Human Security is National Security in a Time of Pandemic
This event took place on Wednesday, July 22, 2020
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this webinar event hosted by the program on U.S. Global Engagement at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. This is part of an ongoing conversation that the U.S. Global Engagement program has been having for the last three years on narratives for American foreign policy and rationales for U.S. global engagement.
The genesis of this particular event on human security is actually an outgrowth of our event a few weeks ago, the "Vox Populi" event, which hopefully some of you attended, or in seeing the invitation for this event with Derek Reveron saw the link back to that event. The "Vox Populi" event was an attempt to try to capture a moment in time in U.S. public opinion: What are Americans saying about the importance of foreign policy and national security?
One of the outgrowths of that event was that while Americans may be less interested or concerned about questions about the balance of power in the South China Sea or questions about credibility in international affairs, the concept of "human security" very much falls along the line of what in the previous event Asha Castleberry-Hernandez would have referred to as a "doorstep" issue, that people are going to be less concerned about alliance relationships, but they are concerned about pandemics, they are concerned about globalization, they are concerned about how events that happen in other parts of the world may impact them on their doorsteps. Based on that event, particularly from the Q&A and the discussion we had, I felt it was important for us to revisit this question of human security and how it plays out with questions of national security and global engagement.
I am pleased to have my friend and colleague, Dr. Derek Reveron, with us today because Derek has been one of the pioneers in developing and exploring this concept of human security, taking national security away from perhaps just the grand strategic level and bringing it down to the needs and interests of the human being, and how these global developments can impact the individual, whether it be exposure to disease, cyber issues, and how what we do in our lives online intersects with these trends and with these developments.
I'm going to go ahead and post into the Chat momentarily not only Derek's biography, which was sent out to you, but also Derek and Kathleen Mahoney-Norris essentially wrote the book on human security, gathering together the thinkers and some of the issues there. Derek, I don't know if you have a copy of the book handy and if you can show it. Routledge, the publisher, has made a chapter of that book available, so I am also going to go ahead in a moment and post the link to the chapter for those people who would like to be able to have that as a resource.
Derek is the chairman of the National Security Affairs Department at the U.S. Naval War College. He is a faculty affiliate at the Belfer Center at Harvard University, someone who has, as I have said, spearheaded this discussion of human security and linking it to national security. He is going to speak as he always does on these issues in his personal capacity. He is not here in any official capacity, and his remarks and comments do not reflect any official position of the U.S. Naval War College or the Department of Defense (DoD).
With that, Derek, let me turn the floor over to you. Take us through what you would like to in exploring these issues of human security. We will be keeping a close eye on the Chat, so if you are on the call and you can use the Chat function to enter questions and comments, they will be curated. My colleague, Billy Pickett, will be referring those questions and comments to Derek to get his feedback, and in that way we hope to have a very robust discussion. With that, Derek, the floor is yours.
DEREK REVERON: Great. Thank you, Nick, for having me, and the Carnegie Council for arranging this event. What a great way to spend a lunch hour on a hot summer day here in July, and I appreciate everything the Council does. Having these discussions, it's hard to imagine that this is allegedly an election year and that we will see an election for the U.S. presidency in 100 days or so, but of course all eyes, ears, and energy is focused on really crushing the pandemic, crushing COVID-19, so we have not moved into campaign season fully, but that will certainly change. I think probably in early September we will get back into that mode.
I want to acknowledge—and I appreciate the shout-out for the book—my colleague, Kathleen Mahoney-Norris. I did invite her. She retired a few years ago and has other obligations in retirement, but she sends her best and thanks for giving us this opportunity to share the ideas.
A couple of things that I will highlight, and whether you want to be direction through questions. It's the second edition of the book. We probably started thinking about this in the early 1990s. There are a lot of other good books out on human security as well. It became a focus for us in about 2008-2009, and a number of issues were coming to a head that made us think about, What should be the object of national security?
About 10 years ago we were very much focused on concerns about climate change. There was also at the time, if you remember, the gripe porcina—because I see we have somebody from Chile on the line—that was the H5N1 influenza back then, and you can go a few years before that to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) if we want to stay in the pandemic realm.
But there were other important issues in the maritime security space over fishing, for example, and small skirmishes related to countries sending fishing fleets out into other countries' waters and harvesting. We were also deeply concerned with human migration and human rights and how those factor. I like how a previous guest framed it, that human security is a "doorstep" issue.
