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RUNNING HEAD: “Is security at all costs an ethical justification to protect the community?” 1

Is security at all costs an ethical justification to protect the community?”

Is security at all costs an ethical justification to protect the community?”

Security is indeed an ethical justification to protect the community. Various authors on the concept of security have argued that there is so much value attached to security which makes it justifiable at whatever cost to protect the community. The ethical justification of security is viewed from different perspectives which include the value of security as well as the moral obligation to protect.

What is security?

Various scholars have tried to define security and to explain the value attached to it. Among them is Wolfers (1962) who defined security as “absence of threats to acquired values”. This statement was further explained as “low probability of damage to acquired values”. Threats in this definition refer to actions that express commitment to punish unless certain demands are met (Ullman, 1983).

The value of security

David Baldwin came up with various approaches to try to explain the importance of the value of security by creating a hierarchical model of values constituting prime value, core value and marginal value (Baldwin, 1997).

The prime value approach

This approach looks at the value of security by thinking about how life would be without it. The answer to this question is given by Thomas Hobbes who described life without security would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. This description led to many other scholars to emphasize on the importance of security. The logic behind the emphasis by scholars is that security is a requirement for people to enjoy their other values such as freedom and prosperity. However, the controversy on this emphasis lies on whether basic needs such as air, water, food, shelter and clothing have an equal value to security. The scholars however assert that an equal value applies. They argue that the importance is not attached to the inherent quality of these goods but to the results of external social conditions gained by having them. The prime value approach basically implies that security is high in priority compared to all other values.

The critics of Thomas Hobbes’s notion argue that even though prehistoric people lived in caves for security reasons, they could leave the caves for pursuit of food, water and exploration. They could therefore sacrifice the security of their caves for things they considered more valued. Another argument is that when settlers are choosing where to live, they do not chose the mountain tops which are more secure but instead settle in less secure areas that can produce more food and where there is water. The same also applies in modern states where all resources are not allocated to pursuit of security even in wartime, but also to food, shelter and clothing.

The core value approach

This approach asserts that security is one of the many important values. According to this approach, values are classified as core values and non-core values. Security is therefore one of the core values that should be given priority during resource allocation.

The marginal value approach

This approach values security based on the law of diminishing marginal utility which is also applicable to other values. The theory argues that security should not be awarded supremacy over other values since a certain amount of each value is needed to sustain life. However, it still; does not mean that all of them are equal in importance.

According to this approach, security is among the many policy objectives that are competing for scarce resources and are therefore subjected to the law of diminishing returns. Therefore, the value of need to increase national security for a country differs and depends on how much security the country has and how much more is needed. Logical policy makers will only allocate more resources to security if at all the marginal returns for security is greater than for other uses of the resources.

Is security a prime value?

Considering the three approaches, security has been awarded great privilege compared to other values such as freedom and sovereignty, with the key role of the state being guaranteeing security to the people and their property. This is evidenced by the idea of social contract where people give up their freedom in exchange for security and protection offered to them by the government or other concerned agencies(McDonald, 2008). According to Baldwin (1997), this is assigning prime value to security. It requires that all resources belonging to the society be directed onto the pursuit of security.

The moral obligation to protect

Every state has the moral obligation to protect its citizens against insecurities relating to genocide, war, and other crimes against humanity. This obligation stems from the idea of Common Morality which is based on the natural law. The main principle of the common morality states that “humans have rights not as member of particular community, but as members of human community and there is a common moral world”. This principle lays the basis that people have a moral obligation to help one another since all humans have the basic human rights. Therefore if people form one part of the world are being oppressed, other countries in the world have a duty to act since they are all members of the human community. This obligation is strengthened by the concept of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) which refers to the obligation that states have towards their own citizens and other citizens who are at risk of genocide or any other mass atrocity crimes (Cabinet office, 2014). Responsibility to protect is based on three pillars. The fits one is that every state has the responsibility to protect its population from four kinds of crimes- genocide, crimes against humanity, war crime and ethnic cleansing. The second pillar is that the international community has the responsibility assist individual states in meeting their responsibility to protect. The third pillar is that is a state seems to be failing in its responsibility to protect its citizens; the international community must be ready to take the appropriate action, in a timely and decisive way according to the United Nations charter (United Nations, 2010). The responsibility to protect also comes with three other responsibilities. These are responsibility to prevent conflicts which put people at risk, the responsibility to react to situations using the right means and the responsibility to rebuild communities after military intervention to help communities fully recover.

