GSI offers new path for global security governance

By LI KAISHENG / 02-02-2023 / Chinese Social Sciences Today

The 9th Chinese peacekeeping infantry battalion to South Sudan (Juba) holds an oath-taking rally pledging to maintain world peace in Zhumadian, Henan Province, on Dec. 4, 2022.  Photo: CFP

In the face of new and unique security challenges, the world is in dire need of an updated theory of global security. In his keynote speech at the Opening Ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2022, Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed a Global Security Initiative (GSI). The GSI is a progressive set of six logically interrelated commitments that transcends theoretical security philosophies upheld by Western political and academic circles. It offers a new path for tackling the current global security deficit in practice. 

Six commitments

The six commitments in the GSI include: “stay committed to the vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security, and work together to maintain world peace and security; stay committed to respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, uphold non-interference in internal affairs, and respect the independent choices of development paths and social systems made by people in different countries; stay committed to abiding by the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter, reject the Cold War mentality, oppose unilateralism, and say no to group politics and bloc confrontation; stay committed to taking the legitimate security concerns of all countries seriously, uphold the principle of indivisible security, build a balanced, effective and sustainable security architecture, and oppose the pursuit of one’s own security at the cost of others’ security; stay committed to peacefully resolving differences and disputes between countries through dialogue and consultation, support all efforts conducive to the peaceful settlement of crises, reject double standards, and oppose the wanton use of unilateral sanctions and long-arm jurisdiction; and stay committed to maintaining security in both traditional and non-traditional domains, and work together on regional disputes and global challenges such as terrorism, climate change, cybersecurity, and biosecurity.”

Theoretical interpretation

Summarized from academic perspectives, the GSI reflects the following features. 

In terms of security goals, the GSI advocates for common security between countries. Common security is important, first, because all countries have their own legitimate security concerns. Countries may differ in size or strength and vary from one to another regarding history, culture, and political systems, but as equal subjects in international law, each state enjoys lawful security rights for safeguarding national sovereignty and territorial integrity. The rights cannot be compromised for the abovementioned international disparities, nor can any country establish its security on the basis of other nations’ insecurity. Second, security is factually indivisible. In the contemporary world, self-help remains an important means of state security. If a country feels insecure, it will certainly defend itself and deter its opponents by increasing armament to make related countries feel insecure. This is the so-called security dilemma. 

When it comes to security actors, the GSI champions each country’s subjectivity and the legitimacy of the United Nations system. The China-proposed initiative advocates “respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, upholding non-interference in internal affairs, and respecting the independent choices of development paths and social systems made by people in different countries,” because in the current international political reality, state is the most reliable and powerful vehicle and tool for realizing security. 

Any act of denying the state as a sovereign entity, or even willfully overthrowing other regimes, will invite greater insecurity. The United Nations system is legitimate first in that it is an international organization that can represent sovereign states most extensively. Its legitimacy is irreplaceable. The need for contemporary international security governance to further strengthen the authority of the United Nations doesn’t mean to weaken state sovereignty, but to enable the voice of more countries, especially developing countries, to be heard on the platform of the United Nations and the sovereignty rules defended by the United Nations Charter to be better applied to the latest international security practices.  

With regard to security content, the GSI emphasizes traditional and non-traditional security alike. Traditional security focuses on political and military security, paying attention to topics like war, conflict, territorial disputes, arms control, and nuclear proliferation. Non-traditional security involves the economic, social, environmental, and cultural spheres, encompassing issues of great concern in recent years, such as security of industrial and supply chains, climate change, cyber security, refugee issues, energy security, and food security. 

The GSI calls for maintaining security in both traditional and non-traditional domains, which is a natural extension of China’s holistic approach to national security. The holistic approach to national security stresses taking political security as the fundamental task, economic security as the foundation, and military, technological, cultural, and social security as important pillars. This has in fact organically integrated security in the traditional and non-traditional domains. It is the same case with global security. Currently, the energy and food crisis, as well as strategic games between China and the US in cyber security and high-tech fields, have evidenced the close connection between traditional and non-traditional security, highlighting the necessity to coordinate the two domains.

