Mary Kaldor

Mary Kaldor

Professor of Global Governance, Director, Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit, London School of Economics, UK.

In the age of globalization, traditional warfare, characterized by antagonism between states aimed at maximizing violence, is giving way to a new type of organized conflict where global and local, public and private actors pursue their political goals using destabilizing terror tactics. Mary Kaldor introduced the idea of "New Wars" and developed a concept of human security as a response including the needs to  reinterpret international peacekeeping as cosmopolitan law enforcement. Before assuming her current role at the London School of Economics, Kaldor worked at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and was a founding member of European Nuclear Disarmament, and the European Council on Foreign Relations. Analyzing the recent events in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen, natural disasters like the Japanese earthquake, and less publicized events in countries such as Cote d'Ivoire, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, at Falling Walls, Kaldor highlights the growing security deficit due to the use of anachronistic classic military tactics, and proposes an innovative human security approach, based on the protection of individuals against contemporary global challenges.

Breaking the Wall of War. How Human Security Makes People Safe in a Global Era.


Thank you very much for inviting me. It is a huge privilege to be here, and it is rather terrifying to be the first to speak. You may be rather surprised, since my subject is war, to see a picture of a nice pub in the South of England. The reason it is there is that I took part recently in an army exercise called “Urban Warrior” that took place in Southampton. According to the scenario for this exercise, Southampton was the capital of a country called “The South West Protectorate”. It was a poor country, the southern part of Britain; it was predominantly Anglican, but it had a 15 percent Muslim minority. Muslim forces, from the country to the north, had invaded Southampton. Southampton also had militant Muslim and Anglican groups, high unemployment and criminality. The government of the South West Protectorate had requested NATO’s aid.

So, we stood in a multistory car park, deciding how to take the flats opposite, which were occupied by the Muslim forces. I asked: “Well, wouldn’t this cause a lot of civilian casualties? Would we really do this if Southampton had been invaded?” They had been invaded ostensibly to protect the Muslim minorities, but really because Southampton had oil. I said: “Wouldn’t we instead try to restore order in Southampton, make it a nice place, and try to undermine them politically?” Actually, most of the soldiers agreed, but they said: “War fighting is our core business. We cannot be an army without being able to war fight, and so we have to practice.” So that is my big question: do we have to practice? Is war fighting going to bring us security?

Since the end of the Second World War, there has been a dramatic decline in what I called “old wars”, wars between states where battle is the decisive encounter, and it is battle between regular armed forces. Instead, what we see is the spread of a new type of political and criminal violence that involves state and non-state actors, in which the main violence is directed against civilians, and in which forceddisplacement, expelling people from their homes, is a very typical characteristic. These wars are often fought in the name of ethnic or religious identity, and they very often involve crime. They are usually financed by various forms of crime, like loot and plunder at its simplest, or smuggling in drugs, oil or human beings. In a sense, they are almost better described as a sort of predatory political economy, in which for political and economic reasons the various parties have a vested interest in the war, in the conflict continuing. That is why we see large areas of the world where this kind of political economy is spreading: Central Asia, Central America and the Horn of Africa.

I call them new wars to distinguish them from old wars. But actually, they are not necessarily new; they have many characteristics similar to the early modern period in Europe. They often were going on during the Cold War, but we didn’t notice them, because we were so preoccupied with the Cold War. There are some new features that have to do with globalisation, that have to do with communication. But, the key point is that using old war techniques, war fighting, in these situations makes things worse. That is what I think happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. Outsiders used old war techniques in new war situations, and things simply got worse.

So what would be a different approach? I think we need a different approach, and I like the idea of human security. What do I mean by human security? Human security is, first of all, about the security of individuals and the communities in which they live, rather than about the security of states and borders. It is secondly about security from different kinds of existential threats – not just violence, but related things like poverty, disease or natural disaster. Thirdly, and I think very importantly, it involves a blurring between the internal and the external. We are used to thinking that domestically – at least we who live in Europe – security is maintained through a rule of law; we have emergency services like fire fighters, ambulance brigades, police and that externally our security is guaranteed by military forces. I think we are looking at something like externally being more like what we are used to internally – that we are moving towards, or we should move towards if we want to maintain security, an international rule of law based on individuals rather than states.

I think we need something like global emergency services. Our external security capabilities would be a contribution to those external capabilities. They would involve both military and civilians, but the military would operate under civilian command, and they would operate according to quite different principles. Their goal would be protecting people rather than defeating enemies. Their goal would be dampening down violence rather than winning wars. That is a huge cognitive difference. Many of these ideas are actually beginning to be adopted in things like national security strategies, or in the European Union’s external policy, and even in the US Counterinsurgency Doctrine (that is why I have included the photo of General Petraeus) which stresses population security. These news ideas for soldiers on the ground and for others, such as humanitarian workers, came out of the actual experience of being involved in these types of wars in recent years.

But actually, the new ideas have not translated into new capabilities. This contradiction was very evident in the recent intervention in Libya. The goal was wonderful; it was a real breakthrough. The goal was to protect civilians, but the means were traditional air power. You cannot protect civilians with traditional air power. Actually, the air strikes were very precise, and we should all be very happy that Gaddafi was overthrown, but, nevertheless, many people died in the conflict. The tensions that resulted from the conflict are here to stay for a long time and will make democracy very difficult.

Actually, at the moment, budgetary cuts mean that the kind of security capabilities we need are the first to be cut. Countries like the US, Britain and France are protecting what they see as their core mission. One of the outcomes of what is going wrong in Afghanistan has actually been an increasing reliance on long-distance air power – the Drone Campaign – for example, in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, which doesn’t solve anything. It actually contributes to growing insecurity.

In a way, I think what we are facing is a very serious security crisis. I think we cannot delink that from our economic crisis. It is not just that our traditional preoccupations with war have actually contributed to economic crises; in very obvious ways, high military spending is linked to global imbalances. It is not by chance that the debt crisis occurred after two very expensive wars – just as the first breakdown in the post-war financial system in 1971 occurred after Vietnam.

I think, also, military structures are so embedded in state structures that they really make it very difficult to change. But, by the same token, it works the other way around. I think austerity dramatically increases people’s insecurity. That insecurity can translate into more dangerous developments. We can see these spreading areas of insecurity happening even here in Europe. They are contributing to increased migratory pressure, just at the moment when we are having our own problems.

I think it is terribly important: if we want to be able to deal differently with the Southamptons of this world that we do try to establish a basis, which could actually rekindle trust in our institutions. We believe in our institutions if they keep us safe. We are losing trust in our institutions, because they don’t keep us safe. I think that is a precondition, actually, for economic recovery. So, thank you very much.