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Critical European security

As mentioned earlier, the 1990s witnessed the emergence of theoretical approaches that questioned the rationalist assumptions prevalent until then in the study of security. These dynamics were particularly visible in Europe, where reflectivist takes on security assumed multiple dimensions, from the introduction of the Frankfurt School’s Critical Theory to anti-foundational approaches influenced by continental thinkers such as Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault. At the core of these new approaches was the ‘recognition of the idea that security is essentially a derivative concept; this means, simply, that contending theories about world politics produce different conceptualizations of what security is all about in world politics' (Booth, 2005, p. 13). Europe became both a hub for the development of new theoretical approaches and the object of study to which those approaches were applied. That dynamic continues to this day, albeit with less focus on school development and inter-school debates.

Critical Security Studies do not derive from a unitary set of theories, and are, rather, composed of various approaches with different intellectual origins that are fundamentally European at their core. Originally, Critical Security Studies emerged in the late 1980s-early 1990s as an aspiration to the transcendence of traditional precepts typical of the Cold War period, and not as an exclusive theoretical school. Their emergence and development cannot be dissociated from the newly established multipolar world, where generalised optimism went hand in hand with the search for new paradigms, epistemologies, and methodologies that reflected the post Cold War drive to make sense of a new world order (Hyde-Price, 2007, p. 19). There are three distinct influences that can, none the less, be identified within the critical study of security: the Welsh school of Aberystwyth, which reclaims the ‘critical’ label to itself; the Copenhagen school, which usually denies that label; and post-structuralism, often considered acritical and globally rejected as a critical current (Mutimer, 2007). In all, ‘critical security’ as such can be seen as an essential quest for the ontology of security, but also for the interconnected possibility of social change, for the inclusion of difference, for overcoming the status quo, mirroring the unknowns, the stakes and the challenges of the post Cold War international conjuncture.

Box 3.1 The Aberystwyth School

Key authors: Richard Wyn Jones; Ken Booth; Robert Cox

Key points:

  • • Inspired by the Frankfurt School and post-Marxism
  • • Connects the conception of security to a loose concept of emancipation, whereby one can only meaningfully exist with the other
  • • Rejection of the Realist paradigm of security, which is state focused, to prioritise the security of individuals
  • • Critique of the domination by superpowers and proposal of counter-hegemonic forces
  • • Focus on the insecurities of individuals and vulnerable groups

Generally, the critical tradition of Aberystwyth prioritises the intrinsic humanity of security objects and subjects, and values individual lives as the ultimate end of politics (Booth, 2007, p. 326). For instance, another author of this school of thought, Robert Cox, contended as early as 1987 that international order was failing to value in equal terms the interests of the socially weak and marginalised. As he never stood for an order dominated by superpowers, Cox preferred to focus on the insecurities of individuals and vulnerable groups, seeking counter-hegemonic forces that would be able to oppose prevailing security discourses. This somewhat radical new way of apprehending security is not really revealing of a renewed interest in European security per se, but, rather, can be seen as a broader move towards the expansion of the international security agenda to foci that had remained outside the bipolar logic of the world during the previous decades. After the Cold W ar, a ‘new ontology of world order’ (Cox, 2002, p. 77) opened the door for those concerned with power, world order, counter-hegemony and, at the same time, with individuals, which denounces the unknown character of the 1990s’ multipolarity as a source of unbalance when pondering the new international security architecture, and also the overcoming of states as the sole referent objects of security.

There is often confusion between the Critical Security Studies that developed in Aberystwyth and the broader family of critical approaches to security that started to gain shape after a conference on the topic in 1994 at York University (Canada). This event would be the basis for Critical Security Studies: Concepts and Cases, edited by Keith Krause and Michael C. Williams (1997), in which many of these critical approaches were congregated.

