April 27, 2006

Security by David Baldwin

guys, was commenting on this blog bout civil liberties vs. security issues so i rememebered that i wrote this b4 and never posted it or printed it out 4 u, so here u go;)

David Baldwin, ‘The Concept of Security’, in Review of International Studies, Vol. 23 (1997), pp. 5–26

Aims of the article:
– To clarify the concept of security
HOW? …by:
1.disentangling it from normative and empirical concerns, that is, to free it of issues that are falsely considered to be part of its core definition
2.to identify common elements in various conceptions of security
WHY? …in order to reach a definition of security of all levels (individual, family, society, state, international system or humanity) that can then be used for academic debate/research and rational policy analysis

What it says:
Criteria for definitions
– definition criteria = Openheim’s ‘explanation of concepts’ criteria:
a) Concepts should be operational in the broadest sense, although this should not be interpreted as requiring quantification
b) Concepts that establish definitional connections with other terms are to be preferred
c) Concepts that draw attention to the theoretically important aspects of the subject matter that might be easily overlooked are desirable
d) Concepts should not prevent empirical investigation by making true ‘by definition’ what should be open to empirical inquiry
e) Concepts should remain reasonably close to ordinary language – that is the set of rules people implicitly follow when applying it to a given situation

– security is a concept that has been neglected for some time now – since Wolfer’s article in 1952 there has been no real attempt to tackle or define security as a concept

– many incorrect attempts at clarifying and defining the concept of security
1.Buzan – sought to define it by specifying the conditions under which it may be achieved – how can you define the conditions correctly if you do not have a clear idea of the concept?
2.Ullman – sought to define it by trying to specify what people would be willing to give up in order to obtain more of it – again, same problem: how to do so if you do not have a clear concept of security?

– security treated as a contested concept which it is not – it is a confused and inadequately described/defined concept but not an essentially contested one

‘a low probability of damage to acquired values’

Further specification and clarification through questions (Q&A):
Q: Security for whom?
A: Depends what u r focusing on: it can be the individual, family, society, state, international system or humanity

Q: Security for which values?
A: For values that are considered worth keeping (depends also which level we’re talking at, i.e. individual or national security) including values such as ‘peace of mind’ and ‘absence of fear’

Q: How much security?
A: Security is a value that is not absolute! We can never have complete security. We must take into account the scarcity of resources and then weigh the benefits we gain with a certain degree of security against the costs that we occur as a result of that degree being attained.

Q: From what threats?
A: Not only usual threats like military international threats, ideological threats or any other human made threats that might threat values that we consider worth protecting, but also natural threats like earthquakes, floods, epidemics, droughts as they all might threaten our ‘acquired values’

Q: By what means?
A: All kinds of means. The military is not suitable or able to deal with all kinds of threats to our ‘acquired values’. For example, how can the military deal with the problem of lack of education that causes social instability and lower living standards?

Q: At what cost?
A: The pursuit of security always involves costs, i.e., the sacrifice of other goals that could have been pursued with the resources devoted to security. Even though some people seem to sometimes imply that when it comes to security, costs do not matter, they, actually, always matter.

Q: In what time period?
A: We must distinguish between the short and long term as some policy might solve the security problem at present but not in the future and as sometimes we need to sacrifice the present in order to have a better future. Baldwin states that ‘in the short run, a high fence, a fierce dog, and a big gun might be useful ways of protecting oneself from the neighbours…but in the long run, it may be preferable to befriend them’. Also, we must keep in mind that short–run policies might be in conflict with long term ones.

Q: How important is security as a value in comparison to other values individuals hold dear?
A: Because every culture and country has different value systems and values things to different extents, this question is more importantly about how to determine how valuable security as a value is in comparison to other values. Baldwin argues the best is the ‘marginal value approach’ as it is the only approach that provides a solution to the (scarce) resource allocation problem. It is based on ‘the assumption that the law of diminishing marginal utility is as applicable to security as it is to other values’. In this approach, ‘security is only one of many policy objectives competing for scarce resources’ and ‘thus, the value of an increment of national security to a country will vary from one country to another and from one historical context to another, depending not only how much security is needed but also on how much security the country already has’. Therefore, policy makers will strive for more security so long as their benefit will be higher than their cost (i.e. the resources spent on acquiring a certain degree of security as opposed to spending them on anything else). Therefore, states, if rational, will not always strive for more or the most security they can get.


That’s that and it’s a good definition/clarification of the concept of security because it ultimately satisfies Openheim’s ‘explanation of concepts’ criteria.

Hope u guys will find this as interesting and useful as I did and that u will have the patience to quickly whiz through this summary and c what the article is about.


Bhrigh, Filip & Tom

p.s. if u want to join the discussion go to link

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