which threaten the national security of a nation in any manner. The scope and nature of environmental threats to national security and strategies to engage them are a subject of debate.[1]:29–33 While all environmental events are not considered significant of being categorised as threats, many transnational issues, both global and regional would affect national security. Romm (1993) classifies these as:[1]:15

Security of energy and natural resources

Prabhakaran Paleri's 2008 definition of a resource is "...a support inventory... biotic or abiotic, renewable or expendable,... for sustaining life at a heightened level of well-being."[2]:179

Resources include water, sources of energy, land and minerals. Availability of adequate natural resources is important for a nation to develop its industry and economic power. Lack of resources is a serious challenge for Japan to overcome to increase its national power. In the Persian Gulf War of 1991, fought over economic issues, Iraq captured Kuwait in order to capture its oil wells, among other reasons. Water resources are subject to disputes between many nations, including the two nuclear powers, India and Pakistan. Nations attempt to attain energy and natural resource security by acquiring the needed resources by force, negotiation and commerce.

The interrelation between security, energy, natural resources, and their sustainability is increasingly acknowledged by the international community, as proven by the fact that energy is now one of the issues amidst the UN Sustainable Development Goals, as well as a cardinal issues for investment promotion policies at national level.[15]


Main article: Computer security

Recently, cybersecurity began to be viewed as a pressing national security issue. Electronic information systems are vital for maintaining a national security of any state. Possible unauthorized access to the critical governmental infrastructures by state and non-state entities can create a serious threat and have a negative impact on political, economic and military security of a given nation.

In the United States, the Bush Administration in January 2008, initiated the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI). It introduced a differentiated approach, such as: identifying existing and emerging cybersecurity threats, finding and plugging existing cyber vulnerabilities, and apprehending actors that trying to gain access to secure federal information systems.[16] President Obama issued a declaration that the "cyber threat is one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation" and that "America's economic prosperity in the 21st century will depend on cybersecurity."[17]

Empowerment of women

Main article: Hillary Doctrine

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that "The countries that threaten regional and global peace are the very places where women and girls are deprived of dignity and opportunity".[18] She has noted that countries where women are oppressed are places where the "rule of law and democracy are struggling to take root",[18] and that, when women's rights as equals in society are upheld, the society as a whole changes and improves, which in turn enhances stability in that society, which in turn contributes to global society.[18]

Country-by-country perspectives



In the years 1997 and 2000, Russia adopted documents titled "National Security Concept" that described Russia's global position, the country's interests, listed threats to national security and described the means to counter those threats. In 2009, these documents were superseded by the "National Security Strategy to 2020". The key body responsible for coordination of policies related to Russia's national security is the Security Council of Russia.

According to provision 6 of the National Security Strategy to 2020, national security is "the situation in which the individual, the society and the state enjoy protection from foreign and domestic threats to the degree that ensures constitutional rights and freedoms, decent quality of life for citizens, as well as sovereignty, territorial integrity and stable development of the Russian Federation, the defense and security of the state."


United Kingdom

The primary body responsible for coordinating national security policy in the UK is the National Security Council (United Kingdom). It was created in May 2010 by the new coalition government of the Conservative Party (UK) and Liberal Democrats. The National Security Council is a committee of the Cabinet of the United Kingdom and was created as part of a wider reform of the national security apparatus. This reform also included the creation of a National Security Adviser (United Kingdom) and a National Security Secretariat to support the National Security Council.[19]

United States

National Security Act of 1947

The concept of national security became an official guiding principle of foreign policy in the United States when the National Security Act of 1947 was signed on July 26, 1947 by U.S. President Harry S. Truman.[1]:3 As amended in 1949, this Act:

Notably, the Act did not define national security, which was conceivably advantageous, as its ambiguity made it a powerful phrase to invoke whenever issues threatened by other interests of the state, such as domestic concerns, came up for discussion and decision.[1]:3–5

The notion that national security encompasses more than just military security was present, though understated, from the beginning. The Act established the National Security Council so as to "advise the President on the integration of domestic, military and foreign policies relating to national security".[2]:52

While not defining the "interests" of national security, the Act does establish, within the National Security Council, the "Committee on Foreign Intelligence", whose duty is to conduct an annual review "identifying the intelligence required to address the national security interests of the United States as specified by the President" (emphasis added).[21]

In Gen. Maxwell Taylor's 1974 essay "The Legitimate Claims of National Security", Taylor states:[22]

The national valuables in this broad sense include current assets and national interests, as well as the sources of strength upon which our future as a nation depends. Some valuables are tangible and earthy; others are spiritual or intellectual. They range widely from political assets such as the Bill of Rights, our political institutions and international friendships, to many economic assets which radiate worldwide from a highly productive domestic economy supported by rich natural resources. It is the urgent need to protect valuables such as these which legitimizes and makes essential the role of national security.