One of the things I will admit upfront is that we struggled a little bit with, "How do we conceptualize this, and how do we package everything?" In the first edition we simply called these "threats without borders."
For the second one, we wanted to be a little more explicit. I think if we could figure out a way to not say "human" or "national" but just talk "security" and it would mean something, we would probably do that. I think that's typically the divide on the academic side as well. Human security issues are seen as soft, developmental issues, not terribly relevant in a developed country like the United States, although we will get to why that is. I think it's too visible today in negative ways.
The United States, European, Japanese, and other governments have always had very active public health campaigns, but often addressing public health concerns was done as a foreign policy—promoting vaccinations around the world—and not necessarily inside the borders of, say, Germany or the United States because that is done more as a matter of routine, but vaccination as foreign policy. It's clearly visible now why public health is important, and we are seeing the shortcomings inside the United States because of COVID-19.
Also, questions of identity. Both Kathleen and I came from a military intelligence background, and we spent our time and training studying Soviet weapons and radars and thinking about Cold War, large, conventional fights. But then our military careers were very different in terms of the kinds of issues. So we both started to bring in these questions: "How do we explain U.S. foreign policy? How do we explain U.S. military deployments? Do traditional concepts of national security help us do that?"
Our answers were largely "No." When we started looking at conflicts, for example, in the 1990s—30 years ago now—in the Balkans, they were characterized as "ethnic" war. Nick, as you know, there was a great divergence between European thinking on intervening in Bosnia and then Kosovo, and then the United States coming into it late, but the notion at the time was "Superpowers don't do windows," in the case of the United States, and so: "Human security is something we do because we're all human beings on the planet. The United States believes deeply in human rights, and we should do our part, but we shouldn't use the military to support that."
In some other work that I have done, my thing is that militaries do more than fight wars. If you stop and think about how many militaries or governments today actually think about fighting a war with another country, I think it's a real handful. The other 180 countries in the world think about national security in a more holistic way. So Kathleen and I saw a gap in terms of U.S. strategic thinking in terms of how we approach that. So we started rethinking things a bit.
Even in the case of the Vietnam War in the 1960s it was recast as an ideological struggle, but looking at it from a Vietnamese perspective it was about identity, and it was an anti-colonial war, solidifying their identity. In the Balkans, the ethnic conflict, again was very much identity. As Yugoslavia fragmented, peoples were forced to identify with their base ethnic group, and then when groups didn't quite fit like predominantly Muslims living in Bosnia, they had to create or revive this identity of being a Bosniak. This, of course, became a source of conflict.
Probably in the 2010s there was an example about economic insecurity that has produced mass human migration throughout the Middle East and North Africa into Europe. Again, a traditional notion of national security didn't help us, so we started to look at this question of: "What explains this?" "What are these underlying causes?" I guess is probably the way that we wanted to get after this. That's where we felt great appeal to this concept of human security.
If we think more broadly—in the book title we say "human" and "national"—what is the link then between, say, ethnic identity or economic insecurity, climate change, or pandemic to national security, one of the things that we again notice and feel is that the bias in national security circles. Establishment thinking tends to be defining the most dangerous as a nuclear war with another great power. That leads from an acquisition perspective to the bias toward the most expensive solution. A simple question is like: "Well, what's better than a fourth-generation fighter? A fifth-generation fighter." So we keep having these incremental improvements in terms of how we build out our defense establishments.
When you see, though, how defense is applied as a tool of foreign policy you often see a mismatch. For example, the United States and its allies and partners have been in Afghanistan now for coming up on 20 years. The very expensive military design for conventional conflict hasn't produced the results that people would expect, namely defeat the Taliban, let along bring stability, which is a different sort of problem.
But as we started looking at it, like in the question of Afghanistan—and I served there for a year—the solutions were not traditional military conventional solutions. The programs were about: "How do you improve Afghan literacy? How do you improve Afghan public health? How do you promote inclusivity and diversity?" These are key things to bring stability to a society because Kathleen and I conclude that without human security you can't have national security, and the lack of security inside Afghanistan brought together dozens of countries in an attempt to stabilize it. At the same time, it brought in groups both domestic—Taliban—and foreign—different versions of at the time either al-Qaeda or now the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)—attempting to harness that instability for their own purposes.
