Discussion paper

Re-thinking national security in the age of pandemics and climate change catastrophe

Public health Public safety Climate change National security Australia


People around the world no longer feel safe. Nor are they confident that their governments can keep them safe. At the level of the individual citizen, security now has as much to do with managing a global pandemic, mitigating and adapting to climate change, preserving clean water, maintaining reliable food supplies and protecting individual and community well-being as with supporting the ability of the state to protect its sovereignty against threats from other states. Prosperity and individual security are now key considerations in national security policy. If the individual citizen is not safe, the nation cannot be safe. If we are to understand the nature of the disruption that now characterises the global economic, climate, health and political environments, and deal with the consequences of that disruption, it is imperative that we re-think the foundations of national security policy. Social inclusion, the protection of rights, the promotion of values and resilience – all of them supported by a strong economic base – are basic elements of security policy. The scope of national security policy needs to transcend traditional defence and law enforcement models by comprehending climate change, human security against pandemics, environmental (and soil) degradation, food security, water shortages and refugee flows – to identify just a few issues. To see terrorism as an attack on the state, for instance, is to misconceive it: terrorism is really an attack on the values that unite the community in common purpose. A key challenge for Australia is to build these changing concepts of security into our national governance.

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