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The Theoretical Foundation of the Global Security Initiative—The Holistic View of National Security


This article from the deputy director of the Institute of World Economics and Politics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences links the Global Security Initiative (GSI) directly to Xi Jinping’s Overall National Security Outlook. The Outlook emphasizes that China’s national security is in part contingent on global security, and thus, Feng argues, strengthening the security architecture in accordance with the GSI is one of Beijing’s core interests.

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President Xi Jinping delivered the keynote speech, titled Rising to Challenges and Building a Bright Future Through Cooperation, via video at the opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2022. In the keynote speech, he presented, for the first time to all the world, the Global Security Initiative, which includes “six commitments,” namely: “…that we stay committed to the vision of a 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 U.N. 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; 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.” This initiative has a deep and solid theoretical foundation. Based on profound strategic insights into current realities, it has great value in guiding global security practices.


At the first meeting of the National Security Commission in April 2014, General Secretary Xi Jinping creatively put forward a holistic approach to national security. The 19th Party Congress incorporated the commitments of the holistic approach to national security into the basic strategy of upholding and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era and wrote them into the Party constitution. The holistic approach to national security is the first instance in the history of the Chinese Communist Party of major strategic thinking being established as the guiding thought for national security work. It is an important conceptual and theoretical contribution by contemporary China to the world. In December 2020, while presiding over the 26th Study Session of the 19th Politburo, General Secretary Xi Jinping gave a comprehensive, systematic, and complete presentation of the holistic approach to national security, in which he elucidated the overall goals of national security work in the new era and put forward the work requirements of the “ten adherences.”


In November 2021, the sixth plenary session of the 19th CCP Central Committee considered and adopted the Resolution of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party on the Major Achievements and Historical Experience of the Party over the Past Century. In this resolution, it ranked “safeguarding national security” as a historical achievement of the cause of the Party and the country in the new era and as one of the great historical transformations that have occurred; it systematically and comprehensively summed up the precious experience and major achievements of the Party in pushing forward the construction of national security systems and capabilities in the new era; and it put forward the “five coordinations,” namely “coordinating between development and security, between opening up and security, between traditional and non-traditional security, between China’s domestic security and the common security of the world, and between safeguarding national security and creating conditions conducive to it.” The resolution thus constitutes important content embodying the “holistic nature” of the holistic approach to national security.


The “ten adherences” and “five coordinations” of the holistic approach to national security provide an important theoretical foundation for the “six commitments” of the Global Security Initiative. For example, “persist in promoting international common security,” which is part of the “ten adherences,” frames the core concept of the global security initiative, as well as its basic premises, its fundamental rules, its important principles, and its program of implementation paths and practical orientations. To give another example, “coordinating between traditional security and non-traditional security,” which is one of the “five coordinations,” covers the “six commitments” requirement of maintaining security in traditional and non-traditional domains, and “coordinating between China’s domestic security and the common security of the world” contains the content of “stay committed to respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries” and “stay committed to taking the legitimate security concerns of all countries seriously.”


The national security connotations and extensions established by the holistic approach to national security, based on a refining of excellent Chinese traditional culture and a summing up and original development of Marxist national security theory, rise to the heights of building a human community with a shared future. They possess abundant and precious values of all humankind and lay the scientific foundation for the ultimate worldwide acceptance of the Global Security Initiative. For all countries, and especially for the major powers, the connotations of national security are even more wide-ranging and its extensions are even broader. Their main manifestations arise in several areas, namely duality of interests, continuity of conditions, consistency of real feelings, correlation of the group to the self, and multidimensionality of domains. The connotations and extensions of national security in the current era need to be clarified for a more accurate understanding of the theoretical content and value orientations of the “six commitments.”


First, national security objects or the national interests to which they are directed and which they safeguard not only include a great variety of material interests, but also encompass a wide array of non-material interests such as institutions, reputations, and values. The essence of national security is the safeguarding or assurance of national interests. In different times and places, a state will define and rank its own interest categories and their relative importance differently; the content and priorities of national security that is of concern to it will likewise vary. In the current era, national security has already gone far beyond the traditional categories of national territory and military security and seeks to protect many kinds of material—and especially non-material—national interests. Each country decides and ranks matters of national security priority according to its own national interest preferences. The more this becomes a reality, the more important it is to adopt the common ground principle of the Global Security Initiative, that of “abiding by the purposes and principles of the U.N. Charter” as the rule rather than trying to intolerantly press ahead with one’s “own set of rules” that underhandedly push one’s own selfish interests and infringe upon the institutional, reputational, and value interests of other countries.