To give the COVID-19 plug, our bias is toward the most expensive, and "most expensive" meant doing the gene sequencing of COVID-19 virus in about three hours, and there are dozens of countries developing a vaccine. The cheap solution might be the mask. It's a highly cheap solution. We're all counting on the vaccine, but in the short term the mask is the other way to get at it. Because there was no gene sequencing when the references are made back to the 1918 influenza. Germ theory was barely an idea 100 years ago during the last great influenza pandemic, let along gene sequencing and DNA.
One of the concerns too that we had is that at times our traditional national security lens overshadows these human security issues. If we take the case of China, the United States has identified China as a competitor, and the United States is deeply concerned about expansive Chinese claims in the maritime space, Chinese military modernization to include deliberately developing systems to target the United States, its forces, and its allies in the region, so there is a lot of attention on China from a national security perspective, and very little attention about public health in China.
As we think about the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost, millions infected, and probably millions will die, trillions of dollars in the economy globally will be lost, there will be a contraction of gross domestic product (GDP), and it's going to have a lasting impact, but very little national attention is focused on that. That is one of the diagnoses that we have, that, at least in the United States, the national government thinks external, and state governments are responsible for public health, education, and things that we would put in the human security field, but we can see the limits of states having their various COVID-19 responses that we can't get a national solution because of that fragmentation.
I'll offer one more last thought, and then you can interrogate my thesis here. The other point I always like to make is that human security is an American idea. I will at least reach back to FDR's 1941 State of the Union address, the U.S. president laying out these Four Freedoms, that people everywhere in the world, regardless of location and regardless of nationality, should have: freedom of speech, they should have freedom of worship, they should have freedom from want, and they should have freedom from fear.
These Four Freedoms are inside the DNA of U.S. national security thinking. A longer discussion can be had of how that fell out, and I would pull you into that discussion because you think a lot about this as well. Some of it I think is the Nuclear Age when we got into the bias toward humanity could end in 12 minutes with a nuclear war, so these issues were deemed as lesser. I would say advances within developed countries in public health and in vaccinations and eliminating disease and that global campaign, no poverty—in the 1960s there was a concerted effort, the War on Poverty, to address that. That still continues both in the United States and globally, and we have often fragmented these two dimensions. As I said earlier, we would default to: "You can't have national security without human security."
That's the big overview. We try to do a lot in the book. If you look at United Nations definitions on human security and their various efforts over time to highlight each component of it, it's a very comprehensive idea. So there are a lot of things, and we just try to lay out some of the basic issues.
I felt a little better about looking at the health security chapter again, which as you noted, the publisher put up online given COVID-19. The key point we try to make is, "Look, disease knows no boundaries." As we think through national security, which is very much bound up in this concept of sovereignty, things like health don't matter. Climate change doesn't care whether you're American, Canadian, or Chilean; it impacts everybody globally.
If there is any sort of message we would have, it's that international cooperation is very much essential to this. No single country can solve any of these problems that we lay out. Certain countries can exacerbate the problems, and as we look into the future from a foreign policy perspective, we're going to have to very much figure out how to manage competing with China in some places and partnering in others. That's not an easy thing to do, so the policymakers who attempt to do that—there is a lot of ambiguity out there, but, as the president likes to say, "We'll see what happens."
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: I will take the moderator's prerogative of summarizing and pushing you in a few areas and throwing out some ideas for further discussion. I also see a robust discussion in the Chat, so we will also be bringing all of that in as well.
Derek, as you were talking, there was a point where you said, "Look, we have climate change exacerbating economic issues in countries. We have migration. We now have a pandemic in place." Listening to that, I can see where you can have two very different approaches that you can try to sell to a domestic population as to how you're going to solve. One is, you can push for greater cooperation, which is to say, and as you said: "No one country can solve these things. We have to work together. We're all going to be facing these impacts."
On the other hand, we have this populist decoupling response, which says: "Yes, we're going to face these problems, but we should decouple from the rest. We should pull within our fortress walls and try to deal with it ourselves, cut other people off. It's a zero-sum world. If someone else succeeds, we fail," and so on.
I think it is interesting that both "internationalists"—if I can use that term; I don't want to use "globalists" because that now has more of a negative connotation—say: "Look, we come together, we work together for a common solution."
