What is Security?

  • Traditional approaches have thought about security as the absence of threats, the absence of conflicts or of living in a condition of peace.
  • For others, security is focused on the individual – the ability of individuals to go about their lives without the fear of violence and to have their basic needs (e.g. shelter, food and water, clothing) met.

An important distinction here is our thinking about who security is for – a topic addressed below.

Who is security for?

  • Referent object:
    • Common to most notions of security is the protection of something from a threat of some kind. The thing to be protected is the referent object. In conventional security studies, the referent object is generally considered to be the state.
    • Other approaches to security consider other referent objects: for example, individuals, societies, economies or the environment
    • In short, the referent object is who or what is to be protected.
  • Traditional approaches o As suggested, in traditional approaches to International Relations it is the state that is to be protected.
    • Furthermore, states themselves have traditionally been focused on securing their borders. o Traditional approaches have focused on state security in conflict. In these conflicts, States’ borders, governing regimes, and the state itself may be threatened. In short, the state is the referent object of security.

While we often think about state’s security being threatened by other states, this is not always the case.

Sometimes state insecurity comes from other sources (ie. terrorist) and might target things other than state borders or the existence of the state itself (ie. economic infrastructure or as we have seen more recently, a state’s electoral system). However, common to all of these threats, is the referent object – the securing of the state.

However, contemporary security studies have expanded who and what is the referent object of security. Human security is focused on the security of individuals.

  • Here the focus is on how the individual experiences security / insecurity. o This opens a new way of thinking about security with new priorities and responses o It also challenges the assumption that by securing the state you can secure individuals within the state.

State and individual security may produce conflicting results.

  • For example, a woman living in poverty in a particularly poor part of the Global South may have more immediate concerns of insecurity: fear of personal violence, shelter, clean water and food compared to something like interstate war or nuclear conflict, topics which have been the concern of state and traditional approaches to security.

Human Rights Watch page introduced at the beginning of this Lesson. This case illustrates the different focuses on state and individual security:

Human Rights Watch is pointing to the insecurity of vulnerable people fleeing violence and making their way to Europe for protection. The language used in the title also points to this. It is a “Refugee crisis” with the focus being on refugees who are in crisis. Refugees are fleeing violence; they are insecure in that flight – for instance crossing the Mediterranean in unsafe vessels – and are insecure in terms of not knowing how they will be received by European states and what their future might hold.

However, others have framed these events in ways that reflect a more traditional understanding of security with the state at its centre. In this traditional framing Europe faced a “migration crises.” What is in jeopardy are European states, their vulnerability to violence and terrorism brought by migrants, their inability to control their borders and access to their territories and the threat to European states’ economics and cultures in the face of an influx or “wave” of migrants. Under traditional approaches migration is a new type of threat compared to concerns of traditional inter-state conflict, such as military attack. However, the referent object is still the State in this framing of security.

What is the source of insecurity? (and 4: How do we achieve security?) While we often focus on security, the topic of insecurity is also a focus of contemporary security studies. In the glossary of the textbook, insecurity is defined as “[t]he risk of something bad happening to a thing that is valued” (Collins, 454). In short what is the perception, belief, or risk assessment that something bad is going to happen? In part this question is informed by the earlier ones – what is the referent object of security? For a state leader it might be the state.

Traditional and Non-Traditional Approaches:

Throughout this discussion the distinction has been made between traditional and non-traditional approaches to security. These are general categories and are not perfect in that not all elements / debates of security necessarily fit into them comfortably. However, they are useful. From our discussion so far, you should be able to understand the distinction and place different approaches into these categories as appropriate. In its glossary, the text gives us definitions of theses two terms:

Traditional Security: “Security is defined in geopolitical terms, encompassing aspects such as deterrence, power balancing and military strategy. The state, and especially its defence from external military attacks, is the exclusive focus of study. “(Collins, 463)

Non-Traditional Security: “This category of security focuses on non-military challenges to security. It incorporates the state but also includes other referent objects.” (Collins, 458)

Traditional security also focuses on the state, where as non-traditional security introduces the potential of new types of threats (like the environment) and new referent objects, like individuals.

These sources of insecurity also have the potential to impact each other – something we will explore in the rest of the course. For example, the pursuit of state security might produce individual insecurity. A state fighting a war to defend its borders will likely result in a state’s citizens (individual’s) being hurt or dying.

If you think about the case in Lesson Activity 1A, the European states have, at times during the refugee crisis, considered protecting their borders though policies like stronger border controls and less protection for refugees in their states in the pursuit of states security. As a result, refugees have been made more insecure: they have more difficult times travelling to and accessing the protection of European states and when they get access, there are less protection.

This is particularly relevant to questions of contemporary security and the politics of providing security. Justified by the need to ensure state security by more effectively combating new sources of insecurity (ie. cyber security, counter-terrorism or the control of borders to migrants) states have increased their powers (for instance tracking personal information) that might lead to more insecurity for the individuals through, for instance, less civil and political freedoms. Throughout the course you should think about this trade off between increased powers of the state justified by the needs for security and the impact on individual rights and security.

Security – Ideas and Material:

The study of political science tells us that we should consider the importance of ideas. Very basically, ideas are the way we think about topics, either as individuals or collectively, and how that then affects how we act. Often ideas are taken for granted, uncontested “world views” – and as a result are very powerful in affecting the way we act individually and collectively. We will expand on this as we address topics in the course. However, we have already indicated that security and insecurity is a perception of what actors feel. To what degree do we feel insecure? What is your perception of risk?

Alternatively, security can be materially defined. For instance, troops (from country A) amassed at an enemy’s border (county B) can be counted and county A’s threat measured (more or likely to defeat country B). However, even here there is an element of perception: does country A intend to invade county B, or are its troops defensive (imagine the classic security dilemma here)? From this you should see that the thinking (read ideas) about security is both complicated and important.

One related issue is that measuring insecurity is very difficult. You can measure your defensive power (ie.

military hardware, troops) although this can be difficult and often requires specialized knowledge (ie. the threat of cyber-attack). However, measuring becomes even more difficult when addressing issues like the “sense” of insecurity, the “perception” of risk or other intensions.

Ideas are important in other ways. In Lesson 3 we will discuss critical security studies which pay particular attention to the role of ideas and discourse in shaping our understanding of security and how we should respond. Reflect again on the screen shot introduced in Activity 1A. When states, media and other influential actors talk about refugees they set the tone and expectation of how to response to the “problem”. (Note the idea of what is the “problem” is itself an idea). Refugees, presented as victims who need protection are seen as a different than talking about the same individuals as migrants, cheating normal immigration roots or more dangerously as enemies trying to infiltrate and hurt the state. Consider how differences in this discourse affect leaders and publics more broadly. In short, how security is talked about shapes how insecurities are thought of and responded to.

Security is Political and matters for people on the ground:

You should consider the political nature of security. There are winners and losers when choices about who and what needs to be secured. These winners and losers often reflect power – who has it and who doesn’t. Finally, in practice, approaches to security affect people on the ground – who will be more or less secure. While open to a number of disciplinary approaches to the topic of security, this is a political science course. Across the course you should think about many of the key questions of political science when thinking about contemporary security issues.

International Relations Theories on Security:

It is likely that if you are a political science student you will have been introduced to a number of theoretical approaches to the study of International Relations. These are theories such as Realism, Liberalism, Marxism, Constructivism and Feminism. These approaches will inform many of the debates that we engage in across this course. If you have not been introduced to these theories don’t worry. The course will give some background to these theories as relevant to the subject mater at specific points in the course. However, 5 additional readings from the textbook have been included in the outline for this week. These connect many of the main theories of International Relations to the study of contemporary security. You can read these in their entirety or reference them for clarification as needed throughout the course.


Traditional Security Concerns: Protecting the State and Its Interests

As we know, traditional security concerns have been focused on threats to the state and their national interests. In the past, these threats have largely come from other states. You should note that the literature often uses the terms “national” and “state” interests interchangeably. National interests are the things that are defined as ‘of value to the state’. These might include territory, “way of life,” system of government, the economy, sets of values, and citizens. The national interests of states are varied, difficult to define and often contested by those within the state. In the May 2017, Standing Committee Report “Protecting Canadians and Their Rights: A New Road Map for Canada’s National Security,” Canadian leaders make it clear how important security is to national interest. In the opening paragraph of the report, the Committee writes: “National security is one of the most fundamental duties – if not the most fundamental duty – conferred upon a government.” (p.1). States have viewed national security at the top of their agendas. If the state cannot be secured, then there is no state, and all the other interests of the state can’t be protected. For many, the need to protect the state justifies a broad range of policies that opens the door to the politics of security. For instance, how much should you spend on security over other policy areas – like health care or the environment (see discussion in Sheehan, pp 203-204). Or how much can security justify policies that encroach on individual rights (a topic we will return to in Lesson 4)? Traditionally, national interests have been defined and packaged in the geography of the state. Threats to a state’s borders and the elements of national security within the state – such as systems of government, the national economy, resources, and citizens – captured much of the focus of the 20th century study of global politics.

However, state security is not just about threats to the border of the state. For instance, national interests have been defined as interests beyond the state. Issues beyond your state such as: economic resources, allies, overall stability in the international system, or the rise in power of other states can all be perceived or presented as threatening your state. For example, a threat to international trade routes, such as the Suez Canal, could be defined as a threat to the national interest, even if your state is located on the other side of the world. The United States during the Cold War defined the activities of the USSR in places like Korea and Vietnam as threats to US national interests. In 2003, in its justification for the invasion of Iraq, the US again defined the Iraqi leadership’s activities as a threat to US interests.

Note, what the national interest is, or if it is being threatened, is not always agreed upon, especially after the fact. The case of the justification of the Iraqi war is a good example. After the fact, the justification used by both the British and the Americans (leading states in the invasion) for going to war was hotly contested and criticized. Indeed, it was argued that leaders had lied and misled their publics and the international community about the level of threat posed by Iraq, especially with regards to Iraq’s possession of WMD. This raises again a point from Lesson 1, that defining and acting on challenges to security is often a political and contested idea process. As we will see moving forward, in contemporary security the definition of security threat may be even more contested.

Threats to national security don’t always come from other states. This is especially the case when we think about contemporary security studies. Threats to national interests and state security can come from actors such as terrorists, online hackers, international criminal or organizations. These will be part of the focus of our Lessons over the rest of the course.

Strategic Studies: Contemporary Security Studies Applied

Studying national security issues is of very practical importance too. States want experts to study security in order to anticipate threats; to understand conflict; to know which measures can be taken to avoid conflict (especially if it can’t win those conflicts) or how to win conflicts. Answers to these questions are sought in the sub-discipline of strategic studies. Strategic Studies is the study of action – how to use state capacities to achieve a specific goal. Stephen Walt defines security studies “as the study of the threat, use and control of military forces. It explores the conditions that make the use of force more likely, the ways that the use of force affects individuals, states, and societies and the specific policies that states adopt in order to prepare for, prevent, or engage in war.” (cited by David Multimer, Textbook: 92). John Baylis and James J. Wirtz connect the applied study of military strength to political processes, defining strategy as the “application of military power to achieve political objectives” (Baylis and Wirtz, 2010:4). Baylis and Wirtz go on to outline key components of strategic studies including military strategy, operations, and capacity as well as the study of politics and economic psychology (Baylis and Wirtz, 2010:4).

At the end of the course, in Lesson 13, you will read Chapter 28 by Ole Weaver and Barry Buzan. This chapter gives a useful overview of the development of strategic studies.

State and International Security: Realist and Liberal Approaches

In Lesson 1 we discussed how ensuring security has been a focus of the study of global politics and its theories. These theories are useful for organizing your thinking about the sources of insecurity and how security might be achieved. We will use these theories in subsequent Lessons to help analyze contemporary security issues. Some of you have been introduced to these concepts in other courses (like PO231). In this section I will provide a very brief introduction / review of two key sets of theories (Realist and Liberal) as they relate to the discussion of security. These are broad overviews of these theoretical approaches. Remember you can find more details about these theories in additional readings from Week 1, Chapters 2 and 3 of the Textbook.

Realism and Security

Security has been a central focus of Realist approaches to the study of global politics. In the required reading for this week, Michael Sheehan outlines key aspects and critiques of Realist thinking as it guides states in their acquisition of power and security through military capabilities.

In a broad, generalized understanding of Realist approaches to security, Realists focus on the state and its position in a global system defined by anarchy. There are two, interconnected focuses here: the nature of the state, and the structure of the system in which the state finds itself. In the case of the latter, the international system is defined by anarchy, meaning that there is no higher authority to settle disputes between states. As a result, the security – and ultimately the survival of states – is dependent upon those states’ ability to look out for themselves. So, states act to ensure their own security – they are self-interested. The more powerful a state, in the Realist view, the more likely it is to survive. Power for Realists is often measured in terms of military power.

There are various strategies for states to ensure their survival in a Realist world. First, a state may try to increase its power by adding to its military strength. The fundamental Realist Lesson is found in the writing of Vegetius

(a Roman military strategist) Si vis pacem, para bellumtranslated as: “if you want peace, prepare for war.” The pursuit of power prompts another security related term focused on by Realist authors: the security dilemma. The security dilemma is the outcome of the anarchic system that Realists emphasize. The logic of this system is that you need to increase your power to secure yourself. However, the dilemma is that by doing so you actually make your state more insecure. This is because other states that see you increase your power feel less secure themselves and feel that they too will need to increase their power. Through this cycle (which does not have a logical end) each state continues to try to increase their power to outdo the other. On the ground, the security dilemma leads to situations like arms races between states.

Another strategy for increasing their power/security might be to align with states who can work with them to ensure their survival against the threats from other states and their alliances. Here states or groups of states balance one other – possibly creating stability in the international system. The Cold War system is a good example of powerful states developing alliances to balance each other’s power (The USSR and the Warsaw Pact vs. the USA and NATO) It is also an example of how the security dilemma can produce an arms race, including a nuclear arms race. Order created by balancing power, according to Realists, produced some security for the state and the wider international system. In your reading this week Sheehan outlines the use of alliances during the Cold War and the debates about whether they in fact produce security (198-199). You should become familiar with these arguments.

You should also understand the importance of NATO during and beyond the Cold War. Particularly important is Article 5 of the NATO agreement, which links the security interests of all members (p.198). Article 5 states that an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all members. In the case of Canada then, the security of Baltic states (again as outlined in Operation REASSURANCE) places the security of Latvia (a member of NATO) under the security concerns of the Canadian state. As an alliance NATO has been the subject of debate recently. For instance, the (former) Trump Administration’s questioning whether the USA should be bound to European states’ security interests through Article 5 and whether there was a disproportionate reliance on the USA in providing NATO protection.

These debates raise other interesting questions like: has there been a shift in American thinking about its role in providing international security? For a Map of the current Members of NATO and when they joined the alliance see Colin Robertson’s “Canadian Primer to the NATO Summit in Brussels June 14, 2021,Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

Other key ideas: We raised the example of the Cold War in this Lesson. The Cold War also gives us the opportunity to consider what we mean by security. It could be argued that the Cold War created “order” by balancing powerful alliances and that conflict was prevented by this action. However, this did not create “peace” between states and the citizens of those states. Citizens lived under the fear of conflict and nuclear war / annihilation – not what might be thought of as a peaceful arrangement. Furthermore, beyond North America and Europe the Cold War contributed to many inter- (between states) and intra- (within states) national conflicts that killed millions of people and still have impacts on citizens in the global south today. If you’re interested in a discussion of the impact of the Cold War see Mark Berger, “The Real Cold War was Hot: The Global Struggle for the Third World.” Intelligence and National Security 23:1, 2008.

Another strategy that flows from the Realist position is that you should not cooperate with other states unless you gain more power relative to the other state. Cooperation makes a state reliant on others and vulnerable to their decisions. This flows from the Realist position that states should only trust and look after themselves. This does challenge the idea of cooperation in alliances. Do alliances make you too reliant on other states? Realists might point to the fact that strong states in alliances are not reliant and can pursue their self-interest (even against an agreement made in a treaty) if they need to do so.

As suggested, this is a very generalized description of Realist theory – there are considerable nuances and competing perspectives on what Realists say about security (i.e. in chapter 2 of the textbook, Charles Glasner gives the example of significant differences between Offensive and Defensive Realist approaches).

Critiques of the Realist Approach to Security:

There are many critiques of the Realist approach. Other theories used in global politics, such as those in the

Liberal school, don’t think the global system means that there will be constant conflict (see for instance Patrick Morgan’s discussion in the textbook p. 31). As we will see, Liberals argue that cooperation to increase security between states is possible. Alternatively, Constructivist approaches point to the role of ideas such as trust in cementing long term alliances (e.g. between Canada, the USA and the United Kingdom) and the development of beliefs of common commitments to one another which decreases the likelihood of conflict. Ask yourself: Does Canada, living next to the most powerful state in the world, mean that it is at serious risk of being invaded? Probably not. In part this is because the idea of military power being used against Canada by the USA seems almost unimaginable. As a result, a key component of Canada’s security is not defined by its relative military power but by the ideas that define the relationship between the two states. Realist approaches have a hard time explaining this.

Another critique is that Realist approaches don’t accurately describe the world that states face today. For instance, states rarely disappear / are taken over in international relations; today conflict is more likely to be found within states rather than between states; threats to state security are increasingly seen as coming from non-state sources, something which a Realist approach might not be best positioned to address.

However, there are also arguments that contemporary security concerns are suited to a Realist analysis of global politics. Geo-political conflict has increased in (returned to) importance in our thinking about global politics. States have fought over and taken territory (e.g. Russia, Ukraine and the Crimea); engaged in cyber conflict (e.g. Russia in the 2016 USA elections; a Chinese backed cyber-attack on the Microsoft system in 2020); military alliances still matter (e.g Canada’s commitment to NATO in Operation REASSURANCE); and, for the most part, states’ military spending continues to grow (for further details see Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, “World military spending rises to almost $2 trillion in 2020 ). Even where there have been changes to the way security is threatened, Realists could still argue that their approach is applicable. For instance, anarchy (and the Realist interpretation of the implications of this), might, more than ever, describe the global system that sees new threats of international crime and cyber-attacks impact national interest and security. Over the rest of the course we will consider whether Realist approaches help us explain contemporary security issues.

Liberal Theories and Security

To begin, a note on nomenclature. In this course I make the distinction between capitalized “Liberal” and lower case “liberal.” When the term Liberal is capitalized, such as “Liberal” theory or “Liberal” approach, I am refereeing the specific ideas, explanation and prescription of the Liberal school / theories of International Relations. Small “l” liberal refers to the broad philosophical ideas of liberalism, which are often the basis of more formalized and specific theories of Liberal International Relations theories

Liberal theories of international relations have often been positioned in opposition to Realist approaches. Indeed, initial development in the study of International Relations saw these sets of ideas compete with one another. Following the First World War, it was Liberal (also known as Idealist) political leaders who tried to build an international system and set of rules that lessened the likelihood of conflict in the future (e.g. President Woodrow Wilson’s proposal for peace in 1918). After the Second World War, Realist theorists were more successful pushing their position, in part pointing to the failure of Liberal approaches in the interwar period. At the end of the Cold War, the opposite seemed to be the case. Liberal approaches were seen as offering a better way of understanding the end of the Cold War and the development of a more interconnected (then globalized) world defined by liberal ideas of democracy, human rights, cooperation and a free market global economy. Indeed, Francis Fukuyama was so bold as to claim that this was the “End of History,” understood as the end of major ideological conflict (Fukuyama, 1989). For much of the 1990s, Liberal approaches seemed to be particularly popular, with Realist understandings of global politics and security (with some exceptions) seeming less applicable.

Like Realist approaches, there is considerable variety within Liberal approaches. Liberals argue that the cooperation between states can be increased, and the drivers and rewards of conflict reduced. As a result, Liberal approaches have prescriptions for increasing security – both for the state and its citizens. One prescription is about states themselves. Liberals who subscribe to the Democratic Peace Theory argue that when states are both liberal (ensuring citizens’ rights) and democratic they will have peaceful interactions with other Liberal Democratic states. Indeed, they claim that there is more than 100 years of data that shows that Liberal Democratic states have not gone to war with one another. If you are interested in this argument and potential critiques, see Patrick Morgan’s chapter in the textbook (pp.35-37). For Liberals then, a strategy to reduce conflict and ensure security in global politics is to promote the building of strong democracies.

Another Liberal approach argues that despite the anarchy of the international system, cooperation between states is possible. They argue that it is in the collective interest of states to build an international system that makes their international relations more predictable and regular. Amongst other benefits, this system should produce less conflict and more security. For these Liberals it is international institutions (e.g. international regimes / organizations) and international law that makes it easier for states to trust each other, to work with each other cooperatively, and to work through conflicts. Beyond reducing conflict, cooperative regimes should also be able to address the sources of more broadly defined (non-traditional) global security issues like poverty, global health insecurity, food insecurity and threats to the environment. This is particularly the case if they promote liberal values of human rights and democracy.

Finally, Liberal approaches have also emphasised the importance of economic interconnectedness. This interconnectedness, in addition to having economic benefits, ties states’ interests together and makes it more difficult (and more costly) to engage in conflict with one another. Note that this argument is the opposite of the Realist argument that interconnectedness makes states vulnerable.

Critiques of the Liberal Approach to Security

There are critiques of the Liberal approaches. These critiques are often tied to how Liberal strategies perform in the real world. The 1990s were the recent “heyday” of liberal thinking in global politics. The world, through globalization, was becoming deeply interconnected, especially economically. Liberal democracy, human rights and human security (see Lesson 5) were being promoted. International regimes and systems of global governance expanded. However, these processes did not result in a new and sustained level of security in the international system. The attacks of 9/11 against the USA, and the conflict that followed, did not make the 2000s more peaceful. Recently, we have seen the advancements of global governance stall, the renewal of nationalism / popularism, a rise in more conflictual international relations, and new threats (or more prominent threats) to state and international security. Beyond these threats to traditional security concerns, Liberal approaches have also not been able to solve problems that contribute to new definitions of insecurity either e.g. poverty or global injustice). So, the practice of Liberal policies in providing security raises critiques of the approach.

These critiques can be framed within alternative theories of global politics. Realists, as they did after the Second World War, argue that Liberal approaches are naïve and dangerous. Alternatively, Critical approaches might suggest that Liberals did not truly understand the sources of insecurity (often the broader system), the focus of insecurity (e.g. the individual) and as result did not provide security (by freeing those hurt by the system from that system). We will expand on Critical approaches in Lesson 3.

Military Capabilities, War and Security

The Politics of Building Military Strength

Building military strength raises several political debates that you might want to explore further. Military procurement, the purchasing of military hardware, provides one example. As already mentioned, military spending is costly and takes away from other public policy spending. Leaders need to decide how much is to be spent. Another question is how do you know that you are purchasing the hardware that is needed? Often the threat is in the future and unknown, making it difficult to be sure that you have the appropriate hardware. Another challenge is that procurement processes are very long, often taking decades (e.g. the purchase of a new Naval destroyer). The benefits of this process (better military hardware) will be felt years after the government who makes the commitment to spend the money has left office. In these cases, political leaders need to justify the need for such hardware. Consider the fact that in making these justifications leaders might raise fears of insecurity.

Another question about military procurement is the about military suppliers and their influence on political decisions about conflict and military preparedness. These actors profit from these decisions. What is their relationship to political leaders who make these decisions and the military leaders who use this hardware? The Military Industrial Complex is a term that captures the relationship between the very profitable (and often a support of the national economy and domestic employment) military industry and its influence on political decisions, including the decision of states to go to war.

Beyond building military capacity, alliances also raise difficult questions for political leaders: who is a good ally, who can be trusted? Who can you trust to share / sell military technology with? Consider the political debates that have circled around Canadian sales of military hardware to a country such as Saudi Arabia, and concerns about whether that hardware might be used against civilians.

Military, Conflict and New Technologies

Concerns about traditional security have evolved over time. As a result, how to provide security has also changed. Decision-makers need to anticipate new threats which may also contribute to new methods of providing security. These processes are also interconnected. Innovative military capabilities produce new threats. Consider important types of change. The first is the change in the nature of war. This is discussed by Sheehan (pp.196-197) in your reading this week. The second change, linked to the first, is innovation in the technology used to fight wars. Sheehan (in the text pp. 197, for a more extensive discussion see Sheehan, 2012) points to Revolutions in Military Affairs (RMA). RMAs are “a sudden and radical break with the past” in the tools used in war and the way that war is conducted. The introduction of machine guns and barbed wire, airplanes and nuclear weapons are all examples of RMAs. In the contemporary context, drones, cyber warfare, as well as the opening of space as a site of conflict (see the development of Space Force in the USA) are all examples of a current / developing RMA. Another concerning development is the use of Autonomous Weapons Systems, where growing amounts of military capability operate autonomously, or with limited human control (see Bode and Huelss, 2018).

Weapons of Mass Destruction

The threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) fits within the category of traditional threats to state security. WMD are those weapons whose impacts are far greater than conventional weapons and which often kill and injure people far beyond the traditional battle ground. WMD represent traditional threats in that the state and its population are under threat and the source of that threat most often comes from other states. However, we also know that as their proliferation has expanded, there have been fears that the sources of these WMD threats also come from non-state actors. Indeed, specific events have shown this (e.g. the use of chemical weapons by terrorists in the Tokyo Subway in 1995 ). As you read this week, the security threats posed by WMDs are a top priority of the Canadian state.

In the reading by James J. Wirtz the development and impact of WMDs on state and global security are clearly outlined. In organizing your thinking about these weapons there are three sets of questions you should be prepared to answer:

  • Technical issues: How are WMD built, delivered and what do they do to their targets?
  • Historical development: How were WMD developed and what has been their use historically?
  • Political impact: How have WMD shaped global politics? How can their existence and impact be managed?

From the reading you should be able to answer the first two questions. Wirtz also points to some debates that revolve around this third set of questions. Below we will elaborate on these questions, especially as they relate to nuclear weapons and security:

WMD and Global / National Security

WMD touch on several themes that we have already raised in this Lesson and course.

First, WMD relate to power and its impact on security. WMD enhance the capabilities of powerful states. In the case of nuclear capabilities, only a few states are known to possess nuclear weapons (USA, Russia, China, UK, France, North Korea, Israel, Pakistan and India). Chemical and Biological weapons are more widespread given that they are easier to produce. Weaker states have used them, most often against their own people (e.g. Iraq and Syria).

Central to debates about WMD is “proliferation.” The horizontal proliferation of WMD refers to the spreading to more states of the capacity to build and use WMDs. This form of proliferation can include:

  • knowledge about how to build WMDs,
  • experts who have this knowledge,   materials necessary for WMD,  and WMD delivery systems.

Proliferation might include states that already have nuclear weapons building more of them or innovating to expand the reach and impact of their nuclear weapons. This is called vertical proliferation. In other cases, states want to expand their power by acquiring WMDs. As Wirtz says, this is often a short cut to increase state power significantly on the international stage (Wirtz: 301). The case of North Korea is a good example of this effort. North Korea, a relatively weak and isolated state, would be far less threating if it did not possess nuclear weapons and the increasing ability to hit targets further afield. Consider figure 2.1 that shows the expansion of the North Korean nuclear threat as estimated by the James Martin Centre for Non-proliferation Studies. North Korea’s potential to hit the United States directly makes it a much more serious threat to the USA, and global security, and means that North Korea needs to be taken much more seriously.

Thus, membership in the “nuclear club” expands power for weaker states, and threatens the power of others, and even the most powerful states.

One other important factor about nuclear capability is that there are dual-uses: both domestic energy uses (in nuclear energy production) and military uses. Concerns about the spread of military nuclear capacity in part flow from the fear that power generation capabilities can be turned to military capacities.

Do Nuclear Weapons make states and the international system more secure?

Another debate raised in the readings focuses on the question: Do nuclear weapons produce peace / security?

(see the discussion on pages 306 and 307 in Wirtz’s chapter). For the original five nuclear states (USA, Russian, Britain, France and China), their arsenals of WMD and their effort to control access to the nuclear club are justified by the argument that the status quo provides a relatively stable system and security.

Nuclear stability is said to be produced when powerful states can balance and deter others from using those weapons. One way of doing this is through the possession of nuclear weapons and the employment of a strategy of Nuclear Deterrence. Nuclear deterrence – and the assurance of mutual destruction (Mutually Assured Destruction, MAD) produced fears that nuclear weapons would escalate into conflict that would produce too great a loss and therefore each side should avoid it. (See Sheehan for a discussion of deterrence pp. 199-201). Some have argued that since 1945 up to the late 1990s states that possessed nuclear capabilities had not gone to war with each other. Indeed, it could be argued that even more limited military conflict between nuclear states is prevented by the fear that this might escalate into nuclear conflict. One of the more worrying challenges to this is the conflict between Pakistan and India. Both of these states acquired nuclear capabilities at the end of the 1990s and continue to be involved in serious confrontations with each other. There is fear that this confrontation could expand to a point where their nuclear capabilities might be employed in the conflict.

Alternatively, it can be argued that nuclear stability is not assured and instead is very risky. For instance, a miscalculation of the deterrence strategy, if it went wrong just once, might have catastrophic consequences. In this argument, the fact that the Cold War stayed “cold” occurred because states and the global system just got lucky. Consider the nuclear diplomacy between the Trump administration and North Korea in 2018, partially captured in 2 of the former American President’s tweets in Figure 2.2. These interactions by the two leaders who control nuclear capabilities do not inspire confidence in the nuclear deterrence system for providing security.

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action

Similar types of debates (Realist and Liberal) about how to control nuclear weapons use have been played out in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The JCPOA, also known as the Iran nuclear deal, spanned 2015-2018. It received a lot of attention, particularly in relation to the USA’s nuclear strategy. The initial negotiation took place between the permanent 5 UN Security Council members, the EU and Iran. The agreement reduced economic sanctions on Iran and lifted restrictions on conventional weapons trade with Iran. In return, Iran agreed that it would open up to wider inspection by the IAEA including monitoring of its existing civilian nuclear energy capabilities. Supporters of the agreement believed that this would significantly lengthen the time it would take the Iranians to develop their existing nuclear capabilities to a weapons grade. Supporters also believed that the agreement would keep the level of status quo for at least 10 years and add to the potential of normalizing relations with Iran. The hope was that eventually Iran would decide not to pursue nuclear weapons at all. In 2018, after two years of criticizing the agreement, the Trump Administration pulled out of the agreement and reinstated American sanctions on Iraq. The US argued that:

  • Iran was not a trustworthy state,
  • it continued to fuel regional conflict,
  • the JCPOA gave too much to the Iranians, and
  • the argument did not stop Iran’s future development of nuclear capabilities.

