chapter  1
30 Pages

Contesting an Essential Concept: Reading the Dilemmas in Contemporary Security Discourse

The Cold War is over, we are told, but even a casual reading and viewing of dominant Western media suggest that threats to security continue to proliferate. In the academy and in foreign-policy journals new threats are analyzed and new dangers assessed. The catalog of dangers requiring state interventions to monitor and control continues to attract analytical attention and generate expert prognoses.1 Intelligence agencies have partly converted themselves into collectors of economic information; the discourses of competitiveness suggest that innovation is now a matter of national importance. Environmental concerns as threats to regional if not global security percolate in the bureaucracies of many Western states. These policy themes are connected to recent attempts to reformulate for-

These policy debates have been paralleled by discussions, within the academy in general and within international relations in particular, about how security should be reformulated to adapt to new circumstances.2 The global security problematique, it is often argued, now encompasses much more than the contest for political supremacy in the processes of superpower rivalry. Often under the rubrics of “ common security” or “ cooperative security,” the themes of nonoffensive defense, economic security, environmental security, societal insecurities, drug threats, even human rights and the autonomy of civil society have been added in attempts to reformulate security policies to encompass many new items on the global political agenda.3 Simultaneously, it has been suggested, by feminists in particular, that security needs to be rethought to downplay the use of military force, to recognize the violent consequences of its conventional formulations and the limited applicability that these political strategies have for dealing with structural inequality and environmental degradation.4 Beyond this, one prominent scholar with a theoretical inclination has suggested the reformulation of security to encompass various aspects of human liberation.5 Another recent analysis shifted the focus from state to societal security, although without apparently resolving many of the difficulties that a solely state-centric formulation traditionally posed.6