Security and Emancipation by Ken Booth — A Summary

Booth, Ken. 1991. “Security and Emancipation.” Review of International Studies 17 (4). Cambridge University Press: 313–26.

The fun lies in reading the paper. It is not often that the dour topic of Security receives such entertaining treatment.

Word Problems and World Problems

The words we use to talk about International Politics — itself a “misleading label” — are becoming worn. But words are all we have. We need sharp words and sharp concepts to deal with sharp subjects. “We cannot expect to deal successfully with world problems if we cannot sort out our word problems.”

The Interregnum

Long standing patterns are declining and giving way to a more complicated global order where there is a simultaneous development of both local and global identities which overlap each other. Statist categories are breaking down.

How do we describe the current stage of world affairs [the period after the “fall” of the USSR; this paper was written in 1991] We need to name things correctly. Perhaps this is an interregnum. How we go beyond this interregnum will depend on our “images and vision”. In order to make a new future, old “images” will have to be discarded.

A Turning Point for Inter-State War

A “350-year span of history dominated by … military competition” is coming to an end. Military questions are no longer the main agenda of international politics. What new security game shall be played from now on?

Security in Our Times

The new security game can be characterised as a “utopian realism”. This perspective is, unlike the traditional realist perspective, holistic in character and non-statist in approach. Such a perspective is necessary because of the grave limitations of traditional thought about security. Its narrow military focus is highly problematic. Simply consider, to name but one example, the security dilemma. Also, it is apparent that issue areas like economic collapse, scarcity, overpopulation, environmental degradation etc. which lie outside the scope of traditional security thinking must be included in the new security agenda.

What we are seeing today is the recession of war among “communities that are wealthy and have a significant level of social justice”, loosely democratic societies. Unlike the centuries that preceded it, there has been no war among the “44 richest countries since 1945”. This points to a correlation between democracy and warlessness. Order, then, might lie in ensuring at least minimal levels of political and social justice.

Emancipation vs Power and Order

Order and power come at somebody’s expense. Hence, they are unstable. For this reason, emancipation must take precedence.

“‘Security’ means the absence of threats. Emancipation is the freeing of people (as individuals and groups) from those physical and human constraints which stop them carrying out what they would freely choose to do. War and the threat of war is one of those constraints, together with poverty, poor education, political oppression and so on. Security and emancipation are two sides of the same coin. Emancipation, not power or order, produces true security. Emancipation, theoretically, is security.”

People should be treated as ends and states as means. Individual humans, not states, are the ultimate referent. States are “unreliable, illogical and too diverse in their character” to be uses as the primary referents. Unreliable because some states are in the business of security while others (those of Hitler, Stalin, Saddam) are not. Illogical because states are only means and not the ends of security. Also, the historical variety of states makes a theory of state misplaced.

Consider the confrontation between the women of Greenham Common and Margaret Thatcher in the early 1980s. While the former saw nuclearization as a threat to their security and protested the building of the Greenham missile base, the latter saw the Soviet Union as a threat and the missiles as the guarantors of security. The utopian realism of the former can be contrasted with the neo-realism of the latter. The Greenham women were right. It is not that denuclearization will be easy or guaranteed. But it is rational to act as though it is.

The Case for Emancipation

The struggle for emancipation is concurrent with the spirit our times. It is necessary to go beyond the important but limited insights of neo-realism. Politics is open-ended and based in ethics. The preoccupation with technological variables must be superseded by an engagement with moral philosophy. Critical theory helps in achieving this movement from the neo-realist framework to critical philosophy.

This requires a rethinking of traditional ideas about liberty. Emancipation implies liberty but of an egalitarian character. “[L]iberty without economic status is propaganda.” Emancipation also requires the integration of reciprocal rights — the idea that ‘I am not truly free until everyone is free’. This will result in the breaking down of the barriers between the domestic and the foreign. The distinction between the two although convenient is an “unhelpful dichotomy”.

Teaching and Practice: What is to be Done?

Freedom eradicates violence. There is an inverse correlation between the political rights and civil liberties in nations, and both internal violence and war. “Emancipation, empirically, is security.”

Traditional thinking about security in so far as it is characterised by superpower nuclearism is a “non-returnable timebound curiosity”. In its stead, a new breed of students trained in defence, of course, but also in human rights, environmental issues, economic development, and comparative politics.

In practice, emancipation enables community building upon the debris of the barriers between “us” and “them”. With it as the “utopian” goal, the processes practiced and implemented towards attaining it, in a very real sense, become significant achievements themselves. In other words, the means become the ends. The aim is not so much on distant utopian goals but on reformist steps and processes. Such processes have already been underway not just in governments but also in non-state actors. The outlook is encouraging.

Critical theory falls short when it comes to policy recommendations. But so does realism. In any case, it should not be expected to guide action in all circumstances.

Conclusion as Prologue

“The implementation of an emancipatory strategy through process utopian steps is, to a greater or lesser extent, in the hands of all those who want it to be — the embryonic global civil society. In a world of global communications few should feel entirely helpless. Even in small and private decisions it is possible to make choices which help rather than hinder the building of a world community. Some developments depend on governments, but some do not. …[I]n pursuing emancipation, the bases of real security are being established.