From all the new early 1990s Security Studies theories that flourished in Europe, the one developed by a group of researchers from the Copenhagen Peace Research Institute (COPRI), including Barry Buzan and Ole Waever, was arguably the most ground-breaking” and controversial' one. The Centre for Peace and Conflict Research, eventually renamed Conflict and Peace Research Institute (COPRI) set up in 1985 had as one of its projects, ‘Non-military Aspects of European Security’. That is where the Copenhagen School was born. According to Jef Huysmans, ‘the Copenhagen project. . . emerged within a typically European security landscape which has given its work an explicitly European flavour’ (1998, p. 480). Among other works, Barry Buzan, Ole Wsever, and Jaap de Wilde's Security: A New Framework for Analysis (1998) celebrates the idea that security is socially constructed and that it is by looking at how the processes of construction - securitisation processes - unfold that it is possible to understand how an issue becomes a security issue. In Copenhagen, the notion of securitisation as a ‘speech act’ was also developed around the idea that security may also materialise as language and, thus, be performed; accordingly, a speech act sets a determined event or question as a security issue (Waever, 1995). With Copenhagen, the broadening move of the security agenda happening in the 1990s continued deepening towards the questioning of the ontology of security processes, or the phenomenology of security policies.

Box 3.2 The Copenhagen School

Key points:

  • • Barry Buzan, Ole Waever, and Jaap de Wilde's Security: A New Framework for Analysis (1998).
  • • Security is sectoral: political, military, economic, societal, environmental.
  • • The notion of 'securitisation as a speech act' is the School's cornerstone; it also calls for the distinction between securitising actors and referent objects of security.
  • • Regional security complexes as the analytic concept that enables the application of securitisation theory to international relations. The world is divided into security regions.

These trends, which reveal a new epistemology of security, need to be framed within a context in which identity conflicts arising during the 1990s, both inside Europe (Balkans), and at its borders (Caucasus, Middle East), suddenly presented a new set of more diffuse and interdependent features, typically of a transnational nature. Along with the crescent media exposure of those conflicts, they entailed a new visibility of security, to which discourse and culture became central. For European security in particular, this trend was all the more explicit with Bosnia and Kosovo.

After several decades without war in Europe, these two conflicts in the Balkans critically influenced the literature on security with impactful contributions not only for the Copenhagen School, as for post-structuralist approaches to security. David Campbell (1998) offers a post-structuralist analysis of the Bosnian war that shows how the violence of the war was determined by the assumption that a political community should be a perfectly aligned entity in terms of its territory, identity and state, leading to the desire for a homogenous community. Another important work at the time was Lene Hansen’s (2006) discourse analysis of the Bosnian war, in which she dissects how the different discourses surrounding the conflict defined the very trajectory and outcome of the war along ethno-political features?

Mainly associated with French intellectuals such as Jean Baudrillard, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, and Jean-François Lyotard, post-structuralism can be defined as ‘a fragmentary assemblage of diverse social, political, and philosophical thought that engages with, but also calls into question, the “structuralist” tradition’. It is rooted in the artistic, architectural and cultural movement that emerged in the West during the 1950s and 1960s, and especially focuses on 'how claims about "the world” are dependent upon certain forms of knowledge’ (Peoples and Vaughan-Williams, 2010, p. 63).

Post-structuralism is, together with the international political sociological strand coming from Pierre Bourdieu, a strong influence on the philosophical basis of the so-called Paris School, the label given to the work on European internal security (and its externalisation) conducted by Dider Bigo (2000) and his associates, based at Sciences Po in Paris. The emphasis of post-structuralist thought on language, practices, deconstruction, truth, power and biopolitics has been all the more meaningful since 9/11, denouncing the logic of exceptionalism and the illiberal character of the practices of security entailed by the global war on terror, such as ethnic profiling, the language of risk and securitisation (Amoore and de Goede, 2008; Bigo and Tsoukala, 2008; Dillon and Lobo-Guerrero, 2008).

