This is the eighth contribution in our securitization forum. Juha A. Vuori is acting Professor of World Politics at the University of Helsinki in Finland. <plug> He would like you to order his Critical Security and Chinese Politics (Routledge, 2014) for your library. </plug>
As we can see from the citation counts put forth by Jarrod and Eric, securitization as a keyword or notion has become very enticing, even to the degree that it is used in articles to do things without any references to the securitization studies literature. There seems to be something self-explanatory in the term as such, which may partly explain some of the confusion in the critical literature on it. Other alternative terms that engage similar phenomena, such as security framing or threat politics, do not appear to have the same appeal as the notion of securitization. Intuitively, securitization is about how security comes about.
While how security comes about is an important part of how and why security is studied within securitization studies (which has outgrown securitization theory by now), it is important to note how the theory of securitization goes beyond describing the social mechanisms and causalities involved in the social construction of security. This is the crux of my post. Continue reading
This is the seventh contribution in our forum on securitization theory in the U.S. John Owen is Taylor Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia and, during the Fall of 2015, a Senior Guest Scholar at the Center for Transnational Relations, Foreign and Security Policy at the Free University of Berlin. He is author of The Clash of Ideas in World Politics (Princeton).
I hesitated before agreeing to write this entry, because although I view the Copenhagen School with sympathy and admiration, I neither belong to that school nor have a sure command of its literature. Being an increasingly senior academic, however, I cannot allow a little ignorance deter me from pronouncing on the topic at hand: Why has securitization theory been received so poorly in the United States?
My strong sense is that the reason is related to the indifference with which American IR views much constructivist scholarship in general. Indeed, there are two related reasons. On our side of the Atlantic, it appears that securitization theory is just another form of critical theory, and it is not at all clear that securitization scholars are interested in causal explanation. These appearances may bear little relation to reality, but, as securitization theorists should appreciate, that does not make them any less powerful. Let me take the two reasons in turn. Continue reading
This is the sixth contribution in our forum on securitization theory in the U.S. Monika Barthwal-Datta is Senior Lecturer in International Security at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Australia. Her research focuses on critical approaches to security, food security, and the international politics of South Asia.
It’s quite simple, I’m told. Securitization Theory doesn’t sell in North America.
Why? Because it’s not a ‘central’ IR theory.
I know this is not an earth-shattering revelation, and that it is actually widely accepted within the discipline that in the US, most people who study and ‘do’ IR prefer to stick to the mainstream theories. Still, it was quite sobering and ultimately insightful to be at the receiving end of this bias. Continue reading
This is the fifth contribution in our forum on securitization theory in the U.S. Sirin Duygulu recently got her PhD in political science from UMass, Amherst and currently teaches at Okan University, Istanbul. Her research focuses on the use of security language by transnational advocacy campaigns.
I believe when questioning the reasons behind the limited traction that securitization literature has so far had in American IR, three set of factors worth consideration. These factors are: the historical development of IR scholarship; the relatively close ties between the policy world and the academic world in the US; and the limited dialogue between framing and securitization literatures. Continue reading
This is the fourth contribution in our forum on securitization theory in the U.S. Ido Oren is associate professor and chair of the department of political science at the University of Florida and can be reached at email@example.com. Ty Solomon is Lecturer in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Glasgow and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eric Van Rythoven and Jarrod Hayes ask the timely question of why securitization theory has gained so little traction in American IR. They suggest that we should be puzzled by the absence of securitization theory from American IR given the high citation counts for the theory’s seminal works, its growing attractiveness to scholars in other disciplines, and the thirst for a power-oriented constructivism as an alternative to the liberal idealism that pervades American constructivist scholarship. We wish to make two inter-related points regarding the politics of securitization theory. First, somewhat in contrast to Eric and Jarrod, we argue that the absence of securitization theory from American IR should hardly be puzzling given the embeddedness of American IR in American political science, which is dominated by a neopositivist orthodoxy. Second, we want to sharpen Eric and Jarrod’s characterization of the geography of securitization theory. We suggest that the divide is not merely between the US and Europe, but that securitization theory has begun to take root wherever IR enjoys greater autonomy from political science, and/or wherever political science is not strongly attached to neopositivism, including Australia and Canada. Continue reading
This is the third contribution in our forum on securitization theory in the U.S. Amir Lupovici is a lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Tel Aviv University. His book The Power of Deterrence is forthcoming in Cambridge University Press. His previous publications appeared in International Studies Quarterly, Review of International Studies, International Studies Review, International Studies, Perspectives and Foreign Policy Analysis. His research interests include constructivism, cyberspace, securitization, and deterrence.
