Tag: securititization theory

Securitization Forum: Back on Tour With the Copenhagen School – Better to Travel Than Arrive

A full twelve posts in to the forum, the question posed by Jarrod and Eric about why securitization theory’s travels in the US have been so pedestrian compared to its extensive tour schedule in Europe and elsewhere has already been explored from a considerable number of angles, with various diagnoses made. Details differ, but the overall consensus appears to be that securitization theory (at least in its original theoretical form) is in all respects too alien to the disciplinary ecosystem of American IR to be able to gain any substantive foothold amongst the US discipline’s dominant conceptual and methodological species under current conditions. Furthermore, incentives for its import are lacking on the part of both buyers and sellers: the former argue that it doesn’t provide sufficient added value compared to existing options to justify its price, whilst the strong (mainly) European market for securitization theory has meant that there’s been little incentive to try and crack American IR/Political Science.

If this is the case, then why not just accept this stalemate? Does it really matter if much of American IR simply prefers to stick with its current conceptual toolkit? What’s really to be gained by insisting that all theories are present in all places?

Observed from this perspective, the question of whether we need a theory of securitization even in American IR is too easily dismissed. Certainly Juha provides an excellent overview of what sort of insights securitization theory can generate and effectively dispels some common criticisms which may (hopefully) prompt some in the US to (re)consider their view of securitization theory as a result. Many, however, will remain unconvinced and untroubled. After all, an affirmative answer to the question of whether we need a theory of securitization carries a hefty burden of proof, especially when you’re trying to convince a skeptical audience (mainstream American IR) that they need something that they’re sure they don’t need.

It’s still premature to conclude that American and European IR need to agree to differ, however, and exploring a question that follows on from Juha’s can provide new insights into the curious case of securitization theory’s lack of traction in the US: What is lost, omitted or even prevented as a consequence of securitization’s very limited Stateside travels?

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Securitization Forum: The theory gap and securitization as a form of identity politics

This is the ninth contribution in our securitization forum. Scott Watson is Associate Professor in International Relations at the University of Victoria, Canada.

In their initial post, Jarrod and Eric nicely demonstrate both the incredible influence of the securitization framework and the relative paucity of securitization scholarship among American IR scholars. As they convincingly show, the success of securitization is evident by the growing number of citation counts and the spread of securitization to fields outside of IR. From my perspective, the strongest indicators of the success of securitization theory are less empirical – it feels as though it has re-energized the subfield of security studies, opening it up to a more diverse range of scholars, and providing a launching point for new avenues of inquiry. Indeed, its greatest impact may be measured by how often it is used as a departure point for novel forms of inquiry, into: affect and emotion, visual imagery, the politics of security, and bureaucratic practices, to name a few. While securitization theory certainly has limitations, exclusions, and blind spots, on the whole the framework lends itself to critical reflection and inclusion of multiple perspectives – it is a vibrant research programme. Testament to its success is that securitization is now often used as the ‘foil’ against which new studies seek to differentiate themselves. Continue reading

Theatre and Cyber Security

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!

 

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