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Defense Transparency: Seeking a Definition for a Paradoxical Concept

October 01, 2011
Jon Lindsay

Policy Brief

Most people believe that transparency improves governance, by improving trust in relations between governments and their people as well as with other governments. The devil, as always, is in the details. The paradox of transparency is that the metaphor conveys unproblematic revelation of true information, yet in practice the provision of believable, relevant information takes a lot of institutional and political work to achieve. Transparency in international security is more problematic because relationships between the information, its referent, and context of interpretation can be especially complex considering the multiple channels of information competing for attention and authority. This brief proposes a definition of “defense transparency” that takes these complexities into account, drawing on a pragmatic notion of communication between particular information sources, messages, and receivers, the normative goal of which is to enhance collective security.

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