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Essay: Critically the strengths and weaknesses of the securitisation theory

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  • Subject area(s): Sociology essays
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  • Critically the strengths and weaknesses of the securitisation theory
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The idea of security for a long time has been a central principle as well as a debated issue amongst International Relations scholars. Security should be something we understand and belong to, it’s a shift from state safety to individual safety. The Securitisation Theory was the first theoretical response to discourse of human security. It has been observed that national security policy is a man-made design, it is not natural given, but politicians and decision makers created these policies. According to the Securitisation Theory, if there is an extreme security issue, it must be given full attention to and be dealt with immediately because of its urgency. These political issues that have to be managed immediately is often marked as ‘dangerous’, ‘threatening’, ‘alarming’ and so on by a ‘securitising actor’ who considers this a security issue and has the authority to move this issue ‘beyond politics’ because of the social and institutional authority they hold. Security issues therefore are not out in the public sphere yet but rather is expressed as issues that securitising actors wish to put “out there”. For example, a securitising actor can label immigration a ‘danger to national security’, this label shifts the threat of immigration from a low concern to a high priority issue meaning immediate action is required such as border security to be increased and monitored in more depth. (Williams, 2011) Traditional ways and methods to deal with security in IR has been criticised by the Securitisation theory, arguing that issues are not debilitating in themselves; but by labelling these issues as a ‘security’ issue, it has become a security issue. Right now, constructivist stream of IR represents a certain framework through which engaging with security studies. (Balzacq, 2010) The main argument is within the “securitisation paradigm” which the Copenhagen School of IR conceptualised, this argument states that security issues are socially constructed through discourse. (Weaver, 1995) This theory is an alternative view through which managing the process of a security threat isn’t really an “objective sense” in terms of language but the consequences of political and social interaction through discourse. This discourse includes collective identities, social values and normal which are all factors that are a piece of an intersubjective built ward. The securitisation theory has therefore broadened and deepened the views of security studies by redefining the significance and meaning of “power politics”, by doing this a security issue is characterises as existential danger thus differentiating it from “normal politics”. (McDonald, 2008) This essay will examine the strengths and weakness of the securitisation theory; some strengths being that the securitisation theory has provided a more wider perspective on security issues and weaknesses are that this theory makes narrow assumptions. These strengths and weakness will be further evaluated in the essay.