In their preamble, Hayes and Van Rythoven clearly justify the need to address why securitization theory has had little traction in American IR—a tendency that is puzzling not only given this theory’s prominence outside the US (e.g., in Europe), but also when we consider its important implications for so many fields of research and relevance to policy making. I address this puzzle here by comparing it to a similar case—that is, the curious absence of Israel from the study of securitization. While the comparison doesn’t fully explain the scant use of the theory in the US, it lets us place it in a larger context and elaborate on what exactly it means. In other words, although (and maybe because) the two cases are significantly different, we can contrast key characteristics of Israel’s absence in securitization studies with characteristics of the American case. Continue reading
This is the second contribution in our forum on securitization theory in the U.S. Stacie E. Goddard is the Jane Bishop ’51 Associate Professor of Political Science at Wellesley College. Her book, Indivisible Territory and the Politics of Legitimacy: Jerusalem and Northern Ireland, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2010. Ronald R. Krebs is Beverly and Richard Fink Professor in the Liberal Arts and Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota. He is the author most recently of Narrative and the Making of US National Security.
We want to thank the editors of this forum, as well as the Duck of Minerva, for inviting us to this discussion. As Jarrod and Eric note in their introduction, securitization theory is, if not dominant in European IR, then pretty close: one of us recently taught a week-long graduate seminar in Europe, and it was all the students seemed to know about IR theory. But it has barely penetrated the American academy, and deep, explicit engagement with securitization confines one to the margins—as a reviewer of one of our draft book manuscripts once warned, in urging that the relevant paragraphs be excised. We often speak of the transatlantic divide in the scholarly study of international relations: nowhere is it more starkly apparent than when it comes to securitization. This is puzzling not only because the regional difference in the research programs’ relative influence is astonishing, but because scholars of securitization are clearly on to something quite important and because there would seem to be obvious affinities to, or at least large points of intersection with, mainstream constructivism. Continue reading
The following is a lead piece for a forum discussing why securitization theory has had so little traction in American IR. Drawing on established and emerging scholars from around the world, the forum will run from September 16th – 30th and feature guest posts every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Two years ago Dan Nexon approached Eric, a
petulant graduate student, about organizing such a forum with the support of Patrick T. Jackson. Dan and Patrick soon had to leave Duck of Minerva for International Studies Quarterly. The project was put on hold until Eric met Jarrod at ISA in New Orleans. What follows is almost certainly different from Dan’s vision, but if anything good comes of it, then it is in no small part due to Dan and Patrick’s early entrepreneurship. Finally, both Eric and Jarrod are immensely grateful to the contributors for their time and their insight.
Eric Van Rythoven and Jarrod Hayes
Foreign ideas don’t always go the distance. As Amitav Acharya (2004) has argued, outsider ideas always undergo a process of localisation when they spread. Local forces determine to what extent – if any – an idea can be adapted to domestic circumstances. When looking at the sociology of knowledge in IR finding an idea resonates with a particular region can be revealing, but equally revealing is when an idea is ignored or passed over. While these observations are as old as human society, when it comes to IR theory, they introduce implications that are ill at ease with the conception of IR as a social scientific enterprise. At least in the U.S., the ontological and epistemological underpinnings of IR as a discipline hold that theories are measured not by their foreignness but rather by their ability to explain the world. If that is the case, rejection of foreign theories is deeply problematic. Unless of course the claim is that the theory is invalid, but that begs the question why is it invalid in one place, but not in others? Continue reading
Yesterday I had the great fortune to sit on a faculty panel discussing the Iran nuclear deal put on by my colleagues at Georgia Tech [I will link to the video when it is available]. A logic of thought that came up, in different formulations, related to the idea that the nuclear deal might transform US-Iran relations and/or change Iran’s domestic politics. Coincidentally, the New York Times reported yesterday the answer is apparently a resounding no from the Ayatollah Khamenei–Iran would not be having anything more to do with the US lest the Great Satan “sneak back in through the window.” As a bonus, he predicted Israel will “not be around in 25 years’ time.” These comments are almost certain to provoke anxiety in Israel and give renewed strength to critics of the nuclear deal in the US. I would caution them to hold their fire.