But then there's a populist response to human security, which says: "Take care of our own and let everyone else go." I think what we just saw yesterday with the European Union splitting the difference on how they're going to deal with the economic response to the pandemic, which was the "Frugal Four" saying, "This has to be on the basis of loans," and the Italians, Portuguese, and Spanish saying, "It should be grants, European solidarity," and splitting the difference between some grants and some loans, a combination of these internationalist and populist approaches.
It also raises an ethical question—and, of course, we are the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs—as we're dealing with the pandemic, a very stark ethical choice, which is: "We can work with China on finding a quick vaccine and moving forward, but if the Chinese government says the price for our cooperation in making a vaccine available and working with you on it is you have to turn a blind eye to Hong Kong, to the Uyghurs." Then we have the question of: Whose human security takes precedence? Is there a global human security for fighting COVID-19, or does that mean then that within China itself different groups of people lose a degree of human security in terms of their rights—and you cited the Four Freedoms. Freedom to worship, freedom to speak for Hong Kong, for Uyghurs is subordinated necessarily to human security of making sure that we deal with this pandemic. Not that there is an answer to that, but the ethical trade-offs that we may have to consider, as with climate change and as with other things, winners, losers, whose rights, whose preferences I think are something that are going to be issues that we're facing.
This brings us to, as you opened your remarks, we're in an election year and this suddenly becomes a matter of domestic politics because a second-term Trump administration is going to have a very different approach to human security and these questions than a first-term Joe Biden administration.
DEREK REVERON: You summarize the dilemma that real policymakers face: How do you balance that?
I always use a hypothetical: You're trying to sit down and develop a summit between the U.S. president and the Chinese president. The United States would make its list of issues, the Chinese would make its list of issues, and then you would figure out what overlaps that you could actually get together and talk about.
The decision-making space today is very different. You and I don't use the Cold War analogy to today, but others do. The key difference I would say is that there was no ambiguity during the Cold War versus today.
In some places China is a partner, like on the question of North Korea. This goes back to "what do you bias?" If you're primarily focused on North Korea's nuclear program, China is an essential partner, full stop. Then you're able to—as this administration did and if we go back to the Obama administration, the number-one concern at the time with China was China buying U.S. debt, Chinese investment in the United States, and trade with China, so we didn't necessarily raise the questions of South China Sea and island reclamation. We had a bit of a slowdown in intellectual property theft that was developed between President Obama and President Xi.
But you have to prioritize and you have to rank and say, "What is the most important thing?" This is the challenge for policymakers everywhere. I think what human security forces us to think about is, what matters more, and then what is your timeline? Because human security forces a very people-centric view, so Americans should care what happens to freedoms in Hong Kong or the Uyghurs or even in Eastern Ukraine. That should matter. But the current international system, which the United States largely benefits from, might be changing, so maybe this is that window.
In my mind human security shifts. What lens are looking at things through? Are you looking at problems through a sovereignty lens? Or are you looking at problems through a human lens? It's tempting to see the pitfalls of globalization today—and countries are reacting. Just like the United States has been trying to re-shore manufacturing in the United States, even before COVID-19, China has a Made in China 2025 program in which they want to create domestic information technology companies in China because they're skeptical. Countries will always want the benefits of globalization without the costs.
COVID-19 puts all that in stark contrast because if people movement is effectively stopped and there is an effort to revive domestic industry, that will probably be tempting. Let me highlight historically again the 1918 influenza. That moved around the world without air travel, so maybe it would just be a little slower. Or you look at the case of climate change. Borders do not matter with climate change. I think it forces that cooperation.
But you can't discount the other sort of critique. Since you highlighted my book, I'll highlight your book. The people who study foreign policy tend to only want to look at threats, and they don't consider inside someone's borders or within the government, how that government operates in that interaction between what it thinks is a threat or not and what its people demand and how it goes about dealing with those sorts of issues. So it's very interactive in terms of what it will be.
If President Trump is reelected, what it will probably mean for countries around the world is they will look for alternative solutions to the United States and maybe regionalize. It's a tough world right now too. This is one of the amazing things about the United States: we appear to be a very rich country; I think we just have very good credit. The United States, for whatever reason, the capital markets and debt markets have no hesitation to loan money to the U.S. government and to U.S. corporations and states, and we're able to finance what we finance. It's unclear if you cut it off what that would look like.
