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Review of International Studies (1997), 23, 241–250 Copyright © British Internat

ional Studies Association


Slippery? contradictory? sociologically untenable? The Copenhagen school replies
*
B A R RY B U Z A N A N D O L E WÆ V E R
In the January 1996 issue of the Review, Bill McSweeney argues that our 1993 boo
k, Identity, Migration and the New Security Agenda in Europe (IMNSAE), ‘subverts
’ the analysis of Buzan’s People, States and Fear (PSF) ‘without enhancing our u
nderstanding of the problem of security’ (p. 93).1 Of the many charges that McSw
eeney brings to bear we will address three. First is that societal security is m
erely a trendy response to current concerns about nationalism rather than a more
theoretically considered move. Second—and this seems to be the core of his comp
laint—is that the view we take of ‘identities’ is far too objectivist and not (d
e)constructivist enough, and that our approach makes it impossible to consider t
he process of identity formation as part of the politics of security. Third, he
says that Buzan’s association with IMNSAE contradicts strong positions he develo
ped in PSF and that his analysis has therefore become incoherent. McSweeney’s se
cond and third points themselves seem contradictory: PSF is much more objectivis
t than IMNSAE, and IMNSAE quite constructivist. Our next book2 is even more cons
tructivist, and goes much further than IMNSAE towards opening up many more kinds
of referent objects for security. This we believe to be defensible because we h
ave developed a way of specifying security as an extreme form of politicization
(in whatever sector) and thus of avoiding the proliferation of securitizations t
hat has tended to accompany the wider security agenda. Given that development, a
nd since McSweeney’s article raises, but does not satisfactorily answer, several
issues central to security studies, we felt that it required an answer.3
* We are grateful to Lene Hansen, Eric Herring, Jef Huysmans, Richard Little, He
ikki Patomäki and Michael C. Williams for comments on an earlier draft. 1 Bill M
cSweeney, ‘Identity and Security: Buzan and the Copenhagen School’, Review of In
ternational Studies, 22 (1996), pp. 81–93; O. Wæver, B. Buzan, Morten Kelstrup a
nd Pierre Lemaitre with David Carlton et al., Identity, Migration and the New Se
curity Agenda in Europe (London, 1993). 2 Barry Buzan, Ole Wæver and Jaap de Wil
de, Security: A New Framework for Analysis (Boulder, CO, 1997). 3 Identity, Migr
ation and especially its central concept of ‘societal security’ is controversial
. We are aware of several good critiques: Didier Bigo, ‘The New Field of Securit
y in Europe: Mixing Crime, Border and Identity Controls’, in Anne-Marie Le Gloan
nec and Kerry McNamara (eds.), Le Désordre européen [working title] (forthcoming
); Ken Booth, book review in International Affairs, 70 (1994), p. 171; Lene Hans
en, ‘The Conceptualization of Security in Post-structuralist IR Theory’ (MA thes
is, University of Copenhagen, 1994); Jef Huysmans, ‘Migrants as a Security Probl
em: Dangers of ‘‘Securitizing’’ Societal Issues’, in R. Miles and D. Thänhardt (
eds.), Migration and European Integration: The Dynamics of Inclusion and Exclusi
on (London, 1995); Janus Mortensen, ‘Sikkerhed som talehandling: En kritisk genn
emgang af Wævers sikkerhedsbegreb’ (Security as Speech Act: A Critical Examinati
on of Wæver’s Concept of Security) (unpublished paper, Institute of Political Sc
ience, Copenhagen); Yosef Lapid and Friedrich Kratochwil, ‘Revisiting the
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Barry Buzan and Ole Wæver
1. The place of societal security in security theory McSweeney criticizes us for
raising societal security as a response to ‘the pressure of events’ rather than
as a result of theoretical considerations (p. 81). This is a charge that can be
laid at the door of nearly all IR theory, from Idealism and Realism to Interdep
endence and IPE, and we do not deny following that well-trodden path. But our mo
ve was also a response to a theoretical challenge. Most ordinary people if asked
about European security will start talking about nationalism, ethnic con ict in
East-Central Europe and possibly about migration. And they would be greatly sur
prised to learn that such phenomena have no place in classical security theory.
This was a theoretical challenge, because these issues were not simply absent in
the sense that classical security studies did not care; they were radically abs
ent because they could not be represented in the classical state-centric theory.