The main aim of this essay is to examine and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the securitisation theory. The Copenhagen School of International Relations will be discussed throughout this essay; they will be defining security using the traditional position on security of Realism, the Aberystwyth School (CSS) and view of the second-generation scholars. The constructivist thought on security is the strength of the securitisation theory as it provides a more extensive and deeper point of view on security issues. Security plan will therefore be considered as a conception of security that forms a threat to the military as well political financial, societal and ecological divisions. Military threat is the security that securitising actors give most importance to, military issue is above all issue. Deepening will be considered as a development of the security idea where people, social groups and humankind overall “have a legitimate claim to survival” (Buzan et al, 1998) the state is therefore considered a referent object of the securitisation process. This essay will then go onto discuss the weaknesses of the securitisation theory; narrow assumptions of epistemology undermines the role of logical factors in the development of security issues. (Stritzel and Schmittchen, 2011) Therefore to get a better understanding of the securitisation theory it will critically evaluated.
The Copenhagen School defines securitization as a process that is socially constructed, an object in society is considered important and thus deemed worth protecting; securitising actors in society decided which process or object in society is important and must be protected. Ole Wæver in his book Securitization and Desecuritization proposes a theoretical explanation of securitization. To understand the security process Wæver writes about national security and threats to it, his argument composes a threat-defence model, he formulates this models from his observation of operations conducted in the field of security. (Wæver, 1995) Weaver regarded security as a “speech act”, a person with authority can voice a situation to be a security issue and thus giving it special status and allowing measures to be taken to deal with the issue. ‘It is by labelling something a security issue that it becomes one.” (Weaver, 1995) The Copenhagen School defines securitization as “Based on a clear idea of the nature of security, securitization studies aim to gain an increasingly precise understanding of who securitizes, on what issues (threats), for whom (referent objects), why, with what results and, not least, under what conditions (what explains when securitization is successful).” (Buzan et al 1998) A successful securitization process is expediated by internal or speech act and by external or contextual factors, it’s a process between the social capital of the main person or organisation and the nature of the threat. (Buzan et al 1998) For example, refugees in the past were not considered a security threat instead was seen as a humanity issue but now they are considered a security threat; through the naming process they are considered a security issue therefore, political communities will have to respond within their community. The study of security has changed drastically since the end of the end of the Cold War. A multipolar world developed so the idea of securitization was seen in a different way, security was no longer presented as national defence. (Wolfers, 1952) Security initially had a traditional narrow state-centric and military meaning to it, but the Copenhagen School rejected this meaning following the Cold War, they replaced the old meaning with a “constructivist thinking”, by developing the concept by considering the threats and socially and politically constructed. (McDonald, 2008) The important feature of the constructivist thinking is the referent object – the person or object that is under threat-, the securitising actor, the one who decides to label an issue a threat through discourse starts a “securitising move”. (Weaver, 1995) Therefore the Copenhagen School analyses the meaning of security by unveiling the politicised ‘nature’ of a security issue.
The securitisation theory however, has faced many criticism, a weakness of the theory is that it appears to be “problematically narrow” (McDonald, 2008) The securitisation theory is said to be over focusing on discourse acts of securitising actors whose decisions are considered just; these securitising actors are political elites who take the decision of what actions are to be taken when there is a security issue (Neocleous & Rigakos, 2011) as opposed to the images or material practices that can speak security themselves. (Williams, 2011) Furthermore, by only focusing on a small section of the intercession it has been disregarded how security threats can be built through a certain representation. In reality, the securitisation theory appears to have strengthen the negative ideas of security into a commodity, which undermines the various socio-political backgrounds. (Gad and Peterson, 2011) Thus, it is required to point out critical highlights of “contextual factors” in changing practical and analytical dimensions of the securitisation theory to enhance the understanding of the elements which build security issues. Focusing on this issue, the second generation of the securitisation theory (Balzacq 2005) indicates how the Copenhagen School fails to manage the effect of the social setting on the process. Therefore, it is propelled an externalist reading of securitisation on the extent of arguing that social roles and relations are not fixed, and discourse acts are not performative of security. This, overhauls an all the more bewildering comprehension of securitisation to the extent of observing roles and importance as progressively and mutually built.

The conclusion of the Cold War started a debate over thoughts and ideas of security in IR between ‘narrowers’ and ‘wideners’. The narrowers were concerned with the security of the state and frequently focused on examining the military and political stability between the United States and the Soviet Union. Disappointed with this, wideners look for to incorporate other sorts of risks and threats that were not military in nature and that influenced individuals rather than states. This expanded the security plane by involving concepts such as human security, territorial security and regional security – together with ideas of culture and identity. Feminism had an imperative part in broadening the agenda by challenging the thought that the sole supplier of security was the state and that gender was not important in the production of security. On the other hand, the state was regularly the cause of uncertainties and insecurities for women. Extending the agenda from a feminist point of view brought gender into focus by putting gender and women as the centre of security calculations and by illustrating that gender, war and security were interwoven. It was a vital advancement in the rise of a more extensive point of view on security. (Glanville, 2006) Whether one agrees with wideners or the narrower, the end of the Cold War indicated that security was a challenged concept ‘a concept that generates debates that cannot be resolved by reference to empirical evidence because the concept contains a clear ideological or moral element and defies precise, generally accepted definitions’ (Fierke, 2015) By pointing at the essentially challenged nature of security, critical approaches to security contend that ‘security’ is not essentially positive or widespread, but context and subject to be subordinate and negative at times. Since a few regulate security while other get and receive security, security produces uneven power relations between individuals. For example, in the setting of the Global War on Terror an individual who looks Middle Eastern has been respected with doubt as an unsafe ‘other’ and there has been an increase in surveillance operations in Muslim communities on the assumption that since they fit a certain profile, they may be associated to terrorism. Seen in this light, surveillance thus becomes a security device of control and a source of uncertainty. It is by addressing the essence of security in cases such as this that securitisation theory developed and broadened the scope of security to incorporate other referent objects past the state. A referent object, a central thought in securitisation, is the thing that is undermined and threatened and needs to be protected. (Fierke, 2015)

