Creating true security


Thanks to whistleblowers like Edward Snowden, there is discussion in the media these days about “security.” But what does it mean to be secure?

I believe most people in the world would feel they were secure if they had access to decent shelter, clothing, enough food and water, education for their children, the possibility for meaningful work at a fair wage and religious and cultural tolerance. We also want to be safe from harm in our homes and on the streets. These are ideals, of course; most people around the world and many in the United States experience far less.

For the past 236 years, the U.S. has used violence and war to achieve its ambitions. Most recently, our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have arguably created more terrorists than there were before and decreased our own security.

So now, the National Security Agency believes having access to metadata – data about data – on all our communications, and to the content of those communications if necessary, is important to our national and personal security. Wide-ranging secret warrants by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court make a mockery of the intention of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which is supposed to ensure the security of our persons, houses, papers and effects.

Other rights under fire include the First Amendment (freedom of the press), the Fifth Amendment (right to speedy trial and deprivation of life, liberty or property without due process) and the Eighth Amendment (cruel and unusual punishment). The NSA and the Department of Homeland Security consider their interpretations of the Constitution legal under the National Defense Authorization Act, an act that puts us in a state of perpetual war. We’re told these changes are for our own good.

The question is whether these military and quasi-illegal actions and the secrecy surrounding them will provide the security we want. I believe the answer is no. But what shall we put their places?

Diplomacy is an important part of a better process. Diplomats need training in conflict resolution, mediation, nonviolent problem-solving, trauma healing, restorative justice and in monitoring difficult situations. Qualified citizens from the U.S. and other countries need to be tapped for their expertise in these and other areas. Working with local leaders and citizen councils to determine their on-the-ground needs is frequently more effective and cheaper than government-to-government financial aid. Faith-based groups and non-governmental organizations should continue to play an important role and should be encouraged and supported.

The Pentagon’s budget is 20 times that of the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. contributions to all international organizations combined. We need to move a large portion of that funding to diplomatic efforts. Numerous US military officials, having seen the dismal results of their efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, have advocated for a greater presence of diplomatic efforts in foreign relations. Reducing aid funding for military hardware and training would also help.

The rule of law should be recognized as the way to create justice throughout the U.S. and other countries. Despite the problems listed above, in the United States we generally do follow the rule of law. However, the U.S. is not a member of the International Criminal Court, and we should join. Ratifying a number of other international treaties could improve our image abroad and put us in step with the international community.

Climate change is upon us. Decreasing our dependence on foreign oil and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions through increased development and use of alternative sources of energy will help. Problems, such as large migrations of people because of flooding, food, clean water and energy shortages and lack of work, need attention. These problems are fairly well known, but addressing them in the U.S. and in international contexts should have a higher priority.

These problems are enormous, but they are not insurmountable. The U.S. has shown tremendous energy in solving other problems; it can do so now. Americans have a reputation for personal generosity. I believe cooperation and seeking justice will provide a much better chance to solve them and provide security for all than will reliance on violence and war. In this globalized world, we are all neighbors now. If we can walk a mile in another person’s shoes and treat him or her as we would like to be treated, I believe the chances for shared safety and security are good.

Ross Worley has worked for Fort Lewis College and Habitat for Humanity. He is retired and spends his time reading, writing and learning Spanish. Reach him at

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