Ethical Security Studies

Ethical_Security_Studies_dove

This book, edited by Jonna Nyman and myself, was published by Routledge in 2016. It is a cutting-edge collection in both Critical Security Studies and International Ethics, and includes a fabulous concluding chapter by Karin Fierke.

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‘The ethics of security represent one of the crucial issues of our time. This sophisticated, challenging and wide-ranging collection demonstrates the theoretical challenges and practical value of placing ethical questions at the center of security, as well as the pressing need to do so. Through a critical and pluralistic interrogation of complex contemporary relationships, it represents a powerful call for ethical security studies.’Michael C. Williams, University of Ottawa, Canada

Ethical Security Studies develops an ambitious and multi-faceted discussion of the heterogeneous intersections between discursive formations of security and ethics. The contributions challenge us to take seriously a range of perspectives, from anti-security and posthuman security to emancipatory security or security cosmopolitanism. The book will reinvigorate debates about the analytical and political concepts deployed in critical security studies.’Claudia Aradau, King’s College London, UK

‘Within this powerful collection, Nyman and Burke reorient security studies back to its core ethical reasoning and set out a bold new mode for engagement.’Mark B. Salter, University of Ottawa, Canada

 

∼ From the Introduction: Imagining Ethical Security Studies
by Jonna Nyman and Anthony Burke

 

International Security Studies faces a crisis, of which it is largely unaware. This crisis centres on ethics. It may seem counterintuitive to argue this at a time when security studies has never seemed so diverse, relevant or vibrant, having so successfully moved beyond its Cold War focus on war and the state to take in a wide range of new phenomena, theoretical sources, political commitments, and new forms of social and policy practice (Buzan and Hansen 2009; Fierke 2007; Burgess 2010). Yet this intellectual innovation and vibrancy has not, until very recently, taken in the ethical. Unlike War Studies, where the Just War tradition underwent a major revival in the 1970s and has since spawned a vast and sophisticated library of texts, International Security Studies has no tradition of ethical theorising and no subfield dedicated to ethical thought. This volume is dedicated to showing why and how that should change—and indeed, how it is already beginning to. It shows how there is, in a range of recent contributions, a nascent and diverse subfield that we could term “Ethical Security Studies”. These writings have excavated and critiqued the implicit ethical commitments of a range of theories and policy practices, developed new ethical methodologies, and argued the value and dangers of explicitly normative accounts of security across a range of domains. In turn, they are laying the foundations for a productive new phase of collaboration and growth that promises to have great benefits for the more humane, effective and ethical practice of security politics. Yet this remains a minority literature.

The ethical crisis in International Security Studies has a dual dimension—practical and intellectual. In practical terms, normative advance in national security policy, and regional and global security governance, has been slow, fitful and fragile. National security policies around the world remain dominated by various forms of realism and liberal internationalism, and in the policy preferences of the political right-wing neo-conservatism remains a disturbing common theme. For every normative or legal advance such as the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court or a successful international criminal prosecution, there are new genocides, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and terror. The vast killing in the DRC and Sudan; appalling war crimes in Syria, Sri Lanka and Gaza; the resort to torture and extraordinary rendition by western democracies; the global refugee crisis; and the international stalemate over preventive action on climate change; all are evidence of a profound ethical crisis in international security. All too often the policies and actors whose role it is to protect security are in fact new sources of insecurity. While it is possible to identify an “ethics” in such practices of aggression, Realpolitik and abuse, and it remains important for scholarship in ethics to interrogate and understand them, it is equally possible to argue that such practices fail the test of security in today’s mutually vulnerable, globally integrated, and ecologically fragile world (Burke, Lee Koo and McDonald 2014).

Such security failures are not merely symptoms of extremist or abusive policy; even the regimes established to promote liberal, humanitarian and ecological ends are failing. Interpretive ambiguities and enforcement weaknesses in International Humanitarian Law fuel impunity for war crimes and fail to protect communities caught up in violent conflict; the nuclear non-proliferation regime has been shaken by secret weapons programs, and failed to prevent the tragedies of Chernobyl and Fukushima; while the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has been reduced to a powerless scientific record of our slide towards catastrophic planetary warming. When it comes to security, international society remains unable to effectively allocate responsibilities, discharge those it has already established, enforce its own law, or grapple with the impact and responsibilities of influential non-state actors like corporations, insurgents and faith communities.

