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About this book


From war, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, through environmental and economic crises, to epidemics, cyber-war and piracy, the twenty-first century world seems beset by a daunting range of international security problems.

At the same time, the academic study of security has become more fragmented and contested than ever before as new actors, issues and theories increasingly challenge traditional concepts and approaches.

This innovative new text focuses on the politics of international security: how and why issues are interpreted as threats to international security and how such threats are managed. After a brief introduction to the field and its major theories and approaches, the core chapters systematically analyze the major issues on the contemporary international security agenda. Each is examined according to a common framework that brings out the nature of the threat and the responses open to policy makers.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. International Relations and International Security

Abstract
Wars, arms races, and weapons of mass destruction. Terrorism, insurgencies, and suicide bombings. Genocides, infectious diseases, and refugee crises. Oil depletion, global climate change, and economic collapse. Drug trafficking, cyber-war, and piracy. These and other international security problems continue to plague humanity and make disturbing headlines on a regular, even relentless, basis. In fact, the list of such daunting problems seems so endless that if economics is the original ‘dismal science’ then the study of international security must be a very close second to it (Kapstein, 2002/03). Yet this field can also be as exciting and fulfilling as it is depressing, for it forces us to answer two very simple, but very critical, questions about the human condition: what do we really value, and how far will we go to protect those valued things? One might even say we cannot even comprehend other philosophical questions about our existence, purpose, and destiny until these fundamental questions have been addressed — that is, until we feel more secure.
Michael E. Smith

Chapter 2. Continuity and Change in International Security Studies

Abstract
Chapter 1 of this volume briefly noted the dramatically altered intellectual and empirical preoccupations of international security studies since the end of the Cold War. This fact deserves more attention as all of the major security problems covered throughout this volume must take into consideration certain intellectual legacies and other factors, though these may operate quite differently depending on the issue at hand. Since these aspects of contemporary international security studies are so pervasive, we should consider them at length here to avoid a repetitive discussion of these contextual factors in the chapters devoted to specific security problems. However, we must also keep in mind what has not changed in recent years regarding either our understanding or our pursuit of international security. New theories based on realism and liberalism are being developed in the realm of security affairs, even as alternative approaches and concepts claim to challenge the intellectual hegemony of these two enduring paradigms. Similarly, certain aspects of the Cold War still condition debates about international security affairs and must be kept in mind even as new issues are added to the agenda.
Michael E. Smith

Chapter 3. The Politics of International Security

Abstract
Imagine the following scenario: a huge explosion occurs at a major population centre in the US, resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries. Within minutes — hopefully — an army of officials from various agencies descends upon the scene. These officials represent the local police and fire departments, the medical community, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), and counter-terrorism experts from the local and federal authorities. The initial response of these officials was inspired by the same event — the explosion — yet their professional interest in the disaster varies quite widely. Medical personnel are interested in caring for the wounded; police and fire officials are interested in securing the area and rescuing survivors; FBI and ATF personnel are interested in finding and protecting the evidence of a crime scene, such as witness statements and physical evidence, that could be used in a court of law; and counter-terrorism experts are interested in quickly assigning responsibility for the attack, if appropriate, to some domestic or international terrorist group. Local, state and national politicians are likely to descend upon the scene at some point, and they may wish to blame other politicians (mainly in the opposition party, of course) for failing to prevent the attack in the first place. These people are all making a ‘correct’ response based on their interests, training, and areas of responsibility, yet it is also clear that their goals cannot just conflict with each other, but even undermine each other.
Michael E. Smith

Chapter 4. Interstate War

Abstract
The problem of war has attracted more scholarly attention than any other topic in the history of international security studies, so it is appropriate to begin our discussion here. However, there is a wide range of ways to conceptualize this question. One can examine the propensity for organized violence at all major levels of analysis, from individual human beings to the international system level, and reach different conclusions about the causal dynamics involved without ever considering the relationships between these levels. On another dimension, one can examine the normal ‘steady state’ or ‘default position’ of the international system: is it peace or war? In other words, is war the normal state of affairs, so that we have to explain when peace ‘breaks out?’ Or is war the exception, not the rule, in everyday political life, as most states seem to be at peace with each other most of the time? And yet a third, but no means final, general aspect of war in international security is that it can be conceived as both a problem and a solution. As long as national defence (that is, unilateral war-making) is allowed by the rules of international law, the problem of war in international security affairs may be better framed as an analysis of the conditions under which armed conflicts become a security concern at the international level of analysis, and the conditions under which the use of military force is deemed acceptable by the international community.
Michael E. Smith