International Migration, Border Controls and Human Rights by Antoine Pécoud and Paul de Guchteneire — A Summary

Pécoud, Antoine, and Paul de Guchteneire. 2006. “International Migration, Border Controls and Human Rights: Assessing the Relevance of a Right to Mobility.” Journal of Borderlands Studies 21 (1). Routledge: 69–86.

This is actually not a summary. Barring the small additions to improve grammatical flow which have been put in square brackets, the rest are extracts.


Is it possible to envisage a right to mobility?

Trends in Contemporary Border Controls

International migration has become one of the central issues of our time.[1] As a consequence, international migration is now high on the agenda of the international community and of many countries.

A largely shared feature of contemporary migration policies is their restrictive nature. Migration is commonly understood, in security terms, as a “problem” and many countries feel the need to protect against this “threat.”

[As such,] the borders between Western countries and their less-rich neighbours have become fortified. External controls at the border are accompanied by internal controls meant to identify undocumented migrants after entry. Another way of controlling migration lies in co-operation between countries.[2]

Controlling migration is costly.[3] [But] although it is difficult to measure their deterrence effect on potential migrants, the persistence of undocumented migration illustrates how even sophisticated forms of controls do not really stop people. [This is because] migration is now structurally embedded in the economies and societies of most countries whether in the form of remittances, cheap labour, or domestic services. Moreover, migratory movements, once started, become self-sustaining.[4] Controlling immigration is particularly difficult for liberal democracies [as they are constrained by] market forces and the philosophy of human rights. In practice, this means that civil society, human rights groups, and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) can contest government measures and sometimes have them opposed by courts.

Border Controls and Human Rights

Contemporary border policies are accompanied by several challenges to human rights.

First, the measures meant to stop irregular migration have direct consequences on the asylum principle.[5] The confusion between asylum-seekers and economic migrants[6] leads not only to endless and unmanageable procedures to “prove” the existence of persecution, but also to human rights abuses and suffering for both “genuine” and “fake” refugees.

The second human rights challenge involves trafficking and human smuggling. The more difficult it is to enter a country, the more necessary the reliance on smugglers and the more profitable the business. This [not only] fuels human rights violations [but also amplifies calls for] strict border control policies.

The third challenge relates to the human cost of migration controls for the migrants themselves. The most tragic and obvious illustration of this cost lies in the number of people who die on their way to receiving countries.

Borders have thus become the site of major ethical challenges, and four observations can be made about them.

First, a tension between security and human rights preoccupations pervades the response to these phenomena. Migration has increasingly been understood as a security threat. This leaves little space for human rights. Indeed, the most frequent concern seems to be the difficulty of conciliating the trade-based openness of borders with their security-based closure, a debate in which people’s rights and dignity hardly play a role.

Second, these different phenomena attract various levels of attention and are treated in a differentiated and isolated manner. Human trafficking has been clearly acknowledged as a human rights’ violation and combating it has become a priority for many governments. Asylum also draws substantial attention but is treated in a largely national manner. By contrast, “deaths at the border” are largely ignored; even though they regularly make headlines in the media and draw the attention of a few NGOs. The connections between restrictive asylum policies, human smuggling, and migrants’ vulnerability are not recognized.

Third, addressing the relationships between border controls, migration policies, and human rights is difficult because of the moral complexity at stake and the ambiguous set of causalities between governments, policies, and human agency. Who, for example, is responsible for the death of migrants?

Fourth, the question is not simply what is happening at borders. Current migration and border policies may ultimately represent a threat, not only for migrants, but also for the human rights and democratic principles that lie at the core of Western states. Tough border control measures may not be compatible with the harmonious functioning of democracies. The values that guide societies cannot stop at their borders.

Toward a Right to Mobility

With governments unable to match their proclaimed ambition of controlling their borders, restrictive policies are not credible. A right to mobility may usefully reinforce an ethical and rights-based approach to migration and border controls. Having the right to leave one’s country is meaningless as long as one cannot enter another country. Emigration and immigration inextricably complement each other.

A right to mobility would counterbalance the uneven access to mobility[7] among peoples and nations. Restrictions on mobility are difficult to reconcile with the liberal egalitarian perspective according to which people should have equal opportunities. The issue of mobility opportunities is particularly relevant in an era of globalization, at the heart of which lies issues of circulation and international border crossing.

[Besides,] elaborating a right to mobility is not about adding one more right to a long list of rights; rather, it is about fostering respect for existing human rights. In a world of economic globalization and gross socioeconomic inequalities, the human right to free choice of employment (Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) and to an adequate standard of living (Article 25) are hard to achieve in the absence of migration opportunities.

World Justice

Critics of neo-liberalism argue that if people flows were deregulated and exclusively market driven, the absence of state intervention would not lead to more equality but to the exact opposite. The only fair policy is development aid, foreign investment and trade.

