Well-being as National Security

When the term “national security” crops up, our thoughts usually turn to things military. Indeed the dictionary on my Mac defines national security as “the safety of a nation against threats such as terrorism, war, or espionage.” But the security of a people is often threatened by things other than men with guns. Wikipedia offers the U.S. legal definition, “the security of a nation state, including its citizens, economy, and institutions, which is regarded as a duty of government,” pointing out that the term is now widely understood to include economic security, energy security, environmental security, food security, (Read more…).

Consistent with this broader definition, New Zealand recently passed a “well-being” budget. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declared that the purpose of government spending is to ensure citizens’ health and life satisfaction, and that, not wealth or economic growth, is how a country’s progress should be measured. She recognizes that GDP, often the sole measure of a country’s progress, is inadequate in measuring people’s well-being. The budget requires all new spending to go toward five specific goals: bolstering mental health, reducing child poverty, supporting indigenous peoples, moving to a low-carbon-emission economy, and flourishing in a digital age. Sixty-one indicators will track criteria from loneliness to trust in government.

If the prime responsibility of government is the security of its people, it simply makes sense to consider security comprehensively. Furthermore, at a time when we have never been richer yet our economic rapacity is exhausting our planet’s resources while overwhelming it with pollution, it is time to judge progress by other yardsticks than GDP and security by other means than military preparedness.

The president of the United States surrounds himself with weaponry while surrendering to global warming, the greatest threat to the security of his people. Prime Minister Ardern, on the other hand, promotes a healthy people and a healthy environment. Ardern and her budget are much closer to the security needs of a modern society.