Security: A New Framework of Analysis

“Security: A New Framework for Analysis”, Sep. 1998, Barry Buzan, Ole Wæver,  Jaap De Wilde. ISBN-13 : 978-1555877842 

Security: A New Framework of Analysis was written by Barry Buzan, Ole Weaver and Jaap de Wilde. The book contributes to the International Security Studies by suggesting a new analysis to investigate international security subjects.

The authors examine how different sectors take an issue, which they believe to be threatening their existence, and render it a security problem, which is called “securitization”. When an issue is securitized, it is taken out of the normal rules of politics and becomes subject of extreme measures.

In the book, the sectors are divided into five categories: military, environmental, economic, societal and political. It is suggested that for each sector, the “existential threats” and things in need of extreme protection, that is the “referent objects”, will be different as well as the actors who initiate the securitization process. In the military sector the referent object is the state and existential threats may be weapons of mass destruction acquired by a hostile state. In the environmental sector, referent object is the habitat, the living things and the existential threat may be a global warming. For the economic sector, the referent objects are the firms, banks etc. and an existential threat may be a bankruptcy or an international crisis. As for the societal sector, referent object is identity and what threatens it can be anything that damages the homogeneity of the particular identity – such as migration. Lastly, in the political sector the referent object is mainly state sovereignty but ideologies can sometimes be included as well. Sovereignty can be threatened by things that question the authority of the government or whoever holds the legitimate power (can be a non-state actor who controls a specific area).

The main aim of the book is to show how and when different actors belonging to the mentioned sectors securitize an issue. In order for a problem to be securitized, there needs to be a perceived threat to ones referent object which will be brought by an actor, like a government representative or an activist, to the scene. Through what the authors call “speech act” the actor delivers the concerns to the audience. If the audience accepts that the issue needs to be securitized, then the “securitization act” reaches to success.

This is a constructive process. The existential threats and referent objects for each sector are not fixed. There is a relationship between the securitizing actors, who attaches certain meanings to a subject that they believe should be securitized, and audience who either agrees or disagrees. If their security concerns overlap the issue becomes securitized. This process can be applied to any issue therefore according to the book; it would be misleading to claim that security concerns are constant. The issue that had been securitized before can also be desecuritized when the circumstances change.  

When the time the book was published, International Security Studies (ISS) was dominated by traditionalists who believe that security has a fixed meaning that is the survival of the state. This is a realist point of view where the international system is believed to be anarchical and states are responsible to provide their own security. In this self-help system, security is usually achieved through military means, acquisition of weapons and strategic alliances. The only actors who can securitize an issue are military and state authorities.

Traditionalists refuse to include other referent objects other than the state by claiming that doing so would dilute the meaning of security and deteriorate the academic coherence of ISS.

In this book the authors take a different approach to security than classical realists. They claim that there are other referent objects than the state for different sectors. Through the securitization act, various actors can initiate a securitization act and if they become successful by convincing the authors through the speech act, the issue would be securitized regardless of the sector it belongs to. This approach presents a systematic framework to analyze security where it explains in detail how an issue can be securitized and it does not limit this process with the state and the military contrary to the realist point of view. By this way, the authors would be widening the security agenda. This is important because in today’s world, security is not only about state survival (nor it has ever been before). I believe, when studying International Security restraining the meaning of security to state’s survival would be turning a blind eye to most of the world’s issues. A realist would define the meaning of security as the rivalry between United States and Soviet Union during the Cold War but one should ask: for whom? In this regard, the book is useful for readers to see the process of different actors securitizing different issues.

However, it would still be misleading to say that the authors fully adopt a widen agenda. For example they do not consider an unsuccessful securitization act to be considered under security analysis where they state: “There are socially defined limits to what can and cannot be securitized… This means security analysis is interested mainly in successful instances of securitization—the cases in which other people follow the securitizing lead, creating a social, intersubjective constitution of a referent object on a mass scale” (Buzan, Weaver, de Wilde, 1998, p.39). This point of view generates two important questions. First, who defines these social limits to what can or cannot be securitized? If this kind of an approach were taken, then some societies or groups would be rendered more powerful to decide on what can be or cannot be securitized. Likewise, even within the society certain groups can define limits of things to be securitized but this does not mean that their definition is totally representative of the society’s main concerns. Second, what happens to unsuccessful securitization acts? Does this failure mean that the issue that was brought up is not important enough just because it fails to convince the audience? For example gender-based violence is a real thing that threatens most people’s but yet it failed to convince many of the states to securitize this issue nation wide. Or think about instances where there is a powerful securitizor, like a government authority, and an audience that is full of partisan people who are willing to accept the concerns of the actor. This, according to the book, would be a great environment for an issue to be securitized.

However, what if this issue is threatening only the government authorities and they use their power and resources to convince the audience for them to embrace their concerns in order to take the issue out of normal politics and deal with it through extreme measures by securitizing it? So according to the book only the successful securitization action are subject to security analysis but most of the securitization actions reflect power politics, that is whoever is more powerful are more likely to convince the audience to accept his/her definition of security. Does this mean that the issues that couldn’t be securitized due to the securitizing actor’s lack of power are not security issues in reality? They would also not make it into security analysis according to the authors because they failed however one should analyze also why they were unsuccessful. Can it be because the audience they speak to, for example a dominant male group in a patriarchal society is unwilling to accept the concerns of the securitizing actor because doing so would be shaking its own power in the society. But does this eliminate the security concerns of the actors who initiated the act? No. To sum, the authors are more into analyzing the “mainstream” securitizations, where the actor holds enough power to convince its audience. By doing so, they left out marginalized people’s securitization initiatives just because they do not have enough power and resources to convince the society or because there is strict hierarchical rules in the society so much so that their initiatives are deemed to fail.

Although not explicitly, this position takes the authors closer to traditionalists who also deals with mainstream securitization acts mostly coming from state and the military. There is an important difference though. The authors did widen the security agenda to include other sectors that the state. However although they introduced new levels of analysis, they are still drawing boundaries to what is worth as a security issue. They do not consider the context in which the unsuccessful securitizing actor initiates a securitization act. They do not analyze the circumstances that make an action fail. They simply refuse to take this issue under security analysis, which is in my opinion makes the analysis incomplete.

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