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Can traditional approach to security studies help us understand new security threats?

Outset of the new era began in 2009 with the twentieth anniversary of breaking down of the Berlin Wall. Energy security, pandemics, deforestation, violation of human rights, and climate change started to be seen as new threats that affect everyone. Over the last twenty years, critical security studies as anepitome has broadened and challenged to the security conception of traditional approaches. This essay first examines the vision of traditional approach, their concern of the threat, and its criticism. It then moves on the threats of today. Finally, this essay presents views and features of the critical security approach with specific focus on the ‘‘Copenhagen School’’ which emphasize the need of widening conception of security.

The image of traditional security studies shows a sphere associated with the wider approaches of  international relations called as realism and liberalism. The period between late 1930s, and 1970s, realism was seen as the dominant approach in the study of international relations (Sheehan, 2005, p.5). In spite of the long hegemonic status of realism, its clarification of security was narrow one which focuses on the use of force (Sheehan, 2005, p.5). Together, all these facts pave the way to a conflict base approach of security studies, in which power maximization and survival of nation states becomea chief issues, in which there is no place for ethics.

Realism respects sovereign nation states as the main actor which are governed by rational decision makers in the international environment. States are capable to count risks and benefits of various policies. All nation-states are driven from their national interests which are compatible with international order. Starting from that assumption, it is accurate to state that advocacy of national benefits is seen as an iron law (Dunne & Schmidt, 2001, p.87). It is largely on the heart of how realists portray the international atmosphere that they put precedence on the well-being of states.  At its most fundamental tier, all states seek to perpetuate their territorial integrity. This is also a prerequisite for achieving all other targets. As Henry Kissinger stated that survival of the nation is the primary obligation of states (Dunne & Schmidt, 2001, p.95).

Realists do not accept a higher authority over the states. It is the unchanging feature of realist landscape in security studies that transnational corporations, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations are not considered as actors by realists. They suggest that sovereign states are the supreme bodies of international environment. Beyond, there is no higher authority to avoid hostile attacks. With realist lenses, survival of state can never be ensured. Most fundamentally, there is no promise that one state will not attack others. As E.H. Carr, Hans J. Morgenthau, and Reinhold Niebuhr highlighted, anarchic atmosphere puts states into competition (Dunne & Schmidt, 2001, p.86). In that competition, states which are more powerful has a larger chance of surviving than other states which are less effective (Glaser, 2010, p.17). Lack of authority in international system leads states to depend on their own capabilities to attain their international targets. In other words, security can only be achieved through self-help.

Under the gloom of anarchic system, survival of state must be secured. With no higher authority over state to protect them  in times of the aggression of the foe, states wish to keep resister by balancing. In that sense, balance of power as a concept refers that if territorial integrity is intimidated by hegemon power, weaker state should create solidarity with the forces or establish a formal alliance in order to pursue  their own independence by checking and deterring potential aggressors. The key example of this mechanism was experienced during the Cold War between East and West that competition was not turned into a hot war owing to the system of balance of power (Glaser, 2010, p.21).

States solely focus on their capabilities in order to maximize their power, since this is the great way to secure their survival. According to Morgenthau, international environment is the place of power struggle but this tenet begs the question of what traditional realists mean by the concept of power. Realists concentrate on the power politics which is limited to military affairs and does not display economic questions and other issue areas that require regulation.  From their perspective, power is not only essential characteristic of international politics but also thought as the pre-eminent need of government. For them, power consists some vital elements such as military and economic strength of state, territory, andtechnological advancement as well (Glaser, 2010, p.17).

uluslararasi-iliskiler-teorileri-realizm-liberalizmThe influence of 9/11 event shows that power concept of realism has lost its reliability. Al-Qaeda as a non-state actor has indicated how superpower could be checked. Islam has advanced as a non-traditional security peril and realist approach was mistaken by excluding terrorist organizations as an actor fromthe international system. At the level of practice, sovereign states are incapable to react collectively to the world-wide problems such as, cross border environmental degradation, and famine. In addition, there is always a security dilemma in an anarchic system that benefits of one pole refer to the damage of the other side (Glaser, 2010, p.24). Moreover, there is no restriction of take an action in the name of urgency in order to provide survival of state. From that point, states can turn into totalitarian one by dismissing democratic values. Beyond, self-help is not only remedy in the international system where there is lack of world government because there are both historical and current patterns of the collective security system which make self-help invalid.

