What is Democratic Security?

For too long, authoritarian rulers and regional hegemonic powers have convinced policy circles in the West and beyond that they are the guarantors of security; that somehow, the region is not “ready” for full democracy and that a trade-off exists between democracy and security. In parallel, advocates of democratisation have also too often neglected security, seeing it wrongly as an intrinsically authoritarian, militaristic frame that threatens progressive political goals.

Arising from the scholarship around democratic peace, democratic security is a concept that rejects these outdated attitudes, instead highlighting the positive linkages between democracy, security and social justice. Democratic security recognises the legitimacy of security as a fundamental human right but contends that the most sustainable and effective path to security is through greater democracy. Conversely, it also recognises the importance of security for the consolidation of democracy.

Advocates of democratic security see it is a broad concept that encompasses both security from violent threat and the softer, but no less vital, concepts of security from environmental, social and economic threats. In this view, climate adaptation policy, reducing economic injustice and supporting strong public services such as healthcare are just as much a part of democratic security as warding off the threat of Russian military conquest. If the Covid pandemic showed us nothing else, it was how much our sense of security can depend on the transparent and accountable functioning of public health institutions. As such, democratic security is more than just an academic tool of analysis. It is also a practical policy toolkit and an advocacy agenda.

Democratic security has become an increasingly useful frame in Eurasia, a region which is characterised by a deficit of both democracy and security with multiple vectors of geopolitical competition and an array of intra-state and inter-state conflicts. It is the belief of DSI that democratic security is a vital framework for moving the discourse in the region beyond dry accounts of geopolitical alignment and realpolitik which demote democratic development to being a mere appendage of Euro-Atlantic integration. Democratic security is an approach that argues for the intrinsic benefits of democratisation on its own terms, rather than as a set of check boxes countries need to tick in order to win “prizes” like EU membership or increased development aid.