Obama administration

The U.S. Armed Forces defines national security of the United States in the following manner :[23]

A collective term encompassing both national defense and foreign relations of the United States. Specifically, the condition provided by: a. a military or defense advantage over any foreign nation or group of nations; b. a favorable foreign relations position; or c. a defense posture capable of successfully resisting hostile or destructive action from within or without, overt or covert.

In 2010, the White House included an all-encompassing world-view in a national security strategy which identified "security" as one of the country's "four enduring national interests" that were "inexorably intertwined":[24]

"To achieve the world we seek, the United States must apply our strategic approach in pursuit of four enduring national interests:
  • Security:  The security of the United States, its citizens, and U.S. allies and partners.
  • Prosperity:  A strong, innovative, and growing U.S. economy in an open international economic system that promotes opportunity and prosperity.
  • Values: Respect for universal values at home and around the world.
  • International Order:  An international order advanced by U.S. leadership that promotes peace, security, and opportunity through stronger cooperation to meet global challenges.

Each of these interests is inextricably linked to the others: no single interest can be pursued in isolation, but at the same time, positive action in one area will help advance all four."

National Security Strategy, Executive Office of the President of the United States (May 2010)


Conceptualising and understanding the National Security choices and challenges of African States is a difficult task. This is due to the fact that it is often not rooted in the understanding of their (mostly disrupted) state formation and their often imported process of state building.

Although Post-Cold War conceptualizations of Security have broadened, the policies and practices of many African states still privilege national security as being synonymous with state security and even more narrowly- regime security.

The problem with the above is that a number of African states have been unable to govern their security in meaningful ways. Often failing to be able to claim the monopoly of force in their territories. A hybridity of security ‘governance’ or ‘providers’ thus exists.[25] States that have not been able to capture this reality in official National Security strategies and policies often find their claim over having the monopoly of force and thus being the Sovereign challenged.[25] This often leads to the weakening of the state. Examples of such states are South Sudan and Somalia.

National security state

To reflect on institutionalization of new bureaucratic infrastructures and governmental practices in the post-World War II period in the U.S., when a culture of semi-permanent military mobilization brought around the National Security Council, the CIA, the Department of Defense, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, national-security researchers apply a notion of a national security state:[26][27][28]

During and after WorldWar II, US leaders expanded the concept of national security and used its terminology for the first time to explain America’s relationship to the world. For most of US history, the physical security of the continental United States had not been in jeopardy. But by 1945, this invulnerability was rapidly diminishing with the advent of long-range bombers, atom bombs, and ballistic missiles. A general perception grew that the future would not allow time to mobilize, that preparation would have to become constant. For the first time, American leaders would have to deal with the essential paradox of national security faced by the Roman Empire and subsequent great powers: Si vis pacem, para bellum — If you want peace, prepare for war.[29]
David Jablonsky

National security and rights & freedoms

The measures nearly universally adopted around the world to maintain national security in the face of the possible threats has led to ongoing dialectic struggle, particularly in liberal democracies, between government authority and civil and human rights. These are natural tensions of the process of maintaining self-determination and sovereignty and keeping the rights and freedoms of individuals.

Although national security measures are imposed to protect society as a whole, many such measures may restrict the rights and freedoms of individuals in society. Where the exercise of national security laws and powers is not subject to good governance, the rule of law, and strict checks and balances, there is a risk that national security may simply serve as a pretext for suppressing unfavorable political and social views. Measures which may ostensibly serve a national security purpose, such as mass surveillance, and censorship of mass media, could ultimately lead to an Orwellian dystopia.

In the United States, the controversial USA Patriot Act and other governmental actions has brought the issues of rights and freedoms to citizen's attention. Among questions raised: to what extent for the sake of national security individual rights and freedoms can be restricted, and how the restriction of civil rights for the sake of national security be justified in an absence of war.

