The Primacy of Security in Governance

By Hon. Jean Jacques Blais, P.C., Q.C., Former Member of Parliament of Canada and the Vice-Chair of the Parliamentary Centre Board of Directors

It was the 17th Century English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes who claimed that men’s motive for joining society was “the foresight of their own preservation”, getting themselves “out from that miserable condition of Warre”. Hobbes was a front row observer of the ravages of the English Civil War. He saw, first hand, the essential role the state had to play’s to keep the peace at home and prevent harm from beyond its borders. Since then and largely because of him, security has been given the priority it deserves by the modern state.

Fear impairs our ability to behave normally, to care for our own and to contribute to our community. To constantly worry about the safety of one’s family and to feel the need to take measures to protect them is a huge waste of potentially positive energy that could be invested in the betterment of society. It is the state’s duty to provide for its citizens safety and security. The advantages of that arrangement is that all living within a secure system are better able to take advantage of the benefits that society provides beginning with freedom from fear.

Vast sums are invested each year modern states in the military and the police and their intelligence services, (institutions referred to as the security sector), mandated to provide for the security of the state and its citizens with the use of force. Theirs is an important but most difficult task, exposing those engaged at substantial risk to life and limb, in activities that are often unpleasant and difficult. It is also a task that requires the highest level of expertise, professionalism and restraint.
Particularly restraint, since force can be a great temptation for those who would abuse it for private gain. It is essential therefore that those entrusted with the use of force accept the obligation to answer to the civil authority representing each member of the community. That authority includes the executive that directs the security sector and assumes responsibility for it, the judiciary through which the law, as the ultimate arbiter, is made effective, and the legislative assembly of the state to which all state institutions, save the judiciary, are accountable.

It is the people who entrust the military and the police with the force they are mandated to use. It is therefore to the people that they serve and to whom they must answer. In our parliamentary democracies it is to the legislative assembly that security sector institutions must respond. That response will only be effective where there is recognition that the boss, the authority, is the people to whom security sector institutions owe allegiance.

The military and the police form part of the executive of government and respond to the legislative assembly as such. Their position, however, within the executive is unique and key to the proper functioning of those institutions and their accountability. The responsible ministers provide policy direction to security sector institutions but do not control their activities. The military and the police are mandated to serve the state and its constitution, to guarantee its security and that of its citizens. They are servants of the people not of the government of the day. Still the executive must ensure their accountability. It does so by assuming responsibility for the policy directives of those institutions and working cooperatively with the legislative assembly to guarantee that they follow those directives in their day to day activities.

There is, as well, a significant role for civil society in seeing that the security sector answers for the way in which it carries on its work, how it uses force or coercion within and without the state’s borders. Its role is of essential importance with the growing complexity of modern society and the increasing demand by citizens for greater security and better law enforcement. Civil society comprises all the groups, organizations and institutions, not engaged in government, that have an interest in how public affairs are conducted within the state. It includes the communications media that serve as the means of intellectual exchange between citizens themselves and between citizens and their government. It is a reflection of the demographics of the body politic, including its ethnic, linguistic, educational and cultural elements. Its interests coincide with those of the community. It should therefore lead in the society’s efforts to have its political leaders meet their responsibilities in matters of national security and public order.

Nor can a national effort to improve security fail to recognize the porous condition of borders in the face of criminal and other threats to public peace. Efforts, exclusively internally focused, are bound to fail if the significant threat emanates from a foreign state over which the political power of the threatened state has no traction. A regional dimension is therefore essential to a national strategic approach to security enhancement related not only to what needs to be done but how it is to be done and who will account for what is done, for what purpose and by whom. Quite a challenge, but without it being met, success cannot be anticipated.

Internal peace and order is a public good taken for granted by those who enjoy it and a distant dream by those who thirst for it. It behoves those who benefit from its presence to recognize its rationale and offer that recognition to quench a thirst.


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