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Security First

That great Communitarian, Amitai Etzioni, compellingly argues that the first priority in foreign policy is to provide basic security, not to democratize (Security First, 2007, Yale University Press). He argues for a “muscular, moral foreign policy” for the United States. Security cannot, however, be mainly based on military forces, police and other methods of law enforcement. Security is based largely on values, on most people most of the time doing what must be done because they believe they ought to do it.

When and where the right to security is violated, all other rights are violated as well. The prevention of genocide is a much more legitimate reason for intervening in the affairs of another country than, say, democratization.

Iraq has taught us that the provision of basic security is essential to the development of liberal-democratic institutions, not the other way round. Post-war Germany, Italy and Japan all followed this sequence.

The US saw, in both Afghanistan and Iraq, each democratic step – election, approval of constitution, meeting of parliament, approval of government – as a“turning point” or “critical juncture” upon the assumption that once the various conflicting interests enjoyed a political forum in which to work through their differences, the violence would subside. Three reasons stand out why this was wrong. Security did not precede democratization but was meant to be driven by it; the US-promoted institutions were not well designed for the Afghans and the Iraqis; and these institutions were far too unitary, rather than federal or decentralised, in character.

Under a Security First scenario, occupying forces must make the ‘second worst’ decision to leave many of the elements of the old regime in place, and then slowly work to convert them, while allowing considerable time for new and more liberal forces to grow. Illiberal ideological or religious regimes must initially be tolerated, as long as the leadership in place helps maintain basic security. This is the course the US and its allies adopted in Nazi Germany after WWII.

Turning now to Islam, Etzioni rejects the Huntington Clash of Civilizations treatment of Islam as if it were one coherent, violent civilization, intent on permanent warfare with the West. There are many Americans and Europeans who do not believe that Islam and the West can coexist and that there will be an inevitable clash. Many believe that a moderate Muslim – and therefore an acceptable US ally – is only one who supports liberal democracy and human rights.

The author convincingly illustrates that, in the all important distinction between coercive and persuasive beliefs, Islam is not different from other belief systems. The Bible as well as the Koran contains paragraphs which can have both violent and peaceful interpretations.

Opinion polls across the Muslim world suggest that there is a strong rejection of violence but strong support for a greater role for Islam in national politics, and little active support for human rights or democracy. They also show that Muslim women do not appear to be in the forefront of demanding more liberal and less religious societies. Neither the hijab nor the burqa are apparently seen to any great extent as tools of oppression.

It is wrong to stress that democratization or declarations of human rights will restore social order. Law enforcement authority, backed by a moral culture, is the first step on the road to a stable and free social order. Put another way, effective compliance with the law cannot be engineered when there is no widespread, voluntary compliance with the law, based on the conviction that the law ought to be observed.

While we may not agree with the religious beliefs of moderate mullahs and imans, we must support them against those promoting violence and persecution. The only way to promote lasting democracy in the Middle East is to help it develop in accordance with its own culture and religious identity. It must be accepted that moderate clerics will be religious.

Etzioni does not address the problems which arise from Islamic migration to Europe. No European country has achieved the success of the US in absorbing immigrants. Neither the integrationist not multicultural models seem to have worked. This demands the attention of future posts.

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