Functional aspects

Because of the highly competitive nature of nation states and the fluid state of world order, national security preparedness depends as much on routine technical measures and operational procedures as on central decision making. This ranges from information protection to state secrets to weaponry to international negotiation strategies. Any given national security apparatus runs on combination of management practices and technical capabilities. Emerging issues such as proliferation, failing states, climate change and global terrorism[30] increasingly dominate the reality of competition between nation states. All of these lead to the need to have a clear understanding of the technical issues underlying national security in order to create and sustain the national security institutions that may ultimately affect the future of a nation state.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Romm, Joseph J. (1993). Defining national security: the nonmilitary aspects. Pew Project on America's Task in a Changed World (Pew Project Series). Council on Foreign Relations. p. 122. ISBN 978-0-87609-135-7. Retrieved 22 September 2010.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Paleri, Prabhakaran (2008). National Security: Imperatives And Challenges. New Delhi: Tata McGraw-Hill. p. 521. ISBN 978-0-07-065686-4. Retrieved 23 September 2010.
  3. Definition of "national security" from the Macmillan Dictionary (online version), Macmillan Publishers Limited. Accessed 22 September 2010.
  4. Quoted in Paleri (2008) ibid. Pg 52.
  5. Definition from "Proceedings of Seminar on "A Maritime Strategy for India" (1996). National Defence College, Tees January Marg, New Delhi, India. quoted in Paleri 2008 (ibid).
  6. 1 2 Brown, Harold (1983) Thinking about national security: defense and foreign policy in a dangerous world. As quoted in Watson, Cynthia Ann (2008). U.S. national security: a reference handbook. Contemporary world issues (2 (revised) ed.). ABC-CLIO. p. 281. ISBN 978-1-59884-041-4. Retrieved 24 September 2010.
  7. Maier, Charles S. Peace and security for the 1990s. Unpublished paper for the MacArthur Fellowship Program, Social Science Research Council, 12 Jun 1990. As quoted in Romm 1993, p.5
  8. Premaratne, Upeka (8 September 2016). "Reconciling the Irreconcilable: The Use of Reasonable Consequentialism for the Conundrum of National Security and Fundamental Rights". Retrieved 11 November 2016.
  9. MacFarlane, S. Neil; Yuen Foong Khong (2006). S. Neil, MacFarlane; Yuen Foong Khong, eds. Human security and the UN: a critical history. United Nations intellectual history project (illustrated ed.). Indiana University Press. p. 346. ISBN 978-0-253-21839-1. Retrieved 23 September 2010.
  10. 1 2 3 Haftendorn, Helga (March 1991). "The Security Puzzle: Theory-Building and Discipline-Building in International Security". International Studies Quarterly. Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The International Studies Association. 35 (1): 3–17. doi:10.2307/2600386. JSTOR 2600386.
  11. Walter Lippmann. U.S. Foreign Policy: Shield of the Republic. Boston: Little, Brown, 1943, p. 49.
  12. "Security." in "Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms", 2001 (As amended through 31 July 2010) op.cited. p 477. Accessed 26 September 2010.
  13. Security: a new framework for analysis. Lynne Rienner Publishers. 1998. p. 239. ISBN 978-1-55587-784-2.
  14. Diamond, Jared. "Malthus in Africa: Rwanda's Genocide". Retrieved 26 September 2010.
  15. Farah, Paolo Davide (2015). "Sustainable Energy Investments and National Security: Arbitration and Negotiation Issues". JOURNAL OF WORLD ENERGY LAW AND BUSINESS. 8 (6). Retrieved 26 November 2015.
  16. Rollins, John, and Anna C. Henning. Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative Legal Authorities and Policy Considerations. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 2009.
  17. White House: Cybersecurity.
  18. 1 2 3 Lemmon, Gayle Tzemach (2013). "The Hillary Doctrine: Women's Rights Are a National Security Issue". the Atlantic.
  19. Dr Joe Devanny & Josh Harris. "The National Security Council: national security at the centre of government". Institute for Government & King's College London. Retrieved 6 November 2014.
  20. Davis, Robert T. (2010). Robert T. Davis, ed. U.S. Foreign Policy and National Security: Chronology and Index for the 20th Century. Praeger Security International Series (Illustrated ed.). ABC-CLIO. pp. xiii–xiv. ISBN 978-0-313-38385-4. Retrieved 25 September 2010.
  21. 50 U.S.C. § 402
  22. Taylor, Gen Maxwell (1974). "The Legitimate Claims of National Security". Foreign Affairs. Council on Foreign Relations, Inc. 52 (Essay of 1974): 577. doi:10.2307/20038070. Retrieved 25 September 2010.
  23. US NATO Military Terminology Group (2010). JP 1 (02) "Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms", 2001 (As amended through 31 July 2010) (PDF). Pentagon, Washington: Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Department of Defense. p. 361. Retrieved 19 September 2010.
  24. Obama, Barack. National Security Strategy, May 2010. Office of the President of the United States, White House, p. 17. Accessed 23 September 2010.
  25. 1 2 Luckham, R., & Kirk, T. (2012). Security in hybrid political contexts: An end-user approach.
  26. Stuart, Douglas T. Creating the National Security State: A History of the Law That Transformed America. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2008. ISBN 9781400823772
  27. Yergin, Daniel. Shattered Peace: The Origins of the Cold War and the National Security State. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977.
  28. Ripsman, Norrin M., and T. V. Paul. Globalization and the National Security State. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
  29. David Jablonsky. The State of the National Security State. Carlisle Barracks, PA,: Strategic Studies Institute, 2002. PDF
  30. Gordon Lederman. National Security Reform for the Twenty-First Century: A New National Security Act and Reflections on Legislation’s Role in Organizational Change. Journal of National Security Law & Policy, (2010) Vol. 3:363. PDF

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