Analysis: Security, a fundamental shift

Analysis: Security, a fundamental shift

The discourse of international security has shifted as a result of populist rhetoric making its way to the world stage. But domestic politics shouldn't undermine norms regulating world affairs, writes DW's Lewis Sanders.

On the eve of the Munich Security Conference, talk of security has never felt so ubiquitous; ever-present in the words uttered by politicians, citizens, service members and civilians. To deny that the discourse surrounding security in the West and elsewhere has shifted would be dismissing the intellectual history of our times.

What we have witnessed over the course of the last year is state actors, fringe parties and alternative news sources make an attempt for a piece of the cake which they have long been denied.

The polarization of domestic politics in Western democracies, a pseudo-organic response to the real or perceived threat of irregular migration, terrorist attacks and economic liberalization, has led to movements that seek to upend established political and economic norms.

From Italy's neglected east to France's northern regions, industry that once flourished has all but been abandoned for ostensible political goals and the pursuit of profits elsewhere.

An Italian farmer or French miner likely cares less about why Moscow has been sanctioned than he or she does about the reasons their goods aren't making it to Russian marketplaces.

Populist parties, which thrive on raising sensationalist concerns, survive by tapping into that frustration, markedly founded in questions of socioeconomic security: How will I feed my family? How will I protect my livelihood?

Populist shifts

Populist parties have so far used easy targets, such as refugees, as a scapegoat for garnering support, directing resentment towards the "other" while failing to examine the events that produced, for example, the 2015 migration crisis.

This is perhaps the reason why the Munich Security Report cites migration, terrorism and geopolitical vulnerabilities as key security challenges in our day and age. This "illiberal" moment that MSC Chairman Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger speaks of finds its source in dispossessed citizens, even if it may appear to be unfounded from a top-down perspective.

The Alternative for Germany, French National Front, UK Independence Party and Donald Trump's presidential campaign amassed support by tapping into that frustration, and providing monochrome responses to concerns that stir the working-class imagination in the dead of night.

When Trump promises to prioritize American interests, while it may not resound in urban centers, intellectual cliques or the halls of the UN, it makes sense for those who have lost their jobs in rustbelt America. "America first" makes sense to working-class families who have lived paycheck to paycheck since before the 2008 financial crisis or those who have succumbed to the burdens of debt.

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Furthermore, while NATO is pertinent to a European service member, it may not appear so for a grocery clerk in Saxony-Anhalt, Marche or Kansas, despite the alliance's relevance to defense cooperation across the Atlantic.


Frauke Petry, Alternative for Germany (AfD)

The leader of the Alternative for Germany, Frauke Petry, said police could use guns as a last resort to prevent illegal border crossings, pointing out "that's the law." What began as a euroskeptic party has turned into an anti-establishment and anti-EU force, claiming up to 25 percent of votes in German state elections in March 2016 and taking second place in Chancellor Angela Merkel's home state.


Marine Le Pen, National Front (France)

Many believe Brexit and Donald Trump's victory in the US presidential elections could give new impetus to France's National Front. Established in 1972 and now led by Marine Le Pen, who took over from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 2011, the National Front is a nationalist party that uses populist rhetoric to promote its anti-immigration and anti-EU positions.


Geert Wilders, Party for Freedom (The Netherlands)

The leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom, Geert Wilders, is one of Europe's most prominent right-wing politicians. He was convicted in December for asking a crowd in 2014 if they wanted more or fewer Moroccans in the country, but no penalty was imposed. His party is considered anti-EU and anti-Islam. It is leading polls ahead of next year's parliamentary elections and currently holds 15 seats.


Nikos Michaloliakos, Golden Dawn (Greece)

Nikos Michaloliakos is the head of Greece's neo-fascist party Golden Dawn. He was arrested in September 2013 along with dozens of other party members and charged with forming a criminal organization. Michaloliakos was released in July 2015. Golden Dawn won 18 seats in parliamentary elections in September 2016. The party holds anti-immigrant views and favors a defense agreement with Russia.


Gabor Vona, Jobbik (Hungary)

Hungary's anti-immigration, populist and economic protectionist party Jobbik aspires to be in the government by 2018. Now Hungary's third-largest party, it won 20 percent of votes in the last elections held in 2014. It wants a referendum on EU membership. Jobbik also advocates criminalizing "sexual deviancy," submitting a bill targeting homosexuals in 2012. Jobbik is headed by Gabor Vona.


