Foreign Policy Blogs

“Individual” or “National” Security — You decide!

“Should the proper referent for security be the individual not the state?”

 In the wake of the recent Newtown massacre that claimed the lives of 26 innocents, Americans have begun to understand that the boogieman they need to fear most lives amongst them and not in a cave in Afghanistan. According to a recent U.N. study, since 9/11, Jihadist terrorists have killed 17 Americans within the borders of our homeland. Meanwhile, over 88,000 Americans died in gun violence from 2003 and 2010. Indeed, an American residing within the borders of the U.S. is approximate 5,000 times more likely to be killed by a fellow citizen armed with a gun than by a terrorist act emanating from abroad. These are the under-reported numbers that should have us considering perhaps the “individual” as the dominant reference point for “national security” vice the nation-state.

The American founding fathers instilled in the people of a young nation a healthy fear of threats emanating from abroad. This fear helped to build and refine a national security establishment that is now the most dominant national security force the world has ever known. Our focus on deterring and actively confronting threats from abroad has us spending upwards of $1.19 trillion in military funding (2011 figure).

Indeed, the claws of the American eagle are sharp, and very much feared around the world. But does our obsession with protecting the homeland from the Muslim boogieman and “the Axis of Evil” blind us to far closer threats?  Our federal and state governments, narrowly focused on foreign threats, have been slow to react to address domestic insecurity, especially the urban acts of terror nowadays increasingly visited upon vulnerable individuals.

The degradation of domestic tranquility caused by increasing instances of violent crime is not as sensational as the specter of a REAL terrorist attack, but they are just as damaging to the individuals and communities that find themselves the target of domestic terror acts.  Given that Americans are exponentially more likely to be killed by a fellow citizen than by a threat from abroad, it is time that we consider the following:

  • Challenge traditional thinking about the predominant threats to our collective security
  • Consider reallocating national security resources over a broader array of threat mitigation strategies
  • Support mental health care reform and criminal rehabilitation
  • “Harden” the public space (e.g. armed guards, single access points etc.)
  • Stricter gun owner screening and a possible  assault weapons ban

Indeed, a well funded defense establishment is needed to deter and to prevail during wartime. However, a 360 degree view of collective security is needed if we are to achieve and maintain both a real and perceived state of “national security”.

  • Robert Match

    Everyone needs to
    read this article, and understand the enemy within. Sure we need to keep a
    watchful eye on those who would do us harm abroad, but how do we protect us
    from ourselves! The first step in solving any problem is recognizing that the problem


Oliver Barrett
Oliver Barrett

Oliver Leighton-Barrett is a multi-lingual researcher and a decorated retired military officer specializing in the inter-play between fragile states and national security matters. A former U.S. Marine, and Naval aviator, Oliver is a veteran of several notable U.S. military operations, to include: Operation Restore Hope (Somalia); and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan and Philippines). His functional areas of focus include: U.S. Diplomacy; U.S. Defense; and Climate Change. His geographic areas of focus include: Latin America and the Caribbean and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

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