For more details see Kali Robinson’s “What is the Iranian Deal?” Council of Foreign Relations’ Backgrounder. Given our discussion so far you should be able to describe how these two approaches might be effective (or not) in efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation. You should also be able to show which approach reflects a Liberal approach and which reflects a Realist approach?

Weapons of Mass Destruction: Other important take-aways

Nuclear Security raises several other interesting debates that we do not have time to discuss. However, I want to point to a few of these so that you are aware of them. They might be topics that you want to explore in your future studies.

One topic is the ethics of nuclear deterrence. Academics have wrestled with the question about whether it is ethical to hold populations in a condition of fear of nuclear confrontation. Citizens living under this fear are in many ways being terrorized. It has even been argued that the use of nuclear weapons amounts to living under the threat of genocide. However, if a world where this threat is no longer present is not likely, then the question is moot.

Even if unethical, there still may be nothing that can be done about it. Realists – it would seem – would not be concerned with this question of ethics. It is also interesting that in discussions of chemical weapons there is a fairly well-established norm that these weapons are “taboo” or unacceptable. (If you are interested, you could read: Richard Price, “A genealogy of the chemical weapons taboo,” International Organizations 49:1 1995). The appropriateness or norms around these weapons point to the role of ideas in shaping the use of WMD.

Constructivist approaches to international relations – and critical approaches (which will be discussed in Lesson 3) – point to the importance of ideas and their influence on global politics and the study of security.

Ethics is an important part of the consideration of security. If you are interested, two topics you might want to investigate further:

  • The rules of Just War. Consider the operating manuals developed by militaries that govern how conflict can be conducted ethically. Militaries often have large departments devoted to addressing these questions. Consider the UK Ministry of Defence’s Manual of the Law of Armed Conflict
  • New technologies and ethical actions in war. A very current topic is the use of drones. The use of drones has been criticized for not distinguishing between civilians and military targets, for not being fair in that there is no potential of retaliation against the operators of drones, and for terrorizing communities who live under the constant fear of a drone strike. (See Freedman, 2016)

Another debate about nuclear weapons pertains to a sense of superiority and underlying racism in the forming of nuclear policy. Arguments about who could “handle” effectively the responsibility of nuclear weapons often point to western civilized countries who can be trusted. Alternatively, non-western countries, are perceived as not capable, stable, or trustworthy enough to control nuclear capabilities. Beyond racism, this thinking might miss, the potentially unstable system in Western countries that could lead to the use of nuclear weapons.

Alternatively, is misses what some would argue are “immoral” or inappropriate thinking that justified the use of nuclear weapons. Indeed, the only use of nuclear weapons has been by (and justified by) American leaders at the end of the Second World War. This points again, to debates about the importance of ideas and critical approaches that we will talk about in Lesson 3.


What’s are Critical Security Studies?

There is a broad and varied set of approaches that fall under the umbrella of Critical Security Studies. Look over, and make sure you are familiar with, the definitions of CSS found in box 7.1 of the Textbook (p.94). Despite the variance within the approach, there are common themes developed that you should be familiar with. We will discuss these below; however, Keith Krause (cited in the Textbook on page 101) provides six common claims of CSS. These correspond to most of the points discussed below. You should look over these and make sure you are familiar with them.

In their edited volume Canadian Foreign Policy In Critical Perspective Marshall Beier and Lana Wylie ask what is “critical’ about foreign policy? One important answer they provide is that foreign policy is critical because decisions made in this policy area affect people’s lives. A critique of traditional security studies is that it doesn’t think hard enough about how people “on the ground” matter and their position of insecurity. As a result, one important theme of Critical approaches is that they make people a more central focus in security studies. Critical Security Studies have emerged and continue to develop in opposition to (critical of) traditional security studies. One important critique is the role of power and interest in studying security and making security decisions. Traditional approaches are often seen by their advocates as neutral or value free. They are social scientific undertakings that seek to understand the causes of insecurity and provide the most effective solutions to those problems. In contrast, CSS understand that the study of security is not neutral or value free. Instead, all such studies reflect the perspective, interests, and power of certain actors often embedded in the various structures of society (institutions, habits, language, and broader values / culture). For Critical scholars, “the state” is often the entity that reflects the interests of the powerful, and its pursuit of security is often in its own interests – not that of its citizens.

Mutimer, in the required reading for this week, draws on this distinction by quoting Robert Cox. Cox defines traditional approaches as “problem solving theories” which see “prevailing social and power relationships and the institutions into which they are organized … as the given framework for action” (Mutimer, Text: 94. Quoting Robert Cox). In other words, traditional approaches try to fix problems (in our case related to security) as they exist (as they are predominantly understood – i.e. their causes and solutions) in the world as it functions. In contrast, Critical theory “calls them [prevailing social and power relationships and the institutions into which they are organized] into question by concerning itself with their origins and how they might be in the process of changing” (Mutimer, Text: 94. Quoting Robert Cox). Critical approaches want us to recognize these inherent and often taken-for-granted assumptions about the way the world works and the varied and negative impacts this can have on different groups within society.

Another common aspect of Critical approaches is the role of ideas in society. For Critical security approaches ideas are intersubjective: deeply held and taken for granted ideas that are broadly shared across society. To be intersubjective also recognizes that ideas are “subjective” (see Emmers p. 176); they are open to interpretation. They are not “facts.” This also means that they can be manipulated and used. The meanings that ideas hold also evolve and change. Ideas are also understood as social because they are held and evolving in society.

Mutimer points to the fact that “ideas” give the “material” (eg. tables, chairs, walls, guns and tanks) meaning (p.92). To demonstrate, consider the act of an individual being killed by a gun. This is a physical act (material). However, what we – say / believe / label / accept as legitimate – gives it meaning. What we say is also reflective of broader and deeper held ideas in society. Killing someone with a gun can be “murder,” “self-defence,” “a legitimate act of war,” a “war crime.” These are dependent on how we give these acts meaning. Something we will talk about in a moment – how we label things – also has powerful impacts. If “murder,” the consequences are different than “a legitimate act of war”.

Ideas shape key parts of the security question. For instance, who is the victim or who / what is under threat? Where does that threat come from? What might be an appropriate response to those threats? Critical approaches put ideas at the centre of security studies.

The importance of ideas connects to another important part of security studies – the role of discourse and symbols. For Critical approaches, ideas that shape our thinking about security are often found in the language and symbols that are used and the meanings that are attributed to these. Halperin and Heath define discourse as “… ensembles of ideas, concepts, and categories through which meaning is produced and reproduced in a particular historical situation” (2012: 309), and the study of discourse through discourse analysis as a “…type of analysis that explores the ways in which discourses give legitimacy and meaning to social practices and institutions” (2012: 309). Mutimer also points to a Genealogical approach that “seek to reveal the historical trajectory that gave meaning to particular discourses and how they then function in the present” (drawing on Foucault cited in Mutimer, 103). In other words studying the origins and development of language, its meaning and impact.

Critical approaches also see discourse as an act of power with very real effects on people. Who gets to speak, and their influence, is an act of power. Speech itself is an act of power; for instance, Emmers talks about “speech acts.” The Textbook defines speech acts as part of a set of theories “in which actions are performed by virtue of their being spoken. Naming, marrying and promising are notable examples of speech acts” (Textbook, 426 – see “speech act theory” rather than “speech act”). Consider the importance of naming something a security threat. If powerful actors call migrants “threats” as opposed to “victims” needing protection (and members of society more broadly accept this label) then this speech affects people who are migrants. In particular, the different definitions of the migrant as threat or victim means that leaders and society more broadly see different security policies as appropriate / inappropriate. For instance, the migrant labeled as “threat” justifies policies that control, detain or deport. Migrants labelled as “victims / persecuted” justifies policies that assist, protect, and resettle.

Another common theme for Critical approaches is that they pursue “emancipatory” goals (see Mutimer p 99). The Textbook defines emancipation as “the freeing of people from the structures of oppression or dominance in which they find themselves.” (p.451). Ken Booth defines emancipation as “the freeing of people (as individuals and groups) from the physical and human constraints which stop them from carrying out what they would freely choose to do…Security and emancipation, not power or order, produces true security. Emancipation, theoretically, is security.” Ken Booth (cited in Colins, textbox 1.1. p.3). For CSS, by recognizing dominant ideas in society and the negative impacts they have on individuals and communities it is possible to free individuals and groups from the structures of society that favour powerful actors. Critical approaches often push to recognize the power of language and ideas and to re-think them. They do this by challenging dominant ideas and providing counter-hegemonic positions (ideas that are contrary to the hegemonic or dominate ideas in society).

Critiquing Critical Security Studies

What then, are the criticism of CSS? A persistent critique is that CSS does not address “real” or “important” questions of state and international security. If you want to stop threats to the American state, understanding recruitment practices might not be helpful. Or, if you want to know how to contain the spread of Communism, the impact of American troops on the insecurity of populations local to US bases is less important (an argument of Cynthia Enloe in the title mentioned below).

Another criticism is that doing the type of research CSS does, is difficult. It’s hard to effectively capture the structural idea to which they point. There has also been criticism about how academic systems adjudicate between “good” and “poor” critical research. Furthermore, it is difficult to tell policymakers what to do with that information.

A further critique would be that if all dominant ideas are the expression of powerful actors, then counter-ideas can (or eventually will) be too. How do you decide which ideas are “true” or “better” (fairer / just)?

Multimer outlines a series of critiques that you should consider. These include the complaint that CSS is a “toxic mix of ‘obscurantism, relativism, and faux radicalism’” (citing Booth, Textbook: 100); “self-indulgent” (Walt 1991, Textbook: 102) and “having no research programme (Keohane, 1988, Textbook: 102).

Feminism, Gender and Security

Feminist scholarship has made security a central focus of a lot of their work on global politics. This has been referred to as the “gender-security nexus” (Kennedy and Dingli, 160)

Consider the following Feminist titles if you are interested in exploring this approach to security more:

  • H.S Moon, Sex among Allies: Military Prostitution in U.S.-Korean Relations (Columbia University Press, 1997)
  • Cynthia Enloe, Banana, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics 2nd edition. (University of Californian Press, 2014)
  • Linda Grant De Pauw, Battle Cries and Lullabies: Women in War from Prehistory to the Present (University of Oklahoma Press, 1998)

Feminist security studies also offer a variety of approaches under its umbrella. These approaches can also be critical of one another. Some Feminist approaches emphasise biological difference, arguing that feminine traits and leadership are key to peace. Others suggest that greater equality for women would produce more attention to the security needs of women. Past studies have overlooked the contribution of women to fighting wars and producing security (i.e. the “home front” women and war, women in decision to go to war, women in combat or woman terrorists).

Critical Feminist approaches (itself a very broad umbrella) draw on many of the features of critical scholarship discussed above, with an emphasis on the impact of ideas of “gender” for the security of individuals and communities within society. Kennedy and Dingli give us an introduction to important ideas / language that Critical scholars argue are central to understanding security and global politics. The glossary of the Textbook defines gender as “not just the biological differences between men and women but a set of culturally shaped and defined characteristics, which underpin the notion of what it is to be a man or a woman (Textbook, 453. For a similar definition see Kennedy and Dingli p. 160). So, as argued above it is not the physical reality of the two sexes but the meaning that society gives to them and the impact this meaning has on security that matters. For example, the perception / belief that men are tougher and more suited to combat or that they are the protectors of the state and by extension “women and children” also shapes the meaning of security. For many Critical Feminists, what is key here is the idea of masculinity defined as: “those qualities that are considered appropriate to a man, usually associated with strength and bravery” (Text: 456). These ideas are also held/ reinforced by a broader social structure. Critical Feminists point to patriarchy as the “the structure and ideological system that perpetuates the privileging of masculinity” (Enloe cited in Text: 161). Critical Feminists are also interested in exploring how these dominant ideas are created and perpetuated. One example given in the chapter is about military training and the effort to remove “feminine” traits from its combatants. This is just one of many ways that these ideas can be reproduced.

In the readings for this Lesson you should also see that Critical Feminists argue that these beliefs have impacts on women, men and security. Feminists would argue that traditional beliefs about the role of women in society and in security both hurt and limit women. For instance, as victims and subjects to be saved, women are presented as without “agency.” By this it is meant that women don’t have the power to act (or think) for themselves and provide their own security. The Text also points to other impacts: military service limited to men, limits the leadership role that women can play in society. They can’t lead the military. The ability to be President (and hold other elected offices) was also limited (by the ideas of what an appropriate leader should be) to those who had military service – thus precluding women. The importance of military service to getting elected, and the unusual case of a woman having this experience, is captured in part by the emphasis put on this issue in the New Yorker article about Amy McGrath’s candidacy in Kentucky.

Women have also been made to be specific targets in war, including the use of rape because of the beliefs about women’s roles as mothers and in reproducing the nation (see the Kennedy and Dingli’s discussion on p.163). The Kennedy and Dingli chapter is very good at outlining the impact of these social beliefs / culture about gender on women in war, civilian life and after conflict. You should be aware of these.

There are, again, critics of Critical Feminist approaches to security studies. As mentioned above, some critics have argued that these approaches do not address the most significant security issues. Another is that their insights are not helpful in providing solutions. One other criticism is that the definition of gender as defining “male,” and “female” is itself narrow and needs to be broadened to consider other genders and their relationship to global security. The Text tells us about how members of the LGBTQ+ community have been silenced in policies like “don’t ask don’t tell” and are subject to personal insecurity in lots of contexts related to global security because of their gender and sexual orientation. See the discussion in Case Study 11.1 Queer theory and State strategies of in/security: Russia, United States and Israel (p.162). Another critique is that “gender” might not be enough of an explanation. Other variables from others Critical perspectives (like race and class) might matter beyond the Feminist insights of gender. This is recognized by Kennedy and Dingli who point to the intersections of gender and race, and gender and class.

Post-Structuralism: Marshall Beier unpacking of security and security studies

Part of your required reading this week was the chapter by J. Marshall Beier, a scholar who uses a poststructural approach to the study of security. Post-structuralism fits under the Critical Security Studies umbrella and reflects many of the positions discussed above. Beier’s chapter should make you think, but it will also challenge you. Take for instance, his description of the purpose of the chapter. Beier states:

“…it brings to light the concealed political commitments that are part of any attempt to theorize security and which fix arbitrary limits on whom and what gets foreground in the security stories we tell. … recovering agency and political subjecthood … crucial parts played by other actors in both everyday practices of security …better appreciate both the problems and promise of our own roles in producing security – and insecurity…” (Text: 111)

For Beier, the study and practice of security in global politics is political, something that often is ignored or misunderstood. The study and practice advantages some and disadvantages others, empowering some by giving them “agency” and taking “agency” away from others. It also limits the focus of our study. In this way it is not natural – in that it does not happen without the input and manipulation of powerful actors over time. In this way, Beier sees “security” not as a neutral concept but as “thick signifier” (see p. 112 and Key idea 8.1 on page 113). As a thick signifier, “security” reflects and reinforces relationship, power and values in society by telling us what is worth protecting.

In thinking about security, Beier considers language as very important. It is about the stories we tell about security. Stories, traditions and practices build a set of understandings and social interactions that regularize certain social structures that define security. In Critical approaches the term “narratives” has been used in a similar way to “stories.” Narratives are the stories we tell about ourselves (or other topics), that link past interpretations of who we were and what we did, to who we are and what we do in the present and into the future. For example, a common Canadian narrative is that we have been a global leader in the protection of refugees in the past, that out current actions reflect this and that going forward we will continue to do so. As suggested, narratives are interpretations and as such (Critical scholars would tell us) should be critiqued to understand in whose interests they are told and the impact they have.

Beier’s chapter gives us clear examples. For instance, he points to stories told by traditional securities studies such as recent “progress” or Revolutions in Military Affairs (a topic we discussed in Lesson 2). The example of smart bombs and autonomous weapons is presented as an advancement in warfare (p111-118). They are “precise,” “surgical,” and make “smart” decisions. Automation is also believed to reduce the human cost of war. Beier suggest that this type of narrative misses the fact that these weapons are often not precise, but instead kill many innocent civilians. The death and carnage they produce can be devastating. Furthermore, they are still tools which are directed by people who make choices about war. This is not something we should overlook. If we do, we will not fully understand the impact of conflict or the choices made surrounding it.

Kennedy and Dingli make a similar point about “virtual war” (p. 160) ,when they argue that the automation of war has lessened the impact (deadliness and experience of war) on powerful states who can employ these weapons. Michael Ignatieff makes this argument about the Kosovo war in 1999, where the asymmetrical cost of war made going to war for powerful states easier. Ignatieff argues that the Kosovo war was a Virtual War, where the “[t]echnological mastery removed death from our experience of war. But war– to our side – is war which ceases to be fully real to us: virtual war” (Michael Ignatieff, Virtual War: Kosovo and Beyond, 2001: 5). Canada engaged in this conflict, a fact outlined in the description of Canada’s actions:

[o]ver the next 78 days and nights, six, then twelve, then 18, Canadian CF 18s from Aviano flew a total of 678 combat sorties over nearly 2600 flying hours. They delivered 532 bombs – nearly half a million pounds of high explosive munitions – including 361 of the laser guided five-hundred and 2000-pound variants on a variety of targets throughout Kosovo and the federal republic of Yugoslavia (Lieutenant-Colonel Bashow et al, However, for many Canadians, there wasn’t a real sense or concern that Canada was at “war” (Ignatieff, 3). Indeed, leaders didn’t frame it as such – calling it instead a NATO “mission” or “campaign.” In terms of impact of the war, the Yugoslav government estimated that up to 5000 civilians were killed by NATO bombings, while Human Rights Watch has verified approximately 500 civilian deaths (Human Rights Watch, February 2000). For post-structuralists like Beier, the language that frames these actions has important consequences that scholars should debate.

Beier focuses on two other examples in his chapter that you might want to consider. The first is child soldiers. This image below is a screen shot of a Google images search (Sept 8, 2021) of the term “child soldier.” The image reflects Beier’s description of what is typically understood by the idea of “child soldier” (p.118). Beier uses this case to suggest that traditional security studies have a difficult time explaining / understanding the place of children in conflict. On one hand children are presented as not having agency themselves – they can’t make choices, provide their own security and are victims. On the other hand, as warriors, they are violent and dangerous. These different narratives / stories make it difficult for traditional security studies to understand and respond to the problem of child soldiers. Beier also suggest that the image of children in conflict used by traditional security studies reinforces established relationships of power in society. For Beier this suggests a reinforcement of the idea that children (like women) are subject to taken for granted ideas of power reflective in security discourses. Beier suggests that these ideas, reinforced by our thinking about child soldiers, created greater insecurity for children. The do this by not listening or responding to children’s own understandings of their insecurity.

The different stories that tell us about the relationships between children, conflict and the state in turn affect states’ responses – and what policy is appropriate. Consider the case of Canadian Omar Khadr. Khadr was alleged to have killed a US medic during combat in Afghanistan in 2002, when he was just 15 years old. In the aftermath Khadr was detained in Guantanamo Bay for 10 years. In part this response was deemed appropriate because Khadr was viewed by the US as a “terrorist” and “war criminal.” It could be imagined that seeing him as “a child” would have dictated other responses. The examples reinforced the importance of discourse and narratives to dictate what is deemed appropriate in response to questions of security and the impact this has on people, including children.

Interestingly a similar problem is found in the idea of “refugee warrior.” As refugees these individuals are victims, but as warriors they can be security threats that stoke regional conflict. How should we respond to their role in conflict? In seeing them as victims, do we remove their agency to respond to the conflict which has made them refugees? Consider that in other situations – like French refugees in the Second World War – they might be seen as liberators who fight against the oppressors. In both cases (child soldiers and refugee warriors) Critical scholars would argue that how we talk about and understand these actors is important for how security/insecurity) is produced for/by them.

The last case that Beier points to is that of Indigenous peoples in the study of security and international relations. He argues that despite a long and important history, Indigenous populations are ignored in these studies, and by doing so they are marginalized and made “invisible”. By being “invisible” they just don’t exist. As such their concerns about security can’t be taken seriously. I would suggest that there is a rich potential research focus here, to which Critical scholars are well positioned to contribute. I would encourage you to pursue this in your studies. However, the short attention to the issue (both in Beier’s chapter and in this Lesson) bears out the critique that there is not enough attention paid to the topics.

The securitization approach and process

In the required readings for this week Ralf Emmers introduces you to another specific Critical approach developed by the Copenhagen School in the late 1980s / early 1990s. In part this school developed out of a refocusing of the security threats, especially to European states, after the dominance of traditional cold war security concerns. You should note that the approach emphasised 5 “sectors” of security:

  • Military,
  • Political,
  • Economic,
  • Societal, and
  • Environmental.

This is an expansion of the traditional security focus just on the military (Emmers, 174)

The other important innovation was its emphasis on ideas. The chapter tells us that the approach is a compromise between the realist state emphasis on security and a “constructivist” approach to global politics that emphasises the importance of ideas in shaping global politics (Emmers, 174). Constructivism straddles the line between traditional and Critical approaches (if you are interested, see Richard Price and Christian Reus-Smit, “Dangerous Liaisons? Critical International Relations Theory and Constructivism,” European Journal of International Relations4:3, 1998). If you need more background on the constructivist approach, please see Chapter 6 of the Textbook which was part of the additional reading in Lesson 1.

The Copenhagen School centers on the concept of “securitization.” There are key components of this approach that you should be aware of and that fit within our understandings of CSS. These are laid out very clearly in the readings and you should be familiar with them. First, the Copenhagen School relies on the importance of ideas (or the way that people think and talk) about security. Second, the approach reflects power and the way that dominant actors shape ideas about security. Third, the acceptance of these ideas by society more widely has powerful impacts. Importantly, acceptance limits (if not stops) the questioning of these definitions of security and the policies used in response and produces insecurity for actors affected by these topics. When the securitization process has been completed, dominant ideas about security are difficult to challenge or change. You should be able to describe the process of securitization outlined by Emmers and the key terms used in this process. In his description, powerful agents (a securitizing agent) in society engage in “speech acts”, establishing/making the claim that an issue is a security threat. This threat is not an ordinary threat, or a threat that can be ignored. It is an existential threat,meaning a threat to the very existence of the state. The Text defines existential threats as “the most serious threats a referent object can face, and thus are seen to justify the most extensive measures to secure against them.” (Text: 452) This level of threat is used to justify extraordinary measures (policies) that might not have been accepted in normal times. Extraordinary “measures go beyond rules ordinarily abided by and are located outside the bounds of political procedures and practices. Their adoption involves the identification as and classification of some issues as an existential threat.” (Text: 453) When the audience is convinced of and accepts the threat, an issue moves from a political sphere to a securitized sphere where questioning is stopped. According to Barry Buzan, securitization “is the move that takes politics beyond the established rules of the game and frames the issue as a special kind of politics or as above politics” (Buzan, 1998: 23. Quoted by Emmers p. 175)

As a result, the process of securitization is dangerous because it stops the critique of actions by the state in the name of security – thereby drawing into question democratic processes. It is also dangerous because extraordinary measures might lead to the abuse of power and significant insecurity for others, while being portrayed as appropriate and justified given the nature of the security threat.

Clear definitions and explanations of these terms can be found in the Text both in Emmers’ chapter and in the glossary. The process of moving from a non-political issue to a politicizedissue to a securitized one (process of securitization) is also effectively illustrated in Figure 12.1 on page 175 of the Textbook.

Securitization: Application, Critiques and Problems

Take a moment and think of some examples of issues that might have gone through this securitization process.

In a later Lesson we will focus on Migration and Security. Securitization theory has been applied to this topic. Emmers’ discusses this on pages 180-182. You should be familiar with this case.

There are critiques of this approach that Emmers’ points to (179-180). These include the fact that traditionally securitization has been applied to the European context. Another critique is that it is not clear where the line between politicization and securitization is found. Regardless of these critiques, the emphasis on demonstrating how issues are framed as threats, and recognizing the impact of these processes, is important and can be applied beyond the European context. You will be able to test this for yourself as you consider the securitization approach for understanding the contemporary security issues we will talk about in the rest of the course.

One word of warning: In the past some students have not fully engaged with this term. As you can see from the description above, and in the Text, it is a specific Critical approach that describes a particular type of process. Some students have used the term securitization to simply define a process where more security resources or measures have been put to an issue. In short, an issue that becomes a security concern, or has more resources put to it, is securitized. This is not a correct use of this term.

Critical Security Studies: The Importance to Contemporary Security

As suggested, an important question about Critical approaches is how helpful are they for understanding contemporary security issues? Their strength may be in their ability to recognize the importance / impact of ideas and to challenge dominant thinking that reinforced existing power arrangements – both across global politics / society and in the study of security. If these ideas have impact, then it seems to follow that the insights of Critical scholars likewise will have impact on real security situation on the ground. Over the rest of the course, we will consider the importance of CSS to the study of contemporary security issues.

Security, Insecurity and (In)security

Throughout the course so far you will see that I have used both the terms security and insecurity to label the focus of our study. Traditional security studies have focused on how to achieve security. However, I have often used the term insecurity. This is because we find that a lot of the time the referent object of our study is insecure. They have not achieved security. The Text defines insecurity as “the risk of something bad to a thing of value” (Textbook p. 455). If this risk exists – you are insecure.

Critical studies have used the term “(in)security.” Authors use this term differently. Broadly it is used as a critical engagement with the idea of security. It implies that within notions of security – what traditional security studies have focused on – is an inherent in-security for various individuals and groups. For example, security (or the pursuit of security) for the state may make certain individuals / groups (soldiers, mothers, minorities) insecure.

Epistemology, Ontology, Post-positivism

In the readings the terms epistemology, ontology and post-positivism were raised. These are terms that address meta-theoretical aspects of the study of social science. Meta-theory debates the ways to study social sciences and often falls within the study known as the Philosophy of Social Science. These terms are defined in the readings and glossary of the Textbook.

Ontology is the belief about what constitutes (i.e. what are the key components or building blocks of) the world being studied. Theories that try to explain that world focus on those basic building blocks. In the case of this Lesson’s discussion the distinction is between the material world and the world of ideas (or social world). Epistemology addresses the question of how the world can be studied, or how do we know the world. One epistemological approach is that it is only the material world that can be studied, and that it should be studied like the natural sciences. This is a positivist approach. In a positivist approach, the researcher (scientist) is separated/removed from the object they are studying, and therefore can be a neutral and unbiased observer. The object can be observed, measured and relationships (ie,. x+y causes z) can be explained. As a result, truth and laws can be discovered. A post-positivist epistemology challenges these assumptions. It argues that researchers have beliefs and values that affect their studies. There is no “one truth” because the world is experienced differently by different actors. Furthermore, important features of social science – like social relationships and ideas – are hard to observe and measure in any material way. While difficult to measure, they matter a lot to how our world is constituted and how we have gotten to where we are today.

These are complicated debates – and often seen as unimportant to the “nuts and bolts” study of security. However, you should be able to see how critical and traditional security studies fall, for the most part, into different camps: traditional security studies have a “material” ontology and a “positivist” epistemology. Critical Security Studies have a “social / ideational” ontology and a “post-positivist” epistemology. Critical Security Studies in particular emphasise the importance of these differences given their reliance on non-traditional approaches that are critical of the traditional.

Discourse – again. And Agency

Throughout this Lesson we have talked about the power of discourse. For Critical scholars discourse attributes meaning and has impact on actors and their experiences of the world. Another theme concerns the idea of “agency” – the power individuals have over themselves. Do they get to make choices about how they respond to a situation and in our case, pursue their security? Sometimes discourse removes agency. For instance, “rescuing” refugees defined as victims, while seeming like a benevolent act, might undermine the more important aspect of a refugees’ agency. States have justified a set of policies used to “rescue” refugees who, it could be perceived, should be grateful for the opportunity they receive. Those refugees should not be expected to ask for something different or act with agency (for instance, to choose which state they settle in). In this way, while on one level states are helping refugees, they are also controlling them.

Critical Scholarship:

As we know from our discussion of CSS, ideas (and the control of them) are understood by Critical scholars as an exercise of power. Academics have an important role in influencing ideas in society. Part of the development of Critical approaches has been in opposition to mainstream academic study. This is also the case in the study of security more specifically. For Critical scholars, mainstream academia is itself a structure of power that has reinforced traditional security studies. In the past Critical scholars have been challenged both in terms of their acceptance in academia (i.e. being listened to, given the opportunity to teach, be published and have the security of tenure) and to offer insights to security by countering established and dominant perceptions that could be protected by mainstream academics.


Security across the International / Domestic Boundary

As the title to this Lesson suggests, global security threats are tied to domestic interests and often produce insecurity inside the state. On one hand this is not surprising – adversaries from outside the state might seek to attack a state in a way that impacts the domestic environment. However, there are also ways in which the relationship is less clearly divided. For instance, cyber security threats (which we will talk about in Lesson 10) may come from within states, may not be the actions of states and may target private citizens or business. Furthermore, cyber attacks may not be carried out by states. Security threats from terrorist organizations (Lesson 9) and criminal organizations (Lesson 7) can be thought of in similar ways. These types of contemporary security threats have been referred to as

post-territorial threats (other terms you might come across are networked threats, post-Westphalian, or postnational threats). Post-territorial threats often cannot be attributed to a specific actor / enemy. They might not have clear state “enemies” beyond your own territory or might be linked to the actions of your own citizens. Economic crisis (Lesson 8), Environmental crisis (Lesson 8) and Pandemics (discussed below) are created by the social and economic activities that states’ citizens participate in daily. As a result, solutions to some of these post-territorial threats can be very complex and might require international cooperation, meaning the state cannot act alone to provide security (e.g. global pandemic controls beyond Canada or addressing and mitigating the impact of climate change).

In the same way that the sources of these post-territorial threats are different, efforts to provide security in response are also different than responding to traditional security threats. Solutions are often found in efforts to police or regulate society, not in measures to win military conflicts against foreign adversaries. The focus is also often on explicitly domestic responses – falling into the realm of Public Safety (see below). This means that security and domestic politics are very tightly linked, focusing on a balance, in liberal democracies, between the rights and freedoms of individuals and the steps that security leaders argue are necessary to provide safety / security.

Public Safety

For over twenty years states have increasingly focused on public safety. In Canada the first department of Public Safety Canada was created in 2003. The highlighted text below, taken from the “About Us section of the Public Safety Canada webpage, outlines the mandate, mission and vision of the department. Note that the purpose is to protect Canadians and prepare Canada to be resilient to a wide range of security threats.

