Tue | May 28, 2024

Rick Harris | A national security perspective

Published:Sunday | April 7, 2024 | 12:06 AM

In this 2022 photo, members of the Jamaica Defence Force patrolling St James Street in Montego Bay.
In this 2022 photo, members of the Jamaica Defence Force patrolling St James Street in Montego Bay.
In this file photo a JDF soldier is seen at a checkpoint in Whitehouse, Westmoreland during the state of emergency.
In this file photo a JDF soldier is seen at a checkpoint in Whitehouse, Westmoreland during the state of emergency.
Opposition Leader Mark Golding making his contribition to the 2024-2025 Budget Debate.
Opposition Leader Mark Golding making his contribition to the 2024-2025 Budget Debate.
Rick HarrisRick Harris
Rick HarrisRick Harris

In his Budget presentation on March 19, the Opposition Leader, Mr Mark Golding, offered his viewpoint on national security. He indicated that it should be viewed in a comprehensive way to include non-traditional security concerns such as education, food, and environmental and financial security, among other things.

Mr Golding indicated that he calls this approach citizen security. In my opinion, Mr. Golding’s heart is in the right place, but he may need help in developing his viewpoint in order to reduce the risk of securitisation of national development issues.


This is because the concept of security remains contested. That is, there is no specific and agreed-on definition of security.

Security can be analysed and defined at various levels such as individual, community, national, regional, and international. This has led to definitions of security that focus on particular concerns above others and have helped the concept of security to remain contested.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, Giovanni Manunta indicated a need for a universal and agreed-on definition of security. Manunta argued that security decisions, performance measures, and methodologies become meaningless without it. He believed that a common definition of security is possible and that our practice and understanding of security are hinged on its definition.

Throughout recorded history, there have been countless reports of interstate conflict. Fundamental or classical international relations (IR) theories such as Liberalism, Realism and Marxism evolved as scholars sought to explain the reasons for the phenomenon of inter-state conflict.

These theories explored and defined state security from differing perspectives and also ascribed a cause to conflict among nations. However, classical international relations theories and their perspectives on security became contested because of their state-centric focus. Criticism of the classical IR theories mainly centred on their failure to address non-traditional security concerns. That is, security matters that do not arise because of inter-state conflict but because of non-state actors such as criminal gangs.


The level of analysis used to understand the concept of security furthers the debate and also makes the concept contested. Modern definitions of security are less state-centric and allow the concept to be divided into the sublevels of individual and community security.

Additionally, expanding areas for inclusion into the security realm also makes the concept contested. Barry Buzan indicated that security should be defined in broader terms to include non-traditional security concerns. Other scholars such as Ivelaw Griffith propose that national security goes beyond national defence and includes a wider array of issues.

Mr Golding is correct, and there may be some benefit to developing a comprehensive definition of security that would include non-traditional threats peculiar to Jamaica. However, the attendant peril is that this effort may yield an all-encompassing definition which has no practical utility. The exercise may lead to the securitisation of national development, socio-economic and socio-political issues.

This very possibility has made security a contested concept and has caused some scholars to reject the inclusion of non-military aspects to the definition of security.

Griffith posited that in order to avoid this pitfall matters, for inclusion should be gauged based on the magnitude and scope of the threat, the potential for inter-state conflict, and threat to shared values and public institutions. This would see only the inclusion of salient matters when crafting an agreed-on definition of security. Additionally, it would go a far way in helping our leaders and policymakers craft a better national security strategy.

There has been some consensus and a shifting of perceptions with a general acceptance that the State is not the only referent when defining the concept of security. Hopefully, at some point in the future we will explore how this is relevant to the private security industry in Jamaica and why the industry is essential to national well-being.

It is evident that a country’s security decisions and foreign policy positions are shaped by the dominance and relevance of any of the three classical international relations theories at a point in history, the level of analysis used by policymakers, and the perceived dimensions of security. However, these factors, to varying degrees, help to make security a contested concept.


Notwithstanding the contested nature of security, I recommend that policymakers accept Griffith’s concept of security as appropriate for explaining the Jamaican reality and propose that it be used as a working definition.

Griffith offered a practical view of the concept of security. He proposed that national security encompassed national defence, public security, and citizen security. Here is where Mr Golding and others in the Ministry of National Security may want to take note. National defence is concerned with traditional aspects of security, such as political and territorial issues, as well as external threats posed by state and non-state actors. Griffith opined that public security is concerned with internal law enforcement and public order. Citizen security is concerned with the well-being of individuals and corporate citizens and the protection of civil and political rights. He further stated that there is some degree of overlap between public and citizen security.


Security remains a contested concept because of differing perspectives on the causes of insecurity, the various levels from which security can be analysed, and the continuous expansion of matters for inclusion within its ambit.

However, some scholars have indicated that irrespective of a person’s definition of security, the concept possesses some universal characteristics that can guide a security strategy. These common traits include subject/scope, object, source of insecurity, and method.

The scope or subject of security indicates what is to be covered. The scope could be an organisation, the government, a community, or a region. Objects of protection are what is being safeguarded. These concerns may be the economy, governance, assets, financial systems, and information. Sources are anything that causes insecurity of the object. For example, vulnerabilities and risks or threats such as hunger, infectious diseases, climate change, poverty, and man-made risks such as a financial crisis. Protection methods can be physical, cultural/psychological, technological, legal, social, political, and military.

These four characteristics, referred to as facets, enable complex security concepts to be analysed and addressed.

In light of the foregoing I recommend that policy makers endeavour to shape and guide Jamaica’s National Security perspective based on empirical research as well as the input of security strategists and practitioners with demonstrable experience and a deep appreciation of our local culture and security landscape.

Rick R. Harris is the executive director of the Private Security Regulation Authority. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com