Box 3.3 Keeping pace with the academic debate: the EU in the early 2000s

In parallel, the evolution of the Ell's approach to international security reflects the widening (new security threats) and deepening (new referent objects of security) of the international security agenda (Williams, 2008, pp. 7-9), as well as the abovementioned issues highlighted by the different critical approaches. The European Security Strategy (ESS), namely, is a document drafted by the former High Representative Javier Solana and approved by the European Council in 2003 that draws on a broad understanding of security, by considering both traditional and new threats, internal and external realms, and the importance of prevention:

Our traditional concept of self-defense - up to and including the Cold War - was based on the threat of invasion. With the new threats, the first line of defence will often be abroad. The new threats are dynamic. The risks of proliferation grow over time; left alone, terrorist networks will become ever more dangerous. State failure and organized crime spread if they are neglected - as we have seen in West Africa. This implies that we should be ready to act before a crisis occurs. Conflict prevention and threat prevention cannot start too early.

(Council of the European Union, 2003, p. 9)

The agenda of European security has normally accompanied the global trends developing within the context of the broadening move of security, in particular human security, humanitarianism, and the security development nexus. The 2004 Barcelona Report of the Study Group on Europe's Security Capabilities discussed in what way the ESS may be implemented, suggesting a Human Security Doctrine for the European Union and the establishment of a 'Human Security Response Force' as well as a new legal framework 'to govern both the decision to intervene and operations on the ground' (Glasius and Kaldor, 2005, p. 5). To Kamil Zwolski, human security has been precisely the pivotal security concept that has underpinned 'the EU's commitment to link security objectives with development policy' (2012, p. 71), thereby intertwining security considerations into its development policy, and development issues into security strategies (see Chapter 8 for more detail).

Amid Europe’s identity crisis, other approaches have stimulated new insights on the implications of‘doing European security’, deeply questioning the sense of European agency. Postcolonialism has contributed significantly to the critique of the role of old colonial powers in moulding interventions outside Europe, tying security to a development agenda that is drawn on liberal interventionism, to the disputed notion of historic responsibility and to biopolitical concerns of containment of non-European populations (Ayoob, 2002; Darby, 2009; Duffield, 2005). Within Security Studies, postcolonial perspectives especially inform the critique of the Eurocentric character of the historic and geographic givens that, since the Second World War, have systematically misrepresented the role of the global South in security relations (Barkawi and Laffey, 2006, p. 329).

These considerations can be seen as part of the call for a paradigm shift to decentre the study and practice of Europe’s IR, in order to reconstitute European agency in face of the non-European world (Onar and Nicolaidis, 2013). Accordingly, a postcolonial lens such as Onar and Nicolaidis’ foretells that only by acknowledging the colonial component within the EU project itself can the EU overcome its existential crisis - sense of decline, crisis of European identity and multiculturalism - reinvent its normative power and hope for a renewed European agency in a non-European world (2013, pp. 285-288). Profound reflexivity, thus, seems to be needed in the conception and materialisation of European security, which includes calling into question the assumptions underlying the conceptions of boundary, territory, community and ethno-cultural belonging in the constitution of Europe, according to Catarina Kinvall (2016). Considering the recent waves of immigration as a ‘postcolonial move into Europe’, Kinvall argues for a discussion of Europe as ‘postcolonial space’ that comprehends the dynamics of power, imperialism and globalism underpinning the idea of Europe that ‘was transferred to postcolonial societies’, so as to understand that ‘colonialism never left Europe unaffected and is part of European reality’ (2016, p. 153).

This reflexive move can be seen in gender approaches as well (see Chapter 9). For example, Maria Stern’s discourse analysis of the ESS uncovers the gendered and racialised features of Europe’s conception of its own security as a global security actor. She explores how the text of the ESS displays ‘multiple notions of feminity and masculinity, enmeshed in colonial logics and racialised associations ... in the construction of a “Europe” as a subject that can be secured’ (Stem, 2011, p. 31), to ultimately show that a masculinised and colonial Europe has violently represented and excluded Otherness as both feminised and subordinate.

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