). According to the DHS it has “a vital mission: to secure the nation from the many threats we
S). The DHS has 240 000 employees (About DHS) and has a 2022 budget of 52.2 billion 
 Budget in Brief)

The Department is made up of five agencies (Canadian Border Services, Canada Security and Intelligence Services, Correction Services Canada, The Parole Board of Canada and the RCMP). The Department has an annual budget of 9 billion dollars and 66 000 employees. It also works with other levels of government and actors (e.g. provinces / territories paramedic, fire and police services) on issues of national security, borders, countering crime, and emergency preparedness. (About Us). Similar organizations to Public Safety Canada have been created in other states as well. The USA’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is a much larger example. When created in 2002, it was the largest administrative reorganization of the US government in history. It saw the combination of 22 different federal agencies under one umbrella and made it a cabinet level agency (History face” (About DH

Dollars (“Message From the Secretary,”

Another issue that links security and public safety is the trend towards the militarization of police especially in liberal democracies. Militarization refers to a context in which police forces have increased their capacity to deal with security threats by employing resources and tactics that resemble those of an army rather than a police force. These methods are often focused on controlling populations, countering protest, and protecting government buildings and meetings rather than stopping traditional crime. Consider the images of police in body armour and armoured vehicles used by American police forces. The move is justified by the argument that there are increased threats in society and that to do their job safely police departments need these capabilities.

Militarization raises questions that tie into the themes of this Lesson and the course. One question is whether police forces need theses extra tools. Is there a real increase in threats that merit additional resources be made available to police? Alternatively, is the justification for the increase in resources based on a perception of threat that is not accurate, and instead it is the source of those ideas that should be questioned? Critical scholars might also ask, who benefits from these increases? Is it the state and its representatives (enforcement agencies) that are more secure at the expense of its citizens? Are the rights of citizens likely to be hurt? For instance, is the right to protest the state (a key act of democracy) challenged by the possession and use of these resources by police?

Individual Rights and Security: The security-rights nexus.

For this Lesson you have read a part of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security’s report Protecting Canadians and their Rights: A New Road Map for Canada’s National Security. The central concern of this report is about the balance between the state’s central responsibility to provide security and how far the rights of individuals can be limited or overridden in an effort to ensure that security. This is the security-rights nexus – where concerns of national security and individual rights interface with one another. This is a problem that is particularly challenging for liberal democracies in which individual rights and freedoms are central principles of our governance system. Indeed, the fear has been that the state might, in increasing its power, trample these rights and become the source of insecurity. Consider the position of the authors of the Standing Committee report. After saying that providing security is possibly the most important duty of the state, the committee goes on to say:

Equally important is the need to maintain public confidence in a fair and just legal system. National security agencies should be lawful, efficient and accountable. Canada’s national security framework as a whole should provide adequate safeguards against abuse and respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the

Canadian Human Rights Act and relevant international standards. (p.1)

The report also cites the Canadian Bar Association’s 2015 brief to the committee:

Promising public safety as an exchange for sacrificing individual liberties and democratic safeguards is not, in our view, justifiable or realistic. Both are essential and complementary in a free and democratic society.

(The Canadian Bar Association, “Brief,” March 2015, cited in the Report p. 1)

These issues are made even more difficult because of changes in the sources (or our understandings) of insecurity.

Increasingly, non-traditional threats to the state come from within the state and from individuals or groups that are not easily identified. In response, states have, at times, pursued polices that might curtail individual rights in order to seek to address these new threats.

For instance, later in the course we will raise the question of what tactics are allowed (e.g.. arbitrary detention or torture) to protect the state from terrorists. There are other prominent debates too, such as the use of CCTV cameras to monitor the public; spying on communities from which it is thought threats might originate and even public safety measures to ensure public health in the pandemic have been considered by some critics as a threat to individual rights.

The pursuit of security, and its challenge to individual rights, is also furthered by the development of technology.

Innovative technology increases the reach of security actors – who may have greater ability to identify, track and monitor threats. An important area of innovation has been in biometrics.

Biometrics is the science of using a person’s unique physiological characteristics to verify their identity. Or, in the official language of the U. S. Department of Homeland Security: “A measurable, physical characteristic or personal behavioural trait used to recognize the identity or verify the claimed identity [of a person]. (CBC, December, 14, 2004)

Biometrics includes fingerprints, iris / retina scans, hand geometry, facial recognition and gait. The use of fingerprints for identifying individuals is not new. However, the advancement in computer power to catalogue and search data bases has increased significantly over the last couple of decades. Similarly, increased computing power has enhanced the functionality of these techniques. Facial recognition has improved significantly to the point that it can be used to scan crowds and quickly make connections to databases of people. Similar technology can be used by both police and commercial actors to match images to billions of images found on the internet (Therrien, June 10, 2021). In short, technology has advanced significantly and continues to do so. This both offers improvement in addressing security threats but also significantly threatens the rights of individuals to be free from state monitoring.

For a quick discussion of CCTV cameras and civil liberty concerns in UK & China as well as Ontario see these news articles. Innovative technologies tested in Canadian airports have been subject to similar criticism. For instance, the tracking of cellphone data. In one trial, Canadian security officials tagged travellers’ cell phones as they travelled through Pearson and using that information could trace where the phone moved for multiple days after they left the airport. Canadian officials argue that the goal of the trial was to collect metadata about how travellers moved through airports and beyond and was not intended to trace individuals or their specific activities / communication. However, the technology could conceivably have been used to do this, and therefore the trial raised security concerns with experts and the Ontario Privacy Commissioner (Weston, January 30, 2014)

The concerns raised in the security-rights nexus are heightened for certain communities. Technologies are biased and imperfect. In Lesson 3 we identified critical approaches that would argue that technology is not valueneutral. It is built by people who reflect values that are found in wider society and are likely to have built these biases into the technology. For instance, facial recognition technology used by police forces and federal agencies in the USA has been identified as being significantly less accurate at correctly identifying non-white people (Harwall).

Similarly, in a report by Robertson, Khoo and Song To Surveil and Predict: A Human Rights Analysis of Algorithmic Policing in Canada the authors outline the development of predictive policing in Canada which is reliant on new methods of using and collecting data on citizens. The authors point to the dangers of these technologies and their use to, for instance, predict where and by whom crimes are most likely to be committed. While justified by the argument that these technologies are increasing the efficient deployment of resources, the potential for abuse (intentional or unintentional) of minorities and individual rights is significant. On the potential connection between racism, new technology and policing consider the report’s finding:

Systemic racism in the Canadian criminal justice system must inform any analysis of algorithmic policing, particularly its impacts on marginalized communities. The seemingly ‘neutral’ application of algorithmic policing tools masks the reality that they can disproportionately impact marginalized communities in a protected category under equality law (i.e., communities based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability). The social and historical context of systemic discrimination influences the reliability of data sets that are already held by law enforcement authorities (such as data about arrests and criminal records). Numerous inaccuracies, biases, and other sources of unreliability are present in most of the common sources of police data in Canada. … these technologies may exacerbate the already unconstitutional and devastating impact of systemic targeting of marginalized communities (p.3).

Citizens and minority / marginalized groups seem justified to question the balance between rights and security. An important solution to these types of questions connects to governance and civilian oversight. Publics need to trust that their police and security systems are acting in their best interest and in a manner that protects civilian and minority / marginalized rights. This is predicated on effective and trustworthy civilian oversight. This might include oversight from civilian boards, elected officials, the judicial system, academics, and the media. Important to this too is the ability to gain access to information about policing and security enforcement, which is often protected. Today, there is considerable skepticism of these oversight agencies, which challenges the perception of legitimate oversight.

An alternative perspective recognizes that there have been (and continue to be) serious problems in the enforcement agencies and methods used to provide public safety and security. Furthermore, these problems should not be excused. However, there is also a recognition that providing public safety and security are difficult undertakings. Often, enforcement agencies are challenged by quickly developing and innovative security threats by actors who are not constrained in their efforts or goals. Furthermore, at times operational secrecy is needed to do their job. Also, sometimes the effectiveness of their work, which citizens benefit from, is unseen or at least under appreciated.

Public Safety, Security, and Risk

Part of the challenge in balancing rights and security provision is the idea of Risk. Risk is the calculation of the likelihood of a negative impact happening and also its likely impact – the scope and severity of the impact. Risk can, to a degree, be calculated, but also always contains a level of uncertainty. This is a problem for those tasked with providing our security – they often don’t know from where the next threat to security may come. There are unknowns. On the other hand, those who critique security providers can also not be certain (both those who demand great security efforts, and those who believe less security measures are needed).

If you are interested in the relationship between risk and security have a look at the RAND Center for Global

Risk. RAND is an international thinktank that conducts research on Global Security. The RAND Center for Global Risk works across the RAND organization, linking scholars who are focused on Security Risk. On their homepage (in September 2021) they outlined some areas of risk that their researchers were studying. They included:

  • Emerging technologies – human presence on the internet
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Geo-Engineering
  • Biotechnologies – connection between the internet and our bodies

Understanding the level of risk is difficult when all the factors that go into those calculations are not known. Risk calculation is subject to bias. Beliefs about where that line is drawn might depend on your role and experience of the process. Furthermore, it is also part of (and used to justify) political calculations. I once interviewed a former Canadian Member of Parliament who worked on an immigration/refugee portfolio. In response to a question about why he chose to frame refugee policy as a security issue – even when there were few (if any) demonstrable links between security attacks and weakness in the refugee process, – he stated (and I paraphrase here) “try campaigning against security.” He argued that when other people argued about security you had to argue that you were tough on security. Furthermore, in the unlikely chance that something did happen, you did not want to be seen as the politician who dropped the ball. In his calculation it was hard for any politician to take the position that there were not significant security risks and that things would be okay as they were.

This links to a point already made, that risk is a calculation of the likelihood that something can go wrong. In the political arena that risk may (or may be framed to) be greater than it really is.

Finally, it is often difficult to know clearly when we are “safe” or not at risk. When is the risk of terrorist attack low enough that we might be able to lessen the security measures put in place after 9/11? Or when can we say the “War on Terror” is won? When can we refocus government spending on other problems society might face? Answering these questions is made more difficult by factors like the fact that social media and cable news have increased the means to spread fear and concerns lessening the perceptions that we are safe. Furthermore, if we don’t have the means to assess the degree of threat (e.g. access to information about security events) it is difficult to judge for ourselves.

Global Health: A case of Security?

Health has fit into broad definitions of non-traditional security threats for at least 30 years. We will see in next week’s Lesson that the introduction of the idea of “human” security includes a consideration of health. In Lesson 1, we also discussed how poor health (often exasperated by processes of global politics) is a significant source of early death. This puts it in the realm of being a “security” issue. Indeed, the World Health

Organization (WHO) sees health as a security issue, arguing that the goal of “global public health security [is] to demonstrate how collective international public health action can build a safer future for humanity” (Health Security). In our reading for this week, Stefan Elbe provides two ways the “health-security” nexus exists. Health security is the referent object of security studies and is a source of insecurity.

The first is related to the idea of Human Security – where the referent object is the individual. For individuals to be secure they must be assured a healthy life. A healthy life relies on an even broader set of security issues. Individuals should have access to clean water and air (environmental security), they should be physically safe

(personal security), they should have good food (food security) and also have access to a medical system (medical professionals and drugs) that can provide an adequate standard of protection against illness and disease. Poverty is a primary source of health insecurity and is linked to global economic activities that limit a state’s capacity to provide health security. Other factors, such as conflict, are also a direct source of health insecurity. Conflict is bad for people’s health (both combatants and non-combatants). We will expand on these issues next week.

The second perspective provided by Elbe is that of national security. States see poor health as a direct threat to their interest. Unhealthy people cannot contribute effectively to important functions like economic activity or agriculture (and by extension food security) . Unhealthy people are also likely to be less content with the regimes that govern them and are more likely to challenge those regimes. The health of people can be a target of attack against the state – either attacking the health infrastructure or the citizens of the states directly. Poor health and health crises have deep impacts on societies and the security of individuals within them. One troubling example of this can be found in the case of the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa. This crisis has killed millions of people (see UNAIDS for current statistics & trends on HIV/AIDS) and has had a devastating impact on remaining populations (e.g. large populations of orphaned children and stresses on grandparents trying to alleviate the impact on their families / communities). Consider the work of the Stephen Lewis foundation in this area (Areas of Work).

Covid-19, Pandemics and Security Studies

It is interesting to note that when teaching this class in 2019 (the same time our textbook was written) it was acknowledged that pandemics posed a threat to state and international security. However, outbreaks were either in the distant past (e.g the Spanish Flu 1918-20) or were seen as problems in other parts of the world as illustrated by the 2014-16 Ebola crises in West Africa. The 2014-16 Ebola outbreak saw 28, 616 cases and 11, 310 deaths in the three states most affected: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone (CDC). No other state had more than 20 cases and while there was fear about its spread to Europe and North America, there were only 7 cases on these continents (CDC).

Covid-19 drove home the potentially devastating impact of a virus that could be both deadly and easily transmissible around the globe. Read carefully the section on “Pandemic Influence” in the Elbe piece and especially the last paragraph (p.386-7). From this you get a sense of the uncertainty of leaders about the potential threat of a pandemic and the way to prepare to respond to it. Unlike other health threats the Covid-19 pandemic has been quick to spread, difficult to contain and deadly. By September 2021 the WHO puts the total number of Covid-19 cases at over 226 million with over 4.6 million deaths (WHO, September 16, 2021). The Covid-19 pandemic re-enforces the fact that new types of threats have become an important focus of security studies. The threat is not the result of an “attack” from another state – although that idea has circulated in public discussions. This is not to preclude the fact that in the future a biological weapon might not be used to attack a state. Despite this there are solutions that are focused on states. Canada recognizes that other states may do worse (or slower) jobs in addressing Covid-19 and travellers from those states should not enter Canada because of the “threat” that they pose. So, states have used border controls to protect their citizens. The referent object too is not the “state” exclusively. First and foremost, it is the citizens of the state who are being protected. However, linked to this, Covid-19 (and responses to it) have the potential to be a threat to the Canadian economy and society as well. So, Covid-19 is a different type of threat than traditional security threats. The Covid-19 pandemic has also illustrated state behaviour which can quite easily be framed as a “statist” approach reflective of a realist perspective. States have based their response on self interest, especially in terms of vaccine procurement. The strongest, richest and most powerful states have ensured that they have gotten vaccines more quickly than the poorer and less/ least powerful.

Providing Health Security

There are a variety of potential solutions to the issues of health insecurity. On one hand broad systemic changes at the global level that produce better life chances (and health security) are needed. This type of change requires international cooperation and coordination, through specific international organisations focused on Health (e.g. the WHO) but also IOs with broader mandates working on issues such as development (e.g. UNDP). This is part of the focus of Human Security that we will talk about in Lesson 5. Alternatively, there are often very specific efforts to address health security, like NGOs working on HIV/AIDS or Malaria in Africa. There is also a need to support the building of increased health care capacity in states – so they can provide for their citizens.

Lesson 5

Human Security and Humanitarian Intervention

The topics in this Lesson build on the shift in focus from national security to considering individuals as the referent objects of security. In the early 1990s, key actors in global politics made a concerted effort to redefine security. This effort was led by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and key states including Canada and Japan. In this Lesson we explore this shift and its impact on the study of contemporary security. 

The content of this Lesson also connects to the material that we will discuss in our next Lesson. The focus on human security ties very closely to the experience of insecurity in the Global South (Lesson 6). Lesson 6 explores ‘development’ as a response to human insecurity. It also considers post-colonial approaches that may help us understand the origin and persistence of human insecurity (and other types of insecurity) in the Global South. As a result, this Lesson is the beginning, and only a partial discussion, of themes we will pick-up in Lesson 6. 

One solution to human insecurity tried in the Global South is humanitarian intervention. In this lesson we also explore the development of humanitarian intervention and its impact on contemporary security.

Consider the fact that a baby born in Canada has an average life expectancy of 82 years while a baby born in Chad will live on average 54 years, an Afghani baby 70 years and a South African baby 64 (The World Bank). 

These are tremendous differences in how long a citizen of these countries will live. Between Canada and Chad the difference is 28 years, the difference with South Africa, 18 years. This raises the question of why? What is it that makes this difference? South Africa is a relatively poor country (consider measures such as gross domestic product per capita or broader social and economic indicators such as number of healthcare workers, education levels, rates of crime and unemployment / underemployment). While South Africans may be concerned about traditional security threats like war and the security of the State, more immediate threats to their health, personal security and quality of life come from other sources. These threats to the individual citizen (and their communities) are concerns of human security (HS). 

Human security is defined in the text as “[e}mphasis[ing] the safety and well-being of individuals, groups, and communities as opposed to prioritizing the state and its interests” (Text, 454). One State that has been a strong advocate of HS is Japan, which has defined the term “…as the preservation and protection of the life and dignity of individual human being. Japan holds the view, as do many other countries, that human security can be ensured only when the individual is confident of a life free of fear and free of want” (Japanese Foreign Ministry Official, 2000. Cited in Acharya, 2017: 482). The United Nations Development Programme’s 1994 Human Development Report that first introduced the idea of human security, defined it as “first, safety from such chronic threats as hunger, disease and repression. And second, it means protection from sudden and hurtful disruptions in the patterns of daily life – whether in homes, in jobs or in communities.” (UNDP 1994: 23). The report outlines 7 areas of security for the individual: 

  • Economic
  • Food
  • Health
  • Environmental
  • Personal
  • Community
  • Political

In these definitions the focus of security is on the individual and what they fear. Do they have enough food to eat? Do they have adequate shelter? Are they likely to be a victim of crime? Is the community they identify with (based on ethnicity, religion, gender or other characteristics), likely to be persecuted?

In Lesson 1, we considered that the referent object of security might extend beyond the state. As suggested, in the period after the end of the Cold War, contemporary security studies and security practitioners started to identify security concerns other than those faced by the state alone. It is in this period of the 1990s that human security received the greatest attention, although Persaud outlines the longer historical development, with which you should be familiar (Persaud, 151-153 and Background 10.1). 

Read the justification for the focus on HS in the quote from the UNDP’s report– it captures the idea we have been talking about: individuals may feel greater insecurity from threats to routine aspects of daily life than from the threats of international conflict.

A new concept of human security

For too long, the concept of security has been shaped by the potential for conflict between states. For too long, security has been equated with the threats to a country’s borders. For too long, nations have sought arms to protect their security. 

For most people today, a feeling of insecurity arises more from worries about daily life than from the dread of a cataclysmic world event. Job security, income security, health security, environmental security, security from crime—these are the emerging concerns of human security all over the world.

This should not surprise us. The founders of the United Nations had always given equal importance to people’s security and to territorial security. 

(United National Development Programme, Human Development Report, 1994: 2)

To drive home this point, consider what is contained in Box 2.1 on page 23 of the UNDP’s 1994 Report. In this text it is not states, international organizations or academics telling us what security means to them, it’s people on the ground. In these comments it is very clear that the speakers are concerned about their personal security. 

Human security—as people see it

How individuals regard security depends very much on their immediate circumstances. Here are some views of security gathered from around the world, through a special sample survey by UNDP field offices.

Primary school pupil in Kuwait

“I feel secure because I am living with my family and I have friends. However, I did not feel secure during the Iraqi invasion. If a country is at war, how are people supposed to feel secure?”

Woman in Nigeria

“My security is only in the name of the Lord who has made heaven and earth. I feel secure because I am at liberty to worship whom I like, how I like, and also because I can pray for all the people and for peace all over the country.”

Fourth-grade schoolgirl in Ghana

“I shall feel secure when I know that I can walk the streets at night without being raped.”

Shoe-mender in Thailand

“When we have enough for the children to eat, we are happy and we feel secure”

Man in Namibia

“Robberies make me feel insecure. I sometimes feel as though even my life will be stolen.”

Woman in Iran

“I believe that a girl cannot feel secure until she is married and has someone to depend on.”

Public administrator in Cameroon

“Security for me means that my job and position are safe and I can continue to provide for the needs of my family and also have something for investment and friends.” 

Woman in Kyrgyzstan

“Human security indicates faith in tomorrow, not as much having to do with food and clothing, as with stability of the political and economic situation.”

Secondary school pupil in Mongolia

“Before, education in this country was totally free, but from this year every student has to pay. Now I do not feel very secure about finishing my studies.”

Woman in Paraguay

“I feel secure because I feel fulfilled and have confidence in myself. I also feel secure because God is great and watches over me.”

Man in Ecuador

“What makes you feel insecure above all is violence and delinquency—as well as insecurity with respect to the police. Basic services are also an important part of security.”

(United National Development Programme, Human Development Report, 1994: 23)

In defining human security, you should be able to describe how it is different from approaches that focus on national security. This is discussed in Persaud, and summarized very effectively in Table 10.2 (Persaud, 148).

Key to the human security approach are the sources of insecurity. There will be debates about these sources and they will vary dependent on the context. However, there are a few points that are important: 

  • The state may be the source of insecurity. States may either actively persecute or repress populations, or they may not have the capacity to protect them from human insecurity. Alternatively, they may have the capacity, but choose not to address these problems. This position overlaps to a degree with the critical scholars we have looked at – although you can be concerned about human security without being a critical scholar. 
  • Broad and deep social, economic and environmental issues might cause insecurity: the composition of the economy, the environment, the system of global trade and financial investment, racism. Different theories of global politics will emphasise different factors. Some of these might be out of the control of leaders – such as natural disasters. Although one could argue that some states have better capacity to resist the negative impacts of disasters (e.g. Global North states are more capable of responding to climate change or a global pandemic than states in the Global South). 
  • Human security is often connected to international / global issues, especially the global economic system. Both the Laffey/Nadarajah and the Poku/Therkelsen readings for this Lesson detail arguments about the sources of these problems: global problems such as poor distribution of economic wealth, debt, and exploitative production cycles in the global economic system. This is not to preclude the role of states in contributing to these causes: poor choices by state leaders exacerbate the conditions that produce human insecurity. Solutions to these deep problems of the international system would require global changes to address the conditions that produce insecurity. Beyond human insecurity caused by international / global economic factors, international conflict also contributes to human insecurity. 
  • HS and traditional focuses on national security are connected. Conflict, especially prolonged / persistent conflict, can be de-stabilizing and contributes to human insecurity by producing ecological damage, health concerns and economic disruption. Furthermore, conflict makes it hard for states or the global community to invest in ways to prevent that insecurity. The relationship also goes the other way. Conditions of human insecurity (e.g political unrest, demands for protection) may lead to conflict (terrorism, civil war, international conflict). (Acharya, 489) 

Addressing Human Insecurity

States and international actors (e.g. international organizations and non-government organizations) have attempted to address the problems that lead to human insecurity. The problems that need to be addressed, as discussed above, can be varied and expansive: infrastructure; systems of governance; education; and economic systems / opportunities. One of the most targeted efforts has come from the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) that were expanded to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). These are discussed in the Persaud reading (149-150, esp. table 10.3). The MDG/SDG are a set of broad commitments (and specific actions to be enacted across a wide variety of global issues) to remove the conditions that produce human insecurity (e.g. ensuring clean drinking water, ending poverty and hunger, better health provision, protection of human rights, better environmental action, and access to work). To learn more about these steps you should look at the UN portal on SDG which outlines the goals as well as actions that have been taken on each goal. It should also be noted that since their establishment, the international community has made progress in achieving its MDG / SDGs. If you are interested, the UN provides an interactive dashboard that shows this progress broken down by each of the 17 SDGs both globally and for each country. This is supported by a full report that breaks down these numbers. 

The text also points to the development of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the redefinition of sovereignty through the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty which produced the Responsibility to Protect doctrine discussed below. In the case of the ICC, Persaud argues that the court, which is permanent, provides an independent means to prosecute violators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide – all threats to human security. This connection between the ICC and human security was on the minds of the advocates of the ICC . Indeed, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Lloyd Axworthy framed it this way in 1998, stating that “the international community is currently engaged in negotiations towards an agreement that would revolutionize our approach to human security and humanitarian law – negotiations on an International Criminal Court” (Balasco, 46-47).

Take a Moment Activity 5A: Critiques of Human Security

There are numerous important critiques of human security. Take a moment and list as many potential problems of the approach for dealing with contemporary security issues. Consider what those who study traditional security might say. In the end, do you think it is a helpful approach? 

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Human security is complex and often can only be achieved when deep and substantive problems within societies and economies can be fixed. Furthermore, solutions to those problems are themselves contested. For instance, there are debates about whether underdevelopment / lack of development, and by extension human insecurity, can be solved by neo-liberal policy prescriptions? This is a key question we will address in Lesson 6. 

Another criticism of human security has been that it does not address traditional security concerns focused on the state, and as a result it should be outside the scope of security studies. 

Persaud (153-155) outlines several sets of criticism you should be familiar with: 

  • The expansiveness of what falls under the term human security makes it too broad to be useful
  • Human security is promoted by certain actors, including Canada, because it serves their self-interests, including their security interests (154). In Canada’s case, human security fits within a system of diplomacy that advantages middle powers such as Canada, rather than for instance, great power rivalries, where Canada plays a secondary role.
  • Similarly, human security can be ‘co-opted’ for national security purposes. Persaud (154) argues that traditional security actors, like the military, have used human security as a contemporary / palatable label for more traditional concerns that threaten the state. For instance, Persaud points to efforts by states to identify security risk associated with cyber-security (154). Either way, it is clear that the use of HS is not straight forward and can be co-opted by the state. 
  • Human security and the prescriptions that flow from this approach are linked to the Liberal approach to global politics. Indeed, HS develops in the 1990s, the heyday of this approach. As a result, critics suggest that HS might serve the interest of powerful actors who promote a neo-liberal world. For instance, a key to providing human security is solving the underlying condition of poverty. Strong advocates have pushed for a more open (i.e. neo-liberal) engagement with the global economy for these states. This is a particular version of development, that while very popular (or at least dominant) in the Global North, has been critiqued for promoting the interests of powerful actors, especially economic actors. Indeed, we will read in Poke and Therkelsen (Lesson 6), how neo-liberal globalization might be a cause of human insecurity. 

While Canada was an early promoter of human security, its use of the term has been short-lived. Indeed, only the Jean Chrétien/ Paul Martin governments during 1993-2006, with Lloyd Axworthy as Minister of Foreign Affairs, 1996-2000, used the term consistently. After the election of the Conservative government in 2006, the use of human security as part of the government’s framing of foreign policy was stopped (Small, 1). In the 2021 Canadian federal election, the Liberal policy platform, which included a section on a “Principled approach to Foreign Policy,” doesn’t mention the term human security (Liberal Party of Canada, 65-68). However, many of the ideas proposed in this platform are consistent with the ideas of human security. It seems the term human security pushed a rethinking of security that has been adopted by states and the international community, but the term itself may no longer be explicitly used by states.

Finally, the question is whether we think the human security approach is useful. I think it has been. It has focused policy makers and academics on the ways in which individuals and communities are insecure. In part this is a reframing of concerns (e.g. poverty and its impacts) as security. However, this seems legitimate. Issues of human insecurity are often more immediate than those focused on by traditional security studies. While this does put a lot under the label of “security” it might force states and the international community to put a greater priority on these issues. All this being said, I don’t think we should discount the concerns of traditional security studies.

Take a Moment Activity 5B: How Theories Explain the Conditions of Human Security

Take a moment and identify how the arguments about human security fit within realist, liberal and critical sets of arguments about contemporary security. Which approach do you think the concept of human security most comfortably fits within? 

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Below are summaries of how, broadly, the theories we have discussed might link to the idea of human security. You may have identified other connections. 

Realist: For realists, a focus on human security could be dangerous because it misses the main concern of the state which is state security. Citizens of a state can only be secure if the state is secure. It is the responsibility of the state to ensure that its citizens are protected. However, what goes on within the state is the concern of the state, not the international community. Furthermore, policies focused on protecting human security are risky. Cooperation could lead to a dangerous loss of power that might disadvantage the state. This might include losses in its hard power relations (e.g. the relative gains of weaker states) or in its positions within international organizations (e.g. a lose of sovereignty to organizations like the ICC). Adoption of international norms (e.g. the Responsibility to Protect) are similarly problematic. The risk is not just to powerful states. For instance, states in the Global South that open themselves up to externa interference in the name of providing human security would undermine their sovereignty and security.

Liberal: Using liberal approaches, human security is desirable and can be achieved by pursuing policies advocated by these approaches and that produce international progress. Cooperation produces better life outcomes for the widest number of people, increasing the indicators of human development (see Lesson 6) and reducing poverty. This requires sharing the outcomes of international development and the promotion of interconnectedness and good governance at both the domestic and global levels. The result is more secure individuals within all states – the focus of human security – but also more peaceful relationship between states and across the global system. 

Critical: On initial consideration, human security does seem to fit with critical approaches – remember a lot fits under this umbrella. Human security is a broadening of the definition of security. It focuses on the individual and communities within the state. It also recognizes that the sources of insecurity can include the state itself, and the choices it makes. However, the concept of human security does not necessarily raise some of the central issues addressed by these approaches. Sources of individuals’ insecurity may be systemic problems, like poverty. The concept does not necessarily address the role of discourse and ideas, systemic power imbalances, exploitation, and the need to alter these systems to emancipate individuals from their insecurity. In short, critical approaches to security go further / deeper in their deconstruction of the underlying problem. Human security as imagined by the UNDP and in the thinking / responses of states’ does not go as deep as critical approaches would in addressing contemporary security. 

You may have identified other important ways the theories we have spoken about address issues of human security. In the end, the idea of human security fits most comfortably within Liberal approaches to contemporary security.

