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Advantages of applying
Democratic Values in National
Security Policymaking
National Security Policymaking course - NSPO8006
(approx. 1600 words plus bibliography and 115 words in direct quotes)

Carlos Ramos Garcia

Due day

Discussion Question: Should Government in a democracy allow values and/or

public opinion to influence policy on national security? If so, how should
government weigh up the relative importance of these factors against the
assessments and advice of policy departments and intelligence agencies?
Democratic values and National Security Policymaking

Democratic values and National Security Policymaking

Public confidence in government and democracy is deteriorating. A 2014 study by
the Australian National University (ANU) in partnership with the Social Research
Centre (SRC) revealed a significant decline in support for democracy in Australia
over the past seven years (Australian National University, 2014). Researchers as
Lowy Institute's Alex Oliver agrees that it is not that people think democracy is
bad, but that the political system is not working. Dr Tim Battin from the
University of New England says most people are not apathetic but they believe
the political system excludes them (O'Neill, 2014).

On the other hand, the 2015s Lowy Institute Poll recorded the lowest feelings of
safety among Australians in their eleven-year polling history (Lowy Institute for
International Policy, 2015). Moreover, the environment in which the Australian
Government takes decisions on National Security (NS) is increasingly complex
and uncertain. The accumulation of risk to Australias interests is greater than at
any time since the end of the Cold War (Medcalft, 2015).

The question then is how to maximise the security communitys chance of success
of an NS strategy without eroding the cohesion of the society around democracy.
(Medcalft, 2015). Hence, the question that this essay discusses: Should
Government in a democracy allow values and/or public opinion to influence
policy on NS?

The fact that we are asking this question points to the same crisis of democratic
values that the polls cited above showed. However, a partial answer is in the
enunciation of the question itself by including the term democracy (
dmokrata- "rule of the people"). This essay argues that, if a government praises
itself of been democratic, this means that it subscribes a set of beliefs and values
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Democratic values and National Security Policymaking

in which a democratic system is built. The focus of the discussion is around

democratic values. The implication is that any democratic Government should
allow values and/or public opinion to influence policy on NS. It is not a choice
between security and democratic values. Both are priorities (Medcalft, 2015). The
essay also argues on the strategic advantages of values in a long-term strategy for
NS and for building cohesion and resilience in Australian society.

An assumption implied in the acceptance of democratic values is that public

opinion matters. Therefore, when this essay refers to democratic values it
includes public consultation and participation. In other words, the values of a
democratic government should include public participation and take in account
public opinion in matters that concern the majority.

The reflexion does not include what may be call Australian values in a broad
cultural sense (like fair go, tolerance, mateship, etc.). There is no consensus on
what are Australian Values (Gyngell & Wesley, 2007). Also, one in four Australian
(or one in three in the cities) were born overseas, which makes harder to achieve
consensus on this topic. More importantly, focussing on democratic values offers
significative strategic advantages.

Why allow values to influence NS policymaking?

In a broad sense, democracy values can be considered universal 1 (Sen, 1999) or at
least ones that Australia has officially accepted as a model and it is part of its
Constitution. This implies, in theory, that there is a majoritys consensus around
democratic values. The deterioration of public confidence in democracy is more
related to its implementation that its values.

Sen argues that universal consent is not required for something to be a universal
value. Rather, the claim of a universal value is that people anywhere may have
reason to see it as valuable. (Sen, 1999)
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Democratic values and National Security Policymaking

A consensus in democratic value will help, in combination with other strategies, to

improve social cohesion and resilience that are so important to tackle NS issues.
For example, it can be a starting point and/or common ground for building
counter-narratives to extremist propaganda. It can offer insights for de-
radicalization of young Australians and debates with Muslim communities.
However, more important is the public confidence in the Governments
consistency in their implementation. In fact, scandals resulting from leaks and NS
decisions perceived as anti-democratic like the use of mass surveillance have
seriously contributed to the deterioration of public confidence in Government.

A second advantage is a possibility of building consensus with a large portion of

the Australian public that was born overseas and have a different culture. All
immigrants to Australia are legally required to abide, amount others, democratic
values. The Department of Immigration and Borders Protection issues the form
1281, Australian values statement that must be signed in a visa application. The
statement includes a commitment to, and understanding of
respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, freedom of religion,
commitment to the rule of law, Parliamentary democracy, equality of men and
women and a spirit of egalitarianism that embraces mutual respect, tolerance,
fair play and compassion for those in need and pursuit of the public good
(Commonwealth of Australia, 2014)

The acceptance of such values could be a starting point towards debates with
immigrant communities from very different cultures and social/religious views.

Another important advantage is the possibility of creating and maintaining

international partnerships on the bases of shared values. In a very interconnected
and complex world, it is crucial that Australia build partnerships with other
nations (Medcalft & Brown, 2014) to tackle NS issues and develop a reputation of
been consistent with such values. Arguably, Australian partners will be nations
that share or at least respect those values. Any partnership is based on the
assumption that it is possible to predict that a partner will act according to the
partnership expectations and shared values. In this regard, the influence that
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Democratic values and National Security Policymaking

comes from a well stablished reputation is a valuable asset (citation Howard).

