Revisiting true locus of security post-MH 370 : Humans, not states
Avyanthi Azis ; The writer teaches at the Department of International Relations, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Indonesia
JAKARTA POST, 04 April 2014
Second only to people who are familiar with the aviation industry, those who stand to gain the most insight (if not lessons) from efforts to find the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 aircraft are perhaps readers of social/political sciences — most notably, international relations.
As the search went on, the delicate layers of regional dynamics and tensions inevitably came into view.
Despite our shared human dream of flight, the sky does not unite. China’s frustration with Malaysia, anger toward the Thai military for not disclosing its information much earlier, questions about who was best-positioned to take the lead and coordinate — all suggest that the search and rescue efforts do not take place in a vacuum.
Space, whether terrestrial, maritime or, in this case, aerial, is never neutral and always political. Inherent in the spatial situation is interest(s).
This is already a sobering realization in itself — this turning of what we thought to be a noble notion, humanitarianism, on its head (there is no such thing as pure humanitarianism) — but what is particularly more telling is that the tragedy seems to confirm how nation-states remain central, both as actors and referent objects.
Despite the smooth and seamless lip-sync of globalization, states — and their fictional but jealously guarded boundaries — continue to dominate our moral cartography. “Our”, because national rhetoric is not monopolized by governments; interestingly, they are very much alive in the imagination of most, if not all, of us.
On social media, “everyday people” questioned: “What are our radar capabilities?” and “How good is our satellite data?”
Behind this seemingly critical inquiry is an unconscious internalization of (not-rarely realist) state norms: the culture of national security.
If we follow the above questions down to their most logical sequence, we will undoubtedly arrive where security dilemma leads: an “arms race”.
There is paradox that in questioning governments and their policies, we are actually confirming and strengthening their position.
That security measures would be heightened, whether or not the aircraft is ultimately found, is definitely in the forecast.
This is not exclusively in the interest of governments since people also demand it. With questions like, “How could people traveling with fake passports pass immigration checks?”
Concomitant are speculations of terrorism, which have prevailed since Day 1. “Was MH370 heading toward the Petronas towers?” “Was it the Uyghurs looking to target China?” In truth, we do not know anything yet, but we have already indulged in speculations often framed around national security concerns. 9/11 has set the tone for securitization, and with its magnitude of tragedy, flight MH370 could conveniently be hailed as another landmark precedent.
Sadly, as developments following 9/11 showcased, more than any other aspect of life, it is human migration that suffers when a state-centric view of security prevails. It is perhaps ironic that the end of flight MH370 would also mean an end to many other journeys.
Already now, with two men aboard holding false documentation, investigation puts the ominous passport black market under the glaring spotlight, emboldening that line between citizens and dubious “illegals”.
MH370 is precisely a portrait of everyday population movements. It is not a neat picture.
As evidenced by the passengers manifest, the human stories, modes, experiences, which make up air traffic are far from uniformed standards. But many of these would fall into suspicion.
Realists’ wisdom means opting for selective attention that deliberately excludes a wide range of alternatives in looking at the world, the people that populate and navigate it, and the motives that fuel their travels.
In “seeing like a state”, people are abstracted and essential to its categories. Anyone who does not fit is a potential threat.
With punishment as securitization’s driving logic, asylum seekers are set to be one of the main losers. A fake passport-holder is firstly a criminal because their mode of crossing borders is “illegal”.
But what recourse do the undocumented have when there is a dire need to escape from violence? Some consider it to be scandalous that militaries could have missed an aircraft flying off course — but how many of us have stopped to consider if it is perhaps the national border that is the scandal?
Clearly, national security is a language with too limited a vocabulary.
As the search for the flight that ended continues, the question: “Where is the true locus of security?” needs revisiting. Lest we forget, our original focus was the lives of the missing passengers.
Post-9/11 events have taught us, a securitized world is not a more secure world. Serving national security too often comes at the horrible cost of denying the security of vulnerable individuals.
Do we secure certain lives at the expense of others’? We seek to ensure safe human passages. It has nothing to do with the creation of a paranoid world. ●