[But] so far, they have not proved able to reduce the gap between rich and poor countries and, therefore, it may be time to try something else. [In fact,] migration might not only be the most efficient way of reducing inequalities between countries but also, and contrary to widespread perceptions, the most acceptable solution. Development also encourages migration rather than substitutes for it.[8]

Social Cohesion

Migration is often described as a threat to social cohesion. The arrival of newcomers destabilizes receiving societies and jeopardizes the sense of belonging and common identity that lies at the core of community life. [This argument] should be discussed with a particular focus on the institutions and mechanisms that ground social cohesion (welfare states, citizenship, and democracy)

 Mobility is a major challenge to the welfare state. [Their] logics are contradictory: a right to mobility is about openness and circulation, whereas welfare systems are based on closure. [But] the correlation between increased migration and the deterioration of welfare schemes is not straightforward. Moreover, far from being the main challenge to welfare states, migration is only one factor among many.

Along with welfare, citizenship, and democratic participation constitute key features of social cohesion. [There is a need to] unpack citizenship and distribute its different components (political, civil, social, family and cultural rights, notably) in a differentiated way. Migrants would initially receive a first set of rights (civil rights and fundamental social rights), and only later would they receive, in a step-by-step manner, full welfare entitlements or political rights. By avoiding the binary logic of inclusion/exclusion, this approach ensures that migrants are not “rightless” (as undocumented migrants tend to be) while enabling high mobility and addressing the reluctance of nationals and long-term residents to share their privileges with newcomers.

From a cultural perspective, migrants are often believed to integrate imperfectly, thus threatening the socio-cultural foundations of destination countries, creating tensions with the native population, and fostering racism and xenophobia. [The argument therefore goes:] if states do not control migration, people will do it themselves through more-or-less violent rejections of foreigners. [But] fundamentally, border controls indirectly feed racism by reinforcing the idea that foreigners and foreign-looking people are undesirable. [Also], control policies absorb funds and energy to the detriment of integration.

In short, social cohesion is about far more than migration; the role of migrants should not be ignored but neither should it be overwhelmingly emphasized to the detriment of other major challenges to social cohesion.

Economic Wealth

A frequent argument in favour of unrestricted mobility is of an economic nature. Free movement is advocated on the grounds that restrictions on the mobility of people are counterproductive. Free migration would [actually] reduce inequalities at the world level, hence, diminishing the necessity to migrate.

However, comparing flows of people to flows of capital, information, or commodities neglects the social complexity of migration. (see above)

Security and the Governance of Migration and Borders

A third way between open and closed borders could be a system of multilateral governance of migration flows whereby states would coordinate their migration policies for their mutual benefit, just as they do with flows of capital, commodities, and goods.

[However,] security arguments mitigate against such interstate co-operation. Today, faced with terrorism-related threats, states respond with a “rebordering” process. Internationalization of most national economies implies heavy cross-border movements of people, vehicles, and shipments. To truly control these flows would be so costly and time-consuming that it would harm economic growth.

The need to go beyond strictly national policies cannot be contested, [but] the issue is the nature of these goals: states can and should co-operate, but with what aims in mind? Migration can be “managed” in a very repressive way and it is easy to imagine a situation in which interstate co-operation would merely perpetuate current restrictive policies.

Tight control policies, whether nationally or multilaterally implemented, create situations of illegality and mistrust that make co-operative border management even more difficult.

[Also,] border controls do not really stop people but rather incite them to go underground [providing] smugglers and traffickers with enhanced business opportunities. Tight migration policies generate undocumented migration, smuggling, and trafficking, which then prompt calls for more control. In the meantime, the values of control policies impact social relations and people’s attitudes, not only creating a perceived need for increased control but also undermining the cross-border human ties that would make interstate co-operation possible. In this context, a right to mobility may be a way to break this vicious circle by helping to shed a critical perspective on the notion of “management” or “governance” in fields such as migration or security.


A right to mobility is ethically defensible and usefully complements the human right to emigration. It can serve as a stimulus, not only to elaborate fairer migration policies, but also to question the moral, cultural, and political foundations of contemporary practices. A right to mobility may appear as a naïve utopia. However, it is equally utopian and naïve to believe that minor arrangements of contemporary policies will provide sustainable answers to the challenges raised by international migration.


[1] In 2005, the number of migrants worldwide was estimated at 185 to 192 million, representing approximately 3 percent of the world population.

[2] Sending states frequently resent the way in which their illegally migrating citizens are treated by destination countries, but they are nevertheless incited (and financially supported) to contribute to migration controls by stopping their outflow of undocumented migrants or reaccepting those who have been expelled. Transit countries are also asked to better control their borders.

[3] According to an International Organization for Migration (IOM) report, the twenty-five richest countries spend 25 to 30 billion dollars per year on the enforcement of immigration laws.

[4] Through migration, countries are connected via networks that span the globe and facilitate more migration. Lobby groups, such as employers, can also impose domestic constraints on governments to allow migration for labour-market reasons.

[5] The asylum principle upholds the idea that all human beings are entitled to seek protection from persecution.

[6] Economic migrants posing as asylum seekers.

[7] Citizens from developed countries may travel and settle down almost anywhere in the world, while their fellow human beings from less-developed countries depend upon the uncertain issuance of visas and residence permits to migrate. Trained workers are sought and enjoy a greater level of mobility than their unskilled compatriots.

