The Constructivist, Copenhagen and Critical Approaches to Security

Critical approach to security is a theory which emerged in the mid 1990’s as a result of a conference held in Toronto, Canada. It is based on critical desires which challenge the traditional approach to security. It argues that the state cannot be a sufficient object of reference to security and that the definition and the sources of security and insecurity should be thought of in broader terms than in the traditionalist approach to security. It is from the above challenges that the constructivist theory to security was developed. The critical approach to security proposes the formation of conceptual answers to the questions on what real conditions exist, what knowledge can be used to evaluate the condition as to whether it is really a security issue and what needs to be done to remove the threat.

An example of the use of the critical approach is on the issue of drug trafficking in the United States. It is through a critical analysis that the government is able to evaluate the existing conditions regarding the drugs issue and identifies the social, economic and political threat that the drugs trades poses to the country and then initiate measures meant to counter the trade. All this process can be described as following the critical approach to security as it uses all the processes proposed in the critical approach to security.

Constructivism is a school of thought in security studies which argues that major aspects of international relations are formed by social practices and interactions. It proposes that in security issues, actors are social constructs formed through the process of political practice and the structures of international relations are socially constructed through use of knowledge which is not objective and are not dependent on nature.

The constructivist approach to security can be explained by the use of China’s foreign relations. The Asian economic giant has through the process of political influence been able to propagate support for its communist government. It has led its citizens to believe that democratic form of government may not be the best since its government, which does not follow the democratic process, has been able to record high rates of economic growth. It has thus successfully influenced its citizenry, through the use of non objective information, that democracy indeed does pose a threat to the economic and political growth of China.

Another example of the application of the constructivist school of thought is the indoctrination of Muslim extremists against the western world. Through the use of a social institution like religion, extremists are able convince adherents that the west is a threat to their existence and therefore they should dedicate their lives to fight the forces out to annihilate their religion. The Al-Qaeda and the Al-Shabaab terrorist groups have used the constructivist approach in their indoctrination process.

Copenhagen school of thought of security studies is an approach based on the argument that international relations are influenced by speech, where security issues are brought about through speech; a speaker, through his speech, makes a non security issue a security issue by confronting it with an external threat. It is through speech that a politician will be able to change the social perceptions about an issue regarding security, and through the process of influence to the audience make arguments which will make an issue which was not initially considered by his audience to be a non security issue into a security issue by introducing elements of threat to it. The whole of this process is called securitization.

For the process of securitization to be effective, there ought to be the following elements: the securitizing actor, usually a politician or an individual in authority who seeks to change a non security issue into a security issue though influencing by use of speech, the referent object, to which the security risk is attached and an audience which the securitizing actor seeks to influence into believing that a security threat does indeed exist to the efferent object.

A good example of the application of the Copenhagen school of thought can be drawn from the decision to invade Iraq. It was through the process influence by the political class that the American public was convinced that indeed an immediate threat to the security of the United States existed with the continued rule of the regime then in Iraq. The president was the securitizing actor, with the United States being the referent object while the American public was the audience.

The above three approaches have great implications to the understanding of the concept of security. They stress the importance of social interactions in the understanding of the security issues, particularly the major role that politics play in the definition of what constitutes a security threat and what does not. The three approaches also call for critical evaluation of security issues so as to try and objectively analyze them to avoid making security related decisions which are based on misinformation.

2 thoughts on “The Constructivist, Copenhagen and Critical Approaches to Security



    • Chris Petzold

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