Second, national security objectives not only emphasize that national interests be in a secure condition, but also emphasize that the country be capable of sustainably safeguarding a secure condition. Some research also emphasizes security as the condition of being free of dangers or threats. For example, “If a country does not need to sacrifice its core values when preferring not to wage war, but can wage victorious war and maintain its values when challenged, this country is secure.” There is also research which considers security as equivalent to the ability to ensure security. For example, “National security is the ability of one nation state to use economic, military, political, diplomatic, and judicial measures to overcome domestic and international threats.” In the current era, to emphasize exclusively either condition or capability indicates an incomplete understanding of national security. A secure condition is an assessment of an overall static state wherein the security capability is sufficient to overcome security threats, and security capability reflects a historic assurance of security sustainability. It is only through a combination of the two that national security can be grasped within a dynamic equilibrium. This is the proper significance of the conceptual emphasis placed by the Global Security Initiative on the “sustainability of security.”


Third, the secure condition of a country includes not only the assurance that its national interests are in an objectively secure condition, but also includes a subjective security status that assures an accurate understanding of this condition and a “sense of security.” A country that objectively is not endangered or threatened, but that subjectively lacks a “sense of security” is a country that is relatively security sensitive and that is subject to severe security risks triggered by minor disturbances. A country that is objectively beset with difficulties, but that subjectively disregards risks and turns a blind eye to threats is likewise subject to disruptive national security crises. The only durable national security is one wherein subjective experience and understanding are commensurate with objective conditions. This means that both the commitment to “respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries” and the commitment to “taking the legitimate security concerns of all countries seriously” are very important in the Global Security Initiative. Security status is highly related to understanding. It is necessary to adhere to the principle of indivisible security, enabling each party with a security concern to be whole in terms of both its objective and subjective security, while opposing the establishment of one country’s security on the foundation of other countries’ insecurity. Ultimately, attempts arising from the lack of a sense of security to gain the initiative by striking the first blow through top-down “color revolutions” or armed invasions will plunge regions, or even the world, into security dilemmas.


Fourth, in the current era, how national security is implemented should not be limited to the security of one’s own country, but should also emphasize the common security of all countries. Against a background of economic globalization, the national interests of each country are interwoven with the interests of all other countries. To be fully realized, national security must be supported by international security or common security. Some countries define common security narrowly. For example, the national security strategy of the United States limits common security to “like-minded” allies. This way of differentiating between allies and rivals and of pursuing absolute security for oneself and one’s allies often results in a situation of “uniting with those that agree and attacking those who do not” on a regional or even global scale, with a tendency towards “acting from a position of strength,” i.e., using power or violence to resolve differences or disputes between countries. This contradicts the “peaceful approach employing dialogue and consultation” emphasized by the Global Security Initiative. Adherence to the idea of a human community that has a shared future and that one treats as one’s own family is the only way that countries will have an intrinsic motivation to peacefully resolve disputes through dialogue and consultation.


Fifth, in the current era, extensions of national security should be able to cover the main traditional and non-traditional security domains and undergo dynamic adjustment as the core and major interest domains of countries change. This could be defined as “integrating core and extended key domains in one national security system.” Ancient China regarded “land, people, and governance” as the three treasures of a country. References in modern Western political theory to a “country” have a similar threefold meaning: country (i.e., national territory), nation, and state. The handling of traditional and non-traditional security threats to these three main objects has always been the core security concern of China and all foreign countries, in both ancient and modern times. In this regard, the Global Security Initiative commitment “to maintaining security in both traditional and non-traditional domains” should certainly entail paying special attention to planning for those risks and challenges that could endanger the security of the country, the nation, and the state. In other words, security issues relating to areas such as military affairs, economics, culture, society, science and technology, ecology, resources, nuclear technology, overseas interests, biology, space, deep seas, polar regions, and artificial intelligence often interact and are interwoven. Overall planning should be conducted to eliminate these issues so as to avoid producing an impact on the situation as a whole, which would result if these issues were to rise above a certain limit in respect to scale, scope, or level.


In summary, functions of national security in the current era take into account the security of material interests and the security of non-material interests, objective security and subjective security, security status and security capability, and domestic security and common security. These extend to and broadly involve core and many important security domains, and they are closely connected to the larger background of this new era in which profound changes in the world unseen in a century are turbulently interacting with the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. These security features require a tolerant, scientific, and global initiative to guide and coordinate the security interests of all countries. The Global Security Initiative provides a classical Chinese solution and makes an important Chinese contribution.


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冯维江 (Feng Weijiang). "The Theoretical Foundation of the Global Security Initiative—The Holistic View of National Security [全球安全倡议的理论基础——总体国家安全观视角]". CSIS Interpret: China, original work published in Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) [中国社会科学院], June 16, 2022

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