[8] The development process leads to economic restructuring, which forces people to find new jobs and creates incentives to move, from rural to urban regions or abroad.


Human Security: Paradigm Shift or Hot Air? by Roland Paris — A Summary

Paris, Roland. 2001. “Human Security: Paradigm Shift or Hot Air?” International Security 26 (2). The MIT Press: 87–102.

Human security is being hailed as a new paradigm for thinking about international security beyond its realist preoccupation with the military. However, the concept is not precisely defined. And its proponents seem to be interested in keeping it that way.

The term, in short, appears to be slippery by design. Cultivated ambiguity renders human security an effective campaign slogan, but it also diminishes the concept’s usefulness as a guide for academic research or policy-making.

What is Human Security?

Human security can be said to have two main aspects. It means, 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 Human Development Report 1994

The report also identifies seven specific elements that comprise human security: a) economic security; b) food security; c) health security; d) environmental security; e) personal security; f) community security; and g) political security.

This definition remains the most cited and most authoritative. However, the definition and the elements specified are so comprehensive that it is difficult to see anything that could be excluded. The meaning and boundaries of human security are thus extremely vague.

Definitions offered by academics are no less vague and are often in the “laundry-list” format of the UNDP. Jorge Nef suggests five constituents of human security while Laura Reed and Majid Tehranian offer ten constituent elements. Those that choose not to give lists offer equally comprehensive definitions. Caroine Thomas talks about “basic material needs” and “human dignity” while Robert Bedeski sees human security as encompassing the totality of knowledge, technology, institutions and activities” which enable and enhance human life.

If human security is all these things, what is it not?

A Guide for Research and Policymaking?

Given the range of values that human security encompasses within its vast “inclusive” and “holistic” sweep and the reluctance in ranking these values, policy makers have little use for the concept.

A similar problem lies for academics as human security, with its hodgepodge of principles, seems to be capable of supporting virtually any hypothesis along with its opposite! The holism of the concept also makes analytical interventions difficult as it is impossible to talk of, let’s say, socio-economic factors causing an increase or decrease in human security as these they are themselves implicated within the definition of human security.

To illustrate, consider John Cockell’s efforts to apply the concept of human security to international peacebuilding operations in disturbed countries. He states that “peacebuilding is a sustained process of preventing internal threats to human security from causing protracted, violent conflict.” Since, safety from violence is a part of the definition of human security itself, Cockell is effectively saying that peacebuilding tries to reduce threats to human security by reducing threats to human security!

Attempts to Narrow the Concept

Gary King and Christopher Murray seek to incorporate only “essential” elements in the concept of human security, elements that are “important enough for human beings to fight over or to put their lives or property at great risk”. These indicators of well-being are identified as poverty, health, education, political freedom and democracy. Kanti Bajpai proposes construction of a “human security audit” that would include measures of “direct and indirect threats to individual bodily safety and freedom”.

The problem with projects like these is the identification of certain values, which are chosen, as more important than others without justification. Why, for example, are “threats to safety and freedom the most important”? What about, say, education? Why should the “essential” elements comprise of “poverty, health, education, political freedom and democracy”? Is a rich, healthy, and educated area of London necessarily secure? The challenge is to narrow the definition but give compelling reasons as to why certain values are preferred.

Narrowing down human security also creates another problem. The ambiguity of the concept unites a diverse and often fractious coalition of states and organisations. Making human security more specific would run the risk of aggravating certain groups and alienating them.

What is the merit, then, in narrowing the concept of security?

Human Security as a Category of Research

“Human security may serve as a label for a broad category of research in the field of security studies that is primarily concerned with non-military threats to the safety of societies, groups, and individuals, in contrast to more traditional approaches to security studies that focus on protecting states from external threats.”

The point of this suggestion is that despite the vagueness of the concept, human security could still play a useful “taxonomical” role. This would be well-aligned to the slippery and volatile nature of the concept itself.

Security studies has broadened and deepened since the Cold War. Broadened in that it has moved beyond the conventional military understanding to include a host of non-military threats. Deepened in that it is now willing to consider individuals and groups as referent objects rather than states alone.

Using the notions of deepening and broadening, it is possible to construct a matrix to situate the literature in the field of security studies.

Roland Paris Matrix Security Studies

Cell 1 contains works that concentrate on military threats to the security of states. Cell 2 contains works addressing non-military threats (instead of or in addition to military threats) to states. Cell 3 focuses on military threats to non-state actors like societies, groups and individuals. Cell 4 is concerned with military and non-military threats, or both, to the security of societies, groups, and individuals. This last area of literature is what would be called “human security”.

Using human security to describe this category of research is intuitive as the issues covered echo many of the concerns of human security. It avoids the problem of framing precise hypotheses about human security — a problem that has turned out to be an unsurmountable one. Using human security as a descriptive label frees it from presupposing any normative agenda.

This exercise also helps differentiate the principal approaches to security studies. It is no longer sufficient nor reasonable to define security studies in dualistic terms — the state-centric realist approaches as opposed to the “disorderly bazaar” of alternative approaches. It could also help draw attention to existing works through the very “fashionability” of security studies.