The last point I would say, because we sometimes forget about this—and I think this is true whether Trump is reelected or Biden, and it might differ by region—the complaint today is that the United States is absent. Countries have agency too. As we think about North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) expansion—it's at 30, as you know—and sometimes that is pit as "U.S. imperialism," "knocking on Russian borders." But we forget that those countries that have joined—NATO expansion has been since 1999, so 21 years—Poland chose to join NATO. We get into the early 2000s, I think 2004, the Baltic countries chose to join NATO. I think the United States has to think about those things. It's not just about us, but it's about how the other countries want to behave and incorporate the United States into their foreign policy.
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Those are all critical points that you raised there, and again this point about agency is important, both agency of governments but also agency of people and voters in the choices that they make, that when they cast ballots, whether in the United States, in Europe, in Latin America, and in Asia for governments they are casting for people to make these choices and to make these priorities for them.
Let me turn the floor over to Billy Pickett, who has been monitoring the questions and comments coming in. I have been seeing a steady stream of things coming in, so I think we have more than enough for Derek to chew on without me having to continue, so I'll turn it over to you.
BILLY PICKETT: Thank you, Nick and Derek. Our first few questions come from Carnegie Council President Joel Rosenthal. He asks: "Do analysts still think in terms of kinetic and non-kinetic threats and responses? Can the Department of Defense shift emphasis from planes, ships, tanks, and missiles, to public health, cyber-defense, and climate security? Can there be a narrative shift inside the defense establishment?"
DEREK REVERON: I think right now the answer is "No" in terms of a narrative shift. The dominant narrative is great-power competition (GPC), and the United States explicitly when H. R. McMaster was national security advisor and Jim Mattis was secretary of defense formulated this new thinking of, we say in GPC, great-power competition lens, that terrorism doesn't matter anymore, and I would probably broaden that to civil war. There is a lot of conflict in the world; most of it is internal. That doesn't matter as much anymore. It's about deterring China and deterring Russia, and so there is a lot of heavy investment in new weapons systems. This goes along with the administration withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty .
I think within DoD they welcomed it because they feel outgunned in the Pacific. There is a new class of missiles that will be deployed. I think from a U.S. perspective it's looking at strengthening the deterrence. "Peace through strength" is the argument, but we also know by studying war that miscalculation is an important cause of war, and increasing strength, missile capability in the Western Pacific, can lead to miscalculations. Same thing with Europe.
Kinetic or non-kinetic? I still hear it. The new buzzword—you'll hate this one because you don't even have an opposite—is "lethality." There's a prime emphasis on making the U.S. defense and military more lethal. At least there was that exploring.
On the plus side, though, I want to give a shout-out, because you'll see I think in fall in the issue of Orbis an article a colleague and I wrote called "Digital Human Security," and we wanted to shift thinking on cybersecurity from a sovereignty violation to undermining civil liberties and undermining privacy at the individual user level. In this article we highlight the role that the National Security Agency (NSA) and Cyber Command have been reaching out to U.S. businesses and U.S. individuals and releasing vulnerabilities so people patch. Cyber Command and NSA now have official Twitter accounts. With NSA it's relatively new, in the last few months, so there is a greater outreach along those lines.
So there are parts that deal with it, but in general the lens right now that the United States has beginning with the Trump administration—though I would say Hillary Clinton talked about the "pivot to the Pacific" and focusing on China's rise, and it became enshrined through this great-power competition with Secretary Mattis and National Security Advisor McMaster.
Could the next administration, whether it's Trump II or Biden I, move away from that? I'm not optimistic. I don't see very much divergence anymore on thinking about China. About 10 years ago you could put people into camps, the panda-hugger camp, responsible-stakeholder camp, and then the dragon-slayer camp. I don't see those camps much anymore, and that's unfortunate, but maybe it reflects the reality in terms of how the United States is interpreting China in a very dismal, negative way.
BILLY PICKETT: Our next question comes from George Paik. He asks: "Taking the creed of the Declaration of Independence, of rights and government securing them, as America's base of identity, might that explain U.S. policy reflexes? Could it push us toward individualism and U.S. sovereignty and away from collaboration? Does it partly explain populism? Conversely, might it push us toward addressing and intervening abroad on human rights issues?"