Liberalist approach of security studies has attained its peak in the first years after the Great War, especially under the political direction of Woodrow Wilson (Morgan, 2010, p.35). The most important feature of this tenet is its optimistic view about relations among states. They believe the chance to live in a peaceful world without violence and conflict.

Second notable characteristic is that liberals describe nation states as the vital actor in international politics. Robert Keohane, and Joseph Nye (1972) emphasizeessentiality of other actors such as non-governmental organizations, interest groups, multinational corporations, international organizations as well as political parties and elites as a domestic actors in the international arena (Morgan, 2010, p.36).

Politically, liberalism is interrelated with encouragement for democracy. In addition, they endorse private property with the market economy. Most fundamentally, they favor free trade because this helps to flow of democratic values as well as emerge cooperation at both domestic region, and overseas. Order, and peace are brought by pursuing free tradebecause extension of economic activities increases cooperation, and provide better relations while it restricts belligerent foreign policies at the same time (McDonald, 2004, p.549). Beyond, establishment of the World Bank, and the United Nations after the Second World War are the noteworthy institutions for reinforcing cooperation as pleasing. In international regimes, cooperation can be seen in the mould of norms, traditions, and taboos. Main point is that through extending democracy, and achieving cooperation, liberals desire to create worldwide pluralistic security community.

While liberalism provides different perspectives, and conclusions in order to create security, it is insufficient in practice. According to the history of the discipline of international relations,  collapse of the League of Nations is seen as a catastrophe. On one hand, this collective body was an idealist. On the other hand, states stay confined by self-interests. The USA’s decision not to participate in the institution is the significant example of i .Moreover, Hitler’s occupation of Rhineland in March 1936 was another noteworthy affair in International Relations that indicates difficulty of making cooperation between states. Above all, optimistic view of liberalism was also criticized because nobody could maintain his life under the darkness of holocaust in 1945 (Dunne, 2001, p.106). Lately, objection of United Nations for the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 was rejected. This shows that institutions cannot block determined movements of great powers to check clashes.

Critical Security Studies is an identification which desire to change views of the traditional approach by employing both post positivist perspective and post structuralism (Mutimer, 2010, p.86). Supporters of the Critical Security Studies paradigm have examined some recorded turning points such as  the end of  the Cold War and 9/11 terrorist aggression and decided that these historical events and concept of security need reevaluation. According to Barry Buzan, change is feasible since things are socially established (Mutimer, 2010, p.86). This approach highlights the significance of changing nature of dangers for individuals’ lives and pay less attention on military power. In initial agenda,they do not accept states as a main object for security. In practice, they follow radical posture by bolstering the emancipation of victims from immediate international system because according to Ken Booth, true security is brought by emancipation (Sheehan, 2005, p.157).

Barry Buzan’s book, People, States, and Fear (1983), is the primary content in the advancement of Critical Security approach which wider the description of security by stressing the idea that individuals are the essential entity for security. Then, Barry Buzan, Ole Wæver, and Jaap de Wilde released Security: A New Framework for Analysis (1998) which differentiates Copenhagen School from other Critical Security approaches and outline ‘‘securitization’’ (Mutimer, 2010, p.91). From the perspective of Wæver, security is a speech act. Individuals can label events as a security risk. By claiming that the main object is threatened in its entity, securitizing actor tries to legitimize extraordinary measures to guarantee the survival of the referent object. It is important to emphasize that securitization process is intersubjective. This is why, constituencies should support the speech act in order to reach its aim. This theoretical framework has been diversely employed in affairs such as political dissension, minority rights, and immigration, especially seen in the post 2001 United States conducted war on terror. The rising rate of representation of immigrants, and asylum-seekers since 2001 started to be evaluated as threats or hegemony of nation states. Beyond, Lene Hansen applied the illustration of Prophet Muhammad’s cartoons which were released in Danish newspaper in 2005 to show the essential role of visual manifestation as a kind of securitization act (McDonald, 2008, p.569).

