Security Cosmopolitanism

Attached here is a link to my new article, “Security Cosmopolitanism”, which appears in the very first issue of Critical Studies on Security, a new journal that aims, in the words of its editors, to ‘gather some of the best literature, to challenge ourselves as critical security scholars and to open and explore new avenues that lead from that intersection’. While a range of other fine journals (such as Global Change, Peace and Security, Security Dialogue, Alternatives, International Relations, and Theory & Event) have supported critical and feminist scholarship on security, development and war,  this is the first journal to be solely dedicated to preserving and innovating on that tradition. Its call for papers is here.

Security Cosmopolitanism

Cosmopolitanism in international affairs is a body of thinking and practice committed to building a more just and sustainable international order, but it has never been systematically applied to the question or practice of security. This article argues that both a range of transnational (event-based and systemic) insecurities, and state abuses of security discourse to compromise rights and cause insecurity, create a compelling normative and empirical case for a new security paradigm: security cosmopolitanism. It would aim to critique and reform both national and collective security policies and processes: to put better norms and ends to them, redefine their ontological foundations, and generate guiding ethical principles. It does so in the service of a distinctive understanding of global security as a universal good: one in which the security of all states and all human beings is of equal weight, in which causal chains and processes spread widely across space and through time, and in which security actors bear a responsibility to consider the global impact of their choices.

This article lays out the key ontological and ethical frameworks for security cosmopolitanism. These challenge the dominant ontological foundations of national security (and international society) anchored in the social contract between citizen and state. Security cosmopolitanism argues that states cannot contain and immunize the national social body from external threats; rather, insecurity arises in a borderless way from the very histories, choices, powers, and systems of modernity. This generates both a new analytical model for global security and a different – relational, networked, and future-oriented – ethic of responsibility.

The article seems firmly in the journal’s spirit of ‘challeng[ing] ourselves as critical security scholars and to open and explore new avenues’ – it draws strongly on insights from critical security studies, but is just as strongly oriented to concerns in the traditional security agenda; it draws on both (Frankfurt school) critical theory and post-structuralist approaches, while refusing to sit comfortably with either and thus challenging them both; and it ultimately rejects meta-theory as a primary terrain of debate, stating that urgent real-world problems of climate change, systemic poverty, nuclear weapons, and conflict prevention deserve our sustained research and attention.

If two of the commentaries on it (by Laura Sjoberg, and Mandy Turner and Neil Cooper) are a guide, my refusal to accept the ideological and intellectual rules of (what some interpret) to be critical security studies is profoundly unsettling – indeed, an occasion to hit back with such force as to place unbearable pressure on the protocols of academic civility – protocols that I take to involve criticism and debate that is anchored in a fair and careful reading of what one actually writes and says, rather than a mischievous and distorted version of it. If their interventions are typical (and I suspect they are not) I fear that critical security studies is reaching the kind of worrying turning point projected by Ken Booth in his fine introduction to Laura Shepherd’s new volume, Critical Approaches to Security, wherein we turn our backs on real-world insecurities in favour of ever more obscure and inwards methodological and meta-theoretical debates. Readers with an interest in such intellectual debates should read my article and these commentaries carefully, and make up their own minds as to the merits and problems of our various cases. Ultimately I agree with Booth: we need to be looking outwards to the world and trying to shape its structures of power and possibility – with the inevitable risks that involves – in ways that are informed by philosophically rich (and yes, contested) debates about our underlying languages and concepts.

In a future issue of the journal I hope to make a response and to map out some future directions and dilemmas for the theory of security cosmopolitanism, and the research and policy agenda it anticipates, and to engage in a constructive way with some of the deeper and important issues that these writers (including Mary Kaldor) raise. Can ethics and politics co-exist, or do they cancel each other out? Can “elites” and policymakers be trusted, or does putting normative demands to them merely invite appropriation and misuse by the powerful? Can the kind of cosmopolitanism I map out ever be made real, or will it falter on the rocks of power politics and government public relations? Can “security” ever work for the least powerful and the most vulnerable, or must it be rejected as a concept and a potential? Can security and life be paired, without endangering life? Whose life? Whose politics? Watch this space…

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