Such international credibility as a security partner is both an asset and a national
interest in itself (Medcalft, 2015). It is interesting that the only mention of the
word values in the 2013 Australian Defence White Paper says The NATO and
Australia are seeking to develop a long-term strategic relationship based on
shared values and a common vision of global peace and security (Department of
Defence, 2013).

Finally yet importantly, a common ground based on democratic values and public
consultation may set a more inclusive space for a national debate on NS and the
role of Parliament in such debate. It will include more actors and more aspects of
the problem that are not sufficiently considered by the executive arm of the
Government. '[I]t is absolutely essential that balancing liberty and security
should not be the exclusive responsibility of the executive and that, as a
representative and guarantor of people's rights, the parliament should exercise
close oversight in this respect' (Born, 2003). NS is just part of a very complex and
interdependent set of problems that the Government need to address.

Democracy is not a luxury or the concession of Governments to the public.

Democracy is the outcome of centuries of social struggles. Without democratic
values and public participation, a group or a political party reduces Government to
a system for control of the society that then becomes the object and not the subject
of control. Embodying democratic values is what makes Government
representative of the will of the majority and therefore not a controlling system,
but a system where control is the strategy of the whole society to achieve its goals.

Measuring the relative importance of values and public opinion in

NS policy decisions
If democratic values should influence NS policymaking, how should government
weigh up the relative importance of these factors against the assessments and
advice of policy departments and intelligence agencies? Even with the assumption
that values are subjective, changeable and subject to social convention and culture

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(like other real and powerful things like language), it is not possible to deny their
power and importance. However, how can we measure that importance? Two
main principles can be taken as starting points to solve this question. One is that,
as explained before, if it is to be a democracy and values/public opinion has to be
taken into account, then the importance of values have to be measured through
consultation and analysis of the impact of decisions in public opinion. The other
aspect to take into account is the dynamic character of values that means that this
process should be reasonably continuous within time and resources constrains.

If values are a question of opinion, then it is public opinion what needs to be

measured. There are mature and well develop systems for consultation of public
opinion. Depending on resources available, including timeframes, consultations
could involve a representative part of the population or only independent experts
in the field and/or representatives actors in Parliament. It would also be
reasonable to conduct an impact analysis of a determined policy in public opinion.
Because values are dynamic and change, there is an opportunity for education of
the population in NS matters. Also, the process of consulting and gathering
feedback should be iterative as perceptions can change overtime. This is
especially important when deciding between contradictory pressures.

The international arena is not immune to the changing nature of shared values as
well as how they weight in partnerships. Shared values were a strong factor during
the Cold War but things are different now with the raising of the cyberespionage
and powerful players with different values like China. There is a need for a
dynamic and reasonably flexible approach to measuring the importance of values
for strategic international partnerships. Again, the importance of values in this
area cannot be underestimated. In this context, it is not a matter of balancing
values and interests; it is a matter of integrating both (Notes from week 4 lecture).

Any democratic Government should allow values to influence decisions that
affect a large part of the public, and NS should not be and exception. This is
especially important in the present context where the public perceives some NS
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decisions as a contravention of democratic values like individual freedom and


Policy and intelligence advisers should assess the relative importance of values
and public opinion on bases of public and academics and independent experts
consultation and impact analysis of public perception of the decisions. Mass
surveillance, metadata retention and sending troops to foreign countries should be
considered an unavoidable evil, at its best. If the public is to pay that price, at least
it should be consulted about it. An excessively pragmatic approach to NS may win
many battles against security threats, but if democracy becomes a casualty, we are
losing the strategic war or only achieving a Pyrrhic victory.

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Australian National University, 2014. Governance and democracy. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 13 August 2015].
Born, H., 2003. Parliamentary Oversight of the Security Sector - Principles.
Mechanism and Practices. Geneva, DCAF.
Commonwealth of Australia, 2014. Australian values statement 1281. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 11 August 2015].
Department of Defence, 2013. Australian Defence White Paper , Canberra:
Commonwealth of Australia.
Gyngell, A. & Wesley, M., 2007. Values and Australian Foreign Policy. In:
Making Australian Foreign Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p.
Lowy Institute for International Policy, 2015. Lowy Institute Poll. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 13 August 2015].
Medcalft, R., 2015. Towards a new Australian security. Canberra: National
Security College, Australian National University.
Medcalft, R. & Brown, J., 2014. Defence challenges 2035: Securing Australia's
lifelines, Sydney: Lowy Instititue Analysis.
O'Neill, M., 2014. ABC news. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 13 August 2015].
Sen, A., 1999. Democracy as a Universal Value. Journal of Democracy, 10(3), pp.

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Born, H., 2003. Porlimentory Owrright of the Secu"ty Seclor - Ptincipler.
Meehonism and Practicer. Geneva, Lntcr-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and
Cenue for the Democratic Canml of Armed Forces.

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