Chapter 5. Intrastate War

Abstract
The problem of intrastate instability has emerged as one of the most significant security issues in the post-war era, and can be linked, directly or indirectly, to many other problems. Particularly since the end of the Cold War, more people have been killed in intrastate conflicts than in interstate wars. Moreover, the vast majority of these conflicts take place in LDCs, which raises difficult questions about how to close the security gap between rich and poor states, and whether rich states should become involved in such conflicts. The 1994 Rwandan genocide alone resulted in the vicious slaughter of over 800,000 people, including many women and children, and many other intrastate conflicts since 1945 have involved similar patterns of destruction. The problem of intrastate war in turn can be linked to a more general problem of weak or failed states, which can take a variety of forms depending on one’s definition. Problems in such states can spill over to, or be exacerbated or exploited by, external actors or external phenomena such as disease or famine; these complex processes can have major implications for international security. Similarly, whether the international community — in the form of aid-workers, PMCs, military peacekeepers, or civilian state-builders — becomes involved in a domestic conflict is also a contested process and involves many more complications than the largely state-centric focus of our discussion about interstate war.
Michael E. Smith

Chapter 6. Weapons Proliferation

Abstract
The analysis of weapons proliferation as a distinct international security problem can be viewed as an adjunct to our discussion of military conflict. The focus here, however, is somewhat narrower, as we are concerned primarily with the properties and diffusion patterns of weapons themselves rather than with their use during a conflict. Although the primary concern of this chapter is with Cold War and post-Cold War developments, we should keep in mind that arms control is very much a late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century phenomenon that pre-dates the advent of nuclear weapons. Measures introduced in the pre-World War I era — which involved both conventional weapons (CW) and WMD — still influence modern debates over weapons proliferation, and concepts from this period have been revived, re-interpreted, or expanded in light of recent technological developments.
Michael E. Smith

Chapter 7. International Terrorism

Abstract
Although terrorism has served as a political tactic for well over a century, its status as a major problem of international security is a more recent trend. In fact, no other contemporary problem so effectively demonstrates one of the core arguments of this volume: the critical role of politics in setting the international security agenda. Obviously the US has been the critical player in this regard, as it elevated its view of terrorism from a relatively minor threat to a major international concern following the attacks by al-Qaeda on American soil on September 11, 2001. This response was supported to various degrees by several American allies and led directly to US military attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq, plus a host of other, often controversial, domestic and foreign policies whose after-shocks persist. This increased attention by policy-makers has been accompanied by more activity on the part of security scholars and other experts, making the study of terrorism one of the major growth areas in the field. Before then, the study of terrorism had been quite marginalized by many universities, book publishers and major academic journals (Jentleson, 2002; Cronin, 2002/3).
Michael E. Smith

Chapter 8. International Crime

Abstract
As we have seen, criminal activities often play a supporting role in many traditional international security problems, as in the form of criminally-financed terrorist and rebel movements, or illicit arms trafficking. These and similar problems, which also reflect the growing importance of non-state actors in international relations, are becoming so widespread and prominent that the problem of crime is increasingly being treated as an international security concern in its own right. Although some security specialists might still argue that crime is much less important than the problems covered earlier in this volume, most would nonetheless agree that certain types of criminal activities can pose a threat to international security. As always, however, we must be very clear in terms of analyzing why certain crimes or criminals are invested with the status of international security threats, while others are not. One obvious answer to this puzzle involves the growing role of international or transnational organized crime in recent years, and this trend indeed provides much of the raw material for the discussion in this chapter. Yet even within this realm of criminal activity there is much disagreement among global stakeholders about which specific organized crimes deserve more attention as security threats, as we shall see in the case of international drug trafficking below.
Michael E. Smith

Chapter 9. International Economic Security

Abstract
Although the term ‘economic security’ is often invoked by scholars and policy-makers to advance a specific agenda, there is virtually no consensus on how to define it. Some more traditional security analysts would further argue that ‘economic security’ is not even relevant to a text such as this, as it relates only indirectly, if at all, to the core international security problems of war and related forms of organized violence. However, it is also true that many traditional security issues can be linked to economic factors, such as the role of economic investment and technology in fuelling a political rivalry in the form of an arms race (Levy, 1989). As we saw in Chapter 5, the relationship between weak states and intrastate war, particularly in less developed regions, can also be greatly exacerbated by economic problems. Violent conflicts over identity/ethnicity also might have a strong economic class element to them. In addition, the basic measures of globalization as presented in Chapter 2 are primarily defined in terms of cross-border economic transactions, which can easily facilitate the movement of illicit (and therefore threatening) goods, services, and individuals. Finally, the possibility of a global depression or catastrophic financial crisis cannot be discounted and could easily have major security implications. In fact, as this volume is being drafted the world is in a state of economic shock, and the major powers are attempting to devise a coordinated solution to the malaise that could require public spending in the amount of more than one trillion dollars.
Michael E. Smith