This is not to assert that these compartments are watertight. They are permeable.

“National Security” as an Ambiguous Symbol by Arnold Wolfers — A Summary

Wolfers, Arnold. 1952. “‘National Security’ as an Ambiguous Symbol.” Political Science Quarterly 67 (4): 481–502.

  • The divisions are my own.
  • If the use of the term ‘security’ in this summary, as in the paper, seems inconsistent and extremely loose, it is because that’s exactly the point that the paper is trying to make.

National Security as National Interest

Do the terms “national interest” and “national security” that statesmen, publicists, and scholars often harp about mean anything concrete and precise? The first word ‘national’ makes it quite clear in that the terms relate to the nation rather than individuals, sub-nations or mankind. But the words ‘security’ and ‘interest’ convey very little meaning.

In the period between the World Wars, American foreign policy was largely driven by the economic interest. Today, foreign policy is driven by the security interest. This shift from economic to a security interpretation of the national interest is understandable. The Cold War and threats of aggression loom large whereas the threats of depression and social reform are relatively minimal. The important question is whether this formula of national security can be a meaningful guide for securing national interest.

(I)t would be an exaggeration to claim that the symbol of national security is nothing but a stimulus to semantic confusion, (but) closer analysis will show that if used without specifications it leaves room for more confusion than sound political counsel or scientific usage can afford.

Statement of Facts in Security Policy

Demand for foreign policy guided by the consideration of national security assumes that nations have indeed made security their goal. The problem with this assumption, this “statement of fact”, even if it is true, is that “the term ‘security’ covers a range of goals so wide that highly divergent policies can be interpreted as policies of security.”

Security denotes protection of “acquired values”. It is then a value which a nation can have more or less of. Objectively, it measures the absence of threats to acquired values, and subjectively, it measures the absence of fear of threats to acquired values. This discrepancy between the objective and subjective connotations of security is significant.

Different nations react to the same threats differently. Nations that experienced attacks in the recent past or suddenly find themselves in danger after prolonged security are most sensitive to threats. Also, nations are not all or constantly faced with the same degree of danger. The point is that nations will therefore differ in their efforts to obtain more security.

Nevertheless, the generalisation that “most nations, most of the time have shown, and had reason to show, an active concern about some lack of security and have been prepared to make sacrifices for its enhancement” remains undeniable. This does not however make it a cardinal rule. It has been the case that efforts to increase security through, say, more armaments, even when the payoffs are certain, face serious obstacles as they introduce uncomfortable costs. Also, very few, if any, nations have started preventive wars on the grounds of security whereas there have been numerous wars fought for other, even trivial, reasons.

A different hypothesis stating that nations will seek to minimise their efforts to increase security as it is, after all, a negative value i.e., “the absence of the evil of insecurity” might offer a better understanding.

In any case, together with the extent of the external threats, numerous domestic factors such as national character, tradition, preferences and prejudices will influence the level of security which a nation chooses to make its target.

But nations are not free to choose the amount of effort they put into security. To this objection, it may be replied that ‘pure power politics’ is not the reality and that survival — one of the main justifications for security — has only exceptionally been at stake. Security policies then become more a function of what nations want than what nations are compelled to do by others. And there are values other than security that nations desire to secure and, ceteris paribus, “the efforts for security will vary with the range of values for which the protection is sought.”

What constitutes this ‘range of values’? There may appear to be considerable uniformity regarding these values as every nation wants to preserve its ‘core’ values of “national independence and territorial integrity”. That’s not disputed. But nations seek protection of other ‘marginal’ values too, e.g., markets and investments, which often become crucial on the security agenda even to the extent that many West European countries have become weary and distrustful of rearmament seeing it as a threat to other cherished marginal values.

Any policy for security cannot be determined by its end, i.e., security, alone. The means adopted have to be taken into account. The same end could, for example, be pursued through active rearmament or meticulous neutrality. The general propensity is to assume that the former path will be chosen, but that’s not always the case. This tendency is understandable given the fact, supported by historical reading, that security is being sought against violence — external or internal — which demands mobilisation of coercive power in order to respond appropriately, i.e., with violence.

But then again, such a tendency does little to advance the understanding of security. The takeaway is that, “in the matter of means, the roads which are open may lead in diametrically opposed directions”. This is exemplified in the treatment of Germany after the World Wars I and II: in the former case retaliatory, and in the latter conciliatory.

The choice in every instance will depend on a multitude of variables, including ideological and moral convictions, expectations concerning the psychological and political developments in the camp of the opponent, and inclinations of individual policy makers.

Little, then, is left of the sweeping generalization that nations, guided by their national security interest, tend to pursue a uniform and therefore imitable policy of security. There are plenty of reasons to say and historical examples to prove that they differ very widely in their policies which run the entire gamut from “complete indifference to security or complete reliance on nonmilitary means, … (to) insistence on absolute security or complete reliance on coercive power.”

Normative Judgments in Security Policy

(The following paragraph appears right after the first section but is being produced here for the sake of continuity and clarity. Why this is the case will be clear as you read pages 483 and 484 of the paper.)