Intellectually, the ethical crisis in security studies takes a number of forms. First is the dominance of realism and state-centric constructivism in International Security Studies, especially in the United States and other emerging powers such as India and China. While this work is often replete with ethical dilemmas and has substantial insights, it rarely engages the language or reasoning process of ethics, mobilises normative positions, or reflexively considers its ethical commitments and contradictions (Barnett 2003; see also Erskine’s 2012 comment on Price 2008). And where it has resorted to overt normative theorising, such as Barry Buzan’s argument for strategic bombing as a response to 9/11, the results are morally disturbing and contrary to international law (Buzan 2002). A fine exception to our view here would be Joseph Nye’s sophisticated book, Nuclear Ethics (1988), which mobilises a liberal realism in a thoughtful (but conditional) defence of nuclear deterrence.

Second, is a disconnect between the fields that most strongly work with ethical and normative argument in world politics—just war and normative IR theory—and security studies. Where writers address security questions, they still tend to address their concerns to war and intervention, rather than the broader security agenda. It is also transparently true that questions like nuclear proliferation, asylum seekers, the global ecology, transnational crime, and global health—among others—overwhelm the explanatory categories of just war theory. In other examples, scholars have written in both security studies (Bellamy 2004) and just war (Bellamy 2006), but inexplicably neglected to make them engage. In turn, a growth of normative theorising around the responsibility to protect has developed independently of security studies or, with a few exceptions (Erskine 2014) not engaged the language and reasoning of ethics. Some just war theory has also taken positions that are strongly at odds with international law and norms that have been constructed to support human rights, and create a more stable and humane global security order.

This is not to argue that such work has less value—on the contrary—but that there are important differences that need highlighting: between normative and ethical theory, between prescriptive and reflexive normative theories, and between prescriptive and reflexive ethics. In its raw intent, normative theory argues and accounts for norms and standards of behaviour, whereas ethics would be more self-consciously concerned with deriving an account of the good, and with both the philosophical, and real-world, complexities of achieving it. We believe that there is a need for more integration and cross-communication between such approaches; for ethical principles and reasoning to be deployed in both the critique and advocacy of various norms and social practices, and for norms to be put to the test of ethics and made to more rigorously justify themselves and engage with their critics. In turn, ethical theorising needs to engage with current social norms (whether they are represented in law, policy, or public discourse), excavate their assumptions, and interrogate their worth.

Third, is a division within critical and feminist security studies over the value of overtly moral, normative or ethical theorising. Some post-structuralist, post-Marxist and feminist positions have a deeply-held suspicion of the normative: the normative is not a task but an object of critique, and its enabling relation with forms of subjectification, power and exclusion are what must be exposed and challenged (Sjoberg 2013). Alternatively, other more overtly “progressive” forms of critical and feminist writing dismiss post-structural concerns and happily deploy normative argument (Booth 2007). We believe that there is certainly value in the reflexive suspicion of the normative, especially when such writings or practices obscure or naturalise their relation to power and social agendas. Moral discourse has a special rhetorical and disciplinary force, which is why arguments for torture and strategic bombing couched in the language of ethics are especially disturbing. On the other hand, to reject norms and ethics as positive potentials is to both abandon an important tool of reform and justice, and efface the ethics already implicit in such writings and quarantine it from scrutiny.

However, this points to a significant theme in this book: the power of underlying ontological positions about security, intertwined with a practical history in which they have been developed and deployed. Is security—as such—a good? Or is its discursive and political history too tainted and oppressive? The importance of these questions is why we have structured the book so as to consider the ontological foundations of security practice first, and why, in particular, we have treated what we have somewhat crudely termed ‘anti-security’ positions seriously (in the chapters by Jabri, Nyman, Burke and McDonald), because they raise important questions about whether anything ethically positive can be made of security at all—given the ways that underlying ontologies will constrain what it is possible to think and do under the aegis of the ethical.