Jimmie Akesson, Sweden Democrats

After Trump's election, Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Akesson said in an interview with Swedish TV: "There is a movement in both Europe and the United States where the establishment is being challenged. It is clearly happening here as well." The Sweden Democrats call for restricting immigration, are against allowing Turkey to join the EU and want a referendum on EU membership.


Norbert Hofer, Freedom Party (Austria)

Norbert Hofer of Austria's nationalist Freedom Party lost the recent presidential runoff by a mere 30,000 votes, after being front-runner in the first round. Former Green party leader Alexander Van der Bellen won 50.3 percent of the vote, with Hofer gaining 49.7 percent. The Freedom Party's leader campaigns for the strengthening of the country's borders and limiting benefits for immigrants.


Marian Kotleba, People's Party - Our Slovakia

The leader of the hard-right People's Party - Our Slovakia, Marian Kotleba, has said, "Even one immigrant is one too many." On another occasion, he called NATO a "criminal organization." This Slovak party favors leaving the EU as well as the eurozone. It won 8 percent of the vote in March 2016 elections, securing 14 seats in the country's 150-member parliament.

Security in a fragile world

While the framework for international and domestic security may witness a process of revision, it is crucial that lawmakers and ordinary citizens, judges and civil servants prevent it from upending the values established in the wake of World War II, whether freedom of speech, the right to due process, trade in lieu of conflict or accountability for war crimes.

Prospective shifts on the global stage should seek to prevent the escalation of conflict and hold accountable those who have committed atrocities in the darkest shadows of modern warfare. They should not come at the cost of alliances and frameworks, whether the Paris climate change agreement or NATO.

Security aims to protect the lives of citizens and safeguard fundamental freedoms. But in democracies, perceptions of security are nearly as important as security itself, if not at times more so.

As such, small-town politicians and global actors must show that vulnerabilities can be alleviated and threats dealt with in full respect of the legal mechanisms that have enshrined the rights of both citizens and nation states.

Anything short of that risks destabilizing a world that has attempted to prevent the horrors witnessed in the first half of the 20th century.

It does not mean that global security structures are perfect. However, the consequences of rehearsing populist politics on the world stage have the potential of dismantling a fragile order and annulling the promises of diplomacy.

The "longest period of peace in written history in Europe started with the formation of the European Communities," the precursor to the EU, illustrates the necessity of these structures, in contrast to pursuing isolationist or ethnocentric policies.

Eastern Ukraine/Crimea

In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea and started providing support to rebels in eastern Ukraine. The conflict in Ukraine quickly gained an international dimension and triggered a renewed standoff between Russia and the West that has extended as far afield as Syria.

Korean Peninsula

North and South Korea are technically still at war, having signed no peace treaty to end the Korean War. The demilitarized zone, or DMZ, is a 2-kilometer (1.2-mile) strip separating the countries. The border is one of the tensest and most heavily militarized in the world.

South Ossetia and Abkhazia

South Ossetia and Abkhazia are post-Soviet breakaway republics outside the sovereign control of Georgia. They are backed and recognized by Russia and only a handful of other states. The conflict turned hot during 2008 Russian-Georgian War, which effectively kicked Tbilisi's forces out of the republics.


A 1974 invasion by Turkey in response to a coup attempt to join the island with Greece split the island between the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus in the ethnically Greek south. The two communities' leaders are engaged in complicated reunification talks. Both sides have expressed hope for a settlement this year.


Azerbaijan and Armenia went to war over Nagorno-Karabakh until the two sides reached a truce in 1994. Since then, the territory - ethnically Armenian but formally Azerbaijani - has been under the control of local Armenian forces and the Armenian military. The conflict has had periodic violent flare-ups, most recently with a bout of fierce fighting in April.

Western Sahara

Morocco annexed Western Sahara after colonial power Spain withdrew in 1975, setting off a conflict with the Polisario Front, which demands self-determination. In 1991, a UN-brokered ceasefire put a halt to fighting. However, a promised referendum on self-determination has failed to materialize, threatening to upend a shaky peace.


Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, which have fought two wars over the predominantly Muslim region. India accuses Pakistan of arming rebels fighting for independence or union with Pakistan. The emotionally charged issue is especially dangerous given that both countries have nuclear weapons.


Trans-Dniester is a pro-Russia breakaway region of Moldova. The sliver of territory bordering on Ukraine split from Moldova, triggering a 1992 war. Russia maintains peacekeepers in the region. Some analysts say Trans-Dniester is a potential hot spot used by Russia to keep Moldova from becoming closer to the West.