Fortresses vs relationships

Within my circles, we have a unique way of viewing 'security'. I belong to a community of Christians who believe in social justice and the power of sharing food, art and sport with those in our midst - rich, poor and marginalised alike. Security, then, is less about building fortresses and more about building relationships. The idea is that when we know the people around us, we have less reason to be scared, and they have less inclination to hurt us. You're less likely to rob your friend than the neighbour you have never met.

But then, of course, people we love DO hurt us, and we hurt people we love. This is especially true when one is desperate. You can rob your best friend of when you're chasing for drugs, for example.

And so we walk and oscillate along a fine line, between keeping the door open and keeping the door locked. When I was a young, single, female resident living on Level 8 of inner-city Collins St Baptist Church, I did value the lock on the door, and the buzzer system where we could screen who came upstairs. I learnt that you can love everyone, but you can't trust everyone. We often opened the door, but we also utilised our system of gates, locks and surveillance.

I've been thinking lately about international security. I believe strongly in the power of building relationships at an international level, as well as an individual level. I think we would be safer as a country if we invested more (disinterested) aid in Afghanistan, for example, rather than supporting a war that's getting a lot of people extremely angry. I think that diplomacy, student exchange programme, effective aid, trade and more are all great ways to increase the security of our nation, as our government well knows.

However, I also know that sometimes things don't go as planned - sometimes somebody you once thought was a friend turns around and stabs you in the back. I am pragmatic and I think nations, as well as individuals, need to be prepared for that possibility. We need our nation-versions of gates, locks and surveillance.

We have these things in the forms of international intelligence, our defence force, border patrols, airport security etc. I think this is good. The question, for me, is striking the right balance: there is a point where your gates, locks and surveillance actually make you less safe. On an individual level, it makes it hard to make new friends: your house becomes a fortress of alarms and cameras and a target for thieves and neighbours that call the police when your dog is barking rather than popping by themselves. People don't trust you because you don't trust them. The same occurs at an international level. The trust is breached. You're more likely to face a sanction or a pointed missile than a stern diplomatic word when your country does something that encroaches on the power of another.

What definitely topples the balance, and what Australia is guilty of, is when our defence mechanisms become offence mechanisms. It's one things to defend your country against physical attack; it's another ball game altogether when you're waging war somewhere else. (Of course, we use the language of defence to justify this: we're "fighting terrorism" etc.)

So where does the balance lie, between building relationships and building fortresses? Is it necessary to have a defence force? What about our extensive surveillance systems, for example, the base at Pine Gap? Are we overreaching on the 'fortress' side or is this what a nation-state needs to do to stay safe?