New Security Threats Need New Ways of Thinking

March 9, 2009

In a post Cold War world, security threats such as HIV/AIDS are still poorly addressed because of our common failure to understand the scope of the threat. Unlike other epidemics or diseases, in absence of treatment, the progression of HIV into AIDS is estimated at 10 years. During those years, a carrier can unwittingly infect people but will not develop symptoms of AIDS until the illness has progressed significantly. This makes it a long goodbye during which the problem is masked, the contagion increased and our awareness distorted.  In what is called the Wavelength Problem, it is clear that because of the delayed onset of the disease, our understanding of the issue at hand is similarly delayed. This makes the infections of today, the security threats of tomorrow.

HIV is the 4th ranking cause of death and destabilizes regimes around the world by reducing the work force, generating discontent and undermining the effectiveness of HIV-infected armed forces. These are just a small number of examples of how HIV can affect national security. We cannot even predict the effect that the consequences HIV will have on nations in years to come as more people die of the disease resulting in more orphans, more infections and more even more deaths. Unlike traditional threats, the effects of HIV/AIDS infections and indeed, even the impact of global warming are slow processes, which are as silent as they are deadly.

If a frog is thrown into boiling water it will jump off immediately; however, if a frog in cold water is put to boil slowly, the frog will die. Our inability to perceive the slow heating of the water makes HIV/AIDS a much greater problem as by the time we finally want to jump out of the water we may be too late. New security threats need new perceptions and new ways of thinking. Moreover, in a world that is more connected than ever through migration and tourism, no country is safe from contagion. Therefore, the question arises- is our approach towards security too ‘conservative’ or ‘classical’?  Can new slow moving threats be tackled with old solutions?

Denesha Brar & Paul-François Polidori


11 Responses to “New Security Threats Need New Ways of Thinking”

  1. magso Says:

    Denesha and Paul-François,

    Your post clearly highlights the fact that HIV/AIDS is a security threat of a much different nature than traditional threats. In fact, I think that HIV/AIDS is in quite a unique category. Unlike diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which spread relatively quickly and have clear symptoms early on, HIV if untreated will only develop signs of related illnesses in 5-10 years.

    With traditional security threats such as violent conflicts, we can (among others) engage in negotiations with various actors. Most state actors who participate are either from surrounding territories, or participate out of humanitarian assistance. Conversely, your point about the increasing connectedness through migration and tourism makes me believe that this silent crisis is mandatory for all state actors to address; especially since HIV/AIDS has the potential, and has been used as a weapon of war (Garrett).

    Unfortunately according to Maclean, countries have been restrained about responding to HIV/AIDS as a major security problem. This is possibly because the effects of HIV/AIDS have not become so apparent as to necessitate an immediate response? Applying the process of securitization mentioned in Maclean’s article, I doubt that some states even have begun the first step of a “securitizing actor” identifying HIV/AIDS as a threat.

    Responding to your question, I think that slow moving threats cannot be tackled with old solutions, but what are the new solutions? I believe that all state actors must play a part in helping resolve this crisis and it is in their interests to do so, but how do we encourage them to take the first step when the threat is so slow and silent?



    “HIV/AIDS online Q&A”, World Health Organisation, August 2008

    Garrett, 2005; UNAIDS, 1998; Obaid, 2007: 5, cited in Sandra Maclean, “Microbes, Mad Cows and Militaries: Exploring the Links Between Health and Security” Security Dialogue 39(5): 475-494, October 2008

  2. pfpolidori Says:

    Thanks Maggie 😉

    Indeed you summarize pretty well the ideas written above. I do believe that HIV/AIDS is a uniue threat that demands more attention from our part but so is global warming. In such a short blog it is hrd to coney all the ideas that are required by these new threats but they have a clear thing in common, they are slow! We do not notice them enough and by the time we do it is too late.

    When I say we need new thinking I mean that we need to approach things from a raically different point of view. We have to be more dmanding of our leaders and we also need to be more patient. It is a dificult balance but we are probably going to need to sacrifice our short term interests if we want o gain perspective and be able to perform actions that will affect the long-run.

    Democracies suffer from a terrible disease, they are short-sighted. This is due because our leaders need immediate results to be re-elected. And in turn, they need immediate results because we, the people [LOL] do not understand the scopes of things that need to be done. Maybe we’re too selfish or maybe our leaders fail to lead because it is easir to follow our mood through whimsical polls. Either way we need better understanding of the problems and wider views. I guess all this is going to b our job since the previous generation doesn’t seem prepared to face the challenge.


