Why is ‘security’ such a contested concept?

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Why is ‘security’ such a contested concept?

The foreign, military and economic policies of states, the intersections of these policies in areas of change or dispute, and the general structure of relations which they create, are all analysed in terms of aspirations to achieve national and/or international security. Security is most commonly associated with the alleviation of threats to cherished values (Williams; 2008). However this is a definition that is undesirably vague and a reflection of the inherent nature of security as an ‘essentially contested concept’ (Gallie; 1962). Security in the modern day context has many key concepts associated with it: uncertainty, war, terrorism, genocide and mass killing, ethnic conflict, coercion, human security, poverty, environmental damage, health and of course the traditional notion of military security. Such concepts necessary generate unsolvable debates about their meaning and application because, as Richard Little points out, they ‘contain an ideological element which renders empirical evidence irrelevant as a means of resolving the dispute’. In this essay then I will attempt to explore the various contested concepts of security and explain how and why this contestation was derived.

Until the rise of economic and environmental concerns in the 1970s the concept of security was seldom addressed in terms other than the policy interests of particular actors, and right up to the end of the 1980s the discussion still had a heavy military emphasis. Arnold Wolfers, in his 1962 article, characterized security as an ‘ambiguous symbol’ – at one point he argues that it ‘may not have any precise meaning at all’ – is a reflection of the multi-dimensional complexities of the concept. There exists tod...

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... leverage over domestic affairs which can be obtained by invoking it, offers scope for power- maximizing strategies to political and military elites.

Works Cited

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HOFFMAN, Bruce: Inside Terrorism (Indigo; 1998) HOUGH, Peter: Understanding Global Security: Routledge; 2004)

KATZENSTEIN, Peter (eds.): The Culture of National Security – Normals and Identity in World Politics (Columbia; 1996)

KOLODZIEJ, Edward: Security and International Relations (Cambridge; 2005)

NOLAN, Janne: Global Engagement – Cooperation and Security in the 21st Century (Brookings Institution; 1994)

WILLIAMS, Paul: Security Studies: An Introduction (Routledge; 2008)
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