International Security Studies faces a crisis, of which it is largely unaware. This crisis centres on ethics. It may seem counterintuitive to argue this at a time when security studies has never seemed so diverse, relevant or vibrant, having so successfully moved beyond its Cold War focus on war and the state to take in a wide range of new phenomena, theoretical sources, political commitments, and new forms of social and policy practice (Buzan and Hansen 2009; Fierke 2007; Burgess 2010). Yet this intellectual innovation and vibrancy has not, until very recently, taken in the ethical. Unlike War Studies, where the Just War tradition underwent a major revival in the 1970s and has since spawned a vast and sophisticated library of texts, International Security Studies has no tradition of ethical theorising and no subfield dedicated to ethical thought. This volume is dedicated to showing why and how that should change—and indeed, how it is already beginning to. It shows how there is, in a range of recent contributions, a nascent and diverse subfield that we could term “Ethical Security Studies”. These writings have excavated and critiqued the implicit ethical commitments of a range of theories and policy practices, developed new ethical methodologies, and argued the value and dangers of explicitly normative accounts of security across a range of domains. In turn, they are laying the foundations for a productive new phase of collaboration and growth that promises to have great benefits for the more humane, effective and ethical practice of security politics. Yet this remains a minority literature.

The ethical crisis in International Security Studies has a dual dimension—practical and intellectual. In practical terms, normative advance in national security policy, and regional and global security governance, has been slow, fitful and fragile. National security policies around the world remain dominated by various forms of realism and liberal internationalism, and in the policy preferences of the political right-wing neo-conservatism remains a disturbing common theme. For every normative or legal advance such as the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court or a successful international criminal prosecution, there are new genocides, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and terror. The vast killing in the DRC and Sudan; appalling war crimes in Syria, Sri Lanka and Gaza; the resort to torture and extraordinary rendition by western democracies; the global refugee crisis; and the international stalemate over preventive action on climate change; all are evidence of a profound ethical crisis in international security. All too often the policies and actors whose role it is to protect security are in fact new sources of insecurity. While it is possible to identify an “ethics” in such practices of aggression, Realpolitik and abuse, and it remains important for scholarship in ethics to interrogate and understand them, it is equally possible to argue that such practices fail the test of security in today’s mutually vulnerable, globally integrated, and ecologically fragile world (Burke, Lee Koo and McDonald 2014).

Such security failures are not merely symptoms of extremist or abusive policy; even the regimes established to promote liberal, humanitarian and ecological ends are failing. Interpretive ambiguities and enforcement weaknesses in International Humanitarian Law fuel impunity for war crimes and fail to protect communities caught up in violent conflict; the nuclear non-proliferation regime has been shaken by secret weapons programs, and failed to prevent the tragedies of Chernobyl and Fukushima; while the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has been reduced to a powerless scientific record of our slide towards catastrophic planetary warming. When it comes to security, international society remains unable to effectively allocate responsibilities, discharge those it has already established, enforce its own law, or grapple with the impact and responsibilities of influential non-state actors like corporations, insurgents and faith communities.

Intellectually, the ethical crisis in security studies takes a number of forms. First is the dominance of realism and state-centric constructivism in International Security Studies, especially in the United States and other emerging powers such as India and China. While this work is often replete with ethical dilemmas and has substantial insights, it rarely engages the language or reasoning process of ethics, mobilises normative positions, or reflexively considers its ethical commitments and contradictions (Barnett 2003; see also Erskine’s 2012 comment on Price 2008). And where it has resorted to overt normative theorising, such as Barry Buzan’s argument for strategic bombing as a response to 9/11, the results are morally disturbing and contrary to international law (Buzan 2002). A fine exception to our view here would be Joseph Nye’s sophisticated book, Nuclear Ethics (1988), which mobilises a liberal realism in a thoughtful (but conditional) defence of nuclear deterrence.

Second, is a disconnect between the fields that most strongly work with ethical and normative argument in world politics—just war and normative IR theory—and security studies. Where writers address security questions, they still tend to address their concerns to war and intervention, rather than the broader security agenda. It is also transparently true that questions like nuclear proliferation, asylum seekers, the global ecology, transnational crime, and global health—among others—overwhelm the explanatory categories of just war theory. In other examples, scholars have written in both security studies (Bellamy 2004) and just war (Bellamy 2006), but inexplicably neglected to make them engage. In turn, a growth of normative theorising around the responsibility to protect has developed independently of security studies or, with a few exceptions (Erskine 2014) not engaged the language and reasoning of ethics. Some just war theory has also taken positions that are strongly at odds with international law and norms that have been constructed to support human rights, and create a more stable and humane global security order.