Recently, Suzanne Nossel published a piece critical of US and EU sanctions against Russia. A number of her points make sense. For US-EU sanctions to really isolate Russia and thus have a chance to change Russian behavior in the short term, they need to have the participation of other major states in the system like China and India. Without those states, the isolation effort is doomed to fail. Moreover, the effect of US-EU sanctions will fade over time as Russia deepens economic interaction with non-participating states. The marquee example is the May 2014 deal for Russia to provide $400 billion in gas to China over 30 years (Russia and China announced a second deal in November 2014, but as one analyst notes, that second deal is not a deal on price or timelines, but rather a agreement to discuss further). Nossel also rightly notes that sanctions did not prompt Putin to change direction but rather to impose counter sanctions. And as the continued violence in East Ukraine suggest, Putin has not dropped his military support for separatists or changed his mind about implementing the Minsk II agreement. The sanctions, at least in the short term, has also lent superficial veracity to Putin’s narrative that the West seeks to prevent Russia from regaining its national greatness.
In her review of my 2012 IO article on identity and security in democracy, Charli asked a very important question: how do we know other states are democracies? I think this question, writ more broadly, is something IR scholars overlook to a detrimental degree. Perhaps because of the objectivist ontology that underlies much of IR scholarship (and is perhaps an extension of human psychology) I think there is a general reluctance to problematize collectively held knowledge of the world.* But, as events playing out today show, the question of ‘how do we know’ in the context of states and societies is crucially important.
For a range of reasons, I have been thinking lately about the relationship between development and security. At one level, the relationship is obvious, if somewhat banal: resources allocated for security (e.g. guns) cannot be used for development purposes (butter). I suspect that for many American IR scholars, and certainly most Americans in security studies, that is the limit of their thinking on the relationship.
If we think about security in material terms, then perhaps those limits make sense. But what if we think about security in social terms—as a socio-political logic—that organizes social/political activity, gives meaning to events in the world, and binds society together. After all, Tilly tells us in The Formation of National States in Western Europe that war made the state and the state made war. This point on security as a social logic emerges in Grand Duck Dan Nexon’s enlightening discussion of Tilly a couple years ago: Tilly’s work can be understood as an effort to introduce “different explanatory accounts of variation in the European topography within which bargaining around warfare and the mobilization for warfare took place.” Continue reading
Roads. Who can be against them, right? They allow us to get from A-to-B. And as anyone who has been to a place where there were no roads can attest, their absence is a real impediment to the modern political economy. The construction of roads is thus a central feature of the international development agenda. The World Bank publishes analysis of road investment by developing countries. The World Trade Organization claims ~30% of all overseas development aid ($25-$30 billion) is spent on trade related development—central to which is road construction and maintenance. Continue reading
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s looming address to the United States Congress has me thinking about the nature of authority in security. I think this is an issue that often gets overlooked, especially in security studies where the materiality of power (i.e. the ability o blow things up) takes up most of our collective attention. Certainly, Netanyahu seeks to make a security claim in his argument against the possibility of a deal between the United States and Iran over the latter’s nuclear program. But in so doing Netanyahu is on relatively thin ground. In most domestic contexts there are speakers with institutionally-sedimented security authority, individuals whose ability to make security claims is much greater than others. In democracies, these are typically elected politicians and bureaucratic leaders of the elements of the national security apparatus. We often overlook these lines of security authority unless something occurs that imperils them, as was the case in the second George W. Bush administration in the wake of the disastrous invasion of Iraq.