PO322 – Lesson Five

One very direct way to provide human security is through humanitarian intervention. Human intervention (HI) “refers to the use of military force by external actors for humanitarian purposes, usually against the wishes of the host government” (Bellamy and McLoughlin, 335). Humanitarian intervention can address needs like hunger / famine (e.g. Somalia in 1992) or in an effort to protect non-combatants from conflict within the state or persecution of certain civilians by the state (Yugoslavia, 1992). The 1990s, after the end of the Cold War, was a period of increased humanitarian intervention. In part this was pushed by the increasing hold of liberal ideas that focused us on the protection of individuals. Humanitarian intervention was rarely successful in this period. International forces were often not able to stop fighting or to deliver aid and, in some cases, barely engaged in areas where intervention might have been justified (e.g. Rwanda). c) Eliminating the use of prisons 

Responsibility to Protect

The text tells us that the conditions that demand humanitarian intervention are often the result of conflict originating from within states. This poses a significant problem, in that a cardinal principle of the Westphalian state system is the principle of state sovereignty. State sovereignty has been interpreted as preventing other actors from interfering in the domestic affairs of states even if it is though to be necessary to protect citizens. In response, at the end of the 1990s and early 2000s, there was a push by some in the international community to redefine state sovereignty in terms of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). The development of R2P is discussed more fully in the Bellamy and McLoughlin reading (342-347). For a background to the international effort to redefine sovereignty see Persaud’s discussion of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICIS) (Persaud, 148-149)

R2P reinterprets sovereignty, arguing that the right of a state not to be interfered in is limited. Instead, sovereignty is in part defined as a responsibility. The state has responsibilities to protect their citizens and in certain instances, when they fail to do so, the global community has a responsibility to provide that protection. The situations under which the international community has a responsibility to protect (and would justify intervention) are limited to “genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity” (Bellamy and McLoughlin, 343).

The Responsibility to Protect also involves actions other than military intervention, such as diplomacy (Bellamy and McLoughlin, 342-343). However, the direct connection between a new definition of sovereignty and humanitarian intervention is captured in the question raised by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in 2000, “if humanitarian intervention is, indeed, an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond to a Rwanda, to a Srebrenica -to gross and systematic violations of human rights that offend every precept of our humanity? “(Persaud, 149).

R2P is actually three related responsibilities that fall on the international community and its individual members states. There is a responsibility to prevent conflict and humanitarian crises, a responsibility to step in and protect citizens when prescribed, and a responsibility to rebuild after conflict and crises ends. 

Notice that this ties into a number of changes about security that we have raised in this Lesson: it is focused on the security of individuals within the state, not the security of the state. Also, implicit in the principle is the fact that the state may be the source of insecurity for citizens. Consider as well that military humanitarian intervention, undertaken against the will of states, often creates insecurity. The 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and 2003 invasion of Iraq have both been justified (at least in part) on humanitarian grounds (although neither case would meet the R2P criteria). Both conflicts produced large scale and long-term insecurity for combatants, civilians, and also the politics of the regions. In Somalia, intervening forces shifted from efforts to protect the delivery of humanitarian aid, and instead to fighting a war against opposition militias. In the case of Yugoslavia, the failure to use force to protect UN-established safe havens contributed to the death of unarmed civilians who were under UN protection in Srebrenica. Military interventions – even with the most noble of goals – are exceptionally difficult to conduct, especially as situations change, and often lead to further insecurity. 

The problems of humanitarian Intervention

Undertaking humanitarian intervention has proven to be very difficult and as a result also unpopular. As suggested, more insecurity is often caused by intervention, while the original goal of protecting civilians may not be achieved. The lack of success is in part due to operational problems. These include:

  • HI takes place in circumstances often that are very complicated and evolving. 
  • Under these situations it is hard to plan an effective exit strategy that ensures that the goals of intervention continue to be met after the intervenors have left.
  • Intervening forces have not had the necessary capacities and have been constrained by the rules of engagement.
  • Intervenors have not understood the complicated politics on the ground. This has included over-estimating how well intervening forces will be received by local populations. 

There are also political challenges to HI. The decision to intervene in another state can have domestic political implications. The publics of those states that undertake intervention on behalf of the international community (or some portion of it) have become unhappy with the cost of the commitment to these interventions, in terms of money, resources, and deaths of their own citizens. (and in some states, a part of the citizenry also may be from the place and have sympathies with the government – e.g. protests from Serb communities in Canada against the Kosovo campaign as they were Milosevic supporters).

Critics have also questioned the motivation for interventions. Humanitarian interventions have been accused of being used to serve intervening governments’ interests. More broadly, there have been critiques from Critical approaches that suggest that these interventions perpetuate Global Northern (or Western) interests by perpetuating systems (liberal democracy, human rights, economic development) that reflect the values of, and benefit, Global Northern states (or the elites of those states). Linked to this, the use of HI has been selective. In the 1990s the failure of the international community, led by the UN and its most powerful member states, to intervene in Rwanda to prevent genocide is an important example of this. The limited and problematic response of the international community (which justified intervention based on R2P measures) to the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government against its own people is another example. Alternative criticism comes from the realist who might argue that HI can only take place in weak states that do not have powerful allies. Review and be familiar with Bellamy and McLoughlin’s outline of the arguments against humanitarian intervention (340-342).

The support by many states for humanitarian intervention has lessened considerably since the 1990s. The problems outlined above have made it very difficult for states to agree on and justify the use of humanitarian intervention. Take for instance the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime in Syria. In August 2012, US President Obama declared that the use of chemical weapons would be a “red line” implying that some form of intervention in Syria would be needed should Assad uses these tactics. Advocates, including those from within the Obama administration, of intervention based on a Responsibility to Protect argued that the international community should react. However, President Obama was not able to get support either from Congress or from allies for action even after Assad used chemical attacks. A diplomatic approach using the UN to commit the Assad regime to not using weapons had initial success. This is evidenced by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons – UN Joint Mission established in 2013. This Mission removed chemical weapons from Syria by 2014 (OPCW). However, chemical attacks continued to be used by the Syrian government after 2014, suggesting the diplomatic approach was unsuccessful. In 2017, a UN resolution to apply sanctions on Syria was vetoed by Syrian ally Russia in the UN Security Council. In the end, the US and international community was unwilling to use force to intervene to prevent the humanitarian crisis, even if justified by R2P. For a timeline of events related to the use of chemical weapons in Syria see the Associated Press’ “Timeline of chemical weapons attacks in Syria.”

Take a Moment Activity 5C: Creating Security with Humanitarian Intervention. 

As you end this lesson, take a moment and make a list of the problems with the practices of humanitarian intervention. In addition to what we have spoken about above, look at examples provided in the Textbook in Case Study 22.1 (341) and Case Study 22.2 (345) and Case Study 22.3 (Libya). While HI (in theory?) might be a desirable tool of the international security to provide security, in practice it seems problematic. How would you propose overcoming these challenges? 

PO322 – Lesson Five

It seems reasonable that state leaders and the broader international community charged with the responsibility to provide security are focused on people. If states are secure, but people are not, what is the purpose of security? The human security approach gives us the opportunity to think about this focus as well as the criteria by which it can be measured. By recognizing the many ways in which the broad systems of domestic and global politics undermine human security, especially for those in the Global South, it also connects the study of security to these systems in important ways. In the next Lesson, we will continue to think about human security as a focus in the Global South.

The development of human security as a focus of contemporary security studies is important. It should be considered alongside national security approaches.



Lesson 6: Security Beyond the Global North

 In this Lesson we think about questions of contemporary security studies with a particular focus on issues outside the Global North (GN). 

One of the criticisms of the study (and teaching) of global politics, as well as traditional security studies, has been that not enough attention has been paid to questions of security in the Global South. This is part of the motivation of pointing to this subject here. If you want to explore the topic more, Laurier’s Department of Political Science does offer courses focused on the Global South and has professors for whom this is their field of expertise.

In this Lesson we will start by defining the Global South and considering the question of whether there is more insecurity in this part of the world. The Lesson then turns to the question of regime security an idea that has been thought of as particularly relevant to state security in the Global South. The Lesson next looks at how globalization (especially economic globalization) has had an impact on insecurity. Lastly, we consider Postcolonialism as a specific approach to understanding the insecurity of the Global South.

Countries in the Global North (GN) are centred in Europe, North America, and Japan. Geographically they are found in the Northern Hemisphere – with a few exceptions like Australia and New Zealand. However, geography is not their primary defining characteristic. GN are the richest countries, have “advanced” economies – first industrialized and more recently organized around service and digital economies. They have often exploited states in the Global South (GS) for resources (raw material and labour) and at times, across history, have politically and militarily dominated them. Global North countries often rank highest in indicators of quality of life (often measured by the Human Development Index) including levels of health, education, and personal security. 

The Global South is comprised of states that are relatively poorer and score much lower on the indicators of quality of life. People in the GS are more likely to be unhealthy, insecure, and poorly educated. Economies are often weak and perform much worse compared to those in the Global North. This can mean high levels of unemployment and poverty. States in the Global South often have less stable political systems. We will also consider in a moment, whether the Global South is less secure. 

These definitions are problematic and contested. First, they offer very broad generalizations. The reality is more varied. For instance, there are places in the Global South where there is a high concentration of wealth and conversely places of considerable poverty in the Global North. There is also the potential to make problematic assumptions that lead from these definitions of GN and GS. For instance, some might assume that states in the GN know what they are doing and have viable solutions while those in the GS are a mess (of their own making) and need to be fixed or “developed.”

The textbook glossary gives us an alternative and critical definition of the Global South that merits thinking about. It defines the Global South as: “[t]he section of humanity that consumes minimally and that is marginalized, uninsured, policed, and repressed. Northern states have substantial parts of their populations that are part of the Global South” (Text: 453). The argument here is that being a part of the Global South is not defined at the state level, but instead by the conditions of poverty and exploitation due to colonialism (or neo-colonialism of a neo-liberal world). You can be a part of the Global South in a rich state of the Global North. For instance, people living in poverty or marginalized communities such as Canadian Indigenous communities (consider the fact that many Indigenous communities in Canada have, for a very long time, not had access to clean drinking water. For details see Report 3 of the Auditor-General of Canada, 2021)

A critique of the arguments of GS within states of the GN, is to ask if the conditions and causes of “global southerness” are genuinely comparable between the experience of those in states of the Global North and the Global South. Linked to this is the question of whether there would be benefits to making a distinction between these two experiences of the Global South? Postcolonial approaches, discussed below, suggest that while there is considerable variation, broadly these experiences have important elements that are similar, and the approach might help us understand the conditions and solutions of the problems of the Global South.

The question could also be asked: where do other countries that don’t easily fit into these descriptions fall (e.g. countries in eastern European, Asia and others like China, India or Russia)? In the 1980s we might have talked about 1st (Global North) and 3rd (Global South) world states. Complete states were fitted into these categories. A third category, “2nd world” captured some of these countries in between. Our current labeling is, at times, limited and problematic – it doesn’t fit perfectly onto all states or communities. However, the more critical definition we have just described is better at capturing more of the nuances. States that don’t easily fit into Global South and Global North, probably have characteristics that fit into at least part of the categories. As need arises (e.g. if you are studying China and contemporary security) reflect on what aspects of China fit into a Global North description and which fit into A Global South description. You might also consider what doesn’t fit – and how these categories need to be critiqued and refined – or are found not to be useful at all. 

Is the Global South Less Secure?

On several measures – likelihood of international conflict, internal conflict and personal insecurity – the Global South ranks higher and therefore should be considered less secure. Consider data from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program on armed conflict (1946-2020), broken down by region. 

Figure 6.1. This is a graph that plots years (1946-2020) on the x-axis and number of conflicts on the y-axis (0 to 55). The graph is also broken down by regions represented by blocks of different colours. Those regions are Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. The graph indicates that Europe and the Americas have consistently had relatively few conflicts year over year (0-7) while Africa, Asia and the Middle East have each had consistently more (2-30). It also shows that for these regions the number of conflicts has increased over the period.

Figure 6.1. Uppsala Conflict Data Program, Charts, Pettersson, Therese, Shawn Davis, Amber Deniz, Garoun Engström, Nanar Hawach, Stina Högbladh, Margareta Sollenberg & Magnus Öberg (2021). Organized violence 1989-2020, with a special emphasis on Syria. Journal of Peace Research 58(4). Used under fair dealing. 

The highest likelihood of armed conflict can be found in the regions that are part of the GS (Africa, the Middle East and Asia). You should note (and might question why) “the Americas,” (i.e. North and South America) of which a significant number of states fit within the category of GS, have not experienced as much conflict. 

In terms of personal security, people in countries in the Global South also often feel the least security. Gallup’s World Poll measures peoples’ feelings of personal security and trust in their police forces to provide them protection. 175 000 people across 144 countries were asked four questions: 

  • “In the city or area where you live, do you have confidence in the local police force?
  • Do you feel safe walking alone at night in the city or area where you live?
  • Within the last 12 months, have you had money or property stolen from you or another household member?
  • Within the past 12 months, have you been assaulted or mugged?” (Gallup, 1)

Gallup finds that it is states in Latin America, the Caribbean and Sub-Sahara Africa that have the lowest regional scores (Gallup, 6). However, there are other interesting findings. For instance, Canada and the US ranked only one position (on a hundred-point scale) above the Middle East and North Africa, and below South East Asia (Gallup, 7)

So, in terms of traditional understandings of insecurity the GS does appear to be less secure and merits particular attention in a course on contemporary security studies. These are, again, broad generalizations of insecurity in the GN and GS, and they are subject to critiques. There are long periods of peace in areas within the GS and states who provide security for their citizens. Alternatively, there is considerable insecurity in states / regions in the GN, especially for people who might, using concepts / indicators like the HDI and human security, fit better into the category of GS. It would seem the divisions of GN and GS are more varied and complicated than these broader generalizations suggest. 

Take a Moment Activity 5A: The Global Peace Index

One other mapping of global security can be found in the Global Peace Index (GPI) run by the Institute for Economics and Peace, a global think tank. Click on this link Global Peace Index 2021. Take a moment and look at the map to see if our link between a state’s position (GN or GS) fits with our general conclusion of greater or lesser security. Then ask why the United States seems to challenge this. 

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A quick look at the map seems to confirm that countries in Europe, North America and areas of South East Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Japan are all more peaceful. Countries that fit in our definition of the Global South (e.g Africa, Eurasia and Central and Latin America) are less peaceful, although there is considerable variation. 

The United States does not do as well as other states in the Global North, and worse than many states that are found in the Global South. On the index the United States ranks 122nd, below the Republic of Congo (119th), Haiti (108th), China (100th) and Cuba (87th). Given these rankings we need to think about the measurements used by the researchers. The GPI has 23 indicators fitting into 3 broad groups: International and Domestic Conflict, Security in Society and Militarization. These three categories contain, and can be divided between, domestic and international variables. The GPI weights its indicators 60% toward domestic security and 40% towards international security. More details can be found in Appendix A of the Report. Below is a breakdown of the indicators from the report. Do you think these are good indicators of Peace / Security? 

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Figure 6.2. Institute for Economics and Peace, Global Peace Index 2021: Measuring Peace in a Complex World (June 2021) p.75. Used under fair dealing. 

The Global Peace Index uses these measures because they are measuring what they define as “positive peace.” Positive peace is defined as 

“the attitudes, institutions, and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies…[h]igh levels of positive peace occur where attitudes make violence less tolerated, institutions are resilient and more responsive to societies’ needs and structures create the environment for the nonviolent resolution of grievances.” (ibid, 61)

Negative peace is simply the absence of violence (ibid, 61). 

The US drops down the Peace Index ranking because of its high percentage of jailed populations as well as significant military capabilities, external conflicts, and its weapons trade. For some (and in contrast to the GPI) these latter points might be a source of security. This highlights the different understandings of security / peace and beliefs about how to obtain those goals. 

PO322 – Lesson Six

We read about Regime security in Andreas Krieg’s chapter, a particular feature of security in the Global South. Regime security is defined in the text as “[a] condition where the governing elite is secure from the threat of forced removal from office and can generally rule without major challenges to its authority” (Text: 460). The focus is on the security of the ruling elites and the institutions / systems of governance of the state, in short, the regime. Interestingly, regime has negative connotation, suggesting a less legitimate or unstable government and is normally used in the context of the Global South. Krieg argues “[r]egime security, as opposed to public security, is a phenomenon that describes the security challenges faced by regimes in the developing world which, unlike states in the global North are unable to provide inclusively for the communities living under their patronage” (Krieg: 207). A lack of regime security often corresponds to weak or fragile states. According to the text the definition of a fragile state is, although “…contested … unable to maintain law and order across its territory, have lost the monopoly over violence and cannot inclusively provide communities within its territory with public goods” (453). Weak states “…possessing one or more of the following characteristics: Infrastructure incapacity, evidenced by weak institutions and the inability to penetrate and control society effectively or enforce state policies; lack of coercive power and a failure to achieve or maintain a monopoly on the instruments of violence; and the lack of national identity and social and political consensus of the state” (464.)

Krieg outlines the factors that contribute to the insecurity of the regime: 

  • Structural insecurities: high levels of poverty, economic underdevelopment, weak borders and high levels of uncontrolled migration, resource competition and the presences of political violence
  • Weak institutions of governance
  • Regime’s failure to establish the ‘monopoly over the use of violence’ 
  • Failure of the elite in government and society to provide for the broader community
  • A system that provides security for specific groups rather than as a public good (i.e. something that all members of society should be provided with by the state equally, regardless of class, gender, ethnicity etc.) 
  • Higher risk of insecurity when public dissent can be linked to a clearly defined group (e.g. class, ethnicity, religion)

While these are some of the more immediate conditions of regime insecurity, we could also look to other deeper sources of weak and fragile states. One is the colonial legacy of these states that created institutions and systems that are not suited to the governance of these communities. Indeed, these governance arrangements often exploited sources of conflict for the benefit of colonial powers (e.g. favouring an ethnic minority to rule a country). Krieg talks about these issues in his chapter, and we will expand on them below when we consider another set of approaches that helps us understand security: postcolonial approaches. 

Another problem that contributes to regime insecurity is external interference in the affairs of these states. In the process of interference, external actors may prop-up regimes. Interference might include economic (e.g. process of economic globalisation, which for some is a form of neo-colonialism) or military interference (e.g. the Cold War) that might directly contribute to conflict and war. Even humanitarian efforts to improve the security of states are fraught with difficulties that can exasperate internal problems over both the short and long term (again, something we read about in Lesson 5). 

The fact that states are weak and fragile often contributes to the insecurity of specific groups within those states (who are seen as challenging the regime). Krieg tells us that conflict arises because those in power seek to consolidate their position by trying to divide populations into those who are for and against the regime. This is opposed to finding ways to accommodate difference within the state through a system of government in which the needs of all parts of the communities are met. For vulnerable regimes accommodation is very difficult. In response regimes reward those who support them, through a patronage system. This is a system based on a “network of exchange between the patron and clients, whereby the patron provides positive inducements of status, power, or material gain, and the client promises loyalty and commitment to the regime.” (Krieg: 212). The system spreads down through society with an understanding among loyalists of the “inequality between big man and lesser men. The ties usually extend from the center of a regime – that is from the ruler to his lieutenants, clients and other followers, and through them their leaders and so on” (Jackson and Rosberg 1982: 39 cited in Krieg: 212). 

Krieg also tells us that the regime might try to limit or repress the power of those who challenge it –often in violent ways. This repression contributes to an “insecurity loop” (209-210), where harsh reinforcement of the regime consolidates and builds opposition to the regime, making it even more vulnerable. Krieg uses the Assad regime in Syria to illustrate his arguments about regime security. You should be able to draw examples from this case to show your understandings of different components of these regimes. 

The solution according to Krieg starts with regimes building capacity so that they are not vulnerable. Key to this is establishing the legitimate monopoly of the control of violence, so that citizens see that control as fair and reasonable – rather than simply the power to coerce citizens. This goes hand-in-hand with efforts to remove underlying sources of grievances in the community. Grievances often include unfair distribution of economic goods and opportunities. The response is to ensure all groups have access to an economic livelihood, not just those who support the regime. Other concerns might be over a lack of political representation. Taking these steps necessitates a willingness to accommodate different groups across society. 

Regime security provides a different perspective on security within the state. It reinforces the connection between international factors (e.g. colonialism, international interference, international conflict) and domestic security. Regime security also has important impacts on issues of global security with the lack of regime security contributing to some of the most frequent cases of conflict across the globe. The main difference being that regime security seems most applicable to the states in the Global South. However, it is interesting to think through, whether there might be lessons (or warnings) for governments of the Global North. Are we so sure about the stability of our systems in the Global North and that we are substantially different? Take the example of the United States. There is evidence of increased institutional weakness (a definition of a weak state outlined in the definition above, see Text, 464). Some of the most basic and important US institutions – the judicial and electoral systems – have been undermined by a significant percentage of citizens – provoked by many of the country’s leaders (who sit in government) and the media, who question those institutions’ legitimacy. There is also evidence of a “lack of national identity and social and political consensus on the idea of the state” (Text: 464). The country is deeply divided and those in leadership have been increasingly less accommodating of different groups. Violence has been talked about as an option for people who feel the country is being stolen by “enemies of the state”. Indeed, the capital “event” of January 6, 2021, has been labelled an attempted coup. The US is not a weak or failing state measured by the standards discussed by Krieg, however, there are worrisome features. 

Globalization and Security

Globalization and development are understood to produce security in several ways and to have particular impacts on states and peoples of the Global South. We have looked at a number of these in the material we have covered so far in the course. We have seen how human security is linked to development: better economic performance of states provides the resources to invest in the infrastructure (e.g. hospitals, medical professionals, education facilities, teachers) that improve the lives of citizens. The reading by Poku and Therkelsen provides a very good overview of these connections that you should be familiar with. 

T.V. Paul and Norrin M. Ripsman in “Under Pressure? Globalization and the National Security State,” point to the “globalization thesis” outlining how globalization produces greater security. The argument is that globalization will lessen the likelihood of interstate war, see the decline in military spending and increase the role of NGOs and IOs in international politics. Globalization produces these results because of the following processes (which correspond to Liberal approaches discussed in Lesson 2): 

Economic interdependence

Globalization will produce peace as states increasingly are tied together economically. This makes conflict too costly. Furthermore, economic growth will advantage everyone making the desire or need to go to war lessened. 

Spread of democracy

The spread of democracy creates states who are less likely to go to war with one another. Democratic states are better equipped to resolve conflicts and to cooperate in the interests of their citizens. 

Developing global norms

The expanded commitment of states to norms of good governance and human rights will produce international relations that are more cooperative and peaceful. These relations will respect the needs of citizens. 

Transfer of loyalty from the state to the global

As the global level produces more peace and security for citizens (including things that are quite tangible e.g. human rights, economic development), those citizens will develop a more cosmopolitan outlook. States will see themselves as part of a broader community as opposed to one defined by the nation / state. Traditional security studies point to the centrality of nationalism to traditional conflict. This is something globalization will overcome. 

Take a Moment Activity 6B: Analyzing the Globalization Thesis

Take a moment and reflect on the globalization thesis. Make some notes responding to the following questions: Do you think that the processes that the globalization thesis describes are reflected in the reality of the last 5 years of global politics? Drawing on the material that we have discussed so far, what arguments can be made against this thesis? 

Click to reveal further discussion 

The answers to these questions are complicated and difficult to measure. On one hand you could argue that some elements of the globalization thesis seem to be correct. We do have less interstate conflict. As you might have seen in the reports on the Millennium and Sustainable Development Goals pointed to in Lesson 5, there has been progress from international cooperation and the work of states, IOs and NGOs across the globe. However, on the other hand there has been a rise of nationalist sentiment – especially worrying where it has become more mainstream in powerful states in the GN. Global governance and the acceptance of liberal international norms have slowed. There has also been a slowdown in the spread of democracy – both in its acceptance by new states and in the potential weakening of democratic institutions in established democracies. Together the “positive” trajectory of the globalization thesis seen in the 1990s has been more recently curtailed.

Interestingly, in their 2004 article, Paul and Ripsman argue that globalization had not lessened states’ commitment to military spending or their traditional concerns about national security. Indeed, we have seen this in several ways that we have explored state security in the course so far. First, we have discussed that states do continue to spend increasing amounts of money on both traditional and innovative security hardware and tactics. Also, we have seen that the rise of new, postterritorial threats, linked to globalization have justified states investment in security. In response to these new security threats, the state has probably increased its power not had it diminished. Finally, Paul and Ripsman argue that any perception of increased security over the past couple of decades is more likely due to the end of the Cold War and the global dominance of American hegemony, not globalization.

Consider other arguments made in the rest of this section

We can imagine other critiques of the globalization thesis by using other approaches that we have spoken about. Critical scholars suggest that globalization creates insecurity because its promises have remained unfulfilled. See for instance the positions of Beeson and Bellamy who argue “[t]he fundamental disconnect between the rhetoric of liberalism, democracy, human rights and security, on the one hand, and the reality of marginalization and disadvantage on the other, fuels a growing chorus of opposition to an array of processes subsumed under the rubric of ‘globalization’” (Beeson and Bellamy, 2003: 340). Poku and Therkelsen make similar arguments in the text that we have read for this Lesson using examples such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund structural adjustment programmes (Text p. 272-275). Here the critique is, among other things, about neo-liberal policy adjustments (e.g. decreased taxation and government spending, privatization, specialization focused on the export market) as part of particular form of economic globalization (neo-liberal versus a possible “social democratic” globalization for instance). Look at Table 18.3 of the Text to see the impacts of adopting neo-liberal policies. Poku and Therkelsen suggest that for states which have adopted these policies there have been adverse effects on the human security of citizens. Even if the intended process of liberalization, produces economic growth through destabilizing impacts (e.g. the shift from agrarian to manufacturing economies), this can hurt individuals and communities. See Poku and Therkelsen’s discussion of unsettling effects of neo-liberal restructuring (Text: 278). This links to another problem, as we have suggested, the weakening of the state. A weaker state is in a worse position to help citizens through these transitions. 

Take a Moment Activity 6C: Feminist critique of the insecurity produced by globalization

In Lesson 3 we considered Critical Feminist approaches to the study of contemporary security studies. From those approaches, how might Critical Feminists analyse the connection between globalization and security? 

There are many ways to answer this question. Some things you might have considered include: 

  • What are the impacts of significant economic change globally and within society on women? 
  • Does lessening the capacity of the state (e.g. less ability to collect taxes) as a result of globalization, and subsequently the state’s ability to provide social policy (education, health care, child care, pensions and other social protections) disproportionally affect women? 
  • Do new systems of governance (including ideas about gender roles) and economic practices introduced by globalization reinforce, challenge, or impose new power relationships that oppress or free women? 

Realists also have critiques of the globalization thesis. As we have discussed in Lesson 2, Realists argue that cooperation and reliance on others in an increasingly globalized world produces relationship of dependence and weakness. Furthermore, Realists believe it is more likely that we will compete over resources than learn to share them or share the benefits from them (see Lesson 8). 

Indeed, Poku and Therkelsen point to the fact that neo-liberal globalization has increased inequality within and between states (see 274-280) and suggest that this is a potential for insecurity. They argue that inequality can lead to resentment of those who are doing better, contributing to insecurity. States unhappy with their progress can become resentful of the global economic system. Citizens within states can also become unhappy, leading to nationalist sentiment (a cause of international conflict in the past) and anti-globalization blowback. Even in some of the richest states, such as the United States there are growing and politically powerful anti-globalization / populist movements by those who believe they have not done well because of these processes. Together, these reactions have created an increasingly unsettled global system, much different than expected by globalization scholars in the 1990s.

Another Important Takeaway:

There is one final idea about globalization and its link to contemporary security issues that is important and that feeds into the topics that we will discuss in future Lessons. Processes of globalization have opened states to the increased movement of goods, people and ideas. As states have facilitated these movements, this has also opened up avenues for the movement of new threats to the state (e.g. illicit goods, the unsanctioned movement of people who may pose risks). For instance, after signing NAFTA there was a significant increase in the legal movement of goods across the Mexico – US border. However, this has also made the movement of contraband easier. 

PO322 – Lesson Six

Postcolonialism gives us another perspective to understand the conditions that produce insecurity in the Global South. Postcolonialism is a critical approach, and as such reflects many of the positions on security that we discussed in Lesson 3. Furthermore, it is a broad umbrella under which there are different perspectives. This diversity is seen as a strength of the approach, since different oppressed people have varied and unique experiences of that oppression. Despite this, there are several common themes that run through these approaches that you should be familiar with and that are discussed by Laffey and Nadarajah. These include: 

A shared experience of imperialism 

A shared experience of imperialism. While not always the same, peoples outside of the Global North have a shared experience of imperialism. The practices of imperialism are often similar. For instance, the building of states and infrastructure in colonized spaces that: 

  • arbitrarily divided (or combined) communities. 
  • were built to consolidate colonizers’ power and control over an area.
  • are designed to extract resources from the space rather than serve the people in these spaces. 
  • supplant the existing economies, governance structures and cultures of people in these spaces. 

Opposition to the euro-centric approaches

Opposition to the euro-centric approaches to global politics and security studies. Across Postcolonial approaches there is a recognition of the euro-centric approach to security. Wealth and power are centre in the countries originating from and reflecting European ideas. Global systems are designed, run by, and serve the interest of those states / peoples. Laffey and Nadarajah tells us, more importantly, that eurocentrism is epistemic (see p. 127 and “Key Idea 9.1 Eurocentrism” on page 128). It doesn’t just shape the institutions but more fundamentally the ideas / beliefs about the correct way to run the world that reflect European thinking. 

Laffery and Nadarajah also speak directly to the issue of security. They argue that colonized people have experienced broadly, 3 types of violence (129):

Material Violence

In this colonized peoples have been physically hurt and killed in the process of colonization. 

Epistemic Violence

Epistemic violence attacks the thinking of colonized peoples. In this process the ideas, values, cultures, and languages of people have been destroyed. 

Structural Violence

In these process systems of governance (both the institutions and the ideas about appropriate roles and behaviours in society) are created to replace existing structures. These new structures are built to ensure the power of colonizing people and hurt colonized people and their life chances. 

The authors argue that contemporary security studies itself is a continuation of the process of imperialism. In their words “[v]iewed in postcolonial perspective, security studies is, and remains, an imperial field of study even or especially after it has been ‘broadened and deepened’” (Laffey and Nadarajah, 141). Postcolonial insights can be applied to our discussion of the connection between globalization and security. The structure of globalization is euro-centric (Global North-centric), imperial and exacts material, epistemic and structural violence on people of the Global South. Beyond this, the Text also discusses how Postcolonial approaches offer understandings of the development and use of nuclear weapons (Laffey and Nadarajah 136-141 and Key Quotes 9.1, Case Study 9.1 and Case Study 9.2). You should be familiar with these arguments. 

There are common solutions offered by Postcolonial approaches. Central to these is the need to challenge dominant thinking about security – in the words of Post -colonial approaches they need to decolonize security (see Laffey and Nadarajah, 135-141). The text defines the decolonizing process as:

“first challenging conventional understandings of security; second, challenging security studies as a field; and third, challenging the practices of security in the world. … the explicit aim is to contest or transform imperial or colonial fields of knowledge and wider relations of domination – social, economic, cultural and political – of which they are a part (Laffey and Nadarajah, 135). 