“The demand for a policy of national security is primarily normative in character. It is supposed to indicate what the policy of a nation should be in order to be either expedient — a rational means toward an accepted end — or moral — the best or least evil course of action. The value judgments implicit in these normative exhortations will be discussed.”


Can any security policy said to be “generally expedient”? This is problematic because while the goal of security is not decided based on expediency, it is difficult to conceive of security itself as an end — the implication being that if security is not an end and merely a means to “more ultimate ends”, the question of expediency becomes relevant. Today’s followers of Machiavelli will of course maintain the security of the nation is an end in itself. However, there is growing opinion disagreeing with the Machiavellians. Why else do we — Americans — condemn Nazis and Communists for defending (the security of) their totalitarian regimes? Why else, in Asia and Europe, is there the apprehension that military security measures would make no sense it they came at the cost of basic liberties and welfare?

Can a specific level of security be generally expedient? One could say that the sky is the limit. But maximum security cannot be an expedient level of security. For one, every increment in security must be paid for by additional resources, i.e., by sacrificing other values. After a certain level, the gain in security will not be able to compensate the loss in other values. This is crucial as absolute security is out of the question. For another, while the problem of the “security dilemma” makes absolute security equal to absolute insecurity — in the language of game theory, a non-zero-sum game — in practice, this vicious circle can be broken through well-crafted diplomacy, self-restraint and moderation.

Can certain specific means of attaining security be generally expedient? It depends. There can be no one answer that fulfills the requirements of every case. Strong countries will have options that weak countries cannot muster. The “power of resistance” cannot be said to be generally expedient given the nature of security. If a nation’s security is understood in its objective sense, the subjective attitudes and behaviour of those nations that threaten it become paramount. But no strong recommendations can be given.

“…it will clarify the issue to sketch the type of hypotheses which would link specific security policies, as expedient, to some of the most typical political constellations.”

One can think of nations lined up between the two poles of maximum and minimum “attack propensity” … wherever the issue of security becomes a matter of serious concern, … an attack must be feared as a possibility, even though the intention to launch it cannot be considered to have crystallized to the point where nothing could change it. If this be true, a security policy in order to be expedient cannot avoid accumulating power of resistance and yet cannot let it go at that. … (in other words,) security policy must seek to bring opponents to occupy a position as close to the second pole as conditions and capabilities permit.

Such a twofold policy presents the greatest dilemmas because efforts to change the intentions of an opponent may run counter to the efforts to build up strength against him. The dangers of any policy of concessions, symbolized by “Munich”, cannot be ·underestimated. The paradox of this situation must be faced, however, if security policy is to be expedient.


Can any security policy considered to be moral? Any advice on national security will unavoidably be based on moral judgments. The framing of security policies then entails weighing the good and evil of values. As an example, a policy that favours greater military spending at the cost of healthcare carries the implicit judgment that the good of increased security is worth the evil of decreased social welfare.

It is easier to argue for the amorality of politics if one does not have to bear the responsibility of choice and decision!

There are two extreme positions that can be taken regarding the moral issue. One extreme is that national security is at the top of the value pyramid and that it trumps all other values. The other extreme is that coercive power is an absolute evil that must be shunned at all costs. For any other position in between these two, the issue is anything but simple. The line between protection of security and the preservation of other values has to be drawn. Where to draw that line is the perennial problem.

Decision makers thus have to navigate the moral labyrinth of which values to protect, what level of protection to be ensured and what means to adopt in order to achieve that level of protection. Policies of national security far from being all good or all evil can be either praiseworthy or condemnable, or praiseworthy and condemnable.

“This wide range of variety which arises out of the multitude of variables affecting the value computation would make it impossible, and in fact meaningless, to pass moral judgment, positive or negative, on national security policy in general.”


“In conclusion, it can be said, then, that normative admonitions to conduct a foreign policy guided by the national security interest are no less ambiguous and misleading than the statement of fact concerning past behaviour which was discussed earlier. In order to be meaningful such admonitions would have to specify the degree of security which a nation shall aspire to attain and the means by which it is to be attained in a given situation. … Because the pendulum of public opinion swings so easily from extreme complacency to extreme apprehension, from utopian reliance on “good will” to disillusioned faith in naked force only, it is particularly important to be wary of any simple panacea, even of one that parades in the realist garb of a policy guided solely by the national security interest.”


The Renaissance of Security Studies by Stephen M. Walt — A Summary

Title: The Renaissance of Security Studies
Author: Stephen M. Walt
Publication: International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 35, No. 2 (1991)

What is “Security Studies?”

Security Studies is “the study of the threat, use, and control of military force”. While a water-tight demarcation of its scope is arbitrary, the main focus of security studies is the “phenomenon of war”. Unsurprisingly, it fits snugly within the realist paradigm and tends to concentrate on variables which can be affected by policy. These include maters of statecraft like diplomacy, arms control, and crisis management which are directly related to its main preoccupation.

There is also, recently, calls to include non-military forces like pandemics and natural disasters which threaten both states and individuals.  However, such a broadening of the discipline’s scope is bound to “destroy its intellectual coherence”. Besides, the spectre of war is always haunting states and, thus, war continues to preoccupy national policies.

