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What is security?

As the national death toll from COVID-19 in the United States climbs past 100,000, a cyclist passes a discarded face mask in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Reuters
As the national death toll from COVID-19 in the United States climbs past 100,000, a cyclist passes a discarded face mask in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Reuters

By Emanuel Pastreich

What exactly is meant by the word "security?"

The question is so simple as to be overwhelming. And, as critical as the question is, granted the billions ― even trillions ― of dollars that we spend on security, most of the experts who strut around at lavish think tanks, or who pontificate to us from the Pentagon, or from the National Security Council, or from various news programs, do not want to talk about the true nature of security.

One thing we can be sure of is that your tax dollars, and the national debt that is reducing your ability to purchase, pay for the development of new weapons and satellites, and other military and intelligence programs, about which you have never heard, and which are not subject to external review.

Many insiders confess that they do not even know if all these things we spend our money on are even built, are even deployed, because the programs are classified and innately opaque. The Department of Defense refuses to be audited. Intelligence agencies are equally inaccessible.

We know one thing for sure. We are building up an enormous debt for your children. We are galloping toward a world war. We are digging a grave for someone with all that spending on "security." Who might that someone be?

Trillions of dollars have been spent on security and yet we feel less and less secure.

That spending, combined with the trillions of dollars sprinkled on investment banks, has opened the gates of hell and poured gasoline all over the economy. Now the psychopaths who manage portfolios for billionaires come with matches in their hands.

Security is defined often in terms of the military. But over the past 10 years even the soldiers are not important to the masters of security. It is rather products like fighter planes, satellites, aircraft carriers ― many of which are of questionable value ― that are beloved because they produce big budgets for corporations.

Why do those military officers fall over themselves to endorse weapons that they know are not appropriate to security threats? They do so because they know that when they retire they will be employed by those same corporations. Many joined the military in the first place to make money consulting after retirement.

Many of those who are concerned about real security, however, have been punished, even banished.

At some level we need men and women in security. But often young people are fed fairy tales about threats from evil nations that blind them to true security threats.

Those fairy tales justify unholy budgets. There is no scientific basis for those tales, just the word of lobbyists for defense contractors.

Over a trillion dollars will be spent to update the U.S. nuclear arsenal even though many experts think we would be safer if we got rid of nuclear weapons altogether ― and we agreed to do so under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Today, in the pursuit of profit, the complex network of treaties limiting weapons that was carefully constructed over the past 50 years to reduce the risk of an arms race (and nuclear war) has been torn apart.

The United States is running away from the global treaties that prevent nuclear and conventional war. The announcement that we will withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty that assures transparency in the military is only the most recent example.

And then there was the shocking announcement of the possibility of renewed American nuclear testing, the first such announcement since 1992.

The capacity of the United States to address conflicts in a productive and rational manner, by contrast, has been crippled by the reduction of the budget for the State Department, the removal of experts from key positions and the cessation of even basic diplomatic functions over the past three months.

At the same time, big business is forcing us to depend on weapon production to feed ourselves.

They have worked insidiously to send all manufacturing overseas and to automate farming and other services in the United States. There are no jobs left. Solid manufacturing work can only be found in making weapons. That scheme makes us support the arms industry in order to find work.

And now, wallowing in debt, our factories shuttered, the only tool left for our decayed government to stimulate the economy is to plan for war with China, Iran, and or Russia.

It is no secret that these dangerous, catastrophic, plans are well advanced and that they could easily bring about the end of human civilization, even if that was not the intent.

The time has come for rationality in the approach to security. But you will not find much rationality in Washington, D.C.
So, what are the true security issues for the United States as we drift closer to world war and our citizens are kept terribly ignorant of the impending doom by the media?

Let me present a few key threats to security:

Anti-intellectualism

The greatest threat to our nation's security is the malignant cancer of anti-intellectualism, the dumbing down of Americans and the discouragement of deep thinking that is propagated through the decayed media. The death of reliable sources of information independent from financial interests ― and the withering away of local community discussions about critical topics ― has opened the door to catastrophe.

The brave pursuit of truth is a must for any meaningful policy on security. If we cannot focus for more than a few minutes, if the newspapers, television broadcasts and social media do not present to citizens a scientific and detailed analysis of real issues, and if we are not encouraged to play our role as thinking citizens, there can be no meaningful planning for security and we will drift toward world war in complete ignorance.