This is not to argue that such work has less value—on the contrary—but that there are important differences that need highlighting: between normative and ethical theory, between prescriptive and reflexive normative theories, and between prescriptive and reflexive ethics. In its raw intent, normative theory argues and accounts for norms and standards of behaviour, whereas ethics would be more self-consciously concerned with deriving an account of the good, and with both the philosophical, and real-world, complexities of achieving it. We believe that there is a need for more integration and cross-communication between such approaches; for ethical principles and reasoning to be deployed in both the critique and advocacy of various norms and social practices, and for norms to be put to the test of ethics and made to more rigorously justify themselves and engage with their critics. In turn, ethical theorising needs to engage with current social norms (whether they are represented in law, policy, or public discourse), excavate their assumptions, and interrogate their worth.

Third, is a division within critical and feminist security studies over the value of overtly moral, normative or ethical theorising. Some post-structuralist, post-Marxist and feminist positions have a deeply-held suspicion of the normative: the normative is not a task but an object of critique, and its enabling relation with forms of subjectification, power and exclusion are what must be exposed and challenged (Sjoberg 2013). Alternatively, other more overtly “progressive” forms of critical and feminist writing dismiss post-structural concerns and happily deploy normative argument (Booth 2007). We believe that there is certainly value in the reflexive suspicion of the normative, especially when such writings or practices obscure or naturalise their relation to power and social agendas. Moral discourse has a special rhetorical and disciplinary force, which is why arguments for torture and strategic bombing couched in the language of ethics are especially disturbing. On the other hand, to reject norms and ethics as positive potentials is to both abandon an important tool of reform and justice, and efface the ethics already implicit in such writings and quarantine it from scrutiny.

However, this points to a significant theme in this book: the power of underlying ontological positions about security, intertwined with a practical history in which they have been developed and deployed. Is security—as such—a good? Or is its discursive and political history too tainted and oppressive? The importance of these questions is why we have structured the book so as to consider the ontological foundations of security practice first, and why, in particular, we have treated what we have somewhat crudely termed ‘anti-security’ positions seriously (in the chapters by Jabri, Nyman, Burke and McDonald), because they raise important questions about whether anything ethically positive can be made of security at all—given the ways that underlying ontologies will constrain what it is possible to think and do under the aegis of the ethical.

As the latter part of the book develops and questions more positive visions of ethical security, two key themes cut through. The first is the tension between the critical elaboration from the 1990s of security’s political power and moral darkness (which is here ably explained by Vivienne Jabri and taken up by Browning, Nyman and Wibben, among others) and efforts to redefine and reorient security ontology and practice towards visions that are more emancipatory and can honour the diverse security needs of women, non-Westerners, indigenous peoples, and nonhuman forms of life. While there is an obvious common desire to challenge practices that are state-centric, violent, exclusivist, imperialist and sexist, and to empower and dignify communities struggling against diverse forms of insecurity, scholars disagree about whether such an effort should be subsumed under the signifier, ‘security’. Jabri’s important work on postcolonial politics and the cosmopolitanisation of state-centric security interventions (2012, 2013) exemplifies this combination of an emancipatory concern with a deep suspicion of security as a rubric. She thus concludes that an ethically positive redefinition of security must always fail because ‘security has no fixed meaning as such, and certainly no ‘fixed logic’ that might easily be subject to tests of justice’. In contrast Burke expresses a concern that, however salient such critiques, to abandon all attempt to redefine security in normatively better ways risks ceding all power over it, as a set of practices and meanings, to the state. Arguably, both wagers are risky ones, which is why this dilemma recurs so often throughout this book and is a major social anxiety.