Rather than abandon existing theory and mainstream debate by taking the reducti
onist path to individualbased security logic (on which more below), we saw it as
a challenge to devise a theoretical conception of identity-related security iss
ues that was at the unit level, and therefore interoperable with classical secur
ity theory. As argued by Lapid and Kratochwil, some other neorealists assimilate
d identity and nationalism into classical theory by simply treating nations as s
tates, and identity as one more resource, thus avoiding any revision of the basi
c theory.4 We tried instead to revise the basic, traditional conception of secur
ity so that it could still say the old things but also include the new things in
their own right. We tried to show how ‘societies’ de ned in terms of identity c
ould be seen as the referent object for some cases of securitization, where that
which could be lost was not sovereignty but identity. The two share the role of
being the de nition of existential threat: for a state, sovereignty de nes when
a threat is existential, because if a state is no longer sovereign, it is no lo
nger a state; and similarly identity is the de ning point regarding existential
threats for a society because it de nes whether ‘we’ are still us. In the tradit
ion of security studies with its focus on the interaction of units and their con
cern for others’ threat to their survival, it was crucial for us to be able to d
e ne a new kind of unit in order to grasp the way other things than states had b
ecome referent objects for security discourse.
2. Objectivist and (de)constructivist approaches to identity and societal securi
ty McSweeney states that ‘The analysis of collective identity can be approached
from a deconstructionist, sociological angle, which focuses on the processes and
practices by which people and groups construct their self-image. Or it can be a
pproached from the more common objectivist viewpoint’ (p. 82) Why does this choi
ce have to be a hard either/or? If one studies only the processes by which ident
ities are formed, then
4
‘‘National’’: Toward an Identity Agenda in Neorealism?’, in Yosef Lapid and Frie
drich Kratochwil (eds.), The Return of Culture and Identity in IR Theory (Boulde
r, CO, 1996), pp. 105–26; Martin Shaw, Global Society and International Relation
s: Sociological Concepts and Political Perspectives (Cambridge, 1994). We apprec
iate the opportunity to take stock of critiques, re ect self-critically on our w
ork, and put forward some further arguments at this later stage of the debate. L
apid and Kratochwil, ‘Revisiting the “National”’.
Discussion: the Copenhagen school replies
243
identity never becomes a ‘thing’ at all: there is never a product as such. And c
onversely, if one studies the politics around the established identities (as we
do), why does that have to mean positing identities as God-given, immutable, and
intractable by sociological, ‘deconstructionist’ analysis? Why can one not thin
k of identities as de nitely being constructed by people and groups through nume
rous processes and practices, and that when an identity is thus constructed, and
becomes socially sedimented, it becomes a possible referent object for security
? As we see it, one can choose to place the analytical emphasis on either end of
the spectrum. Doing so produces different kinds of inquiry, probably for differ
ent purposes. But there is no reason to picture either approach as unable to acc
ept the existence of the other. The main weight of McSweeney’s accusation is tha
t we impose a rigid, ‘objectivist’, ‘near-positivist’ view of identity on societ
y (p. 83); but he ignores the explicitly constructivist approach to society (and
even more to security) set out in chapter 2 of IMNSAE. To take something as bei
ng more than the sum of its parts does not make it ‘immune to process inquiry’ o
r make its values and vulnerabilities ‘objective’ in the positivist sense (p. 84
). Because we talk of individuals actually identifying themselves as members of
society, and because we talk about how societies re ect on threats to, and defen
ce of, what they take to be their identity, McSweeney concludes that we project
‘ ‘‘society’’ and ‘‘identity’’ . . . as objective realities, out there to be dis
covered and analyzed’ (p. 83).5 There are no statements to this effect in the bo
ok, and a number directly to the contrary. McSweeney must therefore assume that,
since we treat identity in some speci c situations as an object of security con
cern (that which is to be defended), we think that identity is always a thing, a
nd an immutable one at that. This is not a logical conclusion, nor is it a corre
ct description of our position. To take identity as a possible object of securit
ization, one has only to assume that it holds a social power that makes it ef ci
ent to invoke it, and that it has a form which makes security discourse possible
(i.e., it has a claim to survival as well as a clear image of what non-survival
would mean). Usually this demands that the referent has become relatively stabi
lized in social practice. This is our view. The state is not a constant either,
yet there is a lot of security policy to defend it. France has changed over the
centuries, but there is a French security policy. There are actors who mobilize
security policy in the defence of something which is ‘thingish’ enough to be inv
oked in this way. Identities too can be defended. This does not imply that ident
ities do not change, only that we should not expect everything to change all the
time: certain things stay the same throughout the period relevant for an analys
is. A very big part of social science is about what to take as relatively more
xed than what.6
5
6
On objectivist, subjectivist and intersubjectivist approaches to security, see,
most thoroughly, Jef Huysmans, ‘Making/Unmaking European Disorder: Meta-theoreti
cal, Theoretical and Empirical Questions of Military Stability after the Cold Wa
r’ (Ph.D. thesis, Catholic University of Louvain, 1996), pp. 48–57, 84–6. For Mc