Climate change and poisoning of the environment

The military threats from China, Russia, Iran and North Korea are extremely unlikely, but the catastrophe of climate change that will leave large swathes of our Earth uninhabitable in the next 10 to 20 years is 100 percent guaranteed.

That is right: the most catastrophic security threat in human history is consistently understated and ignored in the media and the trillions of dollars spent by the military and intelligence has virtually nothing to do with responding to this challenge, but rather helps increase the risk because the U.S. military is one of the greatest polluters.

Decades of deregulation took away from government the authority to demand that industry stop poisoning citizens. But the final step of appointing lobbyists for industry to top positions has transformed the government from a powerless lump into an aggressive beast seeking to force fossil fuels on all of us.

Any objective assessment of the threat posed by climate change over next 30 years reveals that the danger is so great, and that the cost of adaptation to, and mitigation of, climate change is so enormous that we have no choice but to sign agreements with all countries for deep cuts in conventional weapons, and for the elimination of nuclear weapons, so that we can focus all resources on the complete transformation of our economy to a 100 percent renewable one.

If the military, intelligence and other parts of the existing "security" system can be fundamentally transformed to meet this goal of ridding ourselves of outdated and dangerous weapons and focusing our efforts on getting to zero fossil fuels, and transforming the Earth's economy in a few years, then they can play a role. Otherwise, they must be shut down.

No tanks, or missile defense systems, or intelligence satellites, can do anything to stop the spread of deserts, the warming and acidification of oceans and the destruction of agriculture by global warming. This will be a life-and-death struggle. Food costs will go up exponentially and most of the world will have trouble feeding itself. All this will happen while a handful of billionaires hoard resources.

We have no long-term plans for responding to the collapse of our food supply system, or to rising sea levels. Many Americans do not even know about these threats. The current administration has become a tool of fossil fuel interests. It cannot make meaningful policy and it tries to crush scientific debate.

Disparity of wealth

Our inability to grapple with security threats is in part a result of the unprecedented concentration of wealth, which has accelerated over the past 30 years, and reached an extreme over the past six months. The government and the military have been reduced to a plaything for a handful of the super-rich.

The destruction of family-owned businesses, the declining quality of the jobs available to young people and the power of investment banks and other speculative financial organizations over economic planning is remaking our society.

Such interests have no concern for the lives of citizens and they profit from creating insecurity. The rich would rather order another 100 F 35 jet fighters of questionable value at $120 million each than help citizens to obtain basic education necessary to understand the security challenges that we face.

Until we take back the trillions of dollars that the super-rich have stolen and create an accountable government focused on the long-term interests of the people, there can be no security policy.

The emergence of new weapons

Although the overwhelming threat to our country is climate change, we must also recognize that a response is demanded to the runaway arms race around the world and to the emergence of game-changing new weapons.

The exponential rate of technological evolution means that weapons that can kill tens of thousands, or more, are becoming cheaper and thus accessible to small groups, or even to individuals. The response to this unprecedented threat will require collaboration and trust between accountable organizations around the world. Most international organizations, however, have been hijacked by the rich and powerful and they no longer serve their original purpose.

Who controls emerging technologies, and how they are applied, and how regulated, will be the decisive question for the United States, and for humanity. Today, there is effectively no regulation at all. But this crisis can only be addressed through global agreements and binding treaties.

The threat from new technologies has little to do with nation states and the manufacturers and promoters of these dangerous weapons have no loyalties other than to profit. Let us consider some of these new technologies:

Drones and robots

Killer drones and robots are a rapidly developing technological field being promoted by companies in search of fast profits. The dystopia of killing by out-of-control machines has already started in impoverished nations. Unless we have binding treaties, it will be imported to the United States in full force ― not by foreigners, but by insiders.

Both robots and drones are becoming more sophisticated, more agile, smaller and able to kill without any mercy, or accountability, on a massive scale.

In the future, drones will form swarms of 10,000 or more, each containing different weapons, and many so small as to be nearly invisible. They will destroy everything in their path. Current fighter planes and aircraft carriers will be a quaint tribute to an outdated concept of security.

