Public Security and the Need for Inter-State Collaboration


Public Security and the Need for Inter-State Collaboration

The current international system has two aspects. The first aspect is altruism (caring for other human beings) which has served us well as a powerful moral force in the advocacy of the collective development of humanity; the creation of many international humanitarian organizations; and advancement of strong arguments in support of development assistance programs; among other things. The second aspect is national interest. This is about a country’s security, trade, diplomacy and other interests that ensure the welfare of its citizens. The international system creates and maintains peace and order among nations by balancing different national interests, and facilitating inter-state collaboration to this end. Amid the current looming security crises affecting many countries - including Western powers -, the balance between altruism and national interest in international relations appears to be tilting in favour of the later. Whether this is good or bad depends on how one looks at the issues, but the emerging international order may be creating a favourable condition to create genuine inter-state collaboration to protect public security.

Recently, the British and Italian governments went on public to announce that they would scale down their immigrant and refugee rescue missions at sea, for a simple reason that these missions have been encouraging more refugees and migrants to plan their illegal entries to Europe. This is then a clear indication that Western governments are taking drastic measures to protect their national interests, even if this means undermining the altruistic values (e.g., granting refugee asylum) that often define the identities of their liberal societies. As the recent terrorist attack in Paris increases public fear and anxiety, governments in the West would be pressured to institute more far-reaching public security measures that may change how they related to their societies and foreign governments, and even with series implications for the immigrant Diaspora if there are measures like de-emphasizing multiculturalism policies and close surveillances by security agencies of Diaspora actors and organizations.

Surely, Western governments appear to have realized that systems that were set up to protect individual and group rights are being used by the same groups that wage war against them in the form of physical attacks and dissemination of extremist ideologies. They are busy identifying and fixing the elements or “loopholes” in the systems that create such disadvantages.  However, the issues are too complex. Socio-economic and political crises engulfing many regions of the world continue to produce refugee exodus and illegal immigration to industrialized countries. These new arrivals compete for jobs, housing and public services at a time when industrial economies are doing poorly. Most of the terrorists who have carried out attacks in the West are of immigrant origins. Added to all this is the growing fear of Islamization of Europe by influx of people from the Middle East and North Africa, some Europeans predicting this to happen within a century or so.  Still another factor is the troubling or frightening trend that descendants of immigrants - marginalized and excluded – finding a sense of belonging and comfort in extremist ideologies that preach the greatness of their origins (e.g., glory of Islam or Arabs’ past). The global jihadists and other extremist groups are having an easy time recruiting and training mercenaries among the second generation of immigrants who are willing to die fighting for their causes.   

Such complexities inherent in public security issues mean that Western governments cannot fight terrorism and transnational crimes by working alone. They must collaborate with developing country governments; after all, the “problems” are rooted in remote societies, as the narrative on Western security argues. Developing countries need support to strengthen their public security apparatus. Groups like ISIS and Boko Haram run over large territories not necessarily because they are powerful, but because governments are unprepared to stop their advances. Collaboration with developing countries must be grounded in the principle of equality and mutual recognition of each other’s national interests. The American Embassy in Addis Ababa is guarded more or less like a national palace while the security of the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington was breached by a bunch of hooligans who occupied the Embassy and almost endangered the safety of the staff.  The West cannot afford to play “double standard” politics or diplomacy at this critical time of history. As the experience of Pakistan (that hosted the late Osama Bin Ladin) also shows, Western governments are limited in their abilities to seek the full and heartfelt collaboration of developing countries by using foreign aid as an incentive. Leaders and bureaucrats of developing country governments must be convinced that any international security collaboration creates mutual benefits.

History, geography, demography and other factors make Ethiopia an important country in Africa. Ethiopia is also among a growing number of regional middle powers that are creeping along with the changing international relations landscape to find a place and voice in international arenas. Recent diplomatic successes have restored the country’s proud tradition of diplomacy.  However, the country continues to face public security challenges. For instance, there are groups (with support-bases in the Diaspora) that preach the violent overthrow of Ethiopian government. Al-Shabab vows to carry out an attack to avenge for Ethiopia’s peace-making efforts in Somalia. The Asmara government remains preoccupied with encouraging and supporting groups that can launch attacks on Ethiopian institutions and critical infrastructures. The “no-peace, no-war” policy could expire if Isayas Afewerki succeeds in his plan, especially orchestrating an attack on infrastructure projects that are built with foreign loans. Any Ethiopian government decision in this regard may not fall short of an action to remove Isayas from power, yet the cost for Ethiopian society will be too high including disappointed donors withholding aid.  These and other issues and scenarios should be carefully studied and analyzed by different sectors of Ethiopian government to ensure that public security threats and backlashes do not heavily impact on the current development momentum in the country.

In the meantime, the Ethiopian defense and intelligence community has demonstrated capability in guarding the society against the forces of violence.  One should very much appreciate the dedicated services of Ethiopian men and women in uniforms after having witnessed the recent failure of other countries to contain the growing power and territorial expansion of extremist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram. Be that as it may, non-state groups have the capacity to adapt and innovate, in some cases going a step ahead of security agencies. The Ethiopian security sector needs more resources, technology and training. Moreover, the Ethiopian government should continue pursuing security partnerships with governments with which it has trade and diplomatic relations and cultural and historical associations. Existing laws, including the Diaspora policy, should be reviewed and updated, as needed, to ensure that Ethiopians living abroad are refrained from engaging in violence-related activities that endanger the safety and security of Ethiopian citizens and the citizens of other countries.


Getachew Mequanent

Ottawa, Canada

January 26, 2015


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