Over the past 20 years or so, it seemed like a new world order was emerging. Globalization took hold and we caught a glimpse of nation-states disappearing and cultures intermingling. We seemingly saw ideological conflicts fade away and an increase of communications and free commerce. But was this nothing more than a tantalizing glimpse of what the world could be?
Now, more than ever, we are seeing a return to the strong nation-state and to nationalist ambitions. Politicians who advocate standing up for their country and making it “great again” have grown in power and influence, and not just in the United States.
According to President Trump, in order to make America great again, we must make national security a top priority. So what is national security? Traditionally, national security is centered around the idea of protecting the institutions of the nation-state. In the recent years of globalization, however, traditional security has been challenged by advocates who believe that security should be focused on the needs of the individual. National security is no longer limited to the protection of the nation itself, but now extends its concern to notions that are more intimate — the protection of human rights. This new extensive definition of national security that includes issues of human concern shifts attention away from the traditional state-centered notions of security, characterized by state borders, to an approach centered around the people within.
As we return to the age of nationalist ambitions, we also return to the notions of traditional security. Yet the biggest security threat to face the nation, and the world, is not one that can be looked at in terms of traditional security. That threat is climate change and the depletion of vital resources.
According to Michael T. Klare, author of “The Race For What’s Left,” the world is facing an “unprecedented crisis of resource depletion.” Currently, all of Earth’s accessible areas are being exploited, demanding a search for new, and often environmentally dangerous, methods to extract resources. In a nationalistic world order, this could be extremely dangerous. As non-renewable resources are used up, those who advocate for traditional security would seek unconventional methods such as the use of extra heavy oil, transforming coal to liquids or extracting gas from shale formations, known as hydrofracking — processes that would lead to great environmental risks and human suffering.
Furthermore, because traditional security is focused on the state rather than the individual, it can be assumed that the centralized government has sole decision-making power, with no international regulation by which to abide. This is dangerous. Since resource scarcity and human-induced climate change are global problems, they should be handled at an inter-governmental level, with notions of human security at the forefront.
While the United States might benefit economically in the short term by pursuing unconventional methods, as a citizen of the world, it is incumbent upon the United States to rise to the challenge to discover alternatives that limit the adverse impact of its policies on the world community at large. If every nation followed this approach, it would be possible to replenish scarce resources while limiting human-induced climate change. With respect to resource depletion, nations should not rush to extract the remaining vital resources, but rather engage in a race to adopt new materials and methods that would free the world from its dependence on finite vital resource supplies.
As students at the University of Michigan, it is critical that we embrace ideas that provide security for all — whether that is investing in clean renewable energy, advocating for universal health care or fighting for equal access to quality education. After all, we are all just citizens of planet Earth.
Carolyn Ayaub is an Editorial Board member.