DEREK REVERON: That's a great question. At least in my own writing and thinking I have tried to bring U.S. culture into the discussion of national security. Again, it's absent largely. I think if you want to understand why the United States has a global program to combat disease, I don't think traditional national security can explain that. I think there is a human culture side that explains these programs.
Policymakers always have to answer that question: "If we're building schools in Afghanistan, why aren't we building schools in the United States?" And that's a hard one sometimes for people, and usually it will go on to the foreign aid budget in the United States as less than 1 percent of the budget. It's minuscule, it's tiny. And I think people often don't know how big the United States is. I usually try to highlight it: We're the third most populous country in the world. By GDP, we're the largest economy; Purchasing Power Parity, we're number two. We're a very large country.
I love Colin Powell in his confirmation hearing in 2001 to be secretary of state. He said something to the effect of, "The United States is a country connected by a thousand cords around the world," because it has been so welcoming to immigration. So people have those interests that they voice around the world.
Again, you could be more pragmatic about it and say: "Well, on the Southern border why are people willing to risk their lives to walk or be smuggled into the United States for the better life?" You saw it in the 1990s beginning with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the reinvigoration of the trade treaty, that you can bring stability by promoting trade and development around the world, and then people won't risk their lives to migrate in the way they do. So there is that dimension.
Disease brings everything right to the fore. That's the other reason. Why do you want to eliminate smallpox or polio around the world? So you don't get it. So there is that dimension, and the important benefit is that that helps that society as well.
It's great. I think we need more discussion and thinking on how U.S. culture gets pulled into foreign policy and national security. Oftentimes we rationalize it and look at threats and address those threats, and we don't necessarily consider, "Well, how does it improve the world, or is it the right thing to do?"
The downside of that—since you raised the Declaration, I'll bring in the Constitution—the fact that state governments are the dominant form of government in our personal lives, and you're seeing the shortcomings of federalism as we address COVID-19, that we don't have the ability to have a national solution because it's the prerogative of state governments largely without getting into deeper discussions on states' rights and how that works.
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Let me "two-finger" for a moment, Derek, something that you said now and going back to something you said in response to Joel's questions as well. The test for a national security establishment coping with these human security issues is I think to be able to explain to people in some form how you have come to your priorities.
For example, you gave a great set: Why do we spend money on disease eradication around the world? You could say some of it may be because there is an altruistic strain running through the American body politic but that there is a practical reason, that we don't want to get these diseases, and if we eliminate these diseases around the world, then we are lessening the risk to ourselves. Why do we sign trade agreements with other countries? The logic is, "Well, you may lose in the short run, certain sectors of society and the economy may lose, but in the long run you are creating societies where people won't migrate to yours and where they will be able to buy your goods and services in return." It does sound like the challenge then is coming up with this explanation rather than, "We just do these things because of national security, end of discussion."
But also the priorities: Where do you cooperate and where to you diverge, and I think this is also a challenge we will be facing. We have a tendency that when a country does not cooperate with us in one area we like to burn down all of the bridges across the board, and we may not have that luxury moving forward.
We will see how the search for a vaccine for COVID-19 moves forward, but as you pointed out in your opening remarks this isn't the only pandemic that we have faced over the last 20 years, and there may be other pandemics more deadly in the future. Thank God, even though this is a particularly infectious pandemic, it does not have the mortality rate that in the past we have had with other plagues and things, but that may change in the future, where we have to then work with another government for a solution even when that government does things which offend our values or, more importantly, may clash with our preferences in other areas.
It does seem that this question of narrative then comes back, which is that you have to be able to explain, perhaps not simply as a bumper sticker, but at least have that narrative in place of why we're doing the things that we're doing. In some ways we have had a narrative collapse where we are doing things, and citizens are looking and saying, "I'm not seeing a benefit from this, and therefore we should stop doing it." I throw that out there as a point, and I will turn the floor back over to Billy.
BILLY PICKETT: Our next question is from Hernan Villlagran, who asks: "Is there room for civil society organizations to be more active in human security issues while searching for better actions to couple those with non-traditional, old-fashioned national security views?"
DEREK REVERON: Absolutely. The criticism of some of my work is that it looks like I want to securitize everything and I want the U.S. military to do everything. I would say that's not true, first.
I think civil society and philanthropy have a lot to do and do a lot in this space and are incredibly important. I think where governments come in is they bring a lot of capacity. So I think civil society can highlight problem areas, and they can sometimes bring the solutions, but they don't have the same resource level that governments have. That's where I think that can come into play.