To accomplish this, the perspectives of those who have experienced colonization need to be heard by placing them at the center of security studies. 

Consider if and how you find Postcolonial approaches to be helpful in understanding contemporary security studies. These approaches do demand wider perspectives and in particular perspectives from those who have not been heard. To this end the approach seems helpful. Alternatively, adopting these approaches fully would be transformative of security studies – and whether this is necessary or useful will be subject to debate. 

PO322 – Lesson Six

Contemporary security studies have been criticized for not adequately exploring issues of security outside the Global North. The material covered in this Lesson as well as Lessons 3 and 5, have pointed to these issues, albeit still mainly from a Global North perspective. As you move forward, you might want to continue to consider focusing on issues of security outside the Global North. In our next five lessons we turn to specific contemporary security issues. In the next lesson we look at illicit activities in global politics and its impact on security. The conceptual and theoretical approaches we have developed so far in the course will be applied to these issue areas.

Lesson 7: Illicit Activities and International Insecurity

The material in this Lesson introduces new concepts and case studies that are central to the study of contemporary security studies. However, it also builds on and applies concepts and themes we have discussed earlier in the course. States increasingly are faced with the insecurity caused by transnational criminal networks. In this lesson we look at the causes of this increase, the challenges these networks pose, and the potential for states to respond to increased security. We then apply these debates to the cases of the weapons trade and the border region of La Sierra Tarahumara in Mexico, where many of the key debates of this lesson and the course get played out in the lives of individuals and communities who experience insecurity.

The text defines transnational crime as “[c]riminal activity that is conducted in more than one state, planned in one state but perpetrated in another, or committed in one state where there are spillover effects into neighboring jurisdictions. The phrase is often used more specifically to refer to transnational organized crime – crimes that cross national borders, are profit-driven, and are committed by a group organized for that purpose” (Text, 463). The measurement of transnational crime is difficult, given that it is often hidden from states. However, the United Nations has suggested that estimates of the size of illicit trade run between $650 billion and $3 trillion a year (UNCTAD, 2019) 

These activities are perpetrated by interconnected networks of criminals that cross international borders. You may come across different terms to describe these networks. In this Lesson we use the term transnational criminal organizations (TCOs). In this definition, these are criminal organizations of at least 3 people (see the UN definition of organized crime in Key Quotes 26.1, Trinkunas, 396). Another important feature, as the name suggests, is that they are transnational – operating across state borders. Finally, TCOs are characterised by the fact that they are networked – a particularly important characteristic that has been used (see below) to explain the success of these organizations. Trinkunas (396) defines networks, as being comprised of connected nodes. These nodes are actors (either individuals or individual criminal organizations) who perform some function towards accomplishing the goals of the network. This is opposed to a situation where a single organization does all the work (and receives all the benefits). 

An example of this can be seen in international human trafficking (discussed further in Lesson 11). There are potentially many criminal actors (i.e. nodes) working independently from one another at different stages of the process of trafficking people. At the beginning of the process this might include recruiters / kidnappers. At the end of the process this might include those who control, detain and exploit trafficking victims. In between there might be different groups who hold on to the victims for periods of time, transport them through countries and across borders, who bribe officials or who produce false documents. The act of trafficking may require the work of many different criminal actors along the way. Trinkunas tells us that in fighting TCOs, enforcement agencies try to identify and stop the key nodes. However, the networked nature of TCOs (and other transnational organizations like terrorist) makes this difficult to achieve. Often different nodes will not know who else is involved and might only be very tenuously linked (fulfilling some particular aspect of the TCO’s activities). As a result, connecting groups and prosecuting them, especially as they are often active in different state jurisdictions, makes this very difficult. 

Beyond criminals, transnational criminal activities might include otherwise legitimate actors. In short it is not just TCOs. Corrupt state officials may act in different ways (e.g. provide government documents or look the other way) to assist in the movement of illicit goods across borders. Also, otherwise legal business (e.g. Canadian tobacco companies) have been found to be complicit in transnational criminal activities (see CBC, 2008). 

Peter Andreas, a criminologist whose interests took him into the study of global politics, has spent a significant part of his career focused on crime and global politics. If you are interested, consider his text (image 7.1), co-authored with Ethan Nadelmann. Andreas provides us with a good outline of illicit behaviour. Consider his definition here: 

“The illicit side of the global economy includes the trade in prohibited commodities (such as heroin and cocaine), the smuggling of legal commodities (such as cigarettes) to circumvent sanctions and embargoes or to evade taxes, the black market in stolen commodities (most notably intellectual property theft), the clandestine movement of people (migrants, sex workers), the trafficking of endangered species and animal parts (ivory), and the laundering of money generated by these and other illicit activities (Andreas, 2011: 406)

It is interesting to note that in this definition, criminal activities might include the movement of legal goods to circumvent taxes or international boundaries. Look at “Backgrounder 26.1” (Trinlunas, 395) for a list of activities that the UN classifies as transnational crime. This is a comprehensive list, although there are some activities, like terrorism or aircraft hijacking that probably fit better under their own category. There are connections between TCOs and terrorists, as discussed in the textbook (Trinlunas, 400-401). Terrorists often use criminal actors and activities to support their own activities. Alternatively, a significant difference is that criminals are motivated by profit while terrorists are motivated by political goals. We will discuss this more in Lesson 8.

Figure 7.1. Image shows the cover of Peter Andreas and Ethan Nadelmann’s book Policing the Globe: Criminalization and Crime Control in International Relations. The cover images is of a section of the earth viewed from space with strands of barbed wire crossing it.

Figure 7.1. The cover of Peter Andreas and Ethan Nadelmann’s 2008 book Policing the Globe: Criminalization and Crime Control in International Relations. Used under fair dealing. 

Andreas argues that several of these activities are mere “law enforcement nuisances,” while others raise serious concerns in the public and threaten national security (Andreas, 406). It is not clear how black and white this distinction is. TCOs’ activities are often interconnected (e.g. document forgery is a part of human trafficking) and could contribute at some level to concern about security. Indeed, we might think of it as fitting on a scale from simple criminality to dangerous security threat. 

It is also important to note that transnational criminal activities are often interconnected. Demand for illegal drugs in the United States fuels the drug trade across the US-Mexico border which is controlled by Mexican cartels. Payment for those drugs often comes in the form of illegal guns trafficking back into Mexico from the United States. These guns in turn serve the needs of the drug cartels. In addition to this, the best means, routes, and vulnerability of borders to trafficked goods can be learned and applied to other contraband. Drug smugglers often use the same routes to traffic people across the US-Mexico border. 

In Lesson 6 we suggested that the process of globalization has increased security risks (this is raised again in the reading for this week (Trinkunas, 394-5). The case of illicit activities falls into this category. In 2003, in a piece for Foreign Policy entitled “The Five Wars of Globalization,” Moisés Naím made the connection between globalization and the rise and persistence of illicit activities across their borders that states were facing. His opening quote sets the stage, “[t]he illegal trade in drugs, arms, intellectual property, people, and money is booming. Like the war on terrorism, the fight to control these illicit markets pits governments against agile, stateless, and resourceful networks empowered by globalization. Governments will continue to lose these wars until they adopt new strategies to deal with a larger, unprecedented struggle that now shapes the world as much as confrontations between nation-states” (Naím, 29). The quote captures key points we have considered in the course so far: 

  • Illicit activities across borders, like terrorism, is a growing threat to states not bound by state territory – so a post-territorial threat
  • Globalization has contributed to the development of this threat
  • States, at least in 2003, were ill-equipped to fight this new “war” 

This last point, that transnational criminal organisations were better suited than states to winning these conflicts was based on a number of arguments. First, Naím argued that states were constrained by the need to respect sovereignty and borders while TCOs were not. Second, states were constrained by government budgets, thus limiting law enforcement capacity. Alternatively, TCOs were driven by a much greater motivation for their activities – profit. Finally, states were bureaucratic and relatively rigid in their decision-making, rendering flexibility and cooperation, especially across borders, difficult. TCOs are nimble and networked. 

Andreas (405) counters several of Naím’s arguments. He points out that the illicit economy, including its activities at the international level, is not new. Rather as the security context has changed (e.g. the end of the Cold War), security actors have contributed to the expansion / justification of their powers by emphasising new security threats. The “newness” of these threats is not clear, rather states might simply have begun paying more attention to them. 

Andreas also makes the point that states have not lost control in their defence of the borders to TCOs and that such arguments are “overly alarmist and misleading and suffer from historical amnesia” (405). In contrast he argues that states are powerful actors in that they “monopolize the power to criminalize” (Andreas, 409). Andreas argues that deciding what is illegal, and therefore open to the activities of criminal organizations is defined by the states. On the contrary, legalization of a commodity like marijuana can lessen criminal organizations’ activities in these areas. States have also increased capacities to respond to threats, including TCOs, as we have noted in Lesson 4 where we discussed how states have increased their powers considerably both at their borders and within the state in response to post-territorial threats.

Despite Andreas’ criticisms, some of Naím’s points also are compelling. There are very large profits to be made by TCOs. Furthermore, states are bureaucratic and constrained in the way they cooperate. Consider the 2011 Beyond the Border Agreement between Canada and the United States in which – in the words of the US Department of Homeland Security – there was a call for greater information sharing: 

Beyond the Border recognizes that today’s threats to our mutual security are global, complex, rapidly evolving, and sophisticated. As many of these threats require cross-border cooperation, greater information sharing between Canada and the United States is vital to enhancing our countries’ shared security (DHS, 2011)

While information sharing might be vital in combating TCOs and other post-territorial threats, it also is difficult and as a result may be slow and incomplete. For instance, states recognize – and critics have demanded – that states respect the rights (e.g. privacy) of their citizens. You have already read parts of the Report,  Protecting Canadians and their Rights: A New Road Map for Canada’s National Security, for Lesson 4. Later in that report information sharing is raised as an important concern (26-30). In past US-Canada security cooperation the Canadian state has made grave miscalculations along this security-rights nexus (e.g. Maher Arar). TCOs are not burdened with these types of concerns. In the end the picture seems mixed, and it probably continues to evolve as TCOs and states continue to innovate in the ways they battle with each other. 

In our textbook reading for this Lesson, Trinkunas (398-404) also addresses the impact of TCOs on states and security. He makes compelling arguments that TCOs can:

  • undermine state authority (398-400), 
  • evade state borders / controls (401), 
  • challenge state officials who are open to being bought off (402), 
  • undermine democratic stability (402)
  • undermine economic stability (402)
  • undermine the ability to protect the environment e.g. illegal logging, toxic waste dumping, trafficking in animals (402) 

Where TCOs are successful at circumventing state control it seems that they do have a negative impact on security. 

Take a Moment Activity 7A: Linking TCO and security

Take a moment and consider what we have said about TCOs. Make a case for how TCOs threaten national and human security. 

There are many ways to consider how the activities of TCOs are a threat to security. Here are some general ideas. You might want to consider these in specific cases such as discussed throughout the rest of the lesson: 

  • National Security. TCOs challenge state authority and control. If states aren’t in control of their borders and what happens within them, their security is in jeopardy. TCOs engage in activities that hurt either the state or its citizens. TCOs may contribute directly to destabilizing processes within the state (e.g. drug trafficking, internal conflict, terrorism) 
  • Human Security. TCOs often engage in activities that directly harm the lives of individuals such as drug use, human trafficking, personal violence and living in spaces that are subject to instability and weak judicial systems / protection from the state. The UN suggests that illicit trade has direct and detrimental effects on meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals which we discussed in Lesson 5 (UNCTAD, 2019) 

Responding to TCOs: How to produce security

Responding to TCOs is difficult for many of the reasons that we have discussed; TCOs are often networked, quick, adaptable and driven by profit, while states are constrained. Despite this, states have options. On one level, states can try to increase their individual resources to produce security. They might increase police capacity or change the judicial system to be quicker and to deliver more severe sentences. States need to be cautious though, as these responses could produce unintended consequences that hurt populations more broadly. Consider Case Study 26.1: Targeting criminal organizations: trade-offs and unintended consequences (Trinkunas, 405-406). These arguments also fit with some of our discussions about the over-extension of states’ powers in Lesson 4. Alternatively, states could try to stop TCOs gaining access to their territories by increasing their powers at their borders. However, TCOs have been successful at adapting to new measures. Consider innovations used along the US-Mexico border such as underground tunnels with a rail system (BBC, 2020) or ‘narco-submarines’ (Suárez, 2021) for moving contraband across the border. 

While states may try to address TCOs on their own, a significant challenge comes from the fact that, by definition, they are transnational. In response, international cooperation may be more effective. We will see below that the international community has cooperated to limit the trade (and illicit trade) in weapons. The UN has also promoted cooperative responses through the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). This organization addresses a wide range of TCO activities by promoting cooperation and agreement, raising awareness, conducting research and building capacity within states. International cooperation on fighting crime is a challenge. States are often unwilling to work collaboratively on issues of security, as we discussed in Lesson 2. However, when it does serve their interest, in can be very effective. For example, Trinkunas (404) points to the USA’s use of anti-crime efforts as a part of its strategy to protect the USA against future potential terrorist attacks. Another option is for states to have more limited and targeted cooperation with trusted allies. For instance, Canada participates in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance which is, amongst other things, focused on TCOs’ activities (Public Safety Canada, 2021). In these smaller groups the level of cooperation to address common TCO threats is likely to be more effective (with increased trust, common interests, and practices of cooperation) than broader efforts seen in the UNODC.

States are likely to employ a combination of these options in their responses to TCOs

Take a Moment Activity 7B: Responses to TCO and their Activities:

Take a moment and consider the discussion of how states have responded to TCOs and their activities to provide increased security (Trinkunas 404 – 407). Note which responses reflect the policies of Liberal theorist and those that reflect the Realist. What are their limitations? 

There are a number of ways to think about how actions may be assessed as realist vs. liberal. One could argue

Liberal: The responses that focus on international cooperation, such as through the UNODC, fit within a liberal response. They might be helpful where broad agreement can be found or by producing information, developing capacity, or developing international treaties. They are limited by the need for broad cooperation and where support (especially political and financial) is lacking. 

Realist: Responses that rely on individual state action or cooperation between allies fit more comfortably within a realist response. These responses might be limited (especially for any states other than the most powerful) by the fact that the threats are transnational. 

You have been asked to read Suzette Grillot’s chapter on the weapons trade for this Lesson. This topic addresses two different themes for our course. The first is the role of conventional arms in producing state security. If these weapons are necessary, they need to be produced and traded. How this is effectively controlled is important. The second theme connects directly to this Lesson and the impact of TCOs on the movement of illicit goods – in this case weapons across borders.

Weapons trade and state security

We have discussed the importance of the role of weapons to ensuring state security. In particular, our discussion of WMDs in Lesson 2 raised questions about the production, effectiveness and proliferation of weapons. Similar questions are raised about conventional weapons. States believe that appropriate (e.g. innovative, capable, meet tactical needs) weapons are necessary to ensure states’ defence. To acquire these weapons, states can build these tools themselves or obtain them through trade. Grillot’s chapter outlines the historical development and contemporary trends in the weapons trade (Grillot, 365-369, see also Tables 24.1 and 24.2 on page 368) with which you should be familiar. These trends include: 

  • the increased size and importance of the weapons trade including the weapons that are traded (e.g. how innovative or impactful they are), 
  • shifts in the types of clients buying weapons
  • increased government efforts to control the trade 

It should also be noted that the weapons industry and trade is not just a function of providing security for states but is also a significant source of profit. Grillot points out that in 2015, the global arms trade was $89 billion (Grillot, 367). In Lesson 2, we raised the idea of the Military Industrial Complex, which pointed to the potential influence of such a powerful industry on political decisions. In this case of the weapons trade, this influence becomes relevant in the concerns raised below. 

For those thinking about security in the Global South, it is interesting to note that over 80 percent of weapons sold in 2015 were to countries in the Global South. On one hand (e.g. from a realist perspective), it could be argued that increased weapons in these regions might produce greater security. Alternatively, it could be argued that these weapons will fuel existing conflict in the region, support internal repression of populations by authoritarian regimes, or direct much needed investment in human security producing infrastructure (e.g. health, education, justice or environmental) towards weapons hardware instead. All of these have implications for security. 

Controlling the weapons trade is both desirable and difficult. States want to control the trade of weapons because they don’t want weapons to fall in the hands of enemies or a future enemy who uses those weapons against them. There are also normative justifications for control such as the desire not to supply weapons to countries (that might be allies or at least recognized as acceptable trading partners) that might increase the violence in foreign conflicts we don’t agree with (e.g. Saudi Arabia in Yemen, see CBC, 2021) or against their own populations (Saudi Arabia, see CBC, 2021). In response, states can make their own decisions (a question of often intense domestic political debate) about who they trade with or they can engage in international cooperation to control the weapons trade. A key method to do this is through export control agreements with other states. According to the Textbook, export controls are “a legal and regulatory measure to monitor the shipment of sensitive, particularly military related, items out of one country and to another country or customer that may be a security concern” (Text, 453). Through these agreements states limit and monitor things such as what military goods can be traded and to which actors / states. The Canadian government is required to report to Parliament annually its processes as well as the specifics of its export of military goods. There is a lot of interesting information in these reports. If you are interested you can see the details of the 2020 report here: 2020 Report on Exports of Military Goods from Canada. Grillot (372-375) outlines some of the national and international efforts to control the weapons trade and their weaknesses – you should be familiar with these. 

Governments are not the only nor necessarily the best body to monitor the weapons trade. One non-government organization that has been very active in providing research and reporting on the international weapons trade especially in small weapons, is the Switzerland- based Small Arms Survey. If you are interested in the weapons trade, you should have a look at their work. One area of research that is particularly relevant to the topic of states’ legal weapons trade is the Trade Transparency Barometer that ranks the openness of states’ small arms /light weapons trade. This includes an interactive map for 2021 that shows, interestingly, that Canada rates in the middle of the pack for transparency and worse than the United States and Britain. The most transparent country is Germany. To further understand this ranking, you should look carefully at the indicators used to rank these states. 

Illicit weapons trafficking and insecurity

The illicit arms trade fits within this Lesson’s discussion of illicit actors as a security threat. Indeed, quoting Naim, Grillot states “[i]nternational crime syndicates operate all around the world, and with such crime comes violence. International crime, therefore, has contributed to and fuelled the need for an illicit arms market” (Grillot, 370). The illicit arms trade is the other side of the legal weapons’ trade. Efforts to circumvent states’ control of weapons produces the very profitable illicit arms trade (Grillot, 369). Central to the illicit weapons trade are small arms,defined as “[f]irearms that are relatively small and light and can be easily managed and used by an individual. Small arms typically include weapons such as handguns, rifles, machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenades” (Text, 461). Small arms are more easily trafficked because they are easier to conceal and transport as well as the fact that they are readily available – 875 million of these weapons are available in any given year, according to Gillot (369). The illegal small arms market is estimated to be worth $1.7-3.5 billion (Gillot, 369). Grillot outlines several key processes through which small arms (often legally produced) become an illicitly traded commodity. She also outlines how significant they are in producing individual insecurity (369-372). We know that they fuel existing conflict. 

One example of this is provided by Stewart M. Patrick and Isabella Bennett who discuss the impact of small arms and their trafficking on the violence in Mali (Patrick and Bennett). In this instance, increased violence in Mali in 2011, is attributed to the fact that the small arms originating in Libya were trafficked into Mali to fuel conflict there. The authors are particularly critical of the NATO intervention. This intervention has been deemed by many, especially from NATO states, to be a model of a successful intervention. According to Ivo H. Daalder, former U.S. Permanent representative to NATO, and James G. Stravridis, former Supreme Allied Commander Europe and Commander of the U.S. European Command, the intervention was a success because it accomplished its goals quickly, was relatively inexpensive, had minimal casualties and no allied casualties (Daalder and Stravridis). Patrick and Bennett argue that by not having NATO troops on the ground, large numbers of weapons from Libya entered the illegal arms trafficking network and contributed to a significant increase in conflict in Mali. These authors also argue that western policy makers should have been aware that this was likely to happen given that “[a] surge in the illegal arms trade is common in post conflict scenarios…” (Patrick and Bennett).

It is clear from the reading that the illicit firearms trafficking feeds into various forms of insecurity. It contributes to conflict and instability as well as undermining states’ control of their borders and even authority within their territories. This in turn leads to human insecurity for people on the ground. Controlling illicit firearms trafficking would go a significant way to addressing these sources of insecurity. However, like illicit activities more broadly, accomplishing this will be difficult. 

PO322 – Lesson Seven

For this Lesson you read the article by Daniel Weisz Argomedo, about the region of La Sierra Tarahumara See Map 7.1. This region (the green area of the map) lies approximately 200 kilometres from the US border (the grey area on the map) in the north-west of Mexico. The territory is dominated by the Sierra Madre mountain range and is a conservation interest of the UN given the pressures on its biodiversity (UNEP, 2019). Our reading also tells us that it is the home of vulnerable Indigenous people, the Rarámuri. As an aside – although an important one – Argomedo’s text is not a very good example of effective academic writing. It is an example of how not to write an academic piece. Its weakness comes from the fact that it is very descriptive. It is not organized around a specific literature or theoretical arguments about security. Furthermore, it’s not effectively structured. For instance, its main point (which is about the impact of climate changes) is not introduced until the conclusion. However, it does provide us with some important insights that are both connected to ideas we have already made in the course and to new ones.

Take a Moment Activity 7C: What does the Article tell us about Security

Take a moment and consider how the case study of La Sierra Tarahumara connects to important themes of the course. Write a short description of three connections that you can identify. 

There are several different insights that connect the article to themes of the course. You may think of ones that I haven’t mentioned here. However, here are a few links you might consider. These include connections that we will address later in the course:

  • The article provides a description of varying levels of insecurity in the region especially felt by the Indigenous people who reside there. In Lesson 3 we learned about the lack of attention in contemporary security studies to Indigenous peoples’ experiences of insecurity.
  • It is evident from the reading that the Indigenous community’s Human Security (the focus of Lesson 5) has been threatened. This includes the rise of health insecurity (Lesson 4), food insecurity, environmental insecurity, processes of land displacement, forced movement from the region, personal violence, economic hardship and poverty as well as the forced recruitment of the population into criminal activities. The author also points to the fact that this includes the forced recruitment of children – whose study in contemporary security we also discussed in Lesson 3. 
  • The processes of globalization, especially economic interconnectedness, produce insecurity for those in the Global South, which is a focus of Lesson 6. Consider how the Rarámuri fit this description. The text tells us that changes to the Mexican constitution, required by the North America Free Trade Agreement, liberalized the rules around land ownership (Argomedo: 86). This has led to commercial logging companies pushing Indigenous populations off their land – contributing to those peoples’ human insecurity. The idea of the “hyperborder …[defined by]…the complexity and high level of both licit and illicit trade” introduced by John Sullivan is also significant (Argomedo: 82). Liberalization of the Mexico-US border, and the proximity of the La Sierra Tarahumara region to the economic powerhouse of the United States, raises the levels of insecurity caused by TCOs operating in the area. 
  • A post-colonial approach (introduced in Lesson 6) or other critical approaches (introduced in Lesson 3) might also help understand the case. These approaches might focus on the historical development and impact of deep economic, political and normative structures that put the Rarámuri in a position of insecurity and exercise power over these populations. They might speak to the need to challenge these structures, and to provide space for Indigenous populations to tell their own stories of insecurity and develop their own path to security. 
  • Economic security (e.g. ability to make a living) and resource security (e.g. land, food) are both focuses of Lesson 8 and are central concerns of this case. When we consider these topics in Lesson 8 you should think about how Argomedo talks about economic and resource security. 
  • Central to this lesson is the role that internationally networked criminal actors play in the La Sierra Tarahumara region. The text tells us that TCOs have come to dominate the region affecting the insecurity of the populations there. These TCOs have taken advantage of the security problems outlined above (e.g. economic insecurity) and contributed to greater insecurity (e.g. human insecurity). Their activities and conflict with both the Mexican and American states also show they have challenged national security in new ways. These are traditional security concerns (Lesson 2) that come from post-territorial threats (Lesson 4). In particular, the Mexican state is fighting for control and authority over its own territory while the US government is concerned about controlling its borders and the threats that come from beyond it. The advantages that TCOs have, and that Níam identifies, apply here too. Mexican drug cartels are networked, are relatively unconstrained by border or bureaucratic thinking, and are driven by very large-scale profits. 
  • Not mentioned in this article specifically, we also know that the illicit weapons trafficking is an important component of the Mexico-US drug trafficking system. Mexican cartels often take payment for drugs in weapons smuggled south across the US-Mexico border. These weapons increase the power of drug cartels and the violence experienced by Mexicans. For more information see: United States Accountability Office, 2016.
  • The case shows the impact of environmental insecurity, and the process of climate change. These are significant problems of contemporary security studies, an argument to which we return in Lesson 8. Furthermore, the case shows how climate change affects people (especially populations in the Global South) on the ground in very real ways. In particular, in Lesson 8, we will discuss how environmental insecurity is a “threat multiplier” making other situations of insecurity much worse. Argomedo outlines this in his conclusion. He highlights how climate change has increased the human insecurity of the Rarámuri as well as intensified the competition between large companies, TCOs and the government, over decreasing amounts of usable land. 
  • Finally, it should be evident from the case that sources of insecurity often overlap and reinforce one another. At the center of this is the argument that climate change makes Mexico’s and its peoples’ insecurity from TCOs worse. For those of us who study contemporary security an interdisciplinary approach might be useful. 

The case study of the La Sierra Tarahumara provides very useful insights to the various levels and interconnectedness of insecurity. You should be familiar with the case. 

PO322 – Lesson Seven

In this Lesson we have connected the theories (e.g. liberal and realist) and concepts (human and national security) to the security threats posed by illicit activities of TCOs. These topics capture the challenges of post-territorial threats, a key feature of contemporary security issues. We will continue to consider these types of challenges as we address other security issues in the upcoming Lessons. 

Before you move to Lesson 8, don’t forget to complete the short quiz (instructions below).

This quiz will be open book. Once you have started the test you will have 20 minutes to complete it. The quiz will consist of 2 questions that ask you to engage critically with debates we have dealt with in the course so far. You can choose to take the quiz at any point during the week of Lesson 7 up to and including day 7. For exact dates see the “Due Date Document.”

Each answer should be at least 100 words long. 

Do post-colonial approaches contribute to our understandings of insecurity in the Global South? Discuss.

Through revealing the historical foundations of current issues, post-colonial approaches greatly advance our understanding of insecurity in the Global South. As noted in lesson 6, these perspectives explore the long-lasting effects of colonialism on power relations, resource distribution, and social structures, shedding light on how historical injustices continue to influence current fears. Through a variety of discussions on globalization and security in the Global South, the course materials in Lesson 6 examine how post-colonial approaches shed light on the long-lasting effects of colonialism on power dynamics, resource allocation, and social structures. Daniel Argomedo’s article highlights the persistence of colonial legacies by highlighting the numerous security threats that indigenous communities face as a result of historical marginalization and land dispossession, as demonstrated in the case study of La Sierra Tarahumara. Post-colonial examinations, which advocate for structural change and inclusive approaches to security as covered in lesson three, provide complex insights into the intersecting dimensions of insecurity by elevating marginalized voices and challenging dominant narratives. Therefore, by placing current issues within the context of historical processes of colonization and resistance, post-colonial approaches contribute to our understanding of insecurity.

In the struggle between states and Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs), describe the argument that TCOs are better equipped to win. Do you agree? 

Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) possess inherent advantages that enable them to effectively challenge state authority and security measures. As outlined in the course materials, TCOs exhibit agility, adaptability, and a profit-driven motivation that surpasses bureaucratic constraints faced by states this is mentioned in the reading by Andreas; Trinkunas. TCOs exploit globalization to navigate borders, evade law enforcement, and engage in diversified illicit activities, undermining state control. This is further discussed in the Foreign Policy, “The Five Wars of Globalization,” by Moisés Naím “. In this reading, Naim made the connection between globalization and the rise and persistence of illicit activities across their borders that states were facing.While states have bolstered security measures, TCOs’ flexibility and transnational reach pose persistent challenges. Thus, TCOs’ advantages in mobility and flexibility often overshadow states’ efforts to combat organized crime, underscoring the complexity of contemporary security threats (Lesson 4). Therefore, I agree with the argument that TCOs are better equipped than states to navigate and exploit the evolving landscape of transnational crime.


Lesson 8: Economic, Resources and Environmental Security

 Getting Started

Key Terms / Concepts:

  • Anthropogenic 
  • Climate change
  • Climate apocalypse
  • Common security
  • Economic security
  • Energy security
  • Energy diversification
  • Energy independence
  • Energy-security nexus
  • Environment
  • Environmental security
  • Extractive industries
  • Pipelines
  • Resource security
  • Threat-multiplier
  • For the purposes of this course, I have put the topics of energy, resources and the environment together. These topics could have been addressed separately. So, in addition to the way we discuss them here, you should think about these topics independently and how they might link to other issues. However, as they are addressed here you should be able to see that they are linked in interesting ways too. After this lesson you should be able to identify a number of ways these issues connect to security and to push beyond these to make connections other than what we already have spoken about as you deal with these topics in the future. 

We have discussed some important connections between economics and security in the course so far. For instance, we have seen debate amongst the theoretical approaches about how economic interconnectedness produces / doesn’t produce security. This is played out most clearly in our discussion of the globalization thesis debate. Alternatively, we have thought about how poor economic conditions – especially in the Global South – are a significant contributor to underdevelopment and human insecurity. In our last Lesson we saw the importance of illiciteconomies as a contemporary security issue. Many of these themes are present in our discussions here. Our discussion in this Lesson builds on and refines our understanding of economic security and provides us with additional concepts to help explain this area of contemporary security. 

Broadly we can think of economic security in three ways. First, economic security can be thought of as a part of national security. States need a stable and effective economy to help them consolidate their power. A strong economy makes strong states who have the capacity and ability to address other elements of insecurity. For instance, the state can invest in national defence or border security. It might also use that capacity to invest in the healthcare system, producing greater health security or in its ability to mitigate or adapt to insecurities produced by environmental insecurity. Economic security is achieved by making sure the components of the economy are secure. These include currency, the banking system, markets and economic actors (and their subsequent components). These components can be challenged by a number of threats / actors, including, amongst others: illicit actors, cyber-threats acts, violence and political / social instability. 