Furthermore, although the securitisation theory has enabled people to be more aware of security issues and deepen their knowledge about this issue, there is a negative aspect to security. Securitisation becomes a self-referential practice because the people of a nation or the audience do not have a say in the decision making or uphold a securitisation move – a move which the state decides. (Buzan et al, 1998; Salter, 2012) An issue that is considered a threat is an intersubjective construction, so the securitising move will be accepted by the audience in order to appeal for emergency measures. (Balzacq, 2009) Security therefore becomes a negative concept as normal political issues are not dealt with. Some securitisation theorists argue that de-securitising an issue is more effective because it has “progressive alternatives to the status quo” (Wyn, 2005) Securitisation is the process where normal politics is isolated or separated from emergency politics so the difference between what ‘real security’ is for ‘real people’ because of the active role played by securitising actors through speech acts. Lene Hansen highlights the fact that there are two ‘blind spots’ in the securitisation theory; ‘security as silence’ and ‘subsuming security’. (Hansen, 2000) Hansen argues security as silence is the idea when insecurities cannot be voiced in a situation; this could be for various reason, those facing insecurity may not have the authority to speak out or because voicing out their opinions may aggravate the threat further. Subsuming security refers to link between a subjects gender identity and their other identities like religion, ethnicity or national identity. (Mitzen, 2006). The Copenhagen School argues that gender can be a referent object that can lead to securitising a situation however Hansen disagrees with this definition arguing that it gender is not a sufficient object.

Second generation securitization scholars argue the idea of securitisation can be understood in two different ways; internalist adopt the post-structural stance arguing securitisation produces security through speech acts whilst externalists, adopt the constructivist approach, understanding security as a more complex social process. (Stritzel, 2011) Internalist therefore, focus on speech acts and context-shaping whilst externalists consider securitisation as context dependent process (Stritzel, 2007) Moreover, the Aberystwyth School’s (Critical Security Studies) studies stem from Marxism ideologies and influenced by Frankfurt School critical social theory and Gramscian critical theory. (Booth 1991) There studies argue that human emancipation is a core tenet; it is not power or order that is a security issue, but it is the absence of fear that is the ultimate mean of security. The Aberystwyth School has a different view to the Copenhagen School as they believe their view is one that is fragmented – it is regarded to be a “contested concept” (Buzan, 1991) the theory they came up with is a “theory of progress for politics” (Booth, 1991) which is based on life rather than survival. Therefore, this perspective presents security as an intersubjective constructed phenomenon instead of it being grouped into different sectors. This perspective responds to “the established realism” which has presented a hostile and unstable world politics by disclosing their socially constructed nature. (Erikson, 1999) This securitization approach offers an emancipatory purpose as well as drawbacks to the theoretical perspective. However, this approach has faced many criticisms for failing to distinguish the relationship between IR scholars and securitising actors, the state as the referent object of security and the idea of security as survival. (Erikson, 1999)