Autonomous killing machines will be able to operate without a human in the loop. They must be the subject of rigorously enforced international treaties. We must first create accountable governments capable of taking the necessary steps.

Cyber warfare and the propagandistic media

Cyber warfare is being used on a massive scale today. Misleading information is fed to us with the intention of creating confusion and division, and promoting dangerous military solutions to complex problems.

Moreover, future cyber warfare will make it possible for the few to take over weapons around the world that have been foolishly made to be controlled electronically.

The basic assumptions about state-to-state conflicts that underpinned national security policy are no longer valid. But, if anything, the great power conflict model is promoted by the media all the more.

There are also other emerging technologies like 3D printing whose military applications are still poorly understood, but which may become game-changing threats that need to be carefully considered.

What to do?

Our citizens are entitled to a security policy that is grounded in the quest for truth and guided by ethical commitment. The profits derived from the sale of weapons systems have no place in the discussion.

The question of how we will transform the wasteful and dangerous military into a force that protects the environment and that addresses real security concerns is our biggest challenge.

I am not going to pretend that I know the right answer. My point in this speech is to identify the contours of the problem and to call on all citizens, and on all members of the military and of intelligence, to have the bravery to stand up for our true interests, to oppose militarism, and to refuse the bribes and threats, direct and indirect, used to push us forward on the road to catastrophe.

We have no business stirring up problems with other nations like China, Russia, Iran or Venezuela. We face overwhelming global threats that demand, by their very nature, global cooperation.

Let us join together, with thoughtful citizens around the world, to rewrite the rules for security and to promote thoughtful, brave and wise people who can turn the apocalypse we face into an opportunity for fundamental institutional transformation via an ethical alchemy.

Many have impugned me for unrealistic idealism, for an overly optimistic perspective on security and on international relations. I say in response that I have studied history and I have experience working in diplomacy. I think that such dismissal of values and of vision serve only the make our world more dangerous.

And this cynical argument is essentially untrue. Enough of scaring people with bogeymen, terrifying them with gruesome images. Let us rather inspire them to do great things and encourage them to stand up for security in the true sense of that much abused word.


As the national death toll from COVID-19 in the United States climbs past 100,000, a cyclist passes a discarded face mask in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Reuters
As the national death toll from COVID-19 in the United States climbs past 100,000, a cyclist passes a discarded face mask in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Reuters

By Emanuel Pastreich

What exactly is meant by the word "security?"

The question is so simple as to be overwhelming. And, as critical as the question is, granted the billions ― even trillions ― of dollars that we spend on security, most of the experts who strut around at lavish think tanks, or who pontificate to us from the Pentagon, or from the National Security Council, or from various news programs, do not want to talk about the true nature of security.

One thing we can be sure of is that your tax dollars, and the national debt that is reducing your ability to purchase, pay for the development of new weapons and satellites, and other military and intelligence programs, about which you have never heard, and which are not subject to external review.

Many insiders confess that they do not even know if all these things we spend our money on are even built, are even deployed, because the programs are classified and innately opaque. The Department of Defense refuses to be audited. Intelligence agencies are equally inaccessible.

We know one thing for sure. We are building up an enormous debt for your children. We are galloping toward a world war. We are digging a grave for someone with all that spending on "security." Who might that someone be?

Trillions of dollars have been spent on security and yet we feel less and less secure.

That spending, combined with the trillions of dollars sprinkled on investment banks, has opened the gates of hell and poured gasoline all over the economy. Now the psychopaths who manage portfolios for billionaires come with matches in their hands.

Security is defined often in terms of the military. But over the past 10 years even the soldiers are not important to the masters of security. It is rather products like fighter planes, satellites, aircraft carriers ― many of which are of questionable value ― that are beloved because they produce big budgets for corporations.

Why do those military officers fall over themselves to endorse weapons that they know are not appropriate to security threats? They do so because they know that when they retire they will be employed by those same corporations. Many joined the military in the first place to make money consulting after retirement.

Many of those who are concerned about real security, however, have been punished, even banished.

At some level we need men and women in security. But often young people are fed fairy tales about threats from evil nations that blind them to true security threats.

Those fairy tales justify unholy budgets. There is no scientific basis for those tales, just the word of lobbyists for defense contractors.

