Power relations through vulnerability

Being vulnerable is our human natural state—our essence. Human beings may have sought invulnerability for centuries, but in reality one cannot choose to be vulnerable or not. We may choose to run away from this vulnerability to only immobilize the very foundation of our identities, at great cost to humanity. Indeed, in turning away from vulnerability, we refuse the help of others, when, in life, others are meant to help at every turn of our existence. We also close off our understanding of the grief of others. We are not meant to erect walls and build fortresses. We are not meant to live alone. We cannot become ourselves by ourselves.

This is at the heart of international relations, and yet our international system is built on relations of power rewarding the powerful and burying the vulnerable. The world needs power relations anchored in vulnerability in order to embrace its humanity.

It takes bold, courageous, even painful steps to bring our vulnerable selves into the world in order to achieve for ourselves, and above all give to others. This is not for the weak, nor the faint hearted. It is a human quest to reclaim our true nature: finding strength in vulnerability.

Devoting much of my professional career to international security, I often pondered the illusory goal of developing alliances against a common enemy or defending ourselves by acquiring the capacities to become the most powerful. Indeed we are only powerful until challenged, and this type of power breeds enemies. Sooner or later we have to confront the illusion of power and reclaim our vulnerability.

I had the good fortune to be able to direct most of my professional efforts towards cooperative security, witnessing the power of relations based on a shared perception of vulnerability against a common challenge. The minute we turn away from this vulnerability to reassert our own illusory strength, we close off our understanding of others, and lock ourselves behind shaky doors and crumbling walls. It will not be long before we realize that we can no more achieve for ourselves and cannot give to others, unless we are prepared to courageously accept for ourselves, and to others, our authentic vulnerability. Let us not forget our human essence and rest our strength on our vulnerabilities.

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