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What are the Main Critiques of Securitisation?

What are the Main Critiques of Securitisation?

 

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Introduction

The Copenhagen school has gained global acclaim for its role in advancing the concept of securitization, with such renowned scholars as Buzan, Wæver, and de Wilde (1998), having played a crucial role in this endeavour. In particular, Waever is credited with having originally proposed the concept of securitization thereby providing a different outlook to the long-held debate that had long divided the issue of internalisation security between those who viewed threats to security as being objective and those who saw security as a subjective concept. The Copenhagen school endeavoured to bypass this debate by maintaining that security ought to be viewed as a speech act that involved exploring the manner in which a given issue like migration, troop movements, and environmental degradation, among others, ought to be socially constructed to constitute a threat, as opposed to examining whether the issue in question is real, or not.  Waever (2004) is of the view that the main argument of securitization theory hinges on the premise that security ought to be viewed as a speech act in the sense that the mere mention of the word ‘security’ implies that something is being done. Accordingly, Waever (2004) opines that ‘it is by labelling something a security issue that it becomes one’ (p. 13). This essay seeks to answer the question: what are the main critiques of securitisation? To do so, the essay provides a brief overview of the concept of securitisation, followed by a review of various criticisms of it.

Brief overview

Waever (1995) first formulated the concept of securitisation, while Buzan et al. (1998) further endeavoured to advance the theory of securitisation as originally formulated by Waever. Although the concept of securitisation by Buzan et al (1998) was conceived nearly two decades ago, it is still regarded as the most intricate treatment of the securitisation concept by the Copenhagen school. Accordingly, anyone interested in gaining insights into the understanding of the concept of securitisation based on the Copenhagen School must read Buzan et al. Over and above the writings on securitisation concept by the Copenhagen School, we also have other various overviews on the concept, with Huysmans (1998) being regarded as one of the early reviews of the concept that gives us an in-depth understanding of the treatment of securitisation by the Copenhagen School in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Elsewhere, Williams (2003) has endeavoured to undertake a critical assessment of the securitization concept, along with its associated significance in relation to the field of security and international relations. Other reviews include one done by Emmers (2007) in which the author has endeavoured to introduce the main limitations and contributions of securitisation theory. People and Vaughan-Williams (20100 have taken a detailed assessment of the key debates that surround the securitization theory, while McDonald (2008) seeks to provide a vital, albeit current summary of the securitisation frameworks, including methodical exploration of the analytical ambiguities upon which the concept rests. Elsewhere, Balzacp (2010) provides an overview of the concept of securitisation that includes among others, a focus on the various means through which we can better comprehend the speech act within the confines of the securitisation framework.

When a securitizing actor seeks to pursue an extraordinary measure in an attempt to ensure the survival of a referent object, they are in effect claiming that the existence of the very referent object is under threat. When this happens, the issue in question is no longer under the influence of normal politics but instead, categorised into emergency politics. Under emergency politics, the issues can be handled swiftly, devoid of the usual democratic regulations and rules that characterise policy-making. This effectively takes away any pre-existing meaning attached to security, and it assumes the new meaning as defined by the securitizing actor. There is the risk that ‘everything’ could be turned into a security issue, but this is usually overcome by adopting the three crucial steps that delineate a successful securitization. These steps include: (i) Identifying potential threats to security; (ii) taking emergency remedial measures; and (iii) exploring the impact of threats on inter-unit associations by disregarding rules (Buzan et al., 1998).  Buzan et al. (1998) opine that viewing an issue as a threat to security is to say that in case nothing is done, all else loses meaning as we are likely to lose our freedom with it. Waever (2000) was of the view that certain scenarios may in themselves be sufficiently worrisome such that they warrant securitisation as a means of blocking the worst. It is important however to note that securitisation may not always be desirable under certain circumstances. Thus, Buzan et al. (1998) favour desecuritisation in place of securitisation. In this case, desecuritisation entails shifting an issue that is already categorised in the emergency mode into the political negotiation process (Buzan et al. 1998). A securitization move constitutes the first step towards the realisation of a successful securitization. From a theoretical context, a securitization move constitutes an alternative available to any unit since it is only after an actor has successfully persuaded an audience of the value of surpassing binding regulations and rules that a case of securitisation can be realised. From a practical context, securitization therefore is mainly determined by capability and power, as well as the means to politically and socially develop a threat. What this appears to suggest is that securitization theory, far from being a political statement, is rather a hypothetical instrument that enables the analyst to outline occurrences of securitisation. Securitisation theory therefore endeavours to examine the role of security.