A second aspect of economic security is the international economy. In a globalized world, states’ economies are international. International economic exchange, investment, trade and supporting systems, such as transportation routes, need to be secured to ensure that the global economic system produces wealth for states, communities, and individuals. This ties closely to the globalization thesis we have discussed. There is also considerable debate here, as we have seen. Critical scholars provide useful insights about the global economic system and its role in producing insecurity for larger portions of the world’s population. Others, of course, argue that globalization has been key to providing security (see for instance, Jagdish Bhagwati’s In Defence of Globalization, 2004). There are many potential risks to the global economy. These include TCOs, disruptions because of conflict, resource scarcity, political disruptions / change (think about the impact of Brexit on the British economy) and recently due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the case of the latter, the pandemic has resulted in supply chain disruption which has hurt the international system, national economies and individuals’ ability to work (Deschamps, 2021). It is also interesting to note, post-pandemic, that some commentators see the effects of climate change having similar and potentially worse negative effects on supply chain security (Rockeman, 2022).

A third way of thinking about economic security ties very tightly to the idea of human security. In this case, economic security is about the security of the individual and their communities. Do individuals have access to secure jobs that provide them with the economic resources to live? At this level, the lack of economic security can be devastating for individuals, often requiring choices that are exceptionally difficult around buying food, shelter, medicine, and educational opportunities. Economic security as human security can extend beyond the individual to community (defined by race, status, gender and others). Communities’ economic security can be targeted with broader impacts on security. Consider the following examples: 

  • Access to jobs could be limited by your nationality, race or religion, furthering grievances of communities defined by these identities. In this way, economic security could be tied back to national security. As we discussed in Lesson 5, human insecurity can lead to national security. In Lesson 6, we spoke about regime insecurity. Human insecurity caused by economic insecurity is likely to worsen grievances that challenge regimes, states and exacerbate inter-state conflict.
  • Access to jobs could also be limited based on your status. For example, individuals seeking refugee status in a foreign country may not be permitted to work. In this case, state policy that dictates the terms of employment produces insecurity in that migrants may not have enough money to support their family. That insecurity could be increased if you need to turn to the illicit economy. 
  • Gender may also limit your access to work and the independence that comes from this. These sources of insecurity vary from:
    • restrictions on women securing jobs dominated by men (or to their persevering with jobs where they might endure sexual harassment and violence)
    • severe restrictions on women in society, 
    • unpaid work. 

The causes of insecurity also vary. While often institutionalized in laws and practices as well as serving the interest of certain actors, it is the ideas about women’s role in society that might be the more important source of insecurity. Both Constructivist and Feminist approaches would be useful in thinking about this source and the impact of insecurity. 

You can see from this discussion that we can think about economic insecurity in a wide variety of ways.

Take a Moment Activity 8A: Economic security in contemporary security 

Take a moment and identify cases where economic security interacts (i.e. is at a ‘nexus’ with) other security concerns. Make a list of at least two connections and describe them. 

When you have considered your response, click to reveal my thoughts. 

There are lots of ways that economic security interacts with other security concerns / decisions. Here are two examples for you to consider, in addition to the ones that you have thought about. See if in your examples you have made similar connections to the ones identified here or have been raised in the readings for the lesson. 

Example 1: Economic and Border Security along the Canada-US border. The success of the Canadian and American economies depends in part on the quick movement of goods across the Canada-US border. This has become a problem when the movement of goods is slowed down or stopped for security reasons. Two important examples are the closing of the border after 9/11 to secure against further terrorist attacks, and the closing of the border during the Covid-19 pandemic, an issue of health security.

Example 2: Economic Security and Human Rights / Human Security. States (and indeed companies based in their jurisdictions) have felt pressure from publics to stop working with countries that commit human rights violations – even if those countries supply resources that are essential (or at least are perceived to be) for the economy. Deciding what to do pits human security against economic security. Consider the decisions of Canada to trade with China, its third largest trading partner measured by both exports and imports (Office of the Chief Economist, Table 1.2) but also a known human rights violator. 

Lesson about security from economics: Theory and policy responses

The study of economics also, potentially, provides useful insights into the way decisions about security are made in the political realm. Shiffman’s text starts by outlining an understanding of decision-making drawn from the field of economics. You have probably come across this before. Indeed, some of the theories we talked about at the beginning of the course are based on this (e.g. realism and liberalism). In short, actors are rational, they make choices to best achieve their goals. Their responses are often constrained based on what they know about a situation (e.g. what will happen after they make their choices), their capacity to do things (their power), the institutions within which they operate (e.g. laws) and the time frame, for instance, the payoff of a decision (e.g. is the goal long term economic development or short-term electoral gains). Shiffman argues that this understanding is important for global security stating that “[k]nowing something about human nature, we can better articulate our observations, anticipate peoples’ actions and reactions, explain significant security events … and influence global security” (255). Shiffman provides a good overview of this approach which you should understand (257-259). This understanding of decision-making is important for thinking about security. It allows those who study security decisions to explain and predict (cautiously) the types of decisions that decision-makers make. As mentioned, this is important for theories like realism. As we know, Realists explain state behaviour by identifying security goals and showing the most appropriate decisions a state might want to pursue to achieve those goals. 

Shiffman also points to economic policy instruments available to decision-makers when pursuing security. These tools change calculations for decision-makers who are on the receiving end, the target state, of these policies. These work as a deterrent (or incentive) that reflects our discussion in Lesson 2. Decision-makers of the state using these policies also must make calculations. For instance, committing aid to another state might strengthen relations and give leverage over a receiving state. However, there are costs both economically and politically for making these choices. Shiffman outlines four specific examples of economic tools states can use: Sanctions, Trade, Finance/Investment and Aid with 4 good case studies (17.1, 17.2, 17.3 and 17.4) to illustrate his argument. You should be familiar with these.

There has been considerable debate about the effectiveness of these tools in the academic literature that you can explore if you are interested. Economic sanctions have gained particular attention. They can be ineffective because they are often cheated (with links to our discussion of the illicit economic actors in Lesson 7) or impact disproportionally the wrong people (e.g. publics and the poor rather than elites and decision-makers, or disproportionally affect women). This can be fixed by better targeting sanctions (e.g. freezing the foreign assets of decision-makers and elites in a country).

Other shortcomings of economic instruments go some way to illustrating a problem of the use of economic theory as a guide to explaining decision-making. Consider the example of sanctions. In this case the thought is that when you use sanctions you will make life uncomfortable (increasing the cost) for decision-makers in the target state. In turn this will change their behaviour (e.g. stopping the development of nuclear weapons). However, this is dependent on opponents responding in a way that “makes sense” or is predictable. Instead, those affected might respond in other ways, driven by feelings such as resentment. Resentment is an idea that affects behaviour. As such, it might be better studied using a constructivist approach. Responses, driven by resentment might see actors behave in a way that absorbs or even increases the “cost” or punishment of sanctions. For instance, a community that resents the harsh impact of sanctions might not comply to end them. Instead, angered they might increase their resistance to get back at the sanctioning state who they see as the enemy. This might include actions (e.g. fighting) that make their condition worse rather than better. Similar misunderstandings of how actors will respond apply to events like humanitarian intervention; states may intervene thinking that the population will see them as liberators when in fact they are resented. In the end, economic theories as described by Shiffman may need to be balanced by considering the insights of other approaches. 

Resource security is an important component of economic security. The ability to secure access to resources necessary to feed production of goods demanded (and necessary) in a state’s market is an important component of that state’s security. Resource security can also be thought of very broadly: from food supplies, to water or access to oil. The process of acquiring resources can affect security in different ways. Sometimes economic resources are an asset to states and can be used as a tool to ensure the state’s security. States may use their oil resources as leverage against states that don’t have those resources. However, having resources can also make states a target for other actors (e.g. states, TCOs) and increases their vulnerability. Finally, you should also be able to read this discussion of resource security and connect it to our discussion of both human and national security as well as ties to other security issues, especially environmental security that we are focusing on in this Lesson. 

Some of the most important resources are those that are necessary to meet a state’s energy needs (e.g. heat its houses, fuel its transportation networks, run its industries). Due to this, energy security is a central part of states’ security concerns and global politics. Raphael and Stokes define energy security as existing:

when there are energy sources large enough to meet the needs of the political community (the energy demands), which include all military, economic and societal activity. Those sources must be able to deliver such quantities of energy in a reliable and stable manner for the foreseeable future. As soon as these conditions are not met, there exists a problem of energy (in) security (Raphael and Stokes, 351). 

Raphael and Stokes tell us that the challenges of meeting energy security occur at the intersection of demand, access, and distribution. The demand for energy – especially oil – is at the core of our economies in the Global North. As communities develop in the Global South, dependency on these energy sources becomes an even greater problem, even before we talk about the environmental insecurity that this might cause (see below). The problems of demands are heightened by the issues of access and distribution. Energy sources are not equally distributed across the globe. Crude oil is found in only a very few states. Thus, access to those resources needs to be negotiated, fought for, and/or protected. When acquired, how it is distributed across the globe produces similar conflict. 

Competition over energy sources contributes to state and global insecurity. States use foreign policy options, including invasion and war, to gain access to oil resources that are not equally distributed globally. Raphael and Stokes suggest this is a feature of the energy-security nexus“whereby energy security becomes irretrievably entwined with the foreign and security policies of both the established and rapidly ‘rising’ states” (Raphael and Stokes, 352). The potential for conflict is significant. Indeed, mirroring the language of the realist, the potential insecurity of the competition over natural resources has been likened to an arms race: 

…the energy equivalent to an arms race to secure control over whatever remaining deposits of oil and natural gas are up for sale on the planet, along with reserves of other vital minerals. This resource race is already one of the most conspicuous features of the contemporary landscape…a voracious, zero-sum contest that, if allowed to continue along present paths, can only lead to conflict among major powers.” (Michael Klare, 2008:30 cited in Text 354)

It is clear that energy security is a significant issue for states, driving their foreign policy. The United States is the key example discussed by the authors and is an example with which you should be familiar. The need for oil has made the US vulnerable to oil producers and contributed to its foreign policy decisions. In response, the US has sought energy independence, a strategy that sees states lessen their dependence on (i.e. vulnerability to) foreign sources of energy. The text also talks about energy diversification, where increased reliance on a greater variety of ways energy might be produced and used (e.g. hydro, electric gas-powered vehicles) or where energy comes from (e.g. Canada) is part of the strategy to being less dependent on foreign oil. The goal is to diversify away from sources that might cause you foreign policy problems (see Raphael and Stokes: 360-361 and Text: 452). 

It is interesting to think about whether Canada is defined as a foreign source of energy for the United States. In terms of supply of oil, Canadian oil has been defined at different times as within the USA “national” energy supply and at other times outside of it. This difference changes the role of Canadian oil supply for US energy from an asset to a risk, and therefore affects US security interests in Canada differently. Canadian leaders should think carefully about this perception. 

To illustrate the points above, look at the following two sources which contain interesting graphs of states’ energy demands and supply. The first two sources are from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). The first shows the rise in US imports of oil (the green line) from the 1950s to the mid-2000s and then a steep decline to 2021 (EIA, March 2021). This suggests a recent push towards energy independence. The second graph shows that the United States’ import of crude oil from the Persian Gulf and the rest of the world has decreased since 1995. It also shows that during this same time Canadian crude oil has increased both as a percentage of US oil sources and in overall volume (EIA, 2015). From this we can see that the USA has come to depend on Canada, to a significant degree, for its oil supplies.

Knowing what you do about meeting energy needs for security, you should also be able to think about its importance to large states like China and India who have been going through rapid economic development. Consider how their need for energy security affects their foreign policy.

Transporting Energy Resources

Acquiring access to resources is only a part of the potential security risk raised by resources. Consider the importance of the transportation systems necessary to deliver these resources, especially pipelines. Map 8.1 shows the pipeline system used to transport natural gas from Russia to the European Union. In that map, dating from 2009, five of the eight pipelines move through Ukraine. In 2009, Russia was the source of 25% of the EU’s natural gas with 80% of that being transported through Ukraine (Gow, 2009). This makes Ukraine a focus of geo-security concern. Russia and Europe are dependent on Ukraine, and its stability and willingness to allow that gas to be transported through its territory. Russia has also used the EU’s vulnerability to its advantage in its relations with Ukraine. For instance, can the EU push back hard on Russian behaviour in Ukraine if the EU relies so heavily on Russian natural gas to heat its citizens’ homes? These security issues have been an important part of the Ukraine-Russia-EU relationship that continues to be a point of contention into 2022 (McHugh and Isachenkov, 2021). As a result of this, like the discussion of “energy independence” above, the EU has pursued new routes of less geostrategic significance, to get natural gas to its citizens. 

Map 8.1. Map showing an area of central and eastern Europe and parts of central Asia. The map is divided by states with Ukraine in the middle. It also demarks the EU in green, and Russia in red. Across the map are red lines representing gas pipelines and dotted red lines representing proposed pipelines. Significant to our discussion is the fact that five of the 8 current pipelines move from Russia to the EU through Ukraine.

Map 8.1. Natural gas pipelines from Russia to Europe, by Samuel Baily (own work). 2009. Retrieved from Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA 3.0 . 

Pipelines are not the only issues of energy transportation. Trade roots also effect the delivery of natural resources (and other goods, linking back to international economic security discussed above). Consider the history of the Suez Canal, from the 1956 Suez crisis to Somali “pirates” as an example of an important trade route with economic and national security implications. 

Take a Moment Activity 8B: Oil vs. Water Conflict 

Water is a vital resource and key to human survival. In the Barnett and Dabelko reading on the environment they point to the potential for conflict over water (see Case study 16.1, p. 242). Do you think scarcity over water and conflict are similar? Are they likely to produce conflict in the same way? 

When you have considered your response, click to reveal my thoughts. 

As suggested in the Barnett and Dabelko case study, water scarcity could produce (and indeed has in the past produced) conflict. However, there are arguments that these are different from the reasons for conflict that arise over oil. In particular, conflict is usually very localized and related to a specific water resource (e.g. the use of the Nile). Jan Selby unpacks these differences (Selby, 2005). He argues that for the most part water is available across the globe. Where it is not, it usually can be found or acquired. Consider, for instance, desalination plants used in Israel and their potential for reducing tensions over water in the region (Jacobsen, 2016). Technical innovation is a part of the story that reduces conflict. In the case of oil and petroleum-based products, Selby tells us, they are a part of so much of our modern capitalist lives – from industries to transportation and beyond. While vital, Selby suggests that because they are finite, unevenly distributed across the globe, and not easily substituted, they are the source of conflict across the global system. States compete to secure these resources in contexts that are not the same as those produced globally by water scarcity. 

Extractive Industries and Global North-South Relationships

The extraction of resources is also a feature of the Global North-South relationship that produces insecurity, the focus of Lesson 6. Colonization produced conflict between colonizing states in the pursuit of resources. Colonization contributed to the violence of decolonization and post-colonization instability, linking directly to problems of regime insecurity that we spoke about in Lesson 6. It also hurt the human security of colonized peoples in the land where resources were extracted. Consider Raphael and Stokes’ discussion of the link between energy security, human security and the Global South in the textbook (p.355-358). Consider the Interim report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises. In this report, its author John Ruggie states: 

The extractive sector – oil, gas and mining – utterly dominates this sample of reported abuses with two thirds of the total … The extractive industries also account for most allegations of the worst abuses, up to and including complicity in crimes against humanity. These are typically for acts committed by public and private security forces protecting company assets and property; large-scale corruption; violations of labour rights; and a broad array of abuses in relation to local communities, especially indigenous people. (p. 8. Emphasis added). 

This threat has been a significant problem for Canadian mining industries. In one prominent case former miners working at a Nevsun Resource (a Canadian company) mine in Eritrea alleged human rights violations of forced labour, slavery and torture (Anderson, 2019). The violations are a part of Eritria’s program of “indefinite military service and forced labour” run by the Eritrean government, a known human rights abuser (Human Rights Watch). The question for Nevsun was whether its leadership knew of these practices and the company benefited from them. In 2020, the case was settled out of court, suggesting that Canadian companies needed to be more careful about their practices overseas (Brend, 2020). For those interested in global governance, and the protection of human security outside the country where human rights violations take place, the case is also important. It suggests that actions or inactions (e.g. the failure to protect workers) of Canadian companies overseas can be tried in Canada. This might be considered an extraterritorial form of justice – extending beyond the jurisdictions where crimes take place and part of an important development in global governance. 

If you are interested, Chris Cleave’s novel Little Bee explores several themes that are directly connected to this Lesson and topics of security dealt with in the course. I would encourage you to read this and think about these themes. However, I would also warn that it describes disturbing events, including sexual violence and suicide. 

Figure 8.1. Image shows the cover of the 2009 Canadian edition of Chris Cleave’s book Little Bee. The cover image is of a black silhouette of a person’s head on a solid orange background. In a calligraphy style is the name of the book, “Little Bee.”

Figure 8.1. The cover of Chris Cleave’s 2009 book Little Bee (Canadian edition). Used under fair dealing. . 

In this text there are two main characters. The first is Sarah, a magazine editor from London, United Kingdom (UK) who takes a last-minute vacation at a resort in Nigeria where she encounters a girl in fear for her life. The second is the girl, “Little Bee” whose story is one of immense insecurity as she flees her village, travels to the United Kingdom and spends time in an UK Immigration Detention facility. Much of the book features Sarah’s reflection on her personal relationship with Bee and the wider world in which they reside, side-by-side but often with very different experiences. Part of the reflection for the reader is focused on the impact of the extractive industries in Nigeria and states like it. Consider the following passage where Cleave gives Bee’s thoughts on the impact of crude oil on her and her community when Sarah needs to stop to fill-up with gas.

A country’s future is found in its natural resources. It is my country’s biggest export. It leaves so quickly through our seaports, the girls from my village could never see it and they could not know what it looks like. Actually the future looks like gasoline. I discovered this when I was reading the newspapers in the detention centre, and finally I made sense of what had happened to me back home. What had happened was, the oil companies had discovered a huge reserve of the future underneath my village (180) …

The gasoline flowing through the pump made a high-pitched sound, as if the screaming of my family was still dissolved in it. The nozzle of the gasoline hose went right inside the fuel tank of Sarah’s car, so that the transfer of fluid was hidden. I still do not know what gasoline truly looks like. (181)

Take a Moment Activity 8C: Resource Extraction and Insecurity

Take a moment to reflect on the quote above. What do you think is the point of the author when he refers to the fact that the “transfer of fluid was hidden”? How might this connect to our discussions in the course about security? 

When you have considered your response, click to reveal my thoughts.

You may have come up with other interesting insights. I think Cleave is getting to the point that we don’t see or think about the harms done by the products that are produced by the extractive industry. Certainly, Sarah (like myself) doesn’t reflect on these concerns every time she fuels up her car. Interestingly Bee also suggests the people in her own village, girls like herself, don’t understand the impact of the extractive industry on them. 

An important insight of critical approaches to security studies is their effort to make us aware of (i.e. to be conscious of) the negative impacts of global processes. The argument is that by being aware of these problems we are more likely to be mobilized to make change. I think Cleave’s writing here helps make that point. 

If you get the chance to read the novel, you might consider how it connects to the following themes of the course: 

  • critical approaches to security including a gendered analysis of security
  • global North-South and security
  • resource security, 
  • human security and human rights
  • immigration, refugees and border control
  • the relationship between individuals and the state as a factor of insecurity 

The environment has been one of the most significant concerns of the 21st century. We could teach a whole course on environmental security. The fact that it is only given a third of a lesson might suggest that its importance has been underestimated. It hasn’t been. In other parts of the course, we have thought about how the environment overlaps with, or contributes to, contemporary security studies. It is a part of human security, while contributing to sources of national insecurity. In the case of drug trafficking discussed in Lesson 7, we have seen how it can contribute to greater insecurity. Environmental change also contributes to insecurity by producing environmental refugees, a focus of Lesson 10. One of the features of environmental security that we will talk about here is that it makes other security problems worse. 

Including environmental security in this Lesson makes sense. The environment ties into issues of economic, resource and energy security. The way we have built and grown our national and global economies has had negative impact on environmental security. The energy we need to fuel those economies and the extractive industries connected to it do the same. Using our reading for this week you should be able to describe these connections. In the rest of this Lesson, we will look at only a few but important ways to think about environmental security. When you move beyond this course you should be able to apply our discussion of security to your study of the environment. 

As always, it helps to have a clear definition of the area of security we are talking about. The text defines environmental security as “[t]he assurance that individuals and groups have that they can avoid or adapt to environmental change without having adverse effects” (Text:452). The environment is defined as “…the external conditions that surround an entity, but it can be more accurately defined as the living organisms and the physical and chemical components of the total Earth’s system (Boyden et al 1990: 314 cited in Text, 239). In these definitions, where change in the environment takes place, individuals and communities are secure if they are not negatively impacted. They can avoid being negatively impacted by either preventing change or being able to adapt to it. In this latter case some states may have greater capacity to adapt to these changes. Changes in the environment can be separated into natural and anthropogenic(e.g. industrialisation) understood as changes causes by human activities. 

Environmental change, often for the worse (i.e. degradation), is not new. Barnett and Dabelko give a helpful overview of the development of the connection between the environment and security (Barnett and Dabelko, 236-239). You should be familiar with this. You should also recognize the many types of environmental impacts that have potential bearings on security. Much attention has been on the focus of climate change, however there are other specific impacts.

Take a Moment Activity 8D: Environmental Degradation and Security

Take a moment and make a list that connects environmental degradation to insecurity. Label what types of security these represent.

When you have considered your response, click to reveal my thoughts. 

There are many connections you could have made. Here are a few that you might have identified:

  • Pollution of water threatens access to drinking water or food – a source of human insecurity 
  • Deforestation threatens food sources, homes, and cultural practices – a source of human insecurity
  • Flooding of large territories for the purpose of hydroelectric production forces the wholescale movement of people and the breaking-up of their communities – a source of human insecurity
  • Unsustainable overfishing removes important food sources for local communities – a source of human insecurity
  • Unsustainable overfishing removes important source of employment for local communities – economic and human insecurity
  • The past use of landmines (an effort to secure national security) makes land uninhabitable or unsafe – a source of human insecurity
  • Global warming is making parts of the Arctic more accessible to resource exploration (exploitation?), extraction, competition and conflict (economic and national security). 

We can think of environmental issues as having direct impacts on individuals. For instance, in the small island states of the South Pacific, sea-level rise is threatening fresh water and usable land. In a very direct way these states and their peoples are threatened. Environmental impact is also thought of as exacerbating existing problems. Our discussion of La Sierra Tarahumara in Lesson 7 is a good example. Scholars and practitioners often use the term threat multiplier to describe these processes. The UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) has called climate change an “ultimate ‘threat multiplier’” defined as “aggravating already fragile situations and potentially contributing to further social tensions and upheavals” (UNEP). In short, social, economic and political problems, up to and including conflict, which on their own are very problematic security issues, are made even worse through the added pressure of climate change. 

Both the textbook reading by Jon Barnett and Geoffrey Dabelko, as well as Wilfrid Graves’ reading, give us a very good overview of the many and varied connections between the environment and security. You should also be able to see how environmental change impacts both human and national security.

Environment-National Security Nexus: 

Environmental security as national security is important because it ties a recently understood risk to traditional concerns of security. It also demonstrates that state leaders do see climate change as a “real” security problem. States have begun to give the topic this level of priority. Consider that in 2020, US President Joe Biden, for the first time, established a seat on the National Security Council devoted to climate change (Bidgood, November 24, 2020).

Militaries, those responsible for providing security in a traditional context, also recognize the threat posed by climate change. Consider the following introduction to a US Department of Defense response to climate change: 

The Department of Defense (DOD) has identified climate change as a critical national security issue and threat multiplier … Climate change will continue to amplify operational demands on the force, degrade installations and infrastructure, increase health risks to our service members, and could require modifications to existing and planned equipment. Extreme weather events are already costing the Department billions of dollars and are degrading mission capabilities… Not adapting to climate change will be even more consequential with failure measured in terms of lost military capabilities, weakened alliances, enfeebled international stature, degraded infrastructure and missed opportunities for technical innovation and economic growth (Department of Defense:3)

Our textbook reading has specific sections that unpack the importance of the environment to national security and to militaries (Barnett and Dabelko, 243-246). It also includes a discussion of the importance of the “greening” of states’ defence departments, which have traditionally been a significant source of environmental damage (see Barnett and Dabelko, Think Point 16.2 page 241). You should be familiar with these arguments. 

The Environment and Canadian National Security

Thinking about Canadian national security has also been impacted by environmental change. This is demonstrated by the December 2021, CBC headline which read “A cold war in a hotter world: Canada’s intelligence sector confronts climate change” (Tunney, December 28, 2021). In the article the author points to national intelligence leaders’ concerns about the impact of climate change on conflict, migration, and activities in the Arctic. For those actors, climate change increases the likelihood of the impact of these issues on Canadian security. As a result, Canada’s intelligence agencies need to know more. The article also references a new report (see image 8.3) on Canadian national security and climate change co-authored by Simon Dalby – a professor from Laurier. If you are looking for additional information about the topic, this would be a good place to start.

Figure 8.2. Image shows the cover of Simon Dalby and Leah Lawrence’s 2021 report, Climate Change Impacts on Canadian National Security. The cover image is split by a jagged edge between a red and dark blue section. In the red section at the top is the title of the report. In the blue section at the bottom is a dark outline of industrial smokestacks

Figure 8.2. The cover of Simon Dalby and Leah Lawrence’s 2021 report, Climate Change Impacts on Canadian National Security. Used under fair dealing. . 

In our reading for this week, Wilfrid Greaves also addresses the issue of Canadian national security and climate change. Greaves provides a good overview of the science behind climate change. He outlines how the human security of Canadians is currently being directly affected by climate change. This discussion focuses on the direct impact on Northern and Indigenous communities. You should be familiar with the details of this impact and be able to describe it. 

Greaves also outlines climate change’s potential impact on public national security in four ways: 

Economic security

The economic cost (linking again to the discussion at the beginning of this Lesson) of climate change for Canadians and the state (e.g. climate related insurance claims to damage to fishing industries). Interestingly Greaves also points to the potential economic cost to Canada’s oil and gas industry if there are global reductions in the demands for these products (Greaves: 190-192). 

Arctic security

This includes disruption caused by environment change (e.g. loss of glacial ice, permafrost, new invasive species and wildfires). It also sees potential challenges to territorial sovereignty and competition for resources as waterways are opened in the north (Greaves: 192-4). 

Humanitarian pressure

As climate change increases there will be increased demand for Canadian intervention overseas, putting stress on Canada’s military. The Canadian state is also likely to be pressured by increased flows of climate induced human displacement and migration (Greaves: 194-6). 

Domestic conflict

Greaves points to a number of sources of increased domestic unrest, potentially violent conflict and terrorism in response to climate change and government responses. These include radical protests of a lack of policy change to a perceived over reaction by populist / conservative groups (Greaves: 196-201). 

Environmental Security: Politics and Discourse

Environmental security, and especially climate change, has taken a very prominent place on the publics’ agenda, especially in countries of the Global North. (This is not to preclude the fact that people in the Global South are reacting to earlier and potentially more immediate / devastating consequences of climate change.) This is interesting given that the problems that climate change pose have been known for over two decades. Part of this might be because little significant action has been taken to limit or reverse the causes of climate change. Another factor might be the language used to set the public / political agendas. In particular, climate change has been framed as a global security risk, in very severe terms. Consider image 8.3, a climate protest that labels the risk of climate change as climate apocalypse. This framing signals that the security risk is so great that it will result in the end of the world. 

Figure 8.3. Image shows youth protesters marching down a street. They are holding a variety of posters including one that reads “Youth vs. Apocalypse,”

Figure 8.3. “San Francisco Youth Climate Strike – March 15, 2019” by Intothewoods7 (own work). Retrieved from Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA 4.0. . 

There are several interesting points to consider in framing the case of climate change as a security issue. First, it is a “common security” issue as discussed by Barnett and Dabelko (240-1). In this way it is an issue that goes beyond individual states and is global in nature. We have already discussed i the idea of post-national threats. The threat arises from beyond the state and the referent object is also much broader: the globe, people, and other living organisms. However, there is also an element of the current framing of climate security that blames adults, past generations, and economic development for the problem, which will hurt the young and future generations. 

A second interesting point relates to the importance of the discourse used in this framing and how it plays into the politics of security. We have spoken about the process of securitization in Lesson 3. Securitization might help us understand the way climate security is framed, and its implications. Climate change has moved from a non-issue, to a political one. It could be argued that becoming framed as an apocalyptic problem pushes the issue into the realm of being securitized. The implication is that there is no room to counter this framing (i.e. the problem is existential) and there is no room to challenge what we are being told are the requirements in response to the problem. This is an unpopular interpretation, although this is not to argue that climate change is not a serious problem and one that needs to be addressed. However, shutting down debate about how to respond to climate change can produce negative outcomes. For instance, there are arguments about the need to address other security issues, which could be overlooked given the focus on climate change, that are more pressing for some populations globally. 

Figure 8.4. Image shows the poster for Adam McKay’s 2021, Film Don’t Look Up. The poster is a light cream colour with large block letters spelling out the title. The block letters are filled with images of the actors in the film all looking up.

Figure 8.4. The poster for Adam McKay’s 2021 Film Don’t Look Up. Copyright: Netflix. Used under fair dealing. . 

Consider the film Don’t Look Up. This film is a political satire that can be used to illustrate some troubling engagements of publics and political leadership with the threats of climate change. This engagement makes sense when you consider one of its stars, Leonardo DiCaprio is an environmental activist. In the story two scientists, who do not have great political acumen, identify an asteroid that will directly hit the earth in a few months. The film unfolds with the scientists trying to convince the media, publics, and government leaders to recognize that the asteroid exists and to take action. The media and publics are more interested in the dating lives of celebrities, while the government might be interested in taking some action -albeit demonstrably useless – if it can help a business tycoon become rich. 

The film illustrates, for many, a lot about the problems with climate change and environmental security. Scientists know the problem exists and are warning that it will do significant damage to the earth. The media and publics are not willing to give the topic appropriate attention. Indeed, as with our discussion of Little Bee, the problem is “not seen.” Getting publics to act on security issues they don’t really see / experience in their daily lives is very difficult. It is also made difficult when they are distracted by other less important issues. Finally, state leaders are more interested in self-preservation and supporting their rich friends’ profit. This is of course only one, quite simplified, interpretation of the problem represented by the film. However, it fits with serious academic approaches such as the neo-Gramscian theory, a critical theory.