From a delivery model perspective, it's largely non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society that do the delivery around the world. In the United States I would say it's simply not as developed. Occasionally we have a major failure that all of a sudden brings these to the fore. Maybe the last one was in Louisiana and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, where there was a complete breakdown of government. Government couldn't deliver. I think you're seeing similar things in certain parts of the country today as it relates to COVID-19, where government is not there, and that's where civil society and corporations largely step in to fill the void.
Someone raised the Declaration. Americans have a fundamental distrust of government and really want to defer to the private sector, whether that's civil society, NGOs, or business. The government regulates certainly. One of the issues we explore in the book, which probably seemed a little odd from a human security perspective—I think it's making more sense to me now that we included cybersecurity and information security in the book. At the time it didn't completely make sense because everybody was focused on cyberattacks against infrastructure, shutting down electricity, shutting down banking. There was no real discussion of undermining privacy; no real discussion of influencing perspectives on things. That came since we published the book. But government, when it comes to cybersecurity, has largely been laissez-faire, so we are looking at the corporations, the vendors, Microsoft—Zoom in this case—to protect our cybersecurity, and government has largely stayed away from that.
You saw with the ordering of the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston—I thought it was a creative solution. It was a way to express displeasure with China over intellectual property theft and some other things going on. But government largely doesn't have the tools. The U.S. government is overdeveloped in the military sphere and very much underdeveloped in these other places. But at the same time we could probably see more private sector solutions and then pull government in where it needs to go.
But again, easier said than done. I refrain from saying "the importance of public/private partnership," though it is. It's hard to do. I refrain from saying "whole of government." It's hard to do. Each government department has different authorities, different budgets, different constituencies in Congress. So all those things are hard. If they weren't, they probably wouldn't be problems for us to talk about.
BILLY PICKETT: Our next question is going to be a mix of my own question as well as from Tim Maly, who wrote in the Chat a few times: "How would we look at human security and national security in terms of domestic protests and America's COVID-19 response, and how would we think about what foreign powers might be thinking about it as well?"
DEREK REVERON: Great question. We have a chapter in the book called "Identity Security," and as I try to make sense of the civil protests in the United States and efforts to address institutionalized racism, the identity security chapter works. I can't remember whether we addressed it in the U.S. context. Again, this is I think some of the flaws in national security thinking is that we tend to see these as problems in developing countries and not as problems in the United States.
What we were looking for were new ways to think about what we were observing in the world. If you read the classic Thomas Kuhn about paradigms, it's hard to shift paradigms. We offer a different paradigm. But I would probably look at Black Lives Matter through the paradigm of the identity security chapter that we offered. Like I said, I can't remember whether we did that or not, but that's where I would go to think about these questions.
Again, it's a sense of belonging and what are institutionalized and cultural barriers to being inclusive? Kathleen and I thought about this initially in the context of going back to Bosnia and Yugoslavia, ethnic identity. We didn't think about it in the context of the United States. Of course, now we are and have been, and I think that chapter would be a useful way to approach that.
That probably answered the first part. Billy, can you repeat the international part of the question?
BILLY PICKETT: How would we think about foreign powers looking to U.S. domestic challenges in terms of the way the United States might look at internal challenges elsewhere?
DEREK REVERON: Foreign powers are exploiting these divisions that exist within the United States. Again, in the spirit of "Nothing is new," it's not new. The Soviets did it. They exploited the civil rights marches that were occurring in the 1960s and propagandized that. Even on health security there was someone who recently released a report on how the Soviets planted a conspiracy that the United States invented HIV, and they did it with low-tech means of spreading a conspiracy. I think foreign powers are exploiting the division.
I have been thinking a lot about the biases that we have and bring. The United States when it looks at a foreign power if it's a potential adversary, our action verbs tend to be: "deter," "dissuade," "don't do something," "don't try it," or "defeat." I think we tend to hold that onto ourselves, but I think in the case of Russia or China it's not to defeat the United States, it's to weaken the United States. Exploiting existing problems in the United States and enhancing those problems is a way to weaken the United States, and you have seen that since the beginning of the Trump administration, because it started under the cloud of Russian election interference. If it did nothing more, it created distrust between the administration and the intelligence community. Russia wins in that situation.