Regarding the approach to ensure security, the GSI proposes peaceful and joint efforts. The Chinese nation has valued peace since ancient times, therefore, peace has a special value in China’s strategic culture. To achieve peace, the first priority is to oppose the use of force. The GSI “supports all efforts conducive to the peaceful settlement of crises.” However, international politics is complicated, so peace relies on many more concrete measures. 

Some Western countries often interfere in other countries’ internal affairs in the name of human rights and liberty, only to cause more civil strife or war, and in many circumstances even give rise to regional conflict. For this reason, the GSI urges non-interference in others’ internal affairs. Currently, confrontations between major powers prevail, military alliances have gained ground, and the fog of a new Cold War is approaching. As such, the GSI emphasizes rejecting the Cold War mentality, and saying no to group politics and bloc confrontation. Generally, the initiative appeals for common security through collaboration. 

Breakthrough to Western security theory

The security logic inherent in the GSI is of great significance to security studies and the development of security theory, as well as to breaking the hegemony of Western international security theory. 

First, the GSI can dissipate the negative impact of realistic security theory. Realists hold that the international community is essentially in a Hobbesian anarchy and stresses that everyone is an enemy. As such, security between countries can only be zero-sum. One country’s security usually indicates the other’s insecurity. 

In terms of methods for pursuing security, realism magnifies extreme choices under the self-help principle, arguing that it is unrealistic to pin hopes on international rules or the goodwill of other countries. Only by engaging in arms expansion or forming military alliances with other countries and resorting to force, instead of relying on strength, can one country realize its own security. Therefore, from the perspective of realistic theory, the world is always grey, and the security domain is still ruled by the law of jungle. However, this zero-sum security mentality makes it very difficult to bring about world security and peace. 

In this regard, the GSI proposes common security. The common security mentality doesn’t attempt to fundamentally deny that the international community remains in an anarchy and national security largely depends on each country. The GSI divorces itself from realism in understanding this security background. 

On one hand, the initiative takes the legitimate security concerns of all countries seriously, providing a value basis for reducing security confrontation. By highlighting legitimate security concerns, it not only affirms that each country has its own legitimate security appeals, but also excludes infinite concerns about security, thereby helping countries find convergent security interests. 

On the other hand, the GSI upholds the principle of indivisible global security, pointing out that the realistic confrontational approach to security will come to a dead end. To resolve the security dilemma, it is vital to attach importance to others’ security concerns and follow the path of common security. 

In addition, the GSI can help break away from the excessive noise of the liberal security theory. Different from realism, liberalism represents another voice in Western security philosophy. In modern times, particularly since WWII, Western liberal security views have made notable contributions to proposing and practicing collective security, building the United Nations, and upholding international security rules. Yet, we should also note that under the guidance of some Western countries’ one-sided world views and values, many liberalists have trumpeted the “democratic peace theory,” pursuing the universal significance of Western values and trying to promote so-called democracy and human rights to other countries, even through interfering in other countries’ internal affairs and toppling their regimes by force. 

Relatively, the GSI is more mature. China always underscores respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, and upholding non-interference in internal affairs, which are critical to the security and stability of the international community. In the foreseeable future, the international community is unlikely to develop a “central government” that can monopolize violence and maintain security. Sovereign states will remain the principal forces protecting their own citizens and realizing regional and world peace.  

Once the sovereignty principle is breached, international security will be at stake. Based on this pragmatic view, the GSI emphasizes respecting the independent choices of development paths and social systems made by people in different countries, and rejecting double standards. Only by taking into account each country’s national conditions can its people enjoy real security; only by respecting each other’s choices can mindless bloodshed and conflict be avoided. In this sense, the GSI is more inclusive and open than the liberal security theory. 

Li Kaisheng is a research fellow and deputy director of the Institute of International Relations at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.