The Golden Age of Security Studies

The increasing interest from civilians on matters of security after the horror of World War II inaugurated the “Golden Age” of security studies. It was the rise of nuclear capability and the innumerable questions regarding its potential use which formed the prime area of study. The approach was eclectic and interdisciplinary. One limitation was that given the close exchange of ideas and assets between the Department of Defense and the think-tanks involved in research, the output was uncomfortably military in perspective.

Limitations and Lacunae in the Golden Age

Firstly, early works in security studies were highly speculative. With most relevant data being classified, this was, to an extent, unavoidable. Secondly, politics was understood in the narrow sense of military balances while ignoring non-military sources of conflict. As such, political sources of conflict and, by extension, techniques of redressal, were slighted. Finally, the output arising out of the “behavioural revolution”, although significant, were dismissed by security studies as irrelevant and, thus, had little impact on policy.

The End of the Golden Age

The Golden Age declined in the mid-60s. For one, the central issues identified by security studies were well understood by then. For another, there was no significant contribution to the field from the “successor generation” of scholars. Also, the debacle of the Vietnam war unfortunately and ironically made the field unfashionable in universities. Lastly, the stabilisation of the cold war power balance thanks to nuclear deterrence made the study of war unattractive. Scholars moved their attention to economic issues.

The Renaissance

New Developments in Security Studies

The Use of History

Increased access to classified archives and the increased interaction between historians and political scientists led to structured, focussed, and policy-relevant comparisons and aided the revision of important historical events.

The Challenge to Rational Deterrence Theory

The dubious assumptions of perfect rationality and perfect information which underpinned rational deterrence theory began to be questioned by drawing upon psychology, organisation theory and historical studies.

Nuclear Weapons Theory

Debates on nuclear weapons policy became extremely lively with the surge in rigorous civilian analyses thanks to the availability of data and analytical tools. The water-tightness of the nuclear command and control system was found to be a sham. Scholarship became highly empirical.

Conventional Warfare

The dominance of nuclear considerations in analyses was reversed and conventional warfare began to receive attention thanks to the concern about conventional balance in Europe after Vietnam. Many of the analyses coming out of this were based on new theoretical approaches and empirically tested propositions.

US Grand Strategy

“Increased interest in the subject (US Grand Strategy) was especially evident in the United States, sparked by a growing sense that the United States was over-commited and needed to rethink its strategic priorities.”

Security Studies and International Relations Theory

National security issues became part of the agenda for theorists of international politics breaking away from the hitherto narrow perspective of policy research. This was most evident in the reformulated realist perspective pioneered by Kenneth Waltz.

The Role of the Ivory Tower

“The final characteristic separating the Golden Age from the recent renaissance is the growth of security studies within the academic world. … Although analysts outside the ivory tower remain important, the center of gravity has clearly shifted back toward academe.

Explaining the Renaissance

The End of Vietnam War

Security studies was sort of taboo during the Vietnam war. Its termination made the field more attractive to students who were also motivated by the need to reassess US foreign and defense policy.

The Collapse of Détente

“Interest in security affairs was also revived by the deterioration of U.S.–Soviet relations in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Increased Access to Data

Availability of archival material made possible by the movement against government secrecy thanks to Vietnam and Watergate, and authoritative publications from government departments as well as influential publications from academic centres made the renaissance possible.

Increased Outlets for Publishing

The birth of refereed journals like International Security, Journal of Strategic Studies as well as the establishment of Cornell Studies in Security Affairs helped scholars pursue and demonstrate rigorous and ambitious work in the field.

Financial Support

“Like its medieval namesake, the renaissance of security studies was fuelled by wealth. … Increased public concern about national security issues encouraged generous support from institutions such as the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation … .

Security Studies and Social Science

“Last but not least, the resurrection of security studies was facilitated by its adoption of the norms and objectives of social science.

Like other social scientists, scholars in security affairs engage in three main activities: 1) theory creation, the development of logically related causal propositions explaining a particular phenomenon of interest; 2) theory testing, attempts to verify, falsify, and refine competing theories by testing their predictions against a scientifically selected body of evidence; and 3) theory application, the use of existing knowledge to illuminate a specific policy problem. 

Problems and Prospects for Security Studies

... a permanent decline (in the field of security studies) is unlikely for at least three reasons. First, as the war in the Persian Gulf reminds us, military power remains a central element of international politics ... . Second, security studies has been institutionalized within many university departments ... . Most important of all, the collapse of the Cold War order will create new policy problems and new research puzzles.

Potential Problems

On the one hand, there is the temptation to focus on “consulting work and policy analysis rather than cumulative scholarly research”. This will spell disaster for rigor and quality in the field. But on the other hand, there is the opposite and even greater danger that security studies might become fascinated by “the trivial, the formal, the methodological, the purely theoretical, the remotely historical — in short, the politically irrelevant” and as a result lose its theoretical progress and practical value.

In short, security studies must steer between the Scylla of political opportunism and the Charybdis of academic irrelevance. ... (this) means that security studies should remain wary of the counterproductive tangents that have seduced other areas of international studies, most notably the “post-modern” approach to international affairs.