  3. rosanneleung Says:

    Dear Denesha and Paul-François,

    I agree with you that HIV/AIDS is indeed a big problem for humankind and that we should be doing more to cope with it before it is too late. The unique “hidden nature” of AIDS is posing a great difficulty in detecting and controlling the spread of it. It has become a very serious security threat to millions of people living in various continents, especially in south-Africa.

    Unfortunately, I think the international community has not reacted quickly enough. After the appearance of the HIV/AIDS in early 1980s or even earlier, it was only until 2000 that the UN Security Council discussed AIDS for the very first time. (UNAIDS website, 25 years of AIDS) This corresponds with your point on “short-sightedness”, as well as the traditional national security way of thinking which primarily focuses on threats in military/ violence terms only.

    If security is all about protecting human lives, then health/disease is intrinsically linked and instrumental to human security. Also, at the collective level, good health is essential to social stability. (HSC, p. 96) In my opinion, a new way of thinking would mean adopting the Human Security approach (Freedom from Want school of thought) in dealing with HIV/AIDS and other health crises.

    As for the problem of democracies, I think the mass media and civil society can play a role. If people are adequately exposed to information/ education about the seriousness of a particular health security threat, they would likely demand more to be done in this realm from their elected leaders/ candidates. After all, people want good health and security, don’t they?



    UNAIDS website,

    “Chapter 6: Better Health for Human Security”, Final Report of the Commission on Human Security, 2003

  4. pfpolidori Says:

    Thanks for your comments Rosanne 😀

    Again, I think you do a great job in stating the facts of where HIV/AIDS stands politically on the international stage.

    However I must disagree with your position o what human security is. First of all you consider Human Security a new way of thinking. In my opinion it has nothing new to it except that it integrates more threats than the obvious traditionl ones. However, I haven’t seen any progress on the wayof approachig those new threats. Moreover HS does not tackle the long-term in any other manner than traditonal scuriy approaches traditional threats. I think new ways of solving problems can be adopted no mattter if your definition of security is traditional or human security.

    As for the second part I’m afraid I also disagree. First of all I think people do want good helth and securiy but that is probably not the adequate question to ask. Why should middle-aged white middle-class people in first world countries be concerned with something that has been so obviously hard to connect with them. Even with the evidence we have.

    As for the media and democracy I do not have such hope in the ability of the media to make us change. Quite the opposite actally, I think we are too often shocked by things that we seldom see and not shocked enough by things we see too often. We do need to change, and of course through civil society, but civil society is a tool, the change must e greater than that. As for the media it is a bit of a rogue agent, we never know how it’s going to play.

    much more to say but it would be too long, thnks again 😉


    PS: I apologize for all the typos, I usually write these at once and too quickly, I’ll try to improve my writing 🙂

  5. pfpolidori Says:

    I just re-read my previous post and realized that I make Human seurity sound like it’s nothing new at all. I do think it is great and the ight approach I just meant the way to tackle those threats is nothing particularly new and that it certainly needsfor perspective. I did not intend to say it is useless or that it was not a progress in the understanding of HS.

  6. Tong Yui Wa Andy Says:

    Thank you very much for sharing your ideas with us, Denesha & Paul-François. You have raised interesting points, one of which is the notion that HIV/AIDS are somewhat different from the previous threats. It is true that we do not have enough understanding about HIV/AIDS. More sadly, we do not have any ways to cure them. It seems that they are enemies behind the scene. Unlike the satets, they are intangible.

    However, in my points of views, the way that we should treat HIV/AIDS is based on the same ideology as other threats – They should be treated as a threat towards human security. There are already concrete evidences that HIV/AIDS are making millions of people suffer around the world. All states must play a role in tackling them including those which are not affected by them. The global society like NGOs, INGOs, media can continue advocating the seriousness of HIV/AIDs as a dehumanizing threat to us so as to raise national and international awareness.

    We can regard genocide, landmine as a threat to human security. So why can’t HIV/AIDS ? I think interests of individual states may be the obstacle in realizing HIV/AIDs as a threat. Five words to mention the situation “NIMBY”. Not in my backyard. As what has been mentioned before in the discussion, some states even see HIV/AIDS as a resource of biological weapon which in turn has the potential to strengthen themselves. It can in no way be justified. As a result, seeing the issue with a different perspective/point of view may be a way out. It is a humanitarian, global issue but not a national one.

    Thank you again for sharing your ideas with us. The topic is really interesting.


  7. pfpolidori Says:

    Thanks Andy, it’s nice to have your thoughts on the issue.

    a couple of things though. You make it sound like we imply that HIV/AIDS is not a threat to Human Security. I do believe it is a threat t human security but I think it has more to do with global warming than with landmines or refugees. A landmine is something prett easy to define, iolated and moreover we know where the fields are and we can to some extent avoid them. HIV/AIDS is silent, long and extremely complex to understand. moreover the few solutions that we have against AIDS (drugs) are starting to be ineffective.

