Securitization (international relations)

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Securitization in international relations is a concept connected with the Copenhagen School, and is largely seen as synthesis of constructivist and classical political realism in its approach to international security.[1] In contrast to materialist approaches of classical security studies, securitization is a process-oriented conception of security. In other words, while classical approaches of security focus on the material dispositions of the threat including distribution of power, military capabilities, and polarity, securitization examines how a certain issue is transformed by an actor into a matter of security. Securitization is an extreme version of politicization that enables the use of extraordinary means in the name of security.[2] For the securitizing act to be successful, it must be accepted by the audience. Securitization studies aims to understand "who securitizes (Securitizing actor), on what issues (threats), for whom (referent object), why, with what results, and not least, under what conditions."[3] The term was coined by Ole Wæver in 1995, but seems to have become commonplace, at least within constructivist studies of international relations.

Basic Components of a securitization act:

  • Securitizing actor/agent: an entity that makes the securitizing move/statement;
  • Referent object: the object that is being threatened and needs to be protected;
  • Audience: the target of the securitization act that needs to be persuaded and accept the issue as a security threat.

That a given subject is securitized does not necessarily mean that the subject is of objective essence for the survival of a given state, but means that someone with success has constructed something as an existential problem. However, Uriel Abulof argues that empirical studies on securitization have been "insufficiently attentive to societies engulfed in profound existential uncertainty about their own survival." Taking Israel's "demographic demon" as a case in point, Abulof suggests that such societies are immersed in "deep securitization," whereby "widespread public discourses explicitly frame threats as probable, protracted, and endangering the very existence of the nation/state."[4] Principally, anyone can succeed in constructing something as a security problem through speech acts. The ability to effectively securitize a given subject is, however, highly dependent on both the status of a given actor, and on whether similar issues are generally perceived to be security threats.

If a subject is successfully securitized, then it is possible to legitimize extraordinary means to solve a perceived problem. This could include declaring a state of emergency or martial law, mobilizing the military or attacking another country. Furthermore, if something is successfully labelled as a security problem, then the subject can be considered to be an illegitimate subject for political or academic debate.

In Security: A New Framework for Analysis, Barry Buzan, Ole Wæver and Jaap de Wilde work with five political sectors in which a securitization could take place:

  • Military
  • Political
  • Economic
  • Society
  • Environment

However, a securitization could easily involve more than one of these sectors. In the case of the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, one could say that the conflict was securitized militarily; weapons of mass destruction was one reason for the invasion. However, the war was also securitized as a societal problem; human rights in Saddam's Iraq was mentioned in the public rationale. Another less obvious example would be the immigration debate in the United States. Concerns of terrorist infiltration are regularly cited as grounds for the tight control of borders. Because it is easier to securitize an issue following September 11, this concern for safety and security has taken attention away from the economic factors that have always been at play in international migration.

Many critical security scholars, especially since 9/11, have used the term 'securitization' without giving proper credit to the Copenhagen School.


  1. ^ Michael C. Williams, Words, Images, Enemies, Securitization and International Politics, International Studies Quarterly 2003(47):512.
  2. ^ Barry Buzan, Ole Wæver, and Jaap de Wilde, Security: A New Framework for Analysis (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998), p. 25.
  3. ^ Barry Buzan, Ole Wæver, and Jaap de Wilde, Security: A New Framework for Analysis (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998), p. 32
  4. ^ Uriel Abulof (2014). "Deep Securitization and Israel's 'Demographic Demon'," International Political Sociology 8(4):396

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