Book Review: Security: A New Framework for Analysis

By Barry Buzan, Ole Weaver, and Jaap de Wilde
(Lynne Rienner: Boulder, 1998, 239 pages, £ 13.00)
By Esengul Ayaz 14 April 2010

barrybuzan_bookThere are two opposing schools of thought in security studies which conceptualize security differently: wideners and traditionalists. While traditionalists define security by equating it with military issues and the use of force, wideners accept it more than military power. This book rejects the traditional security understanding and argues that security is a specific type of politics which can be applied to a wide range of issues. Additionally, it adopts a constructivist perspective which distinguishes the process of securitization from the process of politicization (pg. vii).

As the title “Security: A New Framework for Analysis” indicates, Barry Buzan, Ole Weaver, and Jaap de Wilde’s book attempts to set out a comprehensive framework for security studies. The main aim of this book is to establish a framework based on the wider agenda which will also include the traditionalist position. The goal of authors is to construct a more radical view of security studies by looking at threats to referent objects and the securitization of these threats, which are non-military or military. In addition, authors attempt to find intellectual coherence by “exploring the logic of security itself to find out what differentiates security from that which is merely political” (pg. 4-5).


The book opens the analysis to a wider range of sectors (pg. 16). The different character and dynamics of security are examined in five sectors: military, political, economic, environmental and societal. In each of the sector chapters, there is a subsection which tries to understand the location of the security dynamics of the sector. In other words it asks whether the security dynamics of the sector are local, regional or global. Thegeneral picture shows that the military, political, and societal sectors are dominated by regional security complexes; economic sector is dominated by the global security complexes. Moreover, both global and local levels are significant for the environmental sector (pg. 166). According to this analysis actors act in terms of aggregate security and they `let security concerns from one sector colour their security definitions in other sectors, or they add everything up and make a judgement on the basis of some overarching narrative that structures security as such’ (pg. 190).


The main contribution of the book to the literature is that it takes an explicitly social constructivist approach to understanding the process by which issues become securitized. Securitisation is accepted as a successful speech act but it is argued in the book that the security speech act is not defined by saying the word security. For securitisation “the designation of an existential threat requiring emergency action or special measures and the acceptance of that designation by a significant audience” is necessary (pg. 27). In securitization, an actor tries to move a topic away from politics and into an area of security concerns by talking security. The process of securitization is not a question of an objective threat and a subjective perception of a threat. Securitization is inter-subjective which means that securitization of a subject is closely related to its acceptance by an audience.


The goal of securitisation studies and the role of analysts are not to define objective threats but the aim is to gain an understanding of who securitizes, for whom, on what issues, why, with what results and under what conditions. These clarifications are developed to answer the criticism which supports progressive widening endangered the intellectual coherence of security. Authors tried to show how the essential meaning of security can be carried across five sectors without weakening the concept.


The beneficial aspect of this analysis is that it does not limit threat and security issues only to states and military competition and it broadens the security agenda. Furthermore, while the book accepts a widened security agenda, it does not ignore the presence of the traditional military focus of security studies and it lays to rest the rather scholastic argument between traditionalists and wideners. It also dissolves the boundary between security studies and the international political economy. Moreover, the book demonstrates how the theory of regional security complexes are still important in today’s world.


On the other hand, securitization argued in the book can be a threat to international security because it can be seen as an opportunity by actors and it can be used for their own interests. If a subject is securitized, this does not mean that this subject is vital for the survival of a given state. It means that it has formed as a fundamental problem successfully through speech acts. To reject motivations, intentions, or interests of the political actors can be challenging. For example, an expansionist state by calling a subject as an important threat to its existence through speech acts can follow an expansionist policy. Morover, accepting securitization as a successful speech act makes the language of security much more important than the actions of actors. In addition, each actor does not have the same power to securitize an issue and it is closely related to the status of a given actor. For instance, the U.S.A. and a country in Africa do not have the same efficiency level in securitization of a subject.


Although the book is criticized at some points, it can be said that the book is a significant attempt and fills an important gap in the literature by combining two different schools of thought and by tackling the intellectual incoherence problem of the wider agenda. “Security: A New Framework for Analysis ” is one of the key readings in security studies which is also written in a good style.


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