That's unfortunate, but foreign powers will do this. The modern media environment makes it easier to do this, and you're starting to see that it goes back to who's responsible, so maybe that's an important question for everybody on here. Who's responsible for human security? At least in the information cyberspace you're starting to see —Twitter, for example, banned a bunch of QAnon accounts in the last couple of days. Facebook has been going after what it calls "inauthentic" posts. If a post is presented as an NGO sitting in New York, but it turns out it's a Russian intelligence-backed group in Nigeria, Facebook will ban that, not because of the content but because it's inauthentic.
So companies are starting to get a little more savvy on this. On the tech side they're catching up. It has been four years since the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee headquarters and spreading out through various websites. So they're starting to get a little more serious about this. And government has kicked in with some new structures and institutions and raising the profile, holding more hearings in Congress.
But again, it's fighting the existing paradigm of the government leaving the information technology (IT) industry alone, and that has been a change, and the IT industry has been responding internally, with limited success. Look at how Facebook has been struggling with how it's dealing with Black Lives Matter.
BILLY PICKETT: I think we have time for one more question, which will bring it back to the pandemic with Adiat Abiodun asking: "What is responsible for the lack of collective response to the COVID-19 pandemic in spite of its common threats to people in all states in the world?"
DEREK REVERON: There is the information side, limited access to information on the China front globally. If you walk through your recent memory, it was a big problem in Italy and then Spain, and only within the last six to eight weeks where the United States—same thing with Brazil—accelerates. At some of those initial points it would be great to go back and look at that cruise ship that was trying to get into Japan forever. That seemed like a nice small problem to have rather than the mass infection and thousands dying a day.
Some of it again is where does government put its attention. That's probably the first thing, and clearly it wasn't on public health certainly in the United States. But we have done more as a political issue. The question of universal healthcare, Obamacare, undoing that was a key piece of this administration, fighting Obamacare.
At the same time, I wouldn't let the health sector off the hook either. They would look at stocks of personal protective equipment (PPE) as unproductive capital, so they kept their stocks pretty low, so all of a sudden when you needed a lot of that PPE it wasn't around because it was inefficient right before that. The application of economic principles to health care had a negative impact on the COVID-19 response, and certainly there is something to say about that.
Lack of trust and information sharing exists. You can go back to how the Chinese government was able to—I don't know what word you like; these are my personal views—"control the narrative" of the World Health Organization (WHO), that WHO lost global credibility because it was relying on Chinese data and Chinese thinking on this. We can't discount that either. I'm not incredibly happy with the U.S. response of abandoning WHO. I think the answer is not to abandon international institutions that the United States has been a part of and a key member of for decades. I don't think that's the answer, but I think that has something to blame as well.
It's a complete failure, and by definition there is probably no easy way to prevent it, but I would at least look across the board from the economics of health care to the lack of information flow but also undermining trust in international institutions would be a key dimension. It's hard to capture all that because there is a larger anti-Trump narrative that exists, so it's hard to look at all these other factors and say, "Well, if it were President Clinton, how would the COVID-19 crisis have been handled differently?" You can't quite do that, but at least you can try to look at the totality of where all those breakdowns occurred at the same time.
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Thank, you Derek. I think that is a great way to close out this session. Again, choices that are made, mindsets matter. It's not accidental that if our mindset is that of great-power competition that when you are faced with something like this and your thinking might be, I'll be damaged, but someone else will be damaged more, and therefore—if you see everything through the lens of competition, it has an impact so not only who's in place, the fact that most G20 governments in the world at this point either have openly populist or semi-populist leaders in place as opposed to internationalists. If you look at who was in charge of the G20 countries 10 years ago, it might have led to a different type of response. So elections matter, narratives matter. This was a great contribution to this discussion that we have been having.
I would like to thank everyone who has been watching and contributing. These are issues that the U.S. Global Engagement program will continue to be looking at as well as other programs at the Carnegie Council.
Again, if you have the opportunity, as we linked at the beginning to Derek's chapter, there is also a link to Derek's publications page if you're interested in some of these issues and following through further.
With that, we are at the top of the hour, so we will call this session to a close. Thank you all very much for your attention and your participation, and especially thanks to Derek.
DEREK REVERON: Thank you, Nick, and the Carnegie Council, and all these great questions.