Conservatism view community protection1`1

Conservatism is a political attitude characterized by desire to conserve and resistance to change. Conservatives are pessimistic about human nature and their view it in three ways. One is that human beings are limited, dependent and security-seeking creatures, second is that human beings are morally corrupt selfish and greedy for power, and third, human rationality cannot cope with the complexities of the world. They therefore believe that human values have arisen through natural necessity and they need to be preserved. Conservatisms believe in authority that it promotes social cohesion and gives people a sense of who they are and what is expected of them. Conservatives value property since they believe that it gives people security and makes them independent from the government (Heywood, 2004).

Ethics and security

However, in meeting all these responsibilities, decisions regarding course of action must put into consideration the critical values, norms and ethics involved in pursuant of security. According to Wæver, (1993). security analysts, decision makers must be able to identify different threats, interpret information and categorize values that need protection. All this requires ethical approaches which involve analyzing how different values affect international relations. Ethical approaches to security have been explained differently by realists and liberalists. According to liberalists, ethical approach to security requires considering the norms of the international society, and the means that can be adopted to strengthen, defend or advance these norms. Liberalists borrow the idea of “Right to Protect” which requires the powerful states should be able to define the members of international society that needs protection
(Leffler, 1990).

On the other hand, realists believe that nations must build their own material power relative to that of others to ensure maximum chances of survival in the environment with very high possibility of war. This vision regarding the international system makes the search for security to the key driver of the behavior of various countries and makes them to award security higher priority in international politics (Anthony, Katrina, & Matt, 2014).

The believers of the realist tradition downplay the ethical and moral issues in pursuing security. According to them, security requires tough pursuit of the national interest which they define as preservation of sovereignty and territorial integrity. This conception is however founded on the vision of ethical responsibility which is built on social contract (Mark, 2008).

Principles of protecting the community

Equality, responsibility and care must be exercised when offering security as a universal good. Equality requires that security is equally offered to all members of the global community. This is despite the fact that different communities may have different security needs (Tim, 2014). Responsibility acts as the key support to promoting empowerment. At the same time, it also slows down abuse of power. All the security actors carry different responsibilities that aim at ensuring that there is security for themselves and for others. They therefore have a moral obligation to other members of the community. This is by acknowledging that the security of the state and the community depends on the actions of others and the cooperation among them. Care is meant to ensure that states mind about the security of those who may be rendered insecure by the current global politics. This is because global politics mostly affects the most vulnerable in the society (Fiona, 2011).

The following must also be put in mind when deciding on community protection:

All security actors have the responsibility of coming up with deep and long term security for all human beings in a manner that brings together the social, economical and cultural aspects of human beings putting into consideration the integrity of the ecosystem. To achieve this ethically, the state actors must use an approach to security that is universal, interdependent and inclusive (Kimberly, 2010).

The security actors must be committed in considering the long-term effect that present –day actions may have on future generations. This principle is based on recognition that the insecurities that are felt in the current time such as climate change is an effect of ethical choices made by the past generations. Therefore to avoid creating such insecurities in the future, consequences of the current decisions must be considered (Michael, 2012).

The security actors must acknowledge that the actions of their current decisions will be felt globally. This includes even the local actions such as plundering resources or conflicts between states (Ken, 2007).


To solve the ethical dilemma surrounding the question of whether security at all costs is an ethical justification to protect the community, there is a need to assess the different needs of different people in the community and the harm that different security measures may cause them. The community attaches high value to security bearing in mind the threats they would undergo while trying to pursue their other values in life and are therefore ready to forego other value in pursuit of security. Therefore at all costs, security is an ethical justification for the security actors to protect the community.


Ullman, R. (1983). Redefining Security. International security, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp 129-153.

United Nations (2010). Charter of United Nations.  Retrieved from http://www.un.org/en/documents/charter/chapter1.shtml

Cabinet office. (2014). HMG Security policy framework. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/316182/Se curity_Policy_Framework_-_web_-_April_2014.pdf

Heywood, A. (2004). Political Theory: An Introduction. London: Palgrave

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Kimberly, H.(2010). Global Ethics, An Introduction. Cambridge: Polity.

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Mark, N.,(2008). Critique of Security. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

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McDonald, M. (2008). Securitization and the Construction of Security. European Journal of International Relations, vol. 14 no. 4 563-587