Rens van Munster

in International Relations

ISBN: 9780199743292
Published online June 2012 | | DOI:

Show Summary Details


The concept of securitization is generally associated with the Copenhagen school of security studies, which is generally taken to include Ole Wæver, Barry Buzan, and a range of other, more loosely associated, researchers. Originally devised by Ole Wæver, the concept of securitization provided a fresh take on the increasingly tiresome debate between those who claimed that threats are objective (i.e., what really constitutes a threat to international security) on the one hand, and those that maintained that security is subjective (what is perceived to be a threat) on the other. In an attempt to sidestep or bypass this debate, the Copenhagen school suggests that security should instead be seen as a speech act, where the central issue is not if threats are real or not, but the ways in which a certain issue (troop movements, migration, or environmental degradation) can be socially constructed as a threat. The idea of speech acts has a long tradition in philosophy and refers to the idea that by saying something, something is done. So, just as the naming of a ship is a speech act that brings something into effect, the uttering of “security” can be viewed as an act by which all kind of issues (military, political, economic, and environmental) can become staged as a threat. However, not all talk about security qualifies as securitization in the sense understood by Ole Wæver and his Copenhagen colleagues. A securitizing speech act needs to follow a specific rhetorical structure, derived from war and its historical connotations of survival, urgency, threat, and defense. This leads the Copenhagen school to define securitization as a speech act that has to fulfill three rhetorical criteria. It is a discursive process by means of which an actor (1) claims that a referent object is existentially threatened, (2) demands the right to take extraordinary countermeasures to deal with that the threat, and (3) convinces an audience that rule-breaking behavior to counter the threat is justified. In short, by labeling something as “security,” an issue is dramatized as an issue of supreme priority. One can therefore think of securitization as the process through which nonpoliticized (issues are not talked about) or politicized (issues are publicly debated) issues are elevated to security issues that need to be dealt with with urgency, and that legitimate the bypassing of public debate and democratic procedures. The Copenhagen school originally studies the dynamics of security across five different, nonexclusive sectors—military, political, societal, economic, and environmental—although later analyses of securitization have sought to expand the number of sectors. Because securitization enables emergency measures outside democratic control, the Copenhagen school generally opts for desecuritization, rather than securitization, as the preferable mode of problem solving.

Article.  12713 words. 

Subjects: International Relations

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.