The chapters all consider the potential for security to be ethical, but they disagree on the extent to which ethics can be secure. This is a theme that joins together chapters by Jabri, Robinson, and Wibben, and a division that the chapter by Nyman suggests a solution to. Bourne and Bulley have argued that it is time to give up on the idea of secure ethics, insisting on ‘treating moral choice as explicitly unsure, uncertain and insecure’ (Bourne and Bulley 2011: 455). Again, this is a question to which the chapters and authors in this book would provide very different answers. However, even authors who are more sceptical have here emphasised the contingent nature of ethics rather than its inherent insecurity.

The second theme is the diversity and vibrancy of efforts to rethink and re-imagine security in more positive and just ways. This runs through almost all of the chapters in Part II, and draws on a range of normative/ethical sources and methodologies: applied ethics and securitisation theory (Floyd), pragmatism (Nyman), ontological security (Browning), cosmopolitanism and critical theory (Dexter, Nunes, Burke), post-and de-colonial theory (Chacko), feminism (Wibben, Robinson), poststructuralism (Robinson, Bilgic, Burke), and posthumanism (Mitchell, Burke, Fierke, McDonald).

Ethical Security Studies, we think, is thus both methodologically and theoretically innovative. This underscores a quality of the book of which we are proud: that the majority of the contributors are a new generation of critical scholars in their twenties, thirties and forties, and they have contributed work which is not a statement of established theoretical givens but is at the cutting edge of thinking in this area, whether we consider Mitchell’s work on mundicide and worldly security, Floyd’s ethics of just securitization, Bilgic’s hybrid of critical theory, cosmopolitanism and poststructuralism, Nyman’s turn to pragmatism, Rossdale’s rethinking of security through resistance, Dexter’s challenge to the ‘just war’/international humanitarian law biopolitical distinction between moral and immoral killing in war, McDonald’s justification for ecological security, Burke’s security cosmopolitanism, and Chacko’s development of a decolonial approach to securing different kinds of communities. Meanwhile Robinson, Wibben, Browning and Jabri have brought innovative and fresh perspectives to more enduring normative themes in security studies and highlighted their stakes for any study or practice of security ethics.

Karin Fierke exemplifies the innovative approach of the book’s theorising with her conclusion that the book, in its exploration of the dilemmas of thinking our way toward a more ethical practice of security, presumes ‘a more quantum world of potentials where uncertainty is assumed’. Following Alexander Wendt’s new work on the relevance of quantum theory to the social world, she argues that the book contributes to an ‘orthagonal rotation’: ‘a rotation in consciousness by which conventional reality is situated in a much larger three-dimensional space’. In a powerful argument that extends the ecological/posthuman perspective running through the book, she suggests that:

If life is sustained by an ecological environment, which is presently threatened, not least by the elimination of its diversity, and we are understood to be part of, rather than separate from this diverse ecosystem, then, by extension, the multi-perspectivity of ethical engagement in this global space reduces not to the feared relativism, but a creative potential that is necessary for sustaining life itself.

Out of this new consciousness of actually existing reality—a quantum and social reality of ‘intra-relation’ and enmeshment—Fierke advances a Buddhist ethics of security based on a ‘distinction between conventional reality, in which we are bound up in the desires of our egoistic selves, and a more ultimate reality within an entangled and compassionate universe…ethical choice can be said to arise out of the continuous oscillation and uncertainty at the intersection of these two potentials. It is from the conscious recognition of our ultimate entanglement and relationality with others that the potential for not only liberation of the self, but also a ‘logic of compassion’, emerges.’

In the end, Ethical Security Studies does not present a theory of ethical security, but rather a number of visions aiming to provoke readers to take ethics seriously when they think about and practice security. We use the language of visions to stress the importance of imagination and creativity in thinking security differently. Visions work to ‘make the future meaningful’, they ‘motivate actors to realize, or prevent, possibilities of being in the world’ (Berenskoetter 2011: 648) and they are essential when it comes to thinking explicitly about what an ethical security concept or practice might look like. Ultimately, ‘[o]ne…needs to know for what one is fighting, what kind of society one wants to establish’ (Laclau and Mouffe 2001: xix). Ethical Security Studies presents a plurality of intellectual paths toward such a society, but if anything unites the contributors to this book it is a vision of a world that is more just, more fair, more equal, and more ecologically sustainable, and thus more secure—if that is the language we wish to mobilise—in those ways.

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