The Designation of Threat to Security based on the Copenhagen School

Over the last few decades, the Copenhagen School has realised a lot of success in terms of developing the securitisation concept as it relates to the field of international relations.  The concept is now widely applied to the analyses of various issues, including the development of transnational crime (Emmers, 2003), evaluating of the behaviour of state foreign policy (Smith, 2005), and the view of the HIV/AIDS pandemic as a threat to international security (Elbe, 2006). Other areas where the securitisation concept has found application include minority rights issues (Roe, 2004) and the ‘war on terror’ (Buzan, 2006). In recent years, the securitisation concept has been analysed with regard to the issue of migration (Huysmans, 2006). These trends of securitisation draw strong parallels with the ideation of securitisation as advanced by the Copenhagen School namely, analysing an issue outside or beyond ‘normal’ politics (Bigo and Walker, 2007).  What this appears to suggest is that ‘securitisation’ now constitutes a key component of the language of security studies and international relations (Williams, 2003). Such a development ought to be viewed from a positive perspective, especially considering the ability of such an abstract construction to shed light on basic aspects of the manner in which security practices and preferences are developed within the realm of international politics. However, there is a problem in viewing ‘securitisation’ as a quick route to the construction of security, and the presupposition that viewing politics from an exclusionary and negative context is hardly examined past the specific perspectives in which the frameworks find application (for example the issue of immigration that now characterised various liberal democratic states after the 2001 bombing.

The Copenhagen School holds the view that issues turn into security threats through language. In this case, language acts to position specific issues or actors as being a threat to a specific political community thereby facilitating securitisation. Waever (1995) relied on language theory to place the concept of securitisation into perspective, Language becomes a security issue based on the fact that specific types of language-written or spoken in a specific context- entail security. Such an exclusive reliance on language as the basis for the ‘securitising move’ could be faced with two limitations. To begin with, language constitutes just one (but by far the most fundamental) mode of communicating meaning (Möller 2007). Various authors have identified the importance of considering the role of images as possible type of securitisation.

In addition, language, along with its exclusive focus has a limitation in that it has the potential to do away with types of physical actions or bureaucratic practices that form part of the process for communicating meanings of security, and the means for constructing security. Therefore, extending the securitisation context to account for visual representation may be vital for the construction of securitisation in particular or security in general. For instance, Williams (2003) is of the view that television images highlighting the September 11 bombing of the World Trade Centre played a key role in the construction of authoritative insights into the issue of threat and security from an American context. Elsewhere, Möller (2007) has also endeavoured to explore visual representations of the September 11 terrorist attacks, as well as the war in Iraq, thus succeeding in demonstrating the role of photographic exhibitions in communicating specific meanings of threat and security. Therefore, broadening the securitisation framework to encompass these various forms of representations would go a long way in highlighting the various types of forms of communicating meaning, including meaning on threat and security.

Criticisms

The securitisation concept has come under criticism on account of its repressed scheme to abandon the conventional perspective of security. The concept of securitisation abandons the key elements for Security Studies namely, the potential for real conflicts or complaints involving two or more large organised groups (Knudsen, 2001). The basic assumption here is that Knudsen is alluding to war or armed conflict, as opposed to conflict in general. Nonetheless, the main ideas of “extraordinary measures” and “existential threat “within the securitisation concept are a key component of Security Studies and are hence a clear indication that the issue of violent conflict is not something new to the approach. Besides, Knudsen (2001) urges the need to ensure that the state remains the main component of Security Studies and International Relations, further warning against downgrading it to one sector or level among others. However, theorists that exclusively assess the association between states appear insufficient for research into civil society activities.

Taking into account the guidelines on what constitutes securitization theory, its role, what it cannot achieve, and what it can achieve, it comes as a surprise that much of the criticism regarding this theory is largely due to the lack of any ethical/moral objectives of the theory. This is an indication that the various analysts of this theory may have actually misunderstood what constitutes the securitisation theory. Aradau (2001) has been quite critical of the securitisation theory from the point of view of ethical/moral perspective of the theory. Aradau views securitisation as: “a technique of government which retrieves the ordering force of the fear of violent death by a psychical replay of the variations of the Hobbesian state of nature. It manufactures a sudden threat which provokes experiences of the real possibility of violent death (Aradau 2001).” Based on the foregoing understanding, it is quite evident that the securitisation to which Aradau alludes to is very different from the one that Waever refers to in his approach to securitisation. Accordingly, securitisation ceases to be regarded as a theoretical instrument that allows actors to analyse the concept and is instead viewed as a political instrument. In this way, securitisation turns into a morally and ethically weighed-down matter that is also stigmatised. This appears to go contrary to the views of Dillon (1996) who argues that issues of security ought to assume an ethical context. Aradau further contends that desecuritising and securitising techniques are associated with disquieting outcomes and that both desecuritisation and securitisation ought to be prevalent in ethical-political concerns. Again, this appears to contradict Waever’s securitization theory. The criticism in this case hinges on the understanding that the analysts can never be innocent or neutral in writing and speaking about matters of security but instead, the criticism encompasses political reality. What this appears to suggest is that the analyst, by speaking or writing about a certain social reality, is in part accountable for the development of the ensuing reality in the sense that his own text aids in the reproduction of this reality. Waever, along with all the other constructivists views such a critique as being defeatist in that the analysts tend to reproduce ‘the security agenda when [he] describes how the process of securitization works’ (Huysmans, 1995, p. 69).

Integrating visual representation into the securitisation framework may also not be as simple as it sounds. In this case, the Copenhagen School could be faced with the challenge of emerging hard questions on issues of intentionality, agency, and significance of contestation over meaning. According to proponents of the Copenhagen School, a securitisation move ought to assume the form of highly strategic and intentional action. Therefore, the designation of threats calls for the application of extraordinary means of dealing with them. Therefore, the use of visual images to communicate a securitisation move does not fit well with the securitisation concept as proposed by the Copenhagen School. Moreover, images tend to communicate ambiguous meanings, and this makes it even harder for analysts to control the meanings that other individuals are likely to take away from such images (Möller, 2007).

Scholars of the ‘Paris School’ and in particular, Bigo (2002) have also faulted the Copenhagen School’s sole emphasis on speech. The ‘Paris School’ theorists maintain that security is developed and applied to various areas and issues via a host of routine practices, as opposed to the use of specific speech acts per se that facilitate emergency action. According to Bigo (2002) practices of border controls and surveillance, for instance, especially as executed by ‘professional managers of unease’ (p. 65) or bureaucrats, form a key component of securitisation. These theorists further opine that the securitisation theory entails a focus on the development of (in) security professional networks, ‘the systems of meaning they generate and the productive power of their practices (c.a.s.e. Collective, 2006, p. 458).

The securitisation concept has also come under criticism based on its definition of threats. Creators of the securitisation concept are of the view that a threat may not be defined objectively. To these creators, the vital question worth asking is how and whether something has been qualified as a threat. Even though critical reviews acknowledge the significance of perception, they nonetheless maintain that the existence of threats is not dependent on their associated perceptions (Knudsen 2001). Balzacq (2005) maintains that our perception of reality is responsible for its construction, and not the language associated with such reality. Accordingly, no matter what we are likely to say of a typhoon, this will not change it from being a typhoon. Advocates of the securitisation concept are likely to indicate that their approach is based on how political units act to process and developing threats. Therefore, the decision taken by people to protect themselves from a typhoon shall be determined by their non-perception or perception of it. Moreover, speech acts are only responsible for the partial construction of reality, as opposed to the complete construction. As such, a decision to search for “real threats” places us in great danger of not paying any attention to threats that have emerged from construction. From a positive context, the securitisation concept by overlooking threats with the potential to “destroy the self-determination or existence of a political unit but are not framed as threats by this unit.” (Gromes and Bonacker, 2007, p. 6).

The securitisation concept has also come under criticism on ethical grounds. Some reviewers maintain that both Waever and Buzan opt for desecuritisation in most cases based on the argument that security is not always a good thing. However, they have been active participants in developing the securitisation process, including expanding the security agenda for application by various decision makers across escorts of the economy. Waever has also acknowledged that one may even unwillingly partake in securitisation by way of fortifying the security discourse through one’s writings (Waever, 2000).

According to Floyd (2010), ‘Much of the existing ethical criticism of securitisation theory focuses on the role of the analyst and his ethical responsibility in ‘writing’ or speaking about security’ (p. 44). The Copenhagen School and its associated analytical framework lack an emancipatory or normative concept. Consequently, it has attracted ethical criticism based on its ideation of societal security and in particular, the issue of identity. This is the case because the securitisation of identity is taken to mean dangers and political risks. Such dangers and political risks are to be found in the likely abuse of the speech act racist, fascist, and xenophobic groups characterised by evil intentions, such as the reliance on securitisation to subvert the fundamental values that underline a liberal democratic society. Besides being critical of such a likely consequence, critics of the Copenhagen School are also critical of the School’s awareness of the likely occurrence of an abuse of this nature. Johan Eriksson has relied on the notion that the analyst can never have a neutral role in urging the Copenhagen School to ensure that the political outcomes of their teachings are taken into account.

Conclusion

In sum, the Copenhagen School has gained a reputation for its role in providing a different perspective to the long-standing debate that defined threats to security as either being objective or subjective by proposing that security should be viewed as a speech act on the social construction of a security issue such as migration or environmental degradation. However, the securitisation concept has been criticised on various grounds, including claims that it abandons the potential or real conflicts which are the key elements of Security Studies. The reliance of the securitisation theory by the Copenhagen School solely on speech has also been criticised by scholars from the ‘Paris School’ who note that security is developed and finds application in various issues and areas through different routine practices. From an ethical context, the Copenhagen School and its analytical framework have been faulted for the lack of an emancipatory or normative concept. Another form of ethical criticism of the securitisation concept has to do with the securitisation of identity and the associated dangers and political risks following the abuse of speech acts by racist or fascist groups.

References

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