Common Security: A System of Global Interdependence

No one is safe until all are safe.   What might a system based on principles of common security, rather than collective security, look like?

  • Approximately 1 hour per discussion (up to 2 hours)
relevant sections of “a global security system: an alternative to war”
  • Understand the basic concept of common security
  • Identify knowledge and evidence gleaned from peace science that is essential for changing the discourse on security
  • Develop awareness of global interdependence and protection of the planetary commons as foundational to a peace system

Patrick Hiller is a peace scientist and educator whose work and research interests encompass war and peace, conflict resolution, peace studies, environmental issues, ethnicity, human rights, nationalism, social justice, Mexico, Latin America, social/peace movements, identity formation, culture and conflict, and migration. His writings and research are almost exclusively related to the analysis of war and peace and social injustice and, most often in the form of structural violence and power dynamics with an emphasis on human dignity, solidarity among all peoples, equal participation of all peoples, the role of the governments and the promotion of peace. You can read his full bio here.

Discussion Guides

Two discussion topics/guides are presented below. Each discussion should take approximately 1 hour. You are invited to do both and follow any sequence relevant to your purposes. If you are to choose only one discussion we encourage you to start with “Discussion 1 (Essential).”

Discussion 1 (Essential): No one is safe until all are safe

In preparation for this discussion watch the short introductory video by Patrick Hiller (above) and read the corresponding sections of AGSS.  (Total 60 min)

“We need to move toward a concept of common security, which is really quite simple: no one is safe until all are safe.” –Patrick Hiller

Common Security (excerpt from the 2016 edition of AGSS)

“Conflict management as practiced in the iron cage of war is self-defeating. In what is known as the “security dilemma,” states believe they can only make themselves more secure by making their adversaries less secure, leading to escalating arms races that culminated in conventional, nuclear, biological and chemical weapons of horrific destructiveness. Placing the security of one’s adversary in danger has not led to security but to a state of armed suspicion, and as a result, when wars have begun, they have been obscenely violent. Common security acknowledges that one nation can only be secure when all nations are. The national security model leads only to mutual insecurity, especially in an era when nation states are porous. The original idea behind national sovereignty was to draw a line around a geographical territory and control everything that attempted to cross that line. In today’s technologically advanced world that concept is obsolete. Nations cannot keep out ideas, immigrants, economic forces, disease organisms, information, ballistic missiles, or cyber-attacks on vulnerable infrastructure like banking systems, power plants, stock exchanges. No nation can go it alone. Security must be global if it is to exist at all.”

  • What problems are inherent in the collective security approach? Are collective security arrangements so deeply rooted in the old nation-state security paradigm of peace through strength that they can’t be changed? What thinking needs to be changed or overcome for a system of common security to emerge?
  • Patrick Hiller suggests that military force should never be part of security measures. What rationales, knowledge, and science support this bold declaration? Even if it is determined that a military intervention might saves lives, why should it still be avoided?
  • The climate crisis has made evident the need to protect our planetary commons. How might we leverage the urgency of protecting our fragile planet to overcome the global security dilemma?
  • Patrick Hiller shares that peace science has shown us that there are more, and more effective, alternatives to war and violence that can achieve security without the use of force. He goes on to note that when the public is made aware of alternatives they are less likely to support war. Consider ways you and your group might create and conduct public education campaigns about the many non-violent alternatives to a pending military intervention. How can you get the word out about alternatives?

Discussion 2 (Going Deeper): Changing the discourse on security

In preparation for this discussion watch the extended interview with Patrick Hiller (below) and familiarize yourself with the additional resources (below). (Total 60 min)

“The old security paradigm, security through strength, is really embedded in that still dominating war system. What we can achieve if we really initiate more peace systems thinking and peace systems action – we can start creating that counter frame to this security dilemma and really get to common security – no one is safe until all are safe.” – Patrick Hiller

“We are smart in so many ways. Surely, we should be able to understand that in between war and passivity, there are a thousand possibilities.” – Howard Zinn

Extended Interview: Patrick Hiller


In this extended interview, Patrick Hiller emphasizes the need to change the discourse and appropriate the language of security.

  • First – how might we begin talking differently about security? What ideas, theories, frameworks, possible security arrangements, and non-violent alternatives should be the common language of security? (See the Peace Science Digest for possibilities)
  • Second – how might we approach changing this discourse strategically? Who needs to be informed? Who should be the messengers? How do we inform them?
  • Third – what is our individual role in this effort? How might we impact a global conversation by acting and speaking locally?


  • In order to protect our “planetary commons” (and local commons) people must believe and value these commons. Peace systems thinking and peace systems action are dependent upon the development of “commons” and the inclusive political institutions and social structures to sustain and grow them. Thinking and acting locally, how might you go about establishing a “local commons,” where citizens find value in their shared environment and engage in action to protect and assure shared social, environmental and cultural resources? Consider hosting a community meeting in your neighborhood where shared resources (sidewalks, trees, street lamps, gathering spaces, traditions) are discussed. Why are these shared resources important? Why should they be protected? People might not think of these local resources as commons. Once they are aware they may begin to think of them differently. This discussion can seed a bigger discussion of the planetary commons and the need for common security.
  • The Peace Science Digest: Peace Science made accessible, understandable and useful.
    The Peace Science Digest, a project of the War Prevention Initiative, provides access to and useful analysis of the top research in the field of Peace and Conflict Studies. Published bi-monthly, the Digest aims to provide a mutually beneficial link between the field’s academic community and its practitioners, the media, activists, public policy-makers, and other possible beneficiaries. The Peace Science Digest is formulated to enhance awareness of scholarship addressing key questions on war and peace by making available an organized, condensed and comprehensible analysis–creating a resource for the practical application of the field’s academic knowledge.
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What did you learn from this discussion? Please share with others so we can build a global security system together...