The Securitisation Theory has provided many approaches to how the issue of security is deal with, although there are many strengths to this theory, there are many drawbacks and weaknesses to this theory which doesn’t go unnoticed. The Copenhagen School identifies the different areas of security – military, political, economic, societal and environmental sectors which all play a role in shaping the nature of the referent object (Buzan et al, 1998) The traditional stance of security has widened because of these distinct sectors leading to the shift of focus from “power politics” to the politicisation of security issues. (Carr, 1939) This has been criticised due to it being unsystematic as the persistent focus is on securitising actors as political elites rather on securitising power of images and material practices, also the procedure of which the audience approves the move by securitising actors. (McDonald, 2008) Securitisation therefore becomes a self-referential practice where the role of the audience works only in a way that constructs a process that has been fixed in the social sphere. An example is that the securitisation theory has unsuccessfully been applied to Western liberal democracy; adopting the ‘dualistic constructivism’ of the Copenhagen School leads to lack of attention to the social construction of actors, audiences and the system itself. (Huysmans, 1998) therefore, it is crucial that the social environment has to be developed over time to ensure that certain contextual factors are shaped effectively so that it will have a positive impact on the definition of security.

Another weakness of the securitisation theory, is they fail to consider external factors. Second generation scholars stress the lack of focus on external context of securitisation such as gender, institutional setting, cultural or regional environment. (Wilkinson, 2011) For example during the Cold War, Nato and EU come together effectively to support one another during time of war. All the international actors get together, ignoring cultural and national differences each country have to face the threat. The end of the Cold War results in the tensions between these countries rising again, so these international actors worked alongside each other to face the common threat and to work together for national security culture. Due to the fact that the Copenhagen School fails to consider these factors, an alternative model is proposed in which agent, act, and context embody different levels of securitization analysis which presents a more complex understanding of the link between the agents and the systems. (Balzacq, 2010) The agent-structure perspective, both agents and the structures are “into dynamic of action and change” – on the securitisation process, concerns the mutually agreed process where securitising actors and audience, texts and context-structure are all interconnected and embedded. (Stritzel, 2007) This model argues that the socio-political dimension including all the functions within the securitisation process has interchangeable roles, this model goes on to argue that the socio-linguistic approach, threats are developed by securitising actors through discourse.

Another type of securitisation is environmental securitisation. Buzan’s definition of environmental securitisation is that the “environmental sector of security is about relationships between human activity and the planetary biosphere”. (Buzan et al, 1998) The environment is an interdependent sector in society within which security is framed; this is because of the importance of maintaining the environment in order to ensure the survival of humankind as the environment is considered the “essential support system on which all other human enterprises depend.” (Buzan et al, 1998) Environmental securitisation is seen in a global context because the degradation of the environment means the state, audience and referent object can be interchangeable social construction. In this regard, threat to the environment include global warming, deforestation and desertification; this idea of environmental securitisation clashes with the state-centric position that military issues are the only threat for states. However, securitisation can only intercede in an issue if it is considered a threat where extraordinary powers are required for the issue to be dealt with, thus specific environmental threats are given priority by securitising actors. The issues regarding the ecosystems is not always considered a major threat due to their politicisation (Buzan et al, 1998) because of these issues are not always subject to securitisation, although some states may perceive issues regarding environmental issues as a threat but this do by a referent object in a specific social, political, linguistic structure. (Stritzel, 2007) The vague conceptualisation of the specific referent object as mentioned by the Copenhagen School – need the post-structural position created by the second generation of securitisation scholars where they stress the importance of the role the audience play along with setting the socio-political environment. (Salter, 2008)

The purpose of this essay was to assess critically the strengths and weaknesses of the securitisation theory. After discussing the concept of the securitisation theory as conceptualised by the Copenhagen School, the essay went on to discuss how the theory was developed by second generation of securitization scholars by focusing on “what conditions the social content and meaning of security produced threats.” (Balzacq, 2010) The essay then went on to discuss the stance the Aberystwyth School had on the voice of the audience and finally, the idea of environmental securitisation was discussed. It can be argued that security may not be a negative practice, which as discussed above involves the use of hard power but instead the emancipation from the “relative objectivism” affecting both traditional stance on security and the Copenhagen School work. Therefore, it can be said that the concept of security can be revised to provide a unified position on security. In regard to the securitisation of environmental degradation, environmental issues can be tackled rather than those issues being exploited politically. This essay has provided a range of strength and weaknesses to the Securitisation theory.

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