Almost 20 years have passed since 9/11. It is time to take stock of where we stand and stop and think. It is time to ask ourselves, have the assumptions and policies we developed in the wake of those tragic events truly made us more secure? Have they made our societies, both in Europe and in the United States, more resilient?
I've worked all my life in the field of security and defense, and I am convinced that now, more than ever, we need to radically reframe the way we think and act about security, and especially about international security. By international security, I actually mean what we do, how we prepare our countries to better respond and prevent external threats, and how we protect our citizens. The key to both is to focus on protecting civilians, both in our own countries and in those where we are present in the name of security.
Now, this idea goes against the fixed narrative that we developed over the past 20 years over what security is and how to get it, but that narrative is flawed, and worse, it is counterproductive. Over the past 20 years, both in the United States and in Europe, we've come to accept that we must talk about security in zero sum terms, as if the only way to gain more security is by compromising on values and rights: security versus human rights, safety versus freedom and development. This is a false opposition. It just doesn't work like that. We need to recognize that security and human rights are not opposite values, they are intrinsically related. After all, the most basic human right is the right to live and to be free from violence, and a state's most basic responsibility is to guarantee that right for its citizens. Conversely, if we think about communities all over the world affected by war and conflict, it is insecurity and violence that stops them from achieving their full freedom and development. Now, they need basic security just as much as we do and they need it so they can live a normal life and so that they can enjoy their human rights.
This is why we need to shift. We need to acknowledge that sustainable security builds on a foundation of human rights, builds on promoting and respecting human rights.
Also, over the past two decades, we have accepted that the best way to guarantee our own security is by defeating our enemies, and to do that, we need to rely almost exclusively on the military. Again, this clashes with my work, with my research, with what I see in the field. What I see is that building sustainable security has a lot less to do with crushing enemies, has a lot less to do with winning on the battlefield, and has a lot more to do with protecting victims and building stability. And to do that, well, the military alone is simply insufficient.
This is why I believe we need to shelve the never-ending War on Terror, and we need to replace it with a security agenda that is driven by the principle of protecting civilians, no matter where they are from, what passport they hold, or where they live: Vancouver, New York, Kabul, Mosul, Aleppo or Douma. Sustainable security tells us that we're more likely to have long-term security at home for ourselves if we focus our engagements abroad on protecting civilians and on ensuring their lives are lived in dignity and free from violence.
For example, we all know that defeating ISIS is a security achievement. Absolutely. But rebuilding destroyed homes, restoring order, ensuring a representative political system, these are just as, if not more important, and not just for the security of civilians in Iraq and in Syria, but for our own security and for global stability.
More fundamentally, ISIS's danger should not just be counted in the number of weapons it holds but also in the number of children it has kept out of school or indoctrinated. This is from a security perspective. From a security perspective, the long-term generational impact of having millions of children in Syria growing up knowing only war and out of school, this is a far more dangerous threat to stability than all of ISIS's weapons combined, and we should spend just as much time and just as much energy to counter this as what we spend when countering ISIS militarily.
Over the past two decades, our security policy has been short-term. It has focused on the here and now. It has systematically downplayed the link between what we do today in the name of security and the long-term impact of those choices. In the years after 9/11, some of the choices, some of the policies we've implemented have probably made us less, not more secure in the long term. Sustainable, civilian-centered security needs to look at what happens in the long term. Again, for example, relying on drones to target enemies in faraway countries may be a tool. It may be a tool to make sure or to lessen the threat of an imminent attack on the United States. But what about the long-term impact? If civilians are killed, if communities are targeted, this will feed a vicious circle of war, conflict, trauma and radicalization, and that vicious circle is at the center of so many of the security challenges we face today. This will not make us safer in the long term.
We need civilian security, we need sustainable civilian-centered security, and we need it now. We need to encourage thinking and research around this concept, and to implement it.
We live in a dangerous world. We have many threats to peace and conflict. Much like in the days after 9/11, we simply cannot afford not to think about international security. But we have to learn the lessons of the past 20 years. To get it right, to get security right, we need to focus on the long term. We need to focus on protecting civilians. And we need to respect and acknowledge the fact that sustainable security builds on a foundation of human rights. Otherwise, in the name of security, we risk leaving the world a far more dangerous and unstable place than what we already found it in.