Shortcomings of Copenhagen School should be noted. In the first place, the future of security act relies on the prosperous speech act that actor convinces the audience. This is why, not all  moves of securitization are successful. One of the significant example is the war in Iraq. George W. Bush, and Tony Blair were usually unsuccessful to persuade audience of the threat which was emerged by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Moreover, policies, and behaviors do not go concomitantly during securitization process. During the process, separation of power faded away. In that context, the act of securitization can tend to abuse of power. Ralf Emmers proves that while it is easy to explain how states and militaries could implement securitization in order to maximize their power, it is difficult to express how non-governmental organizations such as Greenpeace could take extraordinary measures (Emmers, 2010, p.141). Beyond, the Copenhagen School is examined as ‘’Euro-centric’’ which focuses on European security affairs (Emmers, 2010, p.143).

While preferences of people, and interests of states change, existing forms of threats are naturally shaped and variated. This is why, measures, and precautions are sometimes appeared to be insufficient. The inefficacy of realism to explain in flux world threats of International Relations make this traditional approach unrelated owing to its impotence to challenge current threats which are irrelevant to the state-centric attitude, a pivotal example is infectious disasters. While liberals attempt to overcome HIV/AIDS by acting together within the World Health Organization (WHO), they failed to prevent war through international institutions as in the case of war in Iraq (Morgan, 2010, p.41). Critical Security Studies emerged as a reaction to the traditional approach. However, it could not help us to understand new threats around the world. It is criticized because it expresses the cases in the Europe. In order to refer and explain new menaces around the world, these theories should reevaluate all issues, and try to focus recent threats such as cyber-war, oil depletion, and drug trafficking. Above all, through the collection of whole theories, new perils can be overcome.

In conclusion, all theories let something slide. Any approach cannot assert to present a picture of the world that is whole. No theory has special allege to the truth. Theories in security studies seek to find out behaviors of states. Realists focus on power maximization, conflicts in anarchical system, and survival of nation states. They, however, do not provide us any solution for famine, natural disasters or irregular migration. Besides, realists give effort to keep the system running. In other words, approaches strengthen some actors, and strategies of states while rejecting others. Liberals give importance on human rights, and cooperation but it also has some limitations to explain security system in the globe. Copenhagen school and securitization theory emphasize emancipation and give importance on individual security. However, it sometimes fails to convince the audience about the threat. The concept of new security threats should be examined by theories to offer better explanations because they are insufficient.

Didem SOYKÖK, The University of Salford, International Relations and Politics.Marmara Üniversitesi Siyasal Bilgiler Faküultesi, Siyaset Bilimi ve Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü 4.sınıf ögrencisi.

16 Temmuz 2014



Dunne, T. (2011). Liberalism. In J. Baylis, S. Smith & P. Owens (Eds.), Globalization of world politics: an introduction to international relations (pp. 100-114). New York: Oxford University Press.

Dunne, T., & Schmidt, B. C. (2011). Realism. In J. Baylis, S. Smith & P. Owens (Eds.), Globalization of world politics: an introduction to international relations (pp. 84-100). New York: Oxford University Press.

Emmers, R. (2010). Securitization. In A. Collins (Ed.), Contemporary security studies (pp. 136-151). New York: Oxford University Press.

Glaser, C. L. (2010). Realism. In A. Collins (Ed.), Contemporary security studies (pp. 15-33). New York: Oxford University Press.

McDonald, M. (2008). Securitization and the construction of security. European Journal of International Relations, 14(4), 563-587.

McDonald, P. J. (2004). Peace through trade or free trade?.  The Journal of Conflict Resolution, 48(4), 547-572.

Morgan, P. (2010). Liberalism. In A. Collins (Ed.), Contemporary security studies (pp. 34-48). New York: Oxford University Press.

Mutimer, D. (2010). Critical security studies: a schismatic history. In A. Collins (Ed.), Contemporary security studies (pp. 84-105). New York: Oxford University Press.

Sheehan, M. (2005). International Security: An Analytical Survey. London: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

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