Before and during the arms trade cycle, there is the need to justify the use of public money for military spending to citizens and avoid ethical and moral scandals related to arms manufacturing and exports that could undermine the arms business. This is why states and multilateral organisations in the military and security sector are constantly carrying out security and defence analyses. Their main objective is to identify what threats to security exist at any given time, the likelihood that they will occur, and how they should be addressed. Threats to security are the principal necessary (but not sufficient) step to then identify enemies against which a country must be defended through existing military structures and policies.
But, as mentioned earlier, the obsession with seeking threats in the securitising discourses typical of militarised security leads to creating a narrative that portrays a world dominated by fear and mistrust – the ideal scenario for militarisation.
The risks and threats to security identified in current defence strategies of the US, the EU and NATO are terrorism, violent extremism, armed conflicts and the so-called fragile states, as well as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, organised crime, threats to cybersecurity, energy security, maritime security, as well as climate change, irregular migration, management of external borders and economic crises.
There are other threats and risks about which there is far less consensus and which are often not addressed in security strategies. They include global outbreaks of infectious diseases, epidemics and pandemics; poverty and inequality; human rights violations; globalisation, interdependence and changes in economic equilibrium. This calls into question the very existence of defence structures, as these are areas in which the armed forces can play no role whatsoever.
In addition to these, there are also the more traditional geopolitical manoeuvrings: all western nations consider Russia, North Africa and the Middle East (MENA) region as especially worrying regions from the perspective of security. Other places often mentioned are North Africa and the Sahel, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran, Turkey and China.
Together, the strategies portray a world riddled with threats against which we must defend ourselves, where even the maximum precaution is not enough. But are military structures useful for combating these threats? What exactly do we have to defend ourselves against?
In the case of international terrorism alone, which has been used to justify many of the foreign military interventions in recent years, particularly with the expansion of the Global War on Terror, we can see that the threat that could most easily justify a defence system has been neither reduced nor eliminated by means of military interventions. On the contrary, all they have done is to make things worse. The Global War on Terror, launched in Afghanistan in 2001 to put an end to the terrorist threat posed by Al Qaeda after 9/11, continued in Iraq 2003 and still continues in the Sahel. Rather than putting an end to terrorism, these wars gave rise to terror on an even greater scale perpetrated by ISIS/Daesh, which has and continues to be active in the most violent conflicts of recent years.
With regard to the other threats and risks, military responses are marginal, as they are more appropriately addressed by diplomacy, environmental policies, humanitarian action and international development cooperation, social services, economic measures, health and education policies, police, the justice system, etc.
Security analysis is never morally or politically neutral, as it is not a matter that can be objectively measured but is open to multiple subjective interpretations. Due to the power structures in society, however, interpretations of security are heavily skewed towards the interests of governments and elites. We find that security and defence doctrines are weighted towards the military and state defence structures. Furthermore, those with the greatest vested interest in promoting military responses to anything that could be considered a risk or threat to security are the corporations involved in the arms trade, as their business depends on it.
The best scenario for maintaining their profits in the long term is to make the military industry the source of all solutions to the security challenges facing a society. In some countries, they can achieve this directly, by making donations to candidates and political parties. In the 2020 US election, they donated $30 million to both Democrats and Republicans, with some of the major donors being Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and Raytheon. They can also achieve it indirectly, through the work of the security and defence lobbyists and industry groups created and financed by the corporations themselves. The European lobbyists AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD) and the European Organisation for Security (EOS) are good examples of this.