(RIEAS Research Associate & Security Analyst)
The definition of National Security is changing. The latter years have seen a rise in multidimensional threats to states and population including both man-made (e.g. terrorism) as well as natural hazards with the two sometimes interacting (shortage of a particular natural resource creating violence or terrorist activity or indeed foreign intervention).
Likewise, unemployment is the source of a series of social and, in extension, political problems a country, any country can face. In addition, unemployment is in itself an indicator of several possible malfunctions and wrongdoings as far as public policy or the very structure of a society and an economy are concerned. Whereas high unemployment rates in parts of Africa, Asia and Central and South America have been so far the norm with relatively high rates of criminal activity and state failure, the recent financial and consequentially social crises in both North America as well as Europe provide an interesting and challenging paradigm of the correlation of unemployment and an increase in the risks to National Security.
What is threatened?
By the term ‘National Security’ we mean both the security of the local (democratic) system of a country as well as the preservation of the social web as it is and the existence of civil society. Since the 1960s several studies have tried to look upon the links between increase of crime on a local or national level and of unemployment (1). Several studies later have shown that although there is some correlation between small-scale theft and unemployment, it is not very clear that the two have a direct, opposite link. Pity theft or street crime although signs of a problematic society, constitute, more or less, the norm when it comes to big cities during any period of history from antiquity to date. Having noted that however and as day-to-day life is concerned, a more long-term and profound impact can arise if the situation is a long-lasting one for parts of a country or a region. Yet, this is merely part of a deeper and more institutional series of problems.
Unemployment, though not always by itself, poses a series of serious problems to the vary character of a democratic, liberal system as well as the integrity of the social web itself. In more detail, the major threats unemployment, thus absence of income and opportunities for a better life or the preservation of the current status quo of an individual’s or a family’s life, can be summarised as follows:
• The increase in overall street crime and criminal activity as described above is an important issue especially when considered with the integrity and consistency of the social web. Collateral damages of this include the further alienation of foreigners living legally in the country since in the unofficial social ‘hierarchy’ they usually come second to nationals. Hence an increased numbers of locals being unemployed opt for jobs that previously would not. This in turn creates an inflation of jobless and illegal immigrants and a subsequent increase in the criminal activities of those groups.
• The first of the more profound and long-term negative effects is the exploitation of the situation by extremist and terrorist groups, which will first turn to the legal and illegal immigrants, now mostly jobless. They may also associate with existing extremist groups or far right or far left political entities to which…
• …parts of the population tend to turn to either on ideological as well as active political level. Such rises in extremist parties are recently being observed in large democracies such as France (Front National) and Britain (British Nationalist Party) as well as in smaller countries like Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Greece.
• Another major threat combined with a climate of general recession is the gradual loss of confidence by the populous in the politico-social establishment and the system of parliamentary democracy. The legitimacy of the State as an independent global entity is questioned since it fails to guarantee its citizens social and subsequently physical security.
• Unemployment also produces the deadly for the liberal (and especially multi-ethnic and socially multi-layered state) sense of injustice. Unequal access to the job market of one’s choice according to education, experience and skills or to the job market in general (as it occurs for example during a recession) which can happen both in the private and the public sector (as with Greece due to the client-based and highly partisan political system) create a general realisation. As Mervyn Frost writes (2), that is the realisation by the citizens that the rights they enjoy as members of the global civil society are notional rather than real. Through denial for a just access to the job market they realise that the state and the ‘system’ does not allow them equal and free access to opportunities for a better life in general.
Hence, it is rather logical to conclude that the above five premises combined create a major social, state and systemic security crisis, in other words a national security threat. The mission of the liberal state is to guarantee security, prosperity and overall growth of its own part of the global society of citizens and civilians. Failure to do so socially, by sustaining unequal access to employment and thus social opportunities signifies a failure of the system and of the government’s purpose hence a direct threat to the status quo of society and the legitimacy political establishment, the only kind of national security threat equal to war.
1)See for example: “Chiricos, Theodore G. (1987) “Rates of Crime and Unemployment: An analysis of Aggregate Research Evidence*”, Social Problems, Vol 34, No 2, April 1987”
2)Frost, Mervyn (2009) Global Ethics: Anarchy, Freedom and International Relations (Routledge: London), pp. 169-173