Over a trillion dollars will be spent to update the U.S. nuclear arsenal even though many experts think we would be safer if we got rid of nuclear weapons altogether ― and we agreed to do so under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Today, in the pursuit of profit, the complex network of treaties limiting weapons that was carefully constructed over the past 50 years to reduce the risk of an arms race (and nuclear war) has been torn apart.

The United States is running away from the global treaties that prevent nuclear and conventional war. The announcement that we will withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty that assures transparency in the military is only the most recent example.

And then there was the shocking announcement of the possibility of renewed American nuclear testing, the first such announcement since 1992.

The capacity of the United States to address conflicts in a productive and rational manner, by contrast, has been crippled by the reduction of the budget for the State Department, the removal of experts from key positions and the cessation of even basic diplomatic functions over the past three months.

At the same time, big business is forcing us to depend on weapon production to feed ourselves.

They have worked insidiously to send all manufacturing overseas and to automate farming and other services in the United States. There are no jobs left. Solid manufacturing work can only be found in making weapons. That scheme makes us support the arms industry in order to find work.

And now, wallowing in debt, our factories shuttered, the only tool left for our decayed government to stimulate the economy is to plan for war with China, Iran, and or Russia.

It is no secret that these dangerous, catastrophic, plans are well advanced and that they could easily bring about the end of human civilization, even if that was not the intent.

The time has come for rationality in the approach to security. But you will not find much rationality in Washington, D.C.
So, what are the true security issues for the United States as we drift closer to world war and our citizens are kept terribly ignorant of the impending doom by the media?

Let me present a few key threats to security:

Anti-intellectualism

The greatest threat to our nation's security is the malignant cancer of anti-intellectualism, the dumbing down of Americans and the discouragement of deep thinking that is propagated through the decayed media. The death of reliable sources of information independent from financial interests ― and the withering away of local community discussions about critical topics ― has opened the door to catastrophe.

The brave pursuit of truth is a must for any meaningful policy on security. If we cannot focus for more than a few minutes, if the newspapers, television broadcasts and social media do not present to citizens a scientific and detailed analysis of real issues, and if we are not encouraged to play our role as thinking citizens, there can be no meaningful planning for security and we will drift toward world war in complete ignorance.

Climate change and poisoning of the environment

The military threats from China, Russia, Iran and North Korea are extremely unlikely, but the catastrophe of climate change that will leave large swathes of our Earth uninhabitable in the next 10 to 20 years is 100 percent guaranteed.

That is right: the most catastrophic security threat in human history is consistently understated and ignored in the media and the trillions of dollars spent by the military and intelligence has virtually nothing to do with responding to this challenge, but rather helps increase the risk because the U.S. military is one of the greatest polluters.

Decades of deregulation took away from government the authority to demand that industry stop poisoning citizens. But the final step of appointing lobbyists for industry to top positions has transformed the government from a powerless lump into an aggressive beast seeking to force fossil fuels on all of us.

Any objective assessment of the threat posed by climate change over next 30 years reveals that the danger is so great, and that the cost of adaptation to, and mitigation of, climate change is so enormous that we have no choice but to sign agreements with all countries for deep cuts in conventional weapons, and for the elimination of nuclear weapons, so that we can focus all resources on the complete transformation of our economy to a 100 percent renewable one.

If the military, intelligence and other parts of the existing "security" system can be fundamentally transformed to meet this goal of ridding ourselves of outdated and dangerous weapons and focusing our efforts on getting to zero fossil fuels, and transforming the Earth's economy in a few years, then they can play a role. Otherwise, they must be shut down.

No tanks, or missile defense systems, or intelligence satellites, can do anything to stop the spread of deserts, the warming and acidification of oceans and the destruction of agriculture by global warming. This will be a life-and-death struggle. Food costs will go up exponentially and most of the world will have trouble feeding itself. All this will happen while a handful of billionaires hoard resources.

We have no long-term plans for responding to the collapse of our food supply system, or to rising sea levels. Many Americans do not even know about these threats. The current administration has become a tool of fossil fuel interests. It cannot make meaningful policy and it tries to crush scientific debate.

