National insecurity, contextualizing the threat levels for policy development


National insecurity is a complex phenomenon defined within a barrage of threats that confronts the state. These threats define the insecurity of the state and establishes the agenda for a National Security Policy. To conclude on the existence of insecurity, there must be the existence of threats and vulnerabilities of the object towards which they are directed. Insecurity is a reflection of threats and vulnerabilities which are inseparable. With such an understanding, security policies are designed to reduce the insecurity of the state either by reducing their vulnerabilities or by preventing or lessening the threats. This article focuses on the contextualization of the types of threats that usually confront the state to serve as a guide for policy making. It defers details of vulnerabilities to another time in subsequent discussions.

Threats comes in different forms which are in constant evolution including the following:

Military threats – It is a major threat which is mostly of national security concern. This kind of threat affects all the components of the state. Studies suggest that military threats subject the physical base of the state to strain, damage and dismemberment. It distorts and also destroy institutions. In addition, it represses. subvert or obliterate the idea of the state. Military actions not only strike at the very essence of the state’s basic protective’ functions. but also threaten damage deep down through the layers of’ social and individual interest which underlie, and are more permanent than the state’s superstructures. Military threats such as junta to overthrow a democratically elected government undermines the capacity of the state to protect its citizens resulting in sometimes mass atrocities, human right abuses with associated consequences such as displacement of persons and other humanitarian problems. Because it involves the use of force, a single military action can undo all human achievements of the state hence the need to prevent such threats from being realized becomes a major concern in the state’s military protection functions designed in a national security strategy.

The second type of threat is political threat – this type of threat emanates from the competition among ideologies. It may arise within the context of a state espousing an opposing ideological principle against another state. Or at the lower level, the interplay of ideas and communication among political groupings produce politically, social and cultural threats. Sometimes, language, culture and religion become issues to be protected and defended against seductive and overbearing cultural imports resulting in tensions within the state. These leads to unintended consequences of propaganda to support a particular political group and funding of such groups which are either intentional or structural.

Economic threats – It is an established fact that the normal conditions of actors within the economic domain is that of risk, competition and uncertainty. This renders it difficult linking economic threats to national security. Hence, they are more narrowly bound than military and political threats. Economic threats are usually not swift nor precise in terms of its effect on national security. Some economic threats include: export prices, import restrictions, price manipulations, default on debts, currency controls, etc which all have serious consequences on the economy of the state and also other unintended consequences. Economic threats could be termed to be threat multiplier with several effects. Profound to economic threat to national security will be military capability. In general sense, military capability depends on key supply of military materials and in situations where the states’ economy cannot supply these materials due to economic challenges, then economic threats becomes a problem to national security.

Ecological threats – it must be emphasized that environmental events can damage the base of the physical state to a level sufficient enough to destroy its policy and institutions. Ecological threats are usually natural including: earthquakes, storms, flooding, droughts which occur as a result of climate change. However, there are environmentally induced actions that poses threats to national security. Some of these are: overgrazing, deforestation, desertification, illegal mining (galamsey), pollution, etc.

Apart from these major threats described above, there are other threat variables affecting national security which must be considered when developing a national security policy. These threats affect internal peace and stability of the state. Some of these are kidnapping, trafficking, organize crime, violent crime such as armed robbery, rape, assault, rioting, etc.

To conclude, because threats are so ambiguous and because knowledge of them limited. national security policymaking has not been able to address them appropriately. lt however requires constant monitoring and assessment of these threats: the context, dynamics and linkages. In order to help the development of criteria for allocating policy priorities. and for deciding when threats become of sutficient intensity to warrant action. Bearing in mind that threats are found everywhere with limited national security resources, there is the need to establish some cut-off point below which threats are considered inconsequential or worthy only of monitoring.

By: Emmanuel F. Mantey (Executive Director)

Bureau of African Conflict & Security Mgt.


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