17 Mayıs 2016 Salı

IR Theory and Security Studies: An Introduction

Security is one of the most important concepts in International Relations discipline since it is based on the safety of states and their citizens and it deals with the macro issues of safety which are related to armies and wars. However, defining the concept of security is not a simple thing to do since there are various understandings of the term and the concept has evolved in time greatly. In this piece I am going to first define the concept of security and then explain different approaches to this concept by looking at the historical development of Security Studies.

As a simple dictionary definition, security means “freedom from danger, risk, etc.; safety”.[1] As it was stated by Edward A. Kolodziej, security is a "special form of politics – a species of the general genus of politics and not all political issues are security issues whereas all security issues are political problems" (Kolodziej, 2004:22). The issue of security in politics comes into agenda when “an actor or actors of political dispute threaten or use force to get what they want” (Kolodziej, 2004:22). Political disputes or problems that do no contain threatening or use of force elements are not included to security issues. However, when there is the use of power or at least threats for the use power, the problem automatically becomes a security matter. Naturally, not all threats and assaults (such as petty offences and other criminal activities) are included into the domain of security since the discipline of Security Studies deals with macro actors such as states, international organizations, corporations and associations. After the demise of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the end of Cold War period, security issues gained enormous emphasis since the world's problems became more complex due to the disappearance of the balance that was provided by the bipolar world order of the Cold War and ethnic, religious, sectarian disputes tended to turn into wars and terrorist activities.[2]

If we turn back to the definition of the concept “security”, Ian Bellamy defines it as “a relative freedom from war, coupled with a relatively high expectation that defeat will not be a consequence of any war that should occur”.[3] Kolodziej, on the other hand, explains security as the concept that “implies both coercive means to check an aggressor and all manner of persuasion, bolstered by the prospect of mutually shared benefit, to transform hostility into cooperation” (Kolodziej, 2004:25). Security Studies, which is a sub-discipline of International Relations, might be considered as too militaristic; but without the concept of security, it would be impossible to provide peace and develop human rights and economic welfare. Moreover, Security Studies includes the survival of humans and the prevention of wars, killings and massacres in addition to military technology matters. Security Studies could not prevent all threats, but by managing power and developing strategies, it can reduce the threats and losses. Security Studies try to organize a country’s military power, cultural-political-economical relationships within a total strategy in order to prevent possible dangers.

Security Studies could be classified according to their levels of analysis. State-to-state level of analysis deals with security issues between states. This type of analysis is especially important for scholars who are close to Realist school of thought, since they believe that nation-states are the primary actors in international relations and they “claim to be the ultimate authority in resolving conflicts between them” (Kolodziej, 2004:27). The state and transnational civil society (trans-state security) level of analysis is interested in relationships between state and non-state elements and that within non-state elements and more available for scholars close to Liberal school of thought (Kolodziej, 2004:30). The third level of analysis is international security which focuses on the relations between international and supranational organizations such as NATO, Warsaw Treaty Organization, EU etc. and states. International Security Studies try to develop a macro level analysis. There are also sub-branches like regional security (a regional look to security issues) and global security (looking at the world order completely) studies.

After explaining the concept of security and different level of analysis for Security Studies, we can move on to analyze the historical development of Security Studies and different understandings evolved in time. Security has always been an interesting topic for philosophers and political analysts starting from the ancient Greece. History of the Peloponnesian War, which was written by Thucydides, can be accepted as an earlier writing about International Relations and IR concepts like balance of power, Realism and security. There are two conventionally and traditionally dominant approaches in Security Studies; Realism and Liberalism.[4] These two approaches are also the main schools in International Relations theory.

Realism is the first and main school of thought in Security Studies which take nation-states as the primary units in international relations. Realism’s roots can be traced back to ancient Greece and Thucydides (460 BC-395 BC). In his work, History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides told us about the famous Peloponnesian War between Athenians and Spartans and he tried to show how security dilemmas between two states (city-states at that time) could lead to wars. Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) in his book Prince, tried to prepare a handbook for a successful Prince that would provide the security of his state and citizens. Machiavelli not only focused on internal security, but also on the security against other princedoms. Another major contributor of Realism is Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) with his book Leviathan. Hobbes based all his theory of social contract and state formation upon the concept of security since he thought that human beings are naturally selfish creatures that could do all kinds of bad actions without a strong central authority. The modern founding father of Realist studies (also called neo-realism) is Kenneth Waltz (1924-2013). Realism school in IR theory deals with macro issues (political, militaristic) and security is the main motive in their works. Realism became very influential in the 20th century especially after the Second World War during the Cold War. Realism paid too much attention on abstract models of deterrence and the power of militaries. It was also shaped according to the conditions of Cold War and positivist (quantitative) mentality. For instance, having or not having nuclear bombs was a very important factor of deterrence in Realist thought. Realism also took nation-states and two blocks (NATO and Warsaw Treaty Organization) as their main units and did not attention to micro issues such as culture.