Disparity of wealth

Our inability to grapple with security threats is in part a result of the unprecedented concentration of wealth, which has accelerated over the past 30 years, and reached an extreme over the past six months. The government and the military have been reduced to a plaything for a handful of the super-rich.

The destruction of family-owned businesses, the declining quality of the jobs available to young people and the power of investment banks and other speculative financial organizations over economic planning is remaking our society.

Such interests have no concern for the lives of citizens and they profit from creating insecurity. The rich would rather order another 100 F 35 jet fighters of questionable value at $120 million each than help citizens to obtain basic education necessary to understand the security challenges that we face.

Until we take back the trillions of dollars that the super-rich have stolen and create an accountable government focused on the long-term interests of the people, there can be no security policy.

The emergence of new weapons

Although the overwhelming threat to our country is climate change, we must also recognize that a response is demanded to the runaway arms race around the world and to the emergence of game-changing new weapons.

The exponential rate of technological evolution means that weapons that can kill tens of thousands, or more, are becoming cheaper and thus accessible to small groups, or even to individuals. The response to this unprecedented threat will require collaboration and trust between accountable organizations around the world. Most international organizations, however, have been hijacked by the rich and powerful and they no longer serve their original purpose.

Who controls emerging technologies, and how they are applied, and how regulated, will be the decisive question for the United States, and for humanity. Today, there is effectively no regulation at all. But this crisis can only be addressed through global agreements and binding treaties.

The threat from new technologies has little to do with nation states and the manufacturers and promoters of these dangerous weapons have no loyalties other than to profit. Let us consider some of these new technologies:

Drones and robots

Killer drones and robots are a rapidly developing technological field being promoted by companies in search of fast profits. The dystopia of killing by out-of-control machines has already started in impoverished nations. Unless we have binding treaties, it will be imported to the United States in full force ― not by foreigners, but by insiders.

Both robots and drones are becoming more sophisticated, more agile, smaller and able to kill without any mercy, or accountability, on a massive scale.

In the future, drones will form swarms of 10,000 or more, each containing different weapons, and many so small as to be nearly invisible. They will destroy everything in their path. Current fighter planes and aircraft carriers will be a quaint tribute to an outdated concept of security.

Autonomous killing machines will be able to operate without a human in the loop. They must be the subject of rigorously enforced international treaties. We must first create accountable governments capable of taking the necessary steps.

Cyber warfare and the propagandistic media

Cyber warfare is being used on a massive scale today. Misleading information is fed to us with the intention of creating confusion and division, and promoting dangerous military solutions to complex problems.

Moreover, future cyber warfare will make it possible for the few to take over weapons around the world that have been foolishly made to be controlled electronically.

The basic assumptions about state-to-state conflicts that underpinned national security policy are no longer valid. But, if anything, the great power conflict model is promoted by the media all the more.

There are also other emerging technologies like 3D printing whose military applications are still poorly understood, but which may become game-changing threats that need to be carefully considered.

What to do?

Our citizens are entitled to a security policy that is grounded in the quest for truth and guided by ethical commitment. The profits derived from the sale of weapons systems have no place in the discussion.

The question of how we will transform the wasteful and dangerous military into a force that protects the environment and that addresses real security concerns is our biggest challenge.

I am not going to pretend that I know the right answer. My point in this speech is to identify the contours of the problem and to call on all citizens, and on all members of the military and of intelligence, to have the bravery to stand up for our true interests, to oppose militarism, and to refuse the bribes and threats, direct and indirect, used to push us forward on the road to catastrophe.

We have no business stirring up problems with other nations like China, Russia, Iran or Venezuela. We face overwhelming global threats that demand, by their very nature, global cooperation.

Let us join together, with thoughtful citizens around the world, to rewrite the rules for security and to promote thoughtful, brave and wise people who can turn the apocalypse we face into an opportunity for fundamental institutional transformation via an ethical alchemy.

Many have impugned me for unrealistic idealism, for an overly optimistic perspective on security and on international relations. I say in response that I have studied history and I have experience working in diplomacy. I think that such dismissal of values and of vision serve only the make our world more dangerous.

And this cynical argument is essentially untrue. Enough of scaring people with bogeymen, terrifying them with gruesome images. Let us rather inspire them to do great things and encourage them to stand up for security in the true sense of that much abused word.



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