Beyond its analytic rigor, the use of formal models has proven to be of little use on other work in the discipline. The use of “heroic assumptions” make these models impossible to analyse empirically. Policy relevance need not be immediate but that does not give license to “pursue a technique regardless of its ultimate payoff”.

“The above strictures are no more than a warning, therefore; progress will be best served by increased dialogue between different methodological approaches.

A Research Agenda for Security Studies

The Role of Domestic Politics

Domestic politics is an important determinant of national security policy. Unsolved questions regarding the role of the military as a cause of war, the claim that liberal democracies do not fight, and the proposition that regime changes are a cause of conflict need to be further analysed.

The Causes of Peace and Cooperation

Peace and cooperation are not utopian aspirations as many in the field used to think. The positive goal of the field is indeed peace building. Peace and security studies need to converge and have begun to do so as evident in the literature on “nonoffensive” defense, the scepticism of security analysts towards ‘security regimes’ and the hope for cooperation through international institutions.

The Power of Ideas

The change in attitude towards war because of the horrors of conventional warfare have discredited its stature as a noble and heroic activity among advanced industrialised countries. While this thesis is incomplete, the impact of changing attitudes on warfare remains a fascinating question.

The End of the Cold War

The end of the cold war provides numerous avenues for enquiry.

“First, … Because both great and lesser powers will need new security arrangements once the Cold War is over, research on alternative grand strategies will be of obvious interest. Under what conditions should states employ military force and for what purposes?

“Second, the end of the Cold War raises basic issues about the prospects for peace. Will the waning of U.S.–Soviet rivalry reduce the danger of war or allow familiar sources of conflict to reemerge?

These concerns are already evident in the scholarly debate over the future of Europe. At least four main views can be identified. “Third-image pessimists[1] argue that the re-emergence of a multipolar Europe will restore the conditions that fuelled war in Europe in the past; for this reason, the end of the Cold War will increase the danger of war. ... “Second-image pessimists downplay systemic causes and emphasize the dangers arising from the weak democratic institutions in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. ... “second-image optimists argue that the leveling of European societies, the dampening of militarism, and the extensive rewriting of nationalist history in Europe have removed the main causes of earlier wars. “institutional optimists” suggest that economic integration and international institutions (such as NATO, the EC, or the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe) will be strong enough to safeguard peace in Europe.

Economics and Security

The relationship between economics and security is of increasing interest. One dimension is the connection between military spending and economic performance. Another is the strategic security importance of economic events, e.g., oil shocks. A third dimension is the political influence of the military–industrial complex (MIC).

Refining Existing Theories

“… competing hypotheses have not been subjected to systematic empirical tests. …therefore, refining and testing existing hypotheses through well-designed empirical studies should form a central part of future work.

Protecting the Data Base

“Efforts to shield government policy from outside evaluation pose a grave threat to scholarship in the field. … the scholarly profession should resist this effort wholeheartedly. … restricting information threatens the public debate that is central to democracy and essential to sound policy. … excessive secrecy allows ill-conceived programs to survive uncorrected. … therefore, open debate on national security matters must be preserved. Such a debate requires that scholars retain access to a reliable and complete data base.”

Conclusion: Some Lessons for the Future

The Evolution of the Knowledge

“First, it (the evolution of the discipline) illustrates how external events influence the scholarly agenda: as noted throughout this essay, research in security studies has been heavily shaped by changing international conditions.

“Second, the history of security studies also illustrates the mechanisms by which social science advances. One avenue is borrowing from other disciplines. … The other source of progress is competition between rival theories.

Security Studies and the Ivory Tower

Security studies faces two serious dangers. (See Potential Problems)

“… academic experts in security studies can help in several ways. In the short term, academics are well placed to evaluate current programs, because they face less pressure to support official policy. The long-term effects of academic involvement may be even more significant: academic research can help states learn from past mistakes and can provide the theoretical innovations that produce better policy choices in the future.

The Role of Research Support

The problem of financial support as an imposing one as there are no objective criteria for determining the prospective merits of proposals. Nevertheless, it is obvious that support for academic centres is the most effective way for private institutions to contribute to long-term progress. There are risks involved to be sure. The benefit of investment will never be known in advance. A more sinister risk is that research grants may become politicised. “If access to research support becomes contingent on ‘correct’ political views, the integrity of security studies will be gravely threatened.”

The goal is to encourage talented scholars to attack important questions, regardless of their ultimate conclusions. In short, keeping ideological litmus tests out of the funding process is essential to preserving the legitimacy of security studies as a scholarly enterprise.

Norms and Ethos of the Security Studies Community

“First, security studies has profited from a collaborative ethos. Members of the field are encouraged to exchange ideas, evidence, and criticism freely despite significant substantive disagreements.

“A second norm is relevance, a belief that even highly abstract lines of inquiry should be guided by the goal of solving real-world problems.

“Finally, the renaissance of security studies has been guided by a commitment to democratic discourse. Rather than confining discussion of security issues to an elite group of the best and brightest, scholars in the renaissance have generally welcomed a more fully informed debate.


[1] “Third-image” theories view war as a result of the anarchic international system, “second-image” theories focus on the internal character of states, and “first-image” theories address causes found in human nature.