But when a foreign leader visits an alien domestic political context, the importance of authority to speak security claims becomes obvious. This is certainly the case with Netanyahu and his speech before Congress. On what basis will Americans and their elected representatives, one assumes his target audiences, accept Netanyahu’s claims that a deal with Iran poses an existential threat to Israel and possibly the United States? On the Israel claim, Netanyahu’s security authority is stronger as the leader of that state. But on the claim of an existential threat to the United States, Netanyahu’s ability to speak security is much weaker—which draws our attention to the political conditions that facilitate security claims. Certainly shared democratic identity between Israel and the United States supports Netanyahu’s security authority, as does a long alliance between the two countries that helps generate shared beliefs about security. Continue reading
About a week ago I published a piece with the International Relations and Security Network (ISN) on the analytical and political utility (or lack thereof) of the concept of terrorism. I cannot reproduce it here in full for Duck readers because the ISN owns it. But, since I think the topic might be of interest to readers, here is a taste of what I argue in hopes of prompting a discussion:
With high-profile incidents of political violence continuing to make headlines, the time has come to question the labeling of these events as ‘terrorism.’ While politically or ideologically motivated violence remains all too real, approaching events such as these through the framework of ‘terrorism’ does little to help academics or policymakers understand or prevent them. Fourteen years into the Global War on Terror, the political and security baggage that accompanies the label ‘terrorism’ may even undermine such efforts. This is because the term terrorism creates the false impression that the actions it describes represent a special or unique phenomenon. Because this confusion impedes our ability to understand politically motivated violence as part of broader social and political systems, the costs of continuing to use the concept of terrorism outweigh the benefits. The simplest solution to this problem would be for scholars and policymakers alike to jettison the term…
By now I am sure many of you have seen the news that Sony has indefinitely postponed/canceled the theatrical release of The Interview under threat from hackers apparently connected to the regime in North Korea. It is not clear whether the threat was explicitly against movie goers or against the companies screening the film, and whether the assault would be virtual or physical in form (although the Obama Administration has suggested the theatre threat was overblown and has criticized Sony for withholding the film). What is clear is that the cancellation costs Sony tens of millions of dollars in lost production and promotion costs and has established a precedent that digital assaults can produce real world costs and behavioral changes.
Quite striking is the shift in construction of the Sony issue as a threat. Previous breaches of corporate information technology (IT) security have hardly prompted the kind of national security discourses the Sony case has generated. Indeed, the earlier disclosure of sensitive emails from the Sony IT breach did not result in discussions of national threat. Certainly, the more international and public elements of the situation suggest greater basis for making a national security claim. And yet, the appearances are deceptive. The Obama Administration specifically downplayed the possible threat to cinemas, with the Department of Homeland Security indicating there was no credible threat to cinemas or theatregoers. The cancelation of the film is certainly costly, but most of the cost is born by Sony (to the tune of tens of millions of dollars). To that end, the IT breach is not any different from other corporate IT breaches where customer information has been compromised. The North Korean element is certainly substantive, but not altogether unique.
What the shift in discourse reveals is the socially constructed nature of threat. The public costs of the Sony IT breach are economically smaller than in other breaches, and the linkage to external state is not unique to the Sony case. So materially, there is little that obviously qualifies the Sony IT breach as a national security issue, much less something that calls for US government retaliation. The discursive shift regarding the national security ‘threat’ posed by the Sony incident highlights the utility of securitization theory for thinking about the issue of cyber security. Specifically, securitization theory directs our attention to how political actors are seeking to reconstruct the Sony IT breach in ways that justify extraordinary measures, in this case the US government risking conflict escalation with a isolated, reactive, and militarized regime in North Korea on behalf of a private economic/corporate entity. Notably, since the cancellation of the film discourses have highlighted core elements of American political identity, specifically the right to freedom of expression, as the basis of the security claim. This discursive shift suggests a societal boundary with respect to information technology issues in the United States between a private concern (Sony breach before film cancellation) and a public security matter.
Securitization also draws our attention to the political effects of security, and a consequence the costs of security. Who benefits from or is empowered by treating IT issues as security issues? What consequences arise from making IT security a national security matter? How can the state possibly mandate security measures for an issue that interweaves throughout the economy? What kinds of instabilities are created by involving states as security actors in the cyber realm with the strong potential of militarization? Certainly weak states will seek to take advantage of the asymmetric opportunities of global information technology, but the question of responsibility and countermeasures remains an open one for the most powerful and developed states in the system and whether those should lie with the state. Specifically, in past nonsecuritized (from the standpoint of the state) IT breaches, the responsibility and the cost were assumed to lie with the victimized corporation. Securitization shifts that responsibility and cost to the state.
I have long been a skeptic of the concept of cyber security as such, and for me securitization theory opens up an analytical space for critically interrogating the concept of cyber security, the process by which information technology issues are transformed into security, as well as the political and social effects of terming information technology as security.
