The idea of national security: what use is it to policy makers?

14 May 2012

Over the past decade or more many governments, especially western governments, have taken steps to draw together a wide range of different functions, objectives and institutions under the concept of ‘national security’. This trend is driven by two simple ideas. First, countries and their citizens face many different types of security threats, and they all need to be taken seriously and given due attention and priority. Second, government has many different types of policy instruments that can be used to manage this range of security threats, and they can and should all be used in the most cost-effective combination to address the full range of security challenges. From these two ideas naturally springs a third: that governments should view the security threats they face, and the responses they make to them, holistically, and unite them under an overarching National Security Strategy. We might call these three ideas collectively ‘the idea of national security’.


And yet the idea of national security remains rather elusive. It is still not quite clear what we mean by ‘national security’, nor how we can best put it to work in the policy process to guide government decision-making. This paper considers these questions, first by looking at the basic concept of national security, and then through an exploration of how we might best make ‘national security policy’.

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