We have covered a lot in this Lesson. You have been introduced to key and interrelated topics in economic, resource, energy, and environmental security. In looking at these topics we have applied and expanded on theories and concepts already introduced in the course. You should complete this lesson with an expanded understanding of contemporary security studies. Hopefully, the discussion has also piqued your interest to delve into the issues raised here in further studies. 

Lesson 9: Terrorism / Counterterrorism

 Key Terms / Concepts:

  • Disease Analogy
  • Counterterrorism
  • Crime analogy
  • Home-grown terrorism
  • Intelligence failure
  • International terrorism
  • Islamophobia
  • King-pin strategy
  • Left-wing terrorist
  • Lone wolf terrorist
  • Nationalist / successionist terrorist
  • 9/11
  • Radical Islamic terrorism
  • Radicalization
  • Radicalization to violence
  • Religious terrorism
  • Rendition 
  • Repatriation
  • Right-wing terrorism
  • Risk
  • Soft targets
  • War analogy

International Terrorism has been a defining feature of contemporary security studies and 21st century international politics. A whole course could be devoted to this topic. As we address this topic in just one lesson, our exploration will be limited and incomplete. In this Lesson we will provide a definition of terrorism, and outline terrorist tactics as well as counterterrorism responses. We will then explore critical engagements with the topic that challenge these definitions, consider the connections between power and language, and the potential impacts of counterterrorism strategies on the security of individuals and minority communities. These critical engagements build on several theoretical and conceptual debates about contemporary security we have already raised in the course such as: public security, individual rights and security highlighted in Lesson 4 and critical approaches that highlight language, culture, and security responses in Lesson 3.

International terrorism has been one of, if not the most, important focuses of contemporary security studies for the past twenty years. Indeed, it has defined much of our (Americans’ in particular, but also Canadians’ and others) thinking about, and response to, contemporary security challenges. In dealing with the aftermath of 9/11, the areas of policy encompassed by security consideration became much broader. In practical ways we were presented fears about our security in places which we had taken for granted. For instance, government buildings, transportation networks, schools and sports arenas became soft targets that presented real risks. Consider the fact that one of the first changes was the requirement that doors to the cockpit of airplanes had to be locked. Imagine that prior to 9/11 we were so unconcerned about aircraft safety that you could simply walk into the aircraft’s cockpit mid-flight. Post-9/11 security changes, for most, seemed unimaginable. These, in turn, have forced a renegotiation of the trade-offs between new and expanded state security efforts with individual freedoms.

Image shows part of the New York City downtown skyline with the World Trade Towers on the right. There is a clear blue skyline. Both towers are billowing smoking into the sky and across the top of the image.

Figure 9.1 “Plumes of smoke billow from the World Trade Center” by Michael Foran (own work). Retrieved from Wikimedia CommonsCC BY 2.0.

Consider the details of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 (Image 9.1). Nineteen hijackers took control of four passenger aircraft departing from within the United States and flew three out of four of them into targets along the eastern US seaboard. One flight was sent off target by the crew and passengers who overwhelmed the hijackers. A second flight was flown into the Pentagon and two more were flown into the North and South Towers of the World Trade Centre. Almost three thousand people were directly killed in the attacks, including 343 firefighters, and 60 officers from the New York police and port authority (CNN, 2021)

Take a Moment Activity 9A: Why was 9/11 so impactful and important?

The change caused by 9/11 did not occur because terrorism was new. Why do you think 9/11 had such deep and widespread impact on states and global politics more broadly?

When you have considered your response, click to reveal my thoughts. 

My Thoughts: 

Two factors make the events of 9/11 so significant. The first is that the attacks took place in (and were targeted at) the United States. Terrorist attacks had happened to the United States before (although none, as discussed below, seem as dramatic). This shook Americans’ well developed sense of security, especially in the post-Cold War period. The United States was targeted because of its foreign policies and position as a significant power globally. This position meant that its response was important too, impacting global politics in various ways over the next two decades, most immediately in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

Second, the actual events of 9/11 also made them significant. The methods used, hijacking and suicide attacks, were not new or very sophisticated. However, the way they were used was dramatic, especially in the case of the World Trade Centre. In a single attack a very large number of civilians were killed. This was coupled with the fact that these killings took place on live TV. If you didn’t see the first plane hit the world trade building live, you saw it immediately after while commentators tried to make sense of what was going on. By the time the second plane crashed into the second tower, most people had started to watch the events live. Within the following hour you saw people throwing themselves from the towers and then the two towers collapse – witnessing live the murder of thousands of people from around the world in the heart of New York City. The attacks left nothing to be imagined, while doing something that had not been imagined. People who saw the attacks did not forget them. 

A problem with the American and Global North focus on terrorism is that we have the potential to miss the fact that terrorism affects a lot more people on an annual basis in countries outside of North America / Western Europe then it does inside them. Lutz and Lutz, in table 21.2 (324) gives us numbers of terrorist fatalities by region between 1999 to 2016 to illustrate this fact. This table also shows that the total deaths in 9/11 attacks are small compared to the deaths in many other regions and in many other years over this period.

The terms “terrorism” or “terrorist” are often ill-defined and broadly used in popular discourse. They are also contentious given that they are politically important terms. Useful for our initial discussion, Lutz and Lutz try to provide a technical definition of terrorism. For them terrorism is: 

a tactic used by many different kinds of groups. It includes six major elements. Terrorism involves (1) the use of violence or threat of violence (2) by an organized group (3) to achieve political objectives. The violence (4) is directed against a target audience that extends beyond the immediate victims, who are often innocent civilians. Further (5), while government can be either the perpetrator of violence or the target, it is considered an act of terrorism only if one or both actors is not a government. Finally, (6) terrorism is a weapon of the weak (Lutz and Lutz: 320)

Each of these six components of the definition are important and answer 2 key questions:

1. What are terrorist tactics, and how do they differ from other political violence?

Terrorist tactics can include a violent act or the threat of violence. Actual violence does not need to have occurred; the fear of violence alone fits within the definition of a terrorist act. Consider that post-9/11, Canada did not experience a terrorist attack. However, Canadians still feared the potential that one could happen. By this definition Canadians were also the victims of terrorism. 

A second part of the definition of terrorists’ tactics, connected to the first, is that the targets are not just the immediate victims. Fear is spread to a broader group of people watching. Lutz and Lutz argue that “[t]errorism has a target audience that goes well beyond the immediate victims” (320). The attacks of 9/11 were designed to send a message to Americans and those across the globe that supported Americans’ social, political, and economic values. Seeking to have terrorist attacks witnessed by the widest audience possible also suggests the need to pick appropriate targets. 9/11 used dramatic violence targeted at regular Americans – the idea is that almost anyone could have been killed in these attacks. There were also other important choices that drove home the terrorists’ message. As we have said, they took place on American soil and against symbols of American power: The World Trade Towers and the Pentagon. 

You should note that terrorist tactics vary significantly. Sometime terrorists target public figures not general members of the public. In the case of the October Crisis of 1970, the Front de liberation due Quebec (FLQ) kidnapped James Cross, a British diplomat and killed Pierre Laporte, a Quebec provincial cabinet minister. Some terrorist attacks target politically significant buildings or symbols rather than people. 

There is another goal of terrorist tactics that is not mentioned in Lutz and Lutz’s definition. That is the fact that terrorist attacks often seek to provoke repressive and violent counterterrorist responses by states. As a result, the goal is to raise support from the population in whose name terrorists are supposedly acting, building resentment of the repressive state. The British governments’ counterterrorism activities in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s built broader support against the British presence in Northern Ireland. This points to the difficulty of effectively addressing the security threats posed by terrorists.

Lutz and Lutz spend some time in their reading outlining the specific tactics used in terrorist attacks (321-22). These range from suicide bombing to the use of weapons of mass destruction. Terrorists have the advantage that many of these acts are low tech and can be relatively easy to undertake, making them difficult to protect against. As security officials try to secure certain targets, new ones that remain accessible or “soft” can be focused on. In some cases, the ability to secure targets is difficult. This is especially the case in many democracies where people expect to be relatively unconstrained in their regular routines, even in the face of security threats (see Lutz and Lutz: 326). 

2. What actors can be called terrorist? 

Lutz and Lutz also provide criteria that actors need to meet to be considered terrorist. First, they need to be part of an organized group. The argument here is that they can’t be individuals, pursuing their own agenda, and committing an act of violence. Instead, they need to be working towards the agenda of a broader movement. Terrorists are often very organized and coordinated in undertaking their attacks. They often work in “cells” which are small groups working independently and not easily connected to other members of the terrorist group. This makes them very difficult to identify and stop. There are also different tasks that go into a terrorist act (e.g. financing, acquiring the appropriate tools, recruiting, training, transporting and hiding terrorists). 

The requirement of being part of an organized group can be challenged. In some cases, individuals conduct terrorist acts on their own and without support. Take lone wolf attacks, defined as “individuals who plan, organize, and execute their attacks in the absence of a financially or physically supportive terrorist organization” (Alakoc: 514). Over the last decade, the number of these attacks has increased, troubling counterterrorist efforts. While working on their own, these actors are called to act by broader organized movements and thus could fit within Lutz and Lutz’s argument. However, this is contentious and the divide between individuals acting alone, and their position as part of an organized movement is not clear. For an initial discussion of the controversy of ‘lone wolf’ terrorism, see for instance, the article by Jason Burke (Burke, 2017)

Another criterion that Lutz and Lutz point to is that terrorists have a political objective. Violence is not for personal or economic gain. Terrorism is carried out to gain some sort of change. Below we explore these motivations. 

A third criteria is that terrorism is the tool of weak actors. In this way, actors who can’t achieve their objectives against a more capable enemy may turn to terrorist tactics.

Finally, in discussions of terrorism, states have been accused of being terrorist, a concept which is controversial.

Take a Moment Activity 9B: Can states be terrorist?

A point of contention in the definition of terrorism is whether states can be terrorist or use terrorist tactics. Do you think we can or should label states as terrorist? Why or why not?

When you have considered your response, click to reveal my thoughts.

My Thoughts

Those who are critical of states, particularly of the treatment of their own citizens, might argue that the state can be a terrorist. Indeed, states engage in activities that reflect terrorist tactics. They target civilians in the hope that these acts spread fear amongst the population who then comply with the wishes of the state. Lutz and Lutz’s definition of a terrorist fits if only one actor is the government, and it is the weaker actor. The weakness of the government is an important criterion. In this definition violence employed by a more powerful government would not be labelled “terrorism” but instead “repression” or another term. In this debate, determining the legitimacy of the use of violence by the state against its people is also significant. If the violence is seen as “legitimate” the label might move from “repression” to something like “enforcement.” Labeling acts of violence by the state is contested and significant. 

In international conflict states’ actions do not fit the definition of terrorism. Acts of war, like the Allied firebombing or German air raids of civilian populations in the Second World War, struck fear in populations with the political objectives of ending the war. However, they were considered acts of war, not terrorism. The use of nuclear weapons as deterrence could also be framed as a policy that terrorizes. It keeps citizens living under the threat of nuclear war. However, these acts are all part of state-to-state conflict that under Lutz and Lutz’s definition would not constitute acts of terrorism. Acts of war can be assessed on Just War principles.

Another idea that connects states to terrorism is “state-backed” or “sponsored” terrorism. In these instances, a state may support the action of terrorist groups targeting their enemies. This support could come in a variety of forms (e.g. financing, provision of equipment or sheltering of terrorist groups). 

The motivations behind terrorist acts are an important part of understanding and responding to this security threat. Our readings for this Lesson give us insights into these motivations. Lutz and Lutz’s tell us that terrorism occurs when “[i]ndividuals in a society become so discontented or frustrated with their inability to bring about what they see as the necessary changes since other means of seeking change have failed that they resort to violence. The dissidents have a perception that society and the political system discriminate or are unfair” (325). You may often hear these referred to as groups’ “grievances” (Fischer et al: 135). Lutz and Lutz definition of terrorist tactics also tell us that terrorists seek political goals. Over the last 50 years common goals of terrorism have included: 

Nationalist / secessionist motivation.

These movements push for self-determination. This includes decolonization movements. An example of a nationalist terrorist group is Euskadi Ta Askkatasuna (ETA) the Basque group seeking separation from Spain (Lutz and Lutz: 324) Another is the Irish Republican Army seeking the removal of British control of Northern Ireland (Lutz and Lutz: 324). 

Left-wing movements.

An example of a left-wing terrorist organization is the Italian Red-Brigades whose Marxist inspired goal was to bring about the overthrow of the Italian government and guide the Italian working class in the international socialist revolution (Lutz and Lutz: 324). 

Right-wing / Fascist movements.

These groups often pursue race-based objectives that might include establishing a racially uniform state or advantaging groups based on their race. Lutz and Lutz give the example of the Ku Klux Klan in Case study 21.3 (326). The Aryan Strike Force is another current example of a neo-fascist terrorist group that has recently been added to Public Safety Canada’s list of terrorist organizations (Public Safety Canada). There has been a reluctance in the media to label acts of violence motivated by right-wing ideology as terrorism (Waterson, April 10, 2019)

Religious movements.

The goals of these groups are to see society ruled by religious standards as set out in a particular interpretation of a set of religious teachings. Often thought to be driven by religious fundamentalism or extremism, the goal is to observe the fundamentals of a particular religion. As Lutz and Lutz tell us, many religious terrorist groups are opposed to modern secular society. An example of a religiously motivated terrorist group is Al-Qaeda (Lutz and Lutz: 323-4)

These categories are not clear cut. Indeed, they are as complicated as the politics that lead to conflict. Grievances may overlap: secessionist movements might have both religious and ideological components tied up with them. They may also reflect the specific politics of the state targeted by terrorism. The Fischer et al reading for this week outlines the types of motivations for terrorist acts found within, and reflecting, the politics of the United States (Fischer et al: 135) 

An important characteristic of many contemporary security issues is their post-territorial nature (see Lesson 4). International terrorism fits this definition. Terrorists might not act on states’ behalf or fit a geographically defined “enemy”, they are networked, and elements of the threat are likely to originate from within a state’s borders. 

An important part of this post-territorial threat is the fear that international terrorist movements will recruit members from within the state. This is made easier by modern communication systems that operate outside of the control of states. Identifying and countering this recruitment needs to address the problem of radicalization, a concern that has received considerable attention in contemporary security studies. According to the Department of Public Safety’s Canada Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence (CCCEPV), radicalization is “a process by which an individual or a group gradually adopts extreme positions or ideologies that are opposed to the status quo and challenge mainstream ideas” (CCCEPV: 7). Public Safety acknowledges that that holding radical views is not illegal, and we can imagine how governing these would be problematic in a liberal democracy. However, the degree to which radicalized individuals promote or accept violence as legitimate does impact issues of public safety and national security. Public Safety describes the connection as the radicalization to violence, “the process by which individuals and groups adopt an ideology and/or belief system that justifies the use of violence in order to advance their cause” (CCCEPV: 7). Many factors contribute to radicalization. Studying these processes would benefit from experts beyond traditional security studies such as psychology and sociology. It is also important to raise the impact of the internet as a significant innovation in disseminating radical views more broadly (See Lesson 10). 

The threat of radicalization of citizens within the state means that countering the security threat cannot be accomplished by simply preventing physical access to the state. Rather these individuals or groups are already within the state and their activities are difficult to monitor or curtail because of the rights that they have as citizens. They are not foreign terrorists but rather “homegrown.” Note that this raises very difficult questions about what can be done to identify, monitor and prevent terrorist acts without undermining the rights of citizens and the communities they come from. 

A second problem is that the fear of terrorism coming from within the state is likely to contribute to divisions within society. The CCCEP says that far left- and right-wing groups might radicalize Canadians. However, the main concern remains radicalization by Daesh (a.k.a ISIS or ISIL or the Islamic State) and al-Qaeda, groups associated with radical interpretations of Islam. The concern is that this connection feeds into broader racist views within society, as evidenced in the Gilk reading for this week.

An example of the problematic association between terrorism and the Muslim community is illustrated by the case of asking those communities to watch out for radicalized individuals “amongst them.” These requests tie, unfairly, the broad Muslim faith-community to acts of violence. By comparison, security leaders have not asked members of the Christian community to be on guard for radicalized Christian fundamentalists prone to violence. Nor is the label “Radical Christian Terrorism,” commonly used, even though supporters of right-wing inspired terrorism often use an extreme interpretation of the Christian faith to justify their acts. Furthermore, right-wing terrorism is on the rise in Europe and the USA with right-wing terrorism being the largest cause of terrorist attacks and plots in the United States in 2019 (Jones, 2018; Jones and Doxsee, 2020). Note, I am not arguing that we should associate this violence with the Christian faith community in the United States. Instead, I am arguing that blunt and imprecise connections between whole faith communities and the fight against terrorism is problematic. Interestingly, there has been an increased focus on the deradicalization of the right in the USA (e.g. Graves and Fraser-Rahim, 2021). 

Another problem that has been raised by radicalization is the recruitment of citizens of liberal democracies to fight for terrorist groups overseas. This received particular attention with the rise of Daesh in 2014 in the Middle East. As many as 5000 Europeans and 800 Britons have been foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq. There is an unknown number of Canadians who left for Syria / Iraq to live under the Deash regime (Jones, June 29. 2020). However, Human Rights Watch identified 47 Canadians, including 26 children, in 2020 as needing to be repatriated to Canada (HRW, 2020). In one case, Jack Letts, a dual citizen of Canada and the UK, and imprisoned in Syria, has asked the Canadian state to assist in his travel to Canada. Letts is accused of supporting Deash. Letts was born and raised in the UK, but had his British citizenship revoked by the UK in 2019, an action that has become one method of dealing with accused foreign fighters (Radio Canada International, December 9, 2021). 

Take a Moment Activity 9C: Repatriation.

Take a moment and consider both sides of the answer to the following question: should Canada repatriate citizens who left Canada to fight with terrorist organizations against Canada and its allies? 

When you have considered your response, click to reveal my thoughts. 

My Thoughts

This question is a very tough one and we should recognize the potential problems that arise from the decisions that the government might make. The Canadian government says that it will assist citizens who need help overseas, but that it has limited capacity to do so in Syria. According to Prime Minister Trudeau, bringing home Canadians with ties to terrorism is “more complicated” (Jones, June 29. 2020). These complications include what to do with them when they arrive in Canada. Conservatives want assurances that those who worked with Daesh will be prosecuted and that Canadians will be protected from potential violence. Prosecuting them for crimes that they might have committed overseas and in a war zone is likely to be difficult. This raises the question of whether they could (or should) be detained without prosecution. What to do with returning foreign fighters is also dependent on a calculation of the risk that these individuals will commit terrorist attacks when they arrive in Canada. Calculating that risk is very hard to do and subject to the political and normative context. 

On the other hand, Human Rights Watch (HRW) points to potential human rights violations experienced by vulnerable Canadians, including children, who aren’t returned to Canada. HRW argues that it is paramount that the Canadian government gets citizens home and that by not doing so “Canada is flouting its international human rights obligations…” (HRW, 2020). The organization also makes it clear that this does not mean those suspected of fighting on behalf of terrorist organizations should go unprosecuted (Jones, June 29. 2020).

Dr. Katherine Brown from the University of Birmingham has a short discussion of the potential options open to states like the United Kingdom and Canada. She advocates for a return to home countries, followed by a determination by the courts of what legal steps should be taken and then a “reintegration imperative.” This imperative requires: 

the reestablishment of social, familial and community ties and positive participation. Reintegration is important for the longer-term reduction of risk of radicalization – both for the individual and wider society. This is part of building resilience, so that we do more than deter and punish, but actively create a better shared future (Brown).

The problem is a tough one for Canada. According to Public Safety Canada, in its document “Mitigating the Threats Posed By Canadian Extremist Travellers,” the state uses a combination of prosecution and reintegration or “disengagement.” 

In the course we have spoken about the trade-off between individual / collective rights versus states’ pursuit of security (see Lesson 4). We have also considered the insights of critical approaches to understanding insecurity (see Lessons 3). These two focuses provide important insights to states’ counterterrorism efforts, the context within which they are taken and their impacts. One important insight is the post-9/11 framing of terrorism largely in its relationship to the Islamic faith. Gilks tells us that there has been a securitization of the Muslim identity which has been imagined linked to threats of terrorism in societies. Gilks, citing several authors, gives a short definition of Islamophobia as “racism against Muslims” (25). He notes that what constitutes islamophobia and Muslim’s experience of it, is not fixed but evolving. Gilks also makes a strong connection between understandings of insecurity and Islamophobia. 

Gilks draws on the critical approaches of the Copenhagen and Paris schools of securitization, a focus of Lesson 3. He argues that powerful actors in dominant political and societal institutions in the United Kingdom (e.g. “the media, political elite and security professionals” Gilks, 260) reinforce prejudice against Britons of Muslim faith by tying them to security discourses. In this way existing racism in the structure of British politics and society produces an easier connection between the Islamic faith and the risk of terrorism. In turn this connection reinforces that Islamophobia.

Beyond demonstrating the impact of this Islamophobia on British Muslims, Gilks seeks to expand our understanding of the Copenhagen and Paris schools’ approaches to contemporary security which both emphasise the importance of discourse and practices for shaping security concerns. The Copenhagen school emphasise the importance of specific prominent actors in “securitizing” issues, while the Paris school emphasise the deeper normative structure in which this happens, in this case the dominant political and societal institutions. Gilks’ contribution is that both the approaches are helpful for understanding the reinforcement of the idea in British society of British Muslims as security risks. 

Political debates in Canada about naming and guarding against Islamophobia have been met with strong opposition (CBC, 2017). If you are interested in a discussion of Islamophobia in Canada see Mushtaq, 2021 and Boynton, 2021.

Preventing and stopping terrorism is a practical and important goal of contemporary security studies. As you assess counterterrorism tactics, two broad sets of questions should frame your thinking:

  1. How effective are they? / Do they prevent terrorism? 
  2. Do they do more harm than good? / Do they overstep collective or individual rights?

Counterterrorism efforts are also reflective of how you see terrorism, and the three analogies outlined by Lutz and Lutz are helpful here: 

The War Analogy:

In these responses, counterterrorism is understood as being like engagement in war. Counterterrorist actors can employ similar strategies as would be found in times of war. These include pre-emptive strikes, extrajudicial assassinations, and other tactics to defeat an enemy. State militaries are legitimate actors against terrorist enemies. The approach also has implications for the “Homefront.” When at war, the state can expect or require more from its citizens, including for instance making sacrifices of individual liberties. A significant problem with this approach is knowing when the war has been won. Terrorist groups are unlikely to surrender – indeed a feature of terrorist groups is that even a very few members can continue to commit terrorist acts. 

The Crime Analogy:

In these responses threats from terrorists are understood to persist within society. Terrorism is treated like a crime. Police, rather than militaries, use laws and regular enforcement processes, like collecting evidence and seeking prosecutions for terrorist acts. Pre-emptive strikes are not permitted. However, many states have laws in place that allow for the prosecution of anyone accused of planning terrorist acts, which can be used to prevent terrorism. 

The Disease Analogy: 

In these responses the focus is on understanding and addressing the underlying problems that produce terrorism. The focus here is not on addressing the immediate demands of terrorists but instead deeper issues of poverty, discrimination, and injustice. A problem of this approach is that it doesn’t do anything in the short-term to stop terrorist acts. It also assumes that there are deeper sources of terrorism that the state, which is the target of terrorism, has contributed to and needs to address. The prevention of radicalization / recruitment of terrorists fits within these responses.

Counterterrorism responses can be fitted within these three analogies. Fisher et al point to several specific strategies that fit within the war and crime analogies with which you should be familiar (134-136). These include targeted killings of terrorist leaders, often referred to as a king-pin strategy. The effectiveness of this strategy depends on the nature of the terrorist movement. If organized around a particularly effective leader the strategy might work by destabilizing the terrorist organization’s leadership. However, if there is a deep commitment to the cause leaders who are killed can become martyrs who embolden the movement, with others waiting to move the cause forward. 

Another focus of counterterrorism is improving intelligence to help anticipate and prevent terrorist attacks. One belief about why the attacks of 9/11 were successful was because of intelligence failure. This failure took a variety of forms. One was a human intelligence failure in which the US and its allies did not have people on the ground in areas where they could integrate with terrorist groups and provide information about plots. Another problem was intelligence sharing between departments and international allies. Post-9/11, states have sought ways to better share intelligence. One way that has been particularly important has been the monitoring of money transfers at the international level so that funding of terrorist activities can be stopped. At the domestic level states have improved their security bureaucracies. In Canada, the Canadian Border Services Agency, with an enforcement focus, was created in 2004. One of the most significant changes in the United States was the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002. This was the largest reorganization of the American bureaucracy in history, resulting in the combination of twenty-two formerly independent federal agencies. In part, the objective of these new organizations was to facilitate interdepartmental sharing of intelligence.

Another important counterterrorism response focused on preventing attacks on soft targets (see Fisher et al’s: 133-4). As suggested at the beginning of the Lesson, North Americans in particular did not anticipate or prepare for terrorist attacks. Cockpit doors on planes were left unlocked or open, large public venues were not secured, infrastructure (e.g. water reservoirs, power stations, transportation hubs) were all relatively accessible. These soft targets were unsecured and vulnerable to low-tech terrorist attacks, such as driving trucks into crowds or the detonation of easy to create explosive devices. For details of Canada’s counterterrorism response see Public Safety Canada.

The disease analogy suggests that you can prevent and end terrorism by finding political solutions. If there are identifiable grievances that fuel terrorism you might be able to remove them. For instance, secessionist groups or decolonization movements could achieve independence and move beyond conflict within which a terrorist act had been employed. Alternatively, deeper causes of grievances identified in a disease analogy might also be addressed to lessen the likelihood of terrorism being used, such as addressing economic or political inequality or injustices. 

Addressing the deeper sources of terrorism does raise two problems. One is that negotiating with terrorists is very unpopular. People who target civilians and produce indiscriminate harm are not portrayed as being reasonable negotiating partners. Furthermore, negotiation might be counterproductive. In this argument, if terrorism produces results for terrorists, it might produce incentives for other terrorists to use these tactics to produce similarly positive results. 

A second problem might be that terrorists cannot be negotiated with because they have unreasonable / uncompromisable objectives. Note that, consistent with the unpopularity of negotiating with terrorists mentioned above, many objectives of terrorist are framed as unreasonable. When I first started studying international terrorism in the early 1990s, forms of religious terrorism were differentiated from other terrorist movements because there was a belief that these terrorists could not be negotiated with. The goal of these movements was to expediate an apocalyptic event that would see a new world, led by spiritual forces, that overcame the secular world. From this perspective there was no reason to seek negotiated solutions with representatives of that secular world. 

Another notable feature of counterterrorism is that publics have been tasked with fighting terrorism. States want publics to be on guard and be prepared to report situations or people that are “suspicious.” For evidence of this, consider the advice of the Government of the Netherlands about the need for publics to help prevent terrorist attacks (Government of the Netherlands). There are several negatives associated with this tactic. For one, it reinforces the fear that terrorists seek to spread. Even when a terrorist act is unlikely, governments remind you it is possible. Secondly, as we have seen in other discussion in this Lesson, suspicion is subjective, and publics have been primed to be more suspicious of actions by others who are seen as different. As we have discussed, post-9/11, Muslims have been most affected by these biases. 

Counterterrorism and rights: 

Throughout this Lesson we have raised concerns about balancing responses to terrorist threats with concerns about individual and collective rights. These discussions reflect points we raised in Lesson 4 of the course. There are other topics you might want to consider, which I will point to here. However, we don’t have the space to discuss them fully. 

Counterterrorism and the Rules of War

There has been criticism of how the United States and its allies dealt with terrorist threats after 9/11. One example of this was the use of Guantanamo Bay military base as a detention centre for suspected terrorists. The US government chose this location because it was not on US territory, arguing that this exempted it from judicial reviews of the activities that took place here. Similarly, American officials used a new categorization of those detained there, labelling them “enemy combatants” rather than “Prisoners of War.” The label POW would mean those detained would be protected under the rules of war set out in the Geneva Conventions. As of January 2022, 39 men remain detained at Guantanamo Bay (Human Rights Watch, 2022). During its operation as a detention facility, Guantanamo has seen regular and extensive abuses of human rights and the rules of war (Human Rights Watch, 2022; Monbiot, 2003). 

Other counterterrorism practices that were used for similar objectives and raised similar concerns were ‘extraordinary rendition’ and ‘black sites’ located in foreign countries. These tactics had suspects detained and transported out of the US and other allied states and taken to prisons in states where there was no judicial oversight and where torture took place (Human Rights Watch, 2022). 

Terrorism and Torture: 

Connected to the questions above is the question of the use of torture. Again, in the post-9/11 period there was serious debate about whether torture of suspected terrorists to acquire knowledge that would prevent terrorist attacks was ethical. Dick Cheney, US Vice President, immediately after the attacks of 9/11 said extraordinary measures to fight terrorism were necessary, stating: “[w]e also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will… if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for US to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.” (Human Rights Watch, 2022). This discussion focused on ‘less extreme’ forms of torture, labeled by some in the debate as ‘enhanced interrogation methods.’ The use of torture as part of the US’s counterterrorism strategy has been documented (Human Rights Watch, 2022). If you are interested in exploring this issue further, consider reading Michael Ignatieff’s Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror(2004) 

Terrorism: Critical approaches and discourse

In both discussions of counterterrorism and rights, note the importance of the use of language: leaders label terrorists as “enemy combatants” or the framing of torture as something other than what it is. Our readings for this Lesson make it clear how important discourse is, and the role of the deeper ideas held in society in producing security. Fischer et al argue that 

“…it is becoming increasingly clear that what governments say also seems to impact terrorism. … Political communication about terrorism helps to define how prominent terrorist attacks are perceived, declared and emphasise political and policy goals (Hahn, 2003), and redefine political situations to minimise conflict (Hall and Hewitt 1970)” (133).

Furthermore, language can be used by political leaders to extend conflict for political gain (Fischer et al: 135). These authors focus on the discourse used by US presidents from Richard Nixon to Donald Trump, arguing that they have significant capacity to shape public thinking. The authors highlight Trump’s use of language in particular. They argue Trump framed terrorism predominantly in relationship to Islamic extremists and Muslims (139-144), even though, as we have seen, terrorism inspired by right-wing ideologies has been far more frequent in the United States over the last several decades (Jones and Doxsee, 2020). There are obvious examples of Trump’s targeting, such as his travel ban against predominantly Muslim countries or his replacement of the language of countering “violent extremism” with “radical Islamic extremism” (143). Trump’s emphasis on terrorism itself was significant, with the authors showing that Trump made more references to terrorism in official communications than any president before him, including George W. Bush, who was president in the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11 (141). Fischer et al, argue that this discourse won Trump favour with the right-wing and emboldened far-right nationalists (140, 144).