**Thanks to Dave McCourt for helpful comments on this post!
Recently a friend and colleague wrote me to say:
“The SS piece is actually really useful to me as a model for dealing with Political Science post paradigm wars.”
Which prompts me (as if academics ever need such a prompt) to revisit an issue I raised almost a year ago: the role of theory in policymaking. In that long ago post, I mentioned that Patrick James and I had an article under review that addressed the relationship between theory and policy from a fairly novel perspective, and I am happy to say that article—entitled “Theory as Thought: Britain and German Unification”—came out earlier this year in Security Studies.
In the piece, we derive inspiration from analytic eclecticism in an effort to develop a more nuanced and useful understanding of how theory interacts with the real world. In pursuit of that agenda, we make a simple but potentially controversial claim: rather than represent objective descriptions/explanations of the world, theories of international relations represent different modes of thinking about the world. These different modes are intersubjective structures and discourses that enable shared efforts to understand and explain the world. Thus, theories are actually shared logics embedded in society that enable policymakers to make sense of the world. As such, IR scholars are embedded within and develop their theories from broader currents of social meaning-making.
To make the argument work, we distil the core operative logics underlying realism, liberal institutionalism, and constructivism. Rather than derive explanatory building blocks from theories and apply them to empirical sources, we analyze policy-makers’ modes of thought to investigate whether they contain patterns of IR theory. We realize that doing so is part of the controversial nature of the article, as scholars operating within these traditions may reject the simplifications we undertake, or in the case of constructivism that it has enough coherence to have a unifying logic. We spend some time justifying these decisions in the article, so I leave it to readers to look there for our defense.
After establishing the logics, we apply them to our case study—British policymaking toward German unification. We find that, contrary to claims that these theories only explain the international system, they actually represent modes of thought that shape how actors see the world. Moreover, all three logics play a critical role in the British policymaking process, interweaving to produce a complex constructed social reality. The logic of realism clearly played an important role in shaping the perceptions of top British leadership, particularly Thatcher, of German unification as a problem. This foundational assessment played a crucial role in shaping how the British understood the events of 1989 and 1990. But it did not play an important role in how the British responded to the process of German unification. By turning to NATO, the CSCE, and the EU to integrate an expanded and quasi-hegemonic Germany within the existing network of institutions, the logic of neoliberal institutionalism played a critical role in how British policymakers constructed their policy response. Why did the logic of neoliberal institutionalism prevail over the logic of realism in directing British policy? Here the power of the logic of constructivism is evident, particularly the role of identity and rhetorical entrapment. These logics constrained British policymakers to cooperative policy options.
A range of implications arise from our argument, and we spend considerable time in the conclusion talking about them so I only present a couple highlights here. One of the implications that comes out of our argument is that no theory of international relations is consistently applicable across space and time. Rather, the applicability of theory to events depends on the particular mix of theoretical logics in a particular time and space. These logics, like other socially constructed systems of meaning and relation (e.g. identity) may come to be sedimented (in strategic culture for example) and thus relatively stable over the short to medium term. But scholars would be well served to problematize what theoretical logics constitute the dominant discourses and narrative in the times and places they are interested in studying.
Another implication addresses the divide between material and ideational approaches to IR. Material versus ideational analysis emerges as what Brecher calls a “flawed dichotomy.” Regardless of the approach under consideration, it is not possible to comprehend how policymakers understood German transformation without both. The most convincing account is one that recognizes the contributions of multiple paradigms to understanding complex international events with intertwining logics. For such reasons, frameworks ranging from the streamlined realism to the more intricate constructivism should be regarded as complementary rather than competitive in resolving the mysteries of IR.
A final implication regards the separation between theory and reality, and the gap between academics and policymakers. If we are right about the basis of theory, that means that theoretical development corresponds with changes in the world and how state leaders and societies come to terms with those changes. But the influence is not unidirectional. Theories also shape the world, providing systems of meaning that are taken up and integrated into shared logics. Thus, at a fundamental level there is no gap between academics and policymakers even if on a day-to-day basis such a gap seems yawning.
Theory is thought, both in the minds of scholars as well as actors in the ‘real’ world. Incorporating that simple observation into research on international relations holds the potential of greater illumination—from theory development to analytical veracity to bridging the gap between IR scholars and practitioners.