    When I talk about having new views I mean new approaches on how to understand he problem. I do not mean an idealistic let’s-hold-our-hands-and-sing kinda of perspective but sooner or later we will have to admit that no one can solve this in isolation and long-term measures are the only ones that can do any good. This is rendered even more complex by the fact that ALL our numbers are guesse and murky at best. ‘Estimate’ is a big word for ‘we don’t really know but we’r guessing’.

    Time is running out, instability is on the way and we need to find something. Drugs won’t be enough, politically new ways to tackle this ar necessary.


  8. miuyim Says:

    Dear Denesha and Paul-François,

    Thanks for your sharing, particularly on the point that the world do not treat HIV/AIDS as an imminent threat and have to take a more aggressive approach in tackling the problem.

    I have one matter to share. From my previous visit to South Africa I learnt that though SA has the largest HIV-infected population in the world, the past president Thabo Mbeki insisted that AIDS has nothing to do with HIV but poverty and malnutrition. He further claimed that developed countries ‘invented’ the idea of HIV to exploit the poor countries on the African continent. For years the South African government had been reluctant to promote the message of HIV/AIDS as well as the providing sufficient ARV treatments to poor people. Till now there are still widespread misconceptions about HIV/AIDS on grassroots level of the society (especially in black townships), taking the transmission channels of HIV as an example. Speaking of HIV/AIDS is still a taboo to be broken in many areas of South Africa. The attitude of the Mbeki administration was just another similar case of what the Bush administration treats global warming and climate change.

    China, on the other hand, has been suppressing information about HIV/AIDS from reaching the outside world so as to present a healthy image of the nation.

    In view of these, how would you practically suggest towards the reluctance of nations to take coherent actions towards such global threats as HIV/AIDS?

    Once again thanks for your posting.


  9. pfpolidori Says:

    Hey Miu, thanks for your posting.

    You make an extremely good point that we too often overlok while talking about HIV/AIDS which is that not everyone is even trying to do something.

    First I do want to make a point. When Mbeki said AIDS hs nothing to do with HIV but with poverty he is only half wrong. Obviously it has evrything to do with HIV but it does have something to do with poverty. Maye not directly but poverty is without a doubt related to lack ofeducation and when you have no education it’s hard to convince you that a condom might actually save your life. Not only that but even if you believe it but have no money to afford a condom it’s kinda tough. And let’s face it, if abstinance was an option we’d know it by now.

    So to answer your question think education is the first step. Starting with the leaders of those countries. If the head of state or government doesn’t believe in condoms [I make it sound like a religion ^_^ ] I will be hard [no pun intended] for the rest of the country to follow.

    To finish I’d like to make a general comment about the posts. My posts and comments are open to debate and criicism. I am pleased to give my opinion on every question anyone might have but it will only be my opinion. If anyone has any suggesion on how to approach these issues and HIV/AIDS in particular I’d love to have new input.


  10. benitozenil Says:

    Thanks for the blog Denesha Brar & Paul-François Polidori,

    I like the argument of “New security threats need new perceptions and new ways of thinking”, and its true than now more than ever with globalization and communication there are less international boundaries and is suppose to be easier colaborate with other nation. But I think there are more “cards” that are not shown on the table.
    I think there are some threats -like HIV/AIDS- that are just Good Business for some people. Imagine that you have an increasing demand (HIV/AIDS) in the “market” and you can Supply that market with your product (pills, medicines, etc). Now much better for the business if you can charge expensive amount of money for your product so, why should business’ people need to create a cure?
    It is true that we need to conceive new ways of thinking in order to improve as human beings, but what if status quo is less expensive than new order? there is the scenario of cars. Eventhough that nowadays we have the technology to use cars without affecting environment, why are we not using this technology as we should be?
    Is simple, more than 100 years of paradigms.


  11. pfpolidori Says:

    Benito thanks a lot for what you brought into the debate. I think you go into the right direction, there is definetly more to this problem than merely helping people. One of them is, as you pointed out, the enormous amount of money that we make with sick people [point valid beyond HIV/AIDS by the way!].

    There is also the handy work of AIDS as a check in the growth of population. I’m not going to make a whole thesis here but I invite those of you interested in the growth of population to look at this link. It is a lecture by Professor Jeffrey Sachs that has a bit about population. It’s worth the look.

    In any case and if any of you is interested I invite you all to participate in another blog from HKU:

    Thanks again Benito


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s