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An Elusive Concept

P.R. Chari

Edited by Nihar Nayak
Pentagon Press, New Delhi, 2013, pp. xiii 256, Rs. 995.00

VOLUME XXXVII NUMBER 2-3 February/March 2013

It is common ground that the concept of national security is not limited any longer to external and internal threats to the integrity of a nation. It also includes the linkages between these two challenges to national security exemplified, for instance, by cross-border and domestic terrorism mutually reinforcing each other. Moreover, threats to national security are increasingly believed to include emerging and non-traditional dangers, atypically from climate change, migration, pandemics, water and food security, and so on. Clearly, such variegated and diffused aspects of national security cannot be credibly addressed by individual nations, but require a regional and international cooperative effort. A new recognition of cooperative security has consequently accrued. Alongside comprehensive and human security to provide for the security of nations, cooperative security has gained a new salience after the Cold War ended, and undifferentiated bloc approaches to national security became questionable. Cooperative security thereafter became part of the Newspeak of national security. This edited book under review examines the application of cooperative security to South Asia, and accords priority to SAARC as being the appropriate modality to achieve it. This choice of agency is unfortunate given SAARC’s indifferent record, and its well-deserved reputation for only being a talk shop informs us. Its past record has been one of soaring rhetoric and lofty resolutions, but little ground action. Some part of the problem is embedded in the SAARC Charter itself that evolved in the early 1980s largely due to the persistence of Bangladesh. SAARC envisages that all its decisions must be taken by consensus. Hard core security issues are eschewed in its deliberations, and no bilateral issues can be discussed, although a ‘retreat meeting’ during SAARC summit gatherings has become the tradition to address controversial issues. For all these reasons ‘revisionists argue that SAARC is inherently incapable of substituting for a much-needed cooperative security framework in South Asia.’ But, optimists argue that SAARC has made progress on issues like taking collective action against terrorism and establishing a disaster management centre in Delhi. Visible progress has also been made in SAFTA (South Asia Free Trade Area), most visibly by the recent opening up of India-Pakistan trade, which could dramatically increase in future. The author has clustered the 16 essays that have been included in this volume into four parts dealing sequentially with the conceptual issues that underlie the concept of cooperative security, individual country perspectives on the security challenges in ...

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