Richard Jackson also argues that language used by political leaders is important for setting the conditions for torture and other crimes in response to terrorism. Jackson counters the argument that war crimes committed by US security officials were the acts of ‘bad apples’ within its agencies / forces. Instead, he argues that the language of political elites established a culture where torture could be seen as justifiable by dehumanizing terrorists and presenting them as extraordinary, and indeed extra-human (i.e. almost unstoppable and machine like) threats to the state. Fischer et al also points out that Trump’s rhetoric was combined with calls for policy that in the past would have been viewed as inappropriate, such as the call to “take out their [terrorists’] families” (140). Targeting the families of terrorists is considered because it places a cost on terrorists who otherwise are willing to go to any personal length (e.g. suicide) to undertake an attack. The tactic might act as a deterrent. However, targeting the families of terrorists raises many ethical concerns, starting with the targeting of non-combatants. If you are interested in this argument, see Richard Jackson, “Language, policy and the construction of a torture culture in the war on terrorism,” Review of International Studies 33 (2007).

As we have seen throughout the course, discourse is a powerful and impactful aspect of contemporary security studies, with real impacts on people. In the examples above, the ability of discourse to justify actions that harm individuals and communities is significant. This language also has the potential to impact deeper commitments to the liberal democratic principles that guide societies. 

Terrorism: Risk, counterterrorism and trust

In Lesson 1, we discussed risk, pointing to the textbook’s definition of insecurity as “[t]he risk of something bad happening to a thing that is valued” (Collins, 454). Risk is difficult to determine and is often impacted by the perception or beliefs about the likelihood that something bad is going to happen and the potential impact. Furthermore, publics are not in a good position to assess risk. They don’t have complete information to calculate risk. Furthermore, fear significantly affects perception of risk. Terrorism is, by definition, intended to elevate fear and as we have seen states’ counterterrorism measures can increase fear. 

Security actors involved in counterterrorism also have difficult challenges in assessing risk. While they may have more information than publics, it is not complete. These actors are also challenged by the fact that the success of their counterterrorism efforts might not be known. For instance, prevented events are not as politically significant as terrorist attacks that take place. This makes it hard to appreciate security agencies when assessing their work. 

This raises several important questions that apply to many of the contemporary security threats we have talked about in the course. These include: 

  • how do you assess and balance risk against the need to be secure?
  • given that the risk will never be zero, how do you determine that the risk is low enough that you are secure?
  • how much do you trust security officials to get the right balance to protect against risk without unnecessarily damaging rights?
  • How do you oversee security actors when you don’t have complete information? 

Take a Moment Activity 9D: Counterterrorism.

Throughout this discussion we have raised concerns about balancing counterterrorism tactics with individual and collective rights.

Take a moment and reflect on the challenges of the various counterterrorism approaches. It might be helpful to make a list of potential problems. Which of the three broad approaches is most likely to overcome these problems? Can a combination of solutions be used? 

When you have considered your response, click to reveal my thoughts.

My Thoughts

You should have a comprehensive list of the potential problems. Although I won’t list problems, I will give you a number of categories or questions that reflect the types of problems you should have identified. These might include:

  • the effectiveness of counterterrorism responses
    • an interesting question is: “is the USA safer today than it was in 2000, given its responses to the terrorist attacks of 9/11?” 
  • the length of time needed to address terrorism
    • counterterrorism responses that use a disease analogy might take a much longer time
  • are counterterrorism responses politically viability? 
  • do the responses harm human rights or contravene the rules of war?
  • are responses likely to fuel further attacks?

This Lesson has applied many of the theories, concepts and debates that guide our study of contemporary security to the case of terrorism. You should be comfortable discussing key elements of terrorism, its tactics and state responses. You should also be able to engage critically with the debates introduced in the Lesson. In the next Lesson we turn to the challenge of cybersecurity in contemporary security, where some of these debates are raised again.

Lesson 10: Cyber-Threats and Security

Key Terms / Concepts:

  • Anonymous
  • Attack Vector
  • Attribution problem
  • Canadian Centre for Cyber Security
  • Communication Security Establishment
  • Critical infrastructure
  • Cyberspace
  • Cyber-security
  • Cyber-war
  • DDoS Attacks
  • Hacktivism
  • Interdisciplinary
  • Malware
  • Ransomware
  • Ryuk
  • Trojan Horse

It is very likely that everyone taking this class has had a brush with cyber-threats. You have received an email message or web notification from an individual or organization who has sought your personal information, passwords, or access to your computer either to steal from you or attack your device. Cyber-security is a relevant and significant case study of contemporary security studies. In this Lesson we will unpack the idea of cyber-security and fit it within debates that we have raised in the course. This will allow us to better understand cyber-security and expand our thinking on the themes of the course as we apply them to new material.

The Lesson starts with a discussion of what cyber-security is and how it relates to national security. We then turn to cyber tactics and how states respond. Finally, I will point to the connections between the case of cyber-security and other themes in the course on which you should be able to expand.

There are four “take a moment and think” tasks throughout the Lesson and a final quiz at the end of the Lesson. 

In addition to clearly placing cyberspace within contemporary security studies, Myriam Dunn Cavelty in our textbook reading for this Lesson, provides very good technical descriptions of important cyber-security terminology. You should return to this reading to clarify any questions you might have.

Cavelty begins by defining cyberspace, which “…connotes the fusion of all communication networks, databases and sources of information into a vast, tangled and diverse blanket of electronic interchange.” (Cavelty: 411). Cyberspace is both the virtual space as well as the physical components that support it (e.g. computers, servers, cables). Cyberspace is also located partially within states but also extends to other states and also beyond states (e.g. satellites in outer space) 

Cavelty then gives us a clear definition of the security components of cyber-security:

Cyber-security is both about the insecurity created by and through this new place / space and about the practices or process to make it (more) secure. In security policy, cyberspace has a double role: it serves both as an attack vector through which objects and services of value for the state and society can be threatened … and as a sphere of operations in which strategies and countermeasures against security threats are conducted. This way cyber-security is not just about security of cyberspace, but is also security created through cyberspace (citing, Betz and Stevens, 2011, Cavelty: 411)

It is particularly important to consider, from the definition above, that cyberspace may be used as a tool in conflict but also as a target. In the latter, the everyday reliance on cyberspace in most aspects of our life today make its continued operation important. 

Cyber-security fits with contemporary security in part because it is new. Take a look at a short news segment discussing the internet in its very early public use in 1993 from the CBC Archives. Consider how much it has changed in a short 30-year period. We have gone from no public internet in the late 1980s to its central importance to our lives today. Government services; public and private communication; local, national, and global economies are all conducted over and dependent on the internet. It is this central importance to our political, economic, and social systems that ties it so tightly to questions of security. 

We can use ideas already developed in the course to help us understand the significance of cyber-security. First, there is a strong argument that cyber-security is an issue of national security. States certainly think this is the case as evidenced by their responses to the threat which we will discuss below. We can also see it in the events of global politics. In February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. In the lead up to this, Ukraine was the target of several cyber-attacks (O’Neil, January 21, 2022). Some of these attacks hurt the capacity of key Ukrainian government agencies, including the Ministry of Defence and key Ukrainian banks (Tsvetkova and Satter, Feb 15, 2022; O’Neil, January 21, 2022). Cavelty also tells us that these kinds of attacks go back as early as 2013 (Cavelty, 419).

Russia is believed to have been behind the attacks, but this has not been confirmed, in part because of the challenges in ascribing blame. Cavelty labels this the attribution problem: “the difficulty in clearly determining those initially responsible for a cyber attack plus identifying their motivations …a big challenge in the cyber-security domain” (Cavelty: 417). Often, we hear about Russian-backed cyber groups or criminal organizations who make these attacks. The relationship between states and these groups is not clear. They may be funded by the state, protected, or simply encouraged to do their work. 

In Russia’s aggression, these cyber-attacks have not been limited to Ukraine. Russia has attacked other neighbouring states such as Estonia (see case Study 27.2, Cavelty: 419). The Canada government has also reported that its department of Global Affairs had been hit by a cyber attack, probably by a Russian agency or Russian-backed actor in response to its support of Ukraine (Boutilier and Stephenson, January 24, 2022)

There has been an important history of states using cyber-attacks in conflict with other states. Consider the following: 

  • United States and Israel’s use of Stuxnet, a malware worm, to attack Iranian nuclear weapons development in 2010 (see table 27.1, Cavelty: 414 and discussion on 418-420)
  • Russian interference in elections in the US and other states (See case-study 27.1: Cavelty: 417; Dwoskin, May 26, 2021)
  • See list in Table 27.3 (Cavelty: 419)

It should be noted that in the case of the Russian attacks on Ukraine, cyber-attacks are used as part of a larger traditional military conflict. In the cases above, some of these are preventative military actions (e.g. Stuxnet) but are also a part of a more ubiquitous rivalry between states (e.g. misinformation in elections). We also know that even outside of state-to-state conflict, cyber-attacks are threats to state’s security. For instance, of the ransomware attacks in Canada in 2021, over half were targeted at critical infrastructure (Nardi , December 6, 2021). The textbook defines critical infrastructure as: 

all systems and assets whose incapacity or destruction would have a debilitating impact on the national security and the economic and social well-being of a nation. Critical information infrastructures are components such as telecommunications, computers / software, Internet, satellites fiber optics, etc. (Textbook: 450)

Note in this definition the breadth of potential targets and their impact as well as the shift to include the components that make up cyber-space. Ransomware uses a variety of tactics to create a disturbance in a victim’s computer service (e.g. steals information, locks users out). For a payment, the attacker will end that disturbance, although they may not live up to that commitment. 

We also know from Lesson 8, that economic threats are significant national security issues. In 2021, over a quarter of Canadian companies were victims of a cyber-security attack (Canadian Press, February 7, 2022). Furthermore, in these cases, over half reported paying the amount demanded by the attacker (ibid). Companies also reported fears that remote work, relied on during the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, made them even more vulnerable to cyberbreaches (ibid). 

Stéphane Taillat, in our other reading for this Lesson, suggests that there are different ways states view the potential threat from cyberspace. Liberal democracies, he suggests, view cyberspace as a threat to state’s military and economic interests as we have discussed above. In contrast, authoritarian regimes such as Russia and China see cyberspace, and the unrestricted flow of information and ideas, as a threat to political control (Taillat: 369). He also has an expanded discussion with which you should become familiar, of why cyberspace is an issue of national security and by extension international security (see Taillat: 373-375).

Given the discussion above, it seems that cyber-security is a part of national security. The effects of cyber-attacks have been used by states as both tools of war and new targets in inter-state conflict. It is also clear that the impacts have the potential to be devastating for individuals and states – if not immediately deadly. 

Take a Moment Activity 10A: Are cyber-attacks “real” attacks?

Take a moment and answer the following questions: are cyber-attacks “real” attacks? In the end why do you think they are or are not?

My Thoughts

I’m sure you have come up with arguments on both sides of this debate. Consider the following:

“Yes, it is an act of / part of war:” The text discusses cyber-attacks as acts of war. Case-study 27.2 talks about a cyber-war waged against Estonia (Cavelty: 419). Indeed, Cavelty defines cyber-war as reference to “…any phenomenon involving deliberate disruptive or destructive use of computers” (Cavelty: 418). The discussion above unpacks how it is used by states in the lead up to and in conflict as well as how national interests in cyberspace can be a target of attack. 

“No, it is not act of / part of war:” The impacts of cyber-attacks might matter, although how is not clear. Cyber-attacks often don’t result in death directly. Cavelty tells us: “…in the entire history of computer networks, there have been only very few examples of attacks …that had the potential to rattle an entire nation or cause global shock. There are even fewer examples [of] actual physical violence against persons or property…” (Cavelty: 423-424).

Furthermore, cyber-attacks often take place in relationships outside of war – such as Russia’s attacks on Canada in January 2022. While governments talk about these being “attacks” those states don’t react this way. A cyber-attack on Estonia did not provoke NATO Article 5 protection whereby other NATO states needed to come to Estonia’s defence. Likewise, cyber-attacks on Canada have not resulted in a declaration of war. Consider the alternative: if Russian troops had invaded Estonia or a Russian missile had struck Canada’s department of Global Affairs in Ottawa, we can imagine the response would have been much different. 

The language of “war” and an “attack” might not effectively describe the reality of cyber-conflicts. This is not to deny they are real or a concern to national security. But they don’t appear to be equivalent. 

Taillat points to the troubling nature of the ongoing use of cyber warfare, outside defined boundaries of conflict. Consider the following quote from the text: 

…the possibility of exploiting cyberspace from an asymmetrical perspective contributes to emboldening revolutionary or revisionist actors, as evidenced by the shift towards increasingly risky modes of action and strategies that contribute to disrupting the entire international normative system in peacetime (Taillat: 369).

In this quote, Taillat suggests that cyber-attacks also can be used by weaker actors, forcing change in global politics. The ever-present nature of these attacks makes unclear the nature of states’ relationships, with potentially serious effects on what we think of as conflict. In short “blurring of [the] line between war and peace” (Taillat: 374). 

Cavelty also emphasises the use of language. She outlines three different discourses used to frame cyber-security (Figure 27.1 and 412-415). How you frame the issues (e.g. a technical issue vs a military / defence issue) also affects the thinking about the nature of the threat (including the referent object), who is responsible for providing security (private actors, law enforcement or the military), and what measures can be taken.

Cyber-security attacks: tactics

Cavelty describes several technical processes through which actors attack other entities. These are referred to as an attack vector: “a path or means by which unauthorized access to a computer or network can be gained” (Text, 448, see also Cavelty’ s discussion on page 415). You should refer to the textbook for additional clarification of these technical terms. You should be familiar with the basic definitions of these terms and relations to one another. Malware(defined in the text as malicious software) can be used to exploit technical and human vulnerabilities (Cavelty: 412). A common form of this exploitation uses Trojan horses which appear to be safe applications but when opened produce vulnerabilities in the system allowing malware to then operate (Cavelty 412). Malware uses viruses, worms or bugs to cripple computers, steal information or spy (Cavelty: 415). As discussed above, when used to ransom a user this is called ransomware. Another tactic is DDos attacks or distributed denial of service attacks which the textbook defines as: 

[a]ttempts to make a computer or network resource unavailable to its intended users, mostly by saturating the target machine with external communications requests so that it cannot respond to legitimate traffic, or responds so slowly as to be rendered effectively unavailable” (451) 

An example of this is the Russian attacks on Estonia in Case-Study 27.2 (Cavelty: 419. Also see discussion on page 417)

Taillat argues that the tactics of cyber-attacks are reliant on the fact that there are many targets. He states that “[t]he pervasiveness of vulnerabilities is the main feature of cyberspace … Thus, this space is marked by a large number of targets, entry points and attack vectors” (citing Libicki, 2009, p. xiv. Taillat: 370). These include the physical components of cyberspace, the software, and humans operating them, producing many soft targets (370-71).

While tactics vary and evolve it is also important to consider the motivations. These include commercial and interstate espionage (see Cavelty’s discussion on p. 417), criminal activity for profit, and the use of cyber-attacks in interstate conflict. 

Take a Moment Activity 10B: Identifying cyber-attacks

Take a moment and do an internet search for a recent cyber-attack. Make a note of the example and source for your records. Can you identify who is using the tactic? What is their motivation? What type of tactic has been used? 

My Thoughts

For my example I used a CBC article from October 2019 (Daigle, 2019). In this case 3 Ontario hospitals were hit by cyber-attacks. The software used was known as “Ryuk” and had operated globally. It worked by gaining access to the hospital’s computer systems and laying dormant on the computers for as long as several months. In this period, it was undetected to regular users. The virus uses this time to collect information to determine whether the institution it had infected was an ideal target (i.e. has the resources to pay ransom). The malware then hit the system. The impact was on the operating systems, with real consequences for patients. These included delays, difficult access to health records, failed email systems all contributing to longer wait times. Hospitals affected insisted that patient information was not breeched. The article identifies the source of the attack as being from a transnational criminal organization (TCO) who was motivated by money which they had been paid by some victims (although not the three Ontario hospitals) – approximately $3.7 million (USD) over 5 months (Daigle, 2019).

In this case the TCO used malware (ie. ransomware) and it is speculated that they gained access through a Trojan horse (Daigle, 2019). Other than identifying the attacker as being a TCO, no specific group was identified.

I would be curious to know if any of the examples you find identified the perpetrator. If they don’t this points to the problem of attribution.

PO322 – Lesson 10

States understand and have devoted resources to cyber-security. This includes building measures to support public and private actors’ cyber-security. Canada has the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security (CCCS) which provides information and resources to the public and commercial actors. The CCCS is operated by the Communication Security Establishment(CSE). The CSE provides the Canadian government information and defence against cyber attacks as well as gathers foreign intelligence (CSE) The US has a similar agency called the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). The CISA has a lot of information about what they do on their website which you might find useful. Canada also has departments within its security and defence departments devoted to defending against cyber-attacks. For some of you this might be an interesting career choice. Consider Image 10.1, a screen shot of the Canadian armed forces recruitment page for Cyber Operator. 

Image shows hands typing on the keyboard. A text box with a tank, airplane and battleship has the title of “Cyber Operator”. It also contains a short synopsis of the job, stating: Cyber Operators conduct defensive cyber operations, and when required where feasible, active cyber operations.” There is an “Apply Now” button.

Figure 10.1. A screen shot of a recruitment page a “Cyber Operator” in the Canadian Armed Forces. Screen shot by Sandy Irvine (February 28, 2022). Used under fair use. 

Providing security is difficult for reasons we have discussed: 

  • There are attribution problems
  • The norms of cyber conflict have not been established, resulting in unclear understandings of: 
    • what attacks are (e.g. are they acts of war?)
    • what are appropriate responses
  • The threats are post-territorial – originating from within and across states and crossing various jurisdictions. 

The readings point to several potential responses that reflect the approaches that states use when facing other security threats we have spoken about in the course. Framed as a traditional security threat to the state, and using a realist approach, states could attempt to increase their cyber-security power. This could be used to deter other states but could also contribute to a cyber “arms race” (Cavelty: 424). Alternatively, consistent with a liberal approach, states could pursue international cooperation to limit the development of cyber-security tactics and how they are deployed. Amongst other problems, monitoring states’ compliance with international rules would be difficult given that the physical resources needed to engage in cyber-attacks is very limited (and again, raises the problem of attribution). Another option is to push the development of norms that set predicable and acceptable behaviour of states in the use of cyber-attacks. This builds on a constructivist approach to contemporary security (Lesson 2). One possible option is to tie the use of cyber-attacks to the established norms found in the Just War doctrines such as principles of non-combatant immunity (Cavelty: 423). 

These approaches should also be assessed based on their ability to stop non-state actors who use cyber-attacks but are less responsive to the tactics focused on states. These actors might require different approaches, such as better police enforcement, international police cooperation and strong prosecution efforts. 

A final approach that states and private actors have taken to respond to the threat of cyber-attacks is technical. This includes the ability to prevent attacks in the first place and to be able to recover from them. This last point is often referred to as building resilience and is discussed by Cavelty on pages 421-422. 

Cyber-security: Balancing regulation and internet freedom.

It is evident that it is difficult to regulate cyberspace. However, even if states could easily do this, there are questions about whether they should (see Cavelty: 417). An early perspective on cyberspace was that it was a place where there should be freedom of expression and inquiry, without state regulation and censorship. While states have enforced laws (e.g. protecting children) where crimes are committed through the internet, in progressive liberal democracies there is a continued belief that as much as possible, the activities of citizens should be neither monitored or restricted (see the work of the University of Toronto Citizenship Lab). This is especially given the fact that cyberspace is central to communication and the dissemination of information and ideas. For many, the belief is that states should not restrict these activities. 

A second argument for limiting state regulation and interference in cyberspace is its importance to the economy (Cavelty, 411). Economic actors generating and using large scale data about consumers are not inclined to have these operations restricted. However, this collection of data in-and-of-itself increases the security risk, by making this information available in one place and often poorly protected. This may also lead to a counterargument to the argument above about avoiding state regulation. The commercial uses of information about cyberspace activity, or information available through cyberspace, may in fact be a reason for state regulation. 

How to balance state regulation and freedom is difficult, and in turn raises deeper questions about the role of the state in society and the economy. 

We have spoken about both the benefits and risks of states’ use of new technology to address insecurity. There are other organizations operating globally who seek to use technological innovations to provide greater security. Consider the following examples: 

  • Software that can conceal the activities of actors online has been used to organize and disseminate information from within and against authoritarian regimes 
  • Amnesty International developed the “Panic Button App” to protect Human Rights activists in the field. They use the app to alert others that they are in danger and require protection (Amnesty International, May 1, 2014). 
  • Apps have been used to report and disseminate information about wildlife or environmental crimes (Traffic, November 18, 2021). 
  • Refugee groups use information to aid those fleeing persecution (Amy Weiss-Meyer, May, 2017). 
  • Social media has been used to spread information and organize protests in the pursuit of rights consistent with efforts to secure human security.

Another example of this is what our textbook refers to as “hacktivism”: [t]he combination of hacking and activism, including operations that use hacking techniques against a target’s Internet site with the intention of disrupting normal operations” (Textbook: 454). Hacktivism doesn’t necessarily have the goal of producing security, but that is often an effect, especially if we define security broadly. For instance, outing racists is likely to produce greater security for victims and their communities. A well-known example of this is the group Anonymous, a version of the organization’s signature marker is seen in Image 10.2. This organization appeared in the early 2000s, using cyber-attacks against governments, corporations, and other organizations it disagrees with. Broadly it has been driven by left leaning and libertarian perspectives (Beran, August, 11, 2020). Consider three examples of hacks / threats from Anonymous: 

  • In 2015, Anonymous threatened and started to reveal a list of people connected with the Ku Klux Klan, believing that by revealing their identities they could destabilize the group (Bennett, November 2, 2015)
  • In the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, Anonymous threated to reveal police brutality by the Minneapolis Police Department (Beran, August, 11, 2020).
  • In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Anonymous vowed to take action against the Russian state.
Image shows a smiling black and white jesters’ mask on a black background.

Figure 10.2. A version of the Anonymous signature marker. Anonymous, by Jorjum (own work). 2011. Retrieved from Wikimedia CommonsCC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain

Take a Moment Activity 10C: Hacktivism, “good” or “bad?”

Do you think Hacktivism is “good” or “bad?” Your answer might not be straight forward, with arguments for both positions. Make sure you are prepared to explain you answer.

My Thoughts

You may have come up with reasons to both support hacktivists or to be wary of them. 

Here are a few problems to consider. First, your perspective on whether hacktivists are good or bad possibly depends on whether your values align with the group’s. This is even more concerning given that the goals of hacktivist groups are not always clearly developed and may change from one moment (or hacker) to the next. As a result, they don’t meet the demands for transparency in setting and pursuing their goals that we expect of mainstream activist groups. 

This links to another problem: these actors are vigilantes who operate outside the rule of law. While we might agree with their objectives, the methods used make them unacceptable for many. These methods may hurt people (or have others use the information produced to hurt them) in ways that many would not condone, despite their actions. Lastly, like many vigilante groups, they may get information wrong, harming innocent people.

The topic of cyber-security highlights several other themes of the course. You should be able to recognize these connections and use the case of cyber security to connect to these.

Technological innovation, change and contemporary security studies:

In several discussions across the course, we have talked about technological innovation and the evolution of security threats. There have been many impacts of these changes. For instance, we have spoken about revolutions in military affairs (RMAs) in Lesson 2, where there are abrupt changes in the tools used to fight wars. Cyber-weapons as new tools of conflict should be included in discussion of RMAs. In Lesson 4, we talked about the use of new technology in security measures, including those that rely on cyberspace, employed by states and their impact on individual rights. We have also talked about change more broadly as a feature of contemporary security studies. Cyber- security captures many of these themes. Cyber-security exists because of technological innovation. The ability of state and international leaders to stay ahead of technological innovation is important. 

Take a Moment Activity 10D: Cyber-security and more connections to themes of the course

Take a moment and think about how the case of cyber-security connects to important themes raised in other Lessons in the course. Make a list that connects cyber-security to both themes and concepts but also other cases of contemporary security.

My Thoughts

You will have highlighted several different connections, some of which I have not listed here. Below are some connections that I have identified, in addition to ones already mentioned through this Lesson. You should be able to expand on these connections.

Rights: In Lesson 4, we focused on the contemporary security challenge of providing security without states harming the rights of individuals. These are political questions, discussed in Lesson 1, and are the focus of many critical scholars as discussed in Lesson 3. These debates are also important to our discussions of cyber-security.

Risk: In Lesson 9 we spoke about how states calculate and manage risk as well as the ability to appropriately respond to the level of risk when responding to Terrorism. The same questions are raised by the issues of cyber-security. Assessing and appropriately responding to the risks of cyber-insecurity is difficult. 

Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs): In Lesson 7, we spoke about TCOs, their impact on economies, individuals and states and the challenges of states to counter them. Cyber-security is often conducted by TCOs and raises the same challenges. 

Post-territorial security threat: As we have seen in Lesson 4, contemporary security studies are defined in part by the fact that security threats are post-territorial: they work from within and across state boundaries, challenging states’ control and sovereignty and making countering the threats very difficult. This has been a feature of many of the topics we have looked at so far (e.g. environment, economics, terrorism, TCOs). Cyber-security has the same features. 

Asymmetric conflict: Another theme highlighted in the course, especially in our discussion of terrorism in Lesson 9, is how weak actors turn to specific tactics to counter significantly stronger actors. Cyber-attacks may also level the playing field between states with unequal traditional military power. 

International Security: In Lesson 2, we introduced the idea of international security: the stability of the international system. In the past, international security has been undermined by widespread international or global conflict. As we have suggested above, Taillat argues that the new normal of cyber conflict is having a destabilising impact. It is doing this by changing the norms of conflict and blurring the lines between peace and war. 

Securitization: In Lesson 3 we were introduced to the term securitization. Cyberspace has moved in public discourse from a freedom-oriented public space to a place of insecurity. Taillat refers to this as the rise of “threat discourse…linked to existential threats to political regimes, the status of states on the international scene, social cohesion and economic practices” (Taillat: 374-75). Cavelty points explicitly to “a growing securitization” (Cavelty: 424).

Interdisciplinary approaches to the study of security

One last, but important feature of contemporary security studies that I want to point to in this Lesson is its interdisciplinary nature. In the past, academic study has been divided into quite “siloed” approaches, defined by often strict disciplinary boundaries. Each discipline had its own set of academic questions, theoretical debates, specialized language, methods, disciplinary history, departments, conferences, and journals. Students and scholars would be steeped in a discipline. More training and research created experts with a mastery of that discipline. Outsiders could not just join in the debate without the requisite training and years of experience. Disciplinary experts rarely talked to each other, published in each others’ journals, or collaborated. Indeed, when dealing with complicated questions, it was often hard to understand academics from a discipline other than your own. The divide was even greater where academic fields had greater differentiation (e.g. between Arts and Sciences).

Over the last three decades, for some disciplines, the willingness and opportunity to work beyond your discipline has been greater; indeed, funding agencies often encourage it. This work can be defined as interdisciplinary. Interdisciplinary approaches are efforts to use different disciplinary insights to understand and explain complicated problems. In combination, the new, interdisciplinary ways of thinking about a problem move beyond the narrowly defined explanations provided by single stand-alone disciplines. You can also distinguish an interdisciplinary approach based on a new way of seeing the problem and solutions, from a multidisciplinary approach. Multidisciplinary approaches recognize the need to look at the insights of other disciplines and add them to your understanding. However, the disciplinary boundaries remain, with insights added on. Be careful, the terms multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary are often contested and have been used interchangeably. 

To be an effective interdisciplinary thinker, you need to be confident to explore outside your disciplinary boundaries and develop new and innovative approaches. You also need to be a very effective communicator. You need to be able to listen to other disciplines’ discussion of a problem you are working on and be able to bring that back to your own work. Similarly, you need to effectively communicate your own insights to those who are working on the same topic but coming at it from a different perspective. You need to effectively translate between different disciplinary languages.

The push for interdisciplinary insights comes from the reality of the contemporary security world, which is not divided into specific categories that reflect academic boundaries. Cyber-security points to ways in which contemporary security studies might benefit from an interdisciplinary approach. It is difficult to address threats without understanding the political landscape as well as the technical insights offered by a discipline like computer science. 

Other topics in contemporary security studies could also be served by an interdisciplinary approach. See if you can think of examples from the material we have already covered in the course. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Environmental security might benefit from combining the disciplines of:
    • Political Science, Economics, Environmental sciences, and others.
  • Human security might require knowledge of:
    • Political Science, Economics, Development Studies, Agriculture, Health Science, Law, Medicine, Environmental Sciences, and others.
  • Health security might require insights from:
    • Political Science, Health Administration, Economics, Human Resources, Immunology, Environmental Sciences, and others. 

Cyber-security is an increasingly important focus of contemporary security. While it is new, and driven by technological innovation, many of the approaches and concepts used to study contemporary security apply. Having completed this Lesson you should understand cyberspace as an important feature of security and be able to use many of the approaches we have discussed in the course so far to critically analyse the topic. After completing the last quiz in the course (instructions below) we will turn to Lesson 11, where we address international migration as an issue of contemporary security studies. 

When you are finished this Lesson, you need to take the online quiz – in the “Quizzes” section of the course webpage. The quiz covers the material from Lessons 1-10. The quiz will be part of your grade for the course – 5% in total. 

You should reflect on the grade you receive in the quiz and determine if the way you are working through and learning the material has been successful. If not, you should consider how you might prepare differently for the remaining quiz and the final exam. If you have questions / concerns, feel free to contact the instructor. 

This quiz will be open book. Once you have started the test you will have 20 minutes to complete it. The quiz will consist of 10 multiple choice questions. You can choose to take the quiz at any point during the week of Lesson 10 up to and including day 7. For exact dates see the “Due Date Document.”

Academic integrity is very important in this course. Your answers to the quiz should be the result of your work alone, without consultation with another student. In other words, once the quiz is started you must not consult with any other person.