Chapter 10. International Environmental and Resource Security

Abstract
The relationship between security affairs and the protection of the environment is becoming one of the more complicated topics in world politics. If international security is fundamentally concerned with the protection of certain referent objects — whether physical or symbolic/institutional — valued by large numbers of human beings, then it would seem self-evident that environmental problems would loom large in such a context. And if a physical resource such as territory can be treated as an object to be protected or contested by various political actors, then the same should be true of other components of the earth’s physical environment. Yet the orthodox view of international security seems extremely reluctant to include consideration of the protection of the environment, except in isolated circumstances to be discussed below. Conversely, scholars who defend the new security/human security agenda are far more likely to treat environmental and natural resource problems as security issues in and of themselves, and have pursued this position in their work.
Michael E. Smith

Chapter 11. International Public Health

Abstract
The analysis of problems related to international public health in terms of their relationship to international security is very similar to the discussion of environmental issues in the previous chapter, and of population issues to be discussed in Chapter 12. Specifically, the more traditional or orthodox view of this topic would focus primarily on narrow or direct threats to international security, as in the form of a major infectious disease outbreak. A much broader view of this topic, framed in terms of the new security or human security agenda, would consider indirect health problems as well, such as high levels of infant mortality in LDCs or the role of public health issues in undermining government authority or stability. In this sense the human security agenda can become virtually indistinguishable from the international development agenda, which would stress health-related goals in LDCs such as access to clean water, adequate food, antenatal care, and so on. Obviously these agendas are closely linked: vulnerability to a specific threat such as an infectious disease outbreak is strongly conditioned by vulnerability to broader problems involving sanitation, nutrition, and adequate medical care. As always, however, our focus here is on the political framing and response (if any) to these problems as urgent international security threats rather than as long-term international development or human rights issues.
Michael E. Smith

Chapter 12. International Population Trends

Abstract
Our final problem area involves the international security aspects of human population trends based on changes in their size, composition, location, or distribution/movements. As with many of the topics covered in this volume, the study of population, or demography, is an academic field in its own right, so our task here is to isolate various findings and arguments from this field and relate them to the question of international security. The most immediate problem in making such a linkage involves the inherently dual nature of certain demographic trends: populations can be framed as threats to security, or as referent objects to be protected. This can be seen most prominently with one major topic covered in this chapter: the question of mass population flows. Should these individuals be viewed as victims and welcomed by other states, or are they more appropriately viewed as threats? This is precisely where some aspects of the human security policy agenda begin to run into problems, as do national immigration policies in particular: because ‘humans’ can easily be interpreted as resources, victims or threats depending on the political context involved (Koslowski, 2002; Parker and Brassett, 2005). As we shall see throughout this chapter, the idea that the international community should provide greater human security for certain populations tends to ignore the hard political and economic calculations made by officials and other actors in the face of multiple security threats and limited resources.
Michael E. Smith

Conclusion The Future of International Security Studies

Abstract
When framed in terms of anthropogenic threats, as in this volume, the problem of international security basically amounts to saving humanity from itself. If so, then this seems to be a never-ending struggle, for every major security problem discussed in this volume — from war to drug trafficking to climate change to infectious disease and beyond — continues to receive considerable attention by the world’s media and political elites on a regular basis. Even in a single day, the news headlines may be dominated by several simultaneous international security problems, such as a terrorist attack, a global economic crisis, alarming new data about global warming, and a flu pandemic. This range of coverage, on an average day, illustrates perfectly the single most important reason for framing international security studies as I have done in this volume: the problem of competing priorities. We live in a world of finite political and material resources, yet have an apparently endless list of international problems to manage. Under these circumstances, what topics truly deserve our attention as urgent international security concerns when the world’s policy agenda is already so crowded? And how does the international community typically determine and manage these priorities? Without a solid and realistic understanding of these questions, we can neither effectively analyze current competing security issues, nor confidently predict what types of issues are likely to become international security problems in the future.
Michael E. Smith
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