Liberal school of thought developed as a reaction to Realism’s hegemony in IR theory and Security Studies. Liberal scholars of Security Studies tried not to focus on nation-states, but also on supranational, international organizations, institutions and on non-governmental organizations (civil society organizations). They dealt with both macro and micro issues such as culture, environment, economics etc. Liberals also gave attention to military power, but they added economical, cultural power to the equation and posed a new picture of world order. In that sense, they tried to pass the borders of positivism and solely quantitative studies by adding qualitative information. Liberals thought that peace can be provided not only thorough deterrence, bipolar world or a hegemonic, regional power but also through economic integration which would lead to political integration. They were heavily influenced by German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) and Democratic Peace Theory. So, in their view, security would be achieved through spill-over effect of economic integration and this would lead to the permanent peace and integration of liberal democracies. However, their critic of Realism was narrow and they were too optimistic about the effects of economic integration. The end of Cold War and the rapid success of globalization did not end wars and social turbulences and a new approach needed in IR theory and Security Studies.

Critical Security Studies was originated as an amalgamation of Marxist criticism and post-modern, post-structuralist trends starting from the late 1970s. According to Erikkson, “Critical Security Studies deal with the social construction of security” and they examine rhetorical nature of threat discourses (Mutimer, 2007:55). CSS scholars considered threats as construction and by deconstructing the “security” rhetoric they assumed an “emancipatory goal”. CSS thinkers claimed that the security of the state was not equal to the security of the citizens and environment (Mutimer, 2007:56). Their aim was to understand instead of explaining. They were completely against positivism and quantitative methods. Canada School of CSS started with a small conference that was held in Toronto in 1994. Starting from this conference, many scholars of Security Studies defended that the concept of security was more than just military security and they heavily criticized conventional studies (Mutimer, 2007:58). They preferred to take the security of humans and environment as their primary motive. They focused on civil wars and genocidal events in order to protect the life of humans. Canada School was the earliest form of CSS and its theory was developed by Copenhagen School. Copenhagen School determined five sectors of security; namely military, environmental, economic, societal and political (Mutimer, 2007:60). Ole Waever’s conception of “securitization” made important contribution the development of Copenhagen school as a new form of CSS. According to Waever, an issue becomes a security issue when it has been securitized. So, in his understanding, many things that are accepted as security issue are in fact securitized because of nationalist and Realist rhetoric (Mutimer, 2007:61). Waever thought that by not identifying some issues as security issues, we can solve many problems. CSS is highly affected by post-structuralism and Michel Foucault’s deconstructionism method and certainly provides a new field for Security Studies. However, it is also a bit utopian because certain security issues are real and they lead to the death of many people. Moreover, although some threats might be unreal and constructed for political purposes, what is important is not the substance but rather people’s perception of threat. Because people act according to their perceptions and CSS is very weak concerning this fact.

Finally, in my opinion, the area of Security Studies in International Relations discipline is still open to development. Taking one of these approaches and following solely this approach might lead us to very wrong consequences. That is why, we need to assess an event from all perspectives and compare and contrast our findings in order to have healthy results. Realism might be a product of Cold War, but in some cases Realist school is still very helpful to us. Although CSS is very beneficial, comprehending the world through CSS might lead to very bad results. Liberalism still has a strong base, but we see that nation-states are still very powerful and economic integration does not always bring peace and political cooperation or integration. In a globalizing world, we need to be aware of the fact that things change very quickly, easily and like Marx once said “all that is solid melts into the air”. This change would certainly produce new things, but restorations are always available too. Thus, it is better to use all methods and try to create a new and more successful one.


- Kolodziej, Edward A. (2004), Security and International Relations, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Collins, Alan (2007), "Introduction: What is Security Studies?", in Contemporary Security Studies, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Mutimer, David (2007), "Critical Security Studies: A Schismatic History", in Contemporary Security Studies, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Bellamy, Ian (1981), “Towards a Theory of International Security”, Political Studies, 29/1.
- Dictionary.com, http://www.dictionary.com/.

[2] Collins, p. 2.
[3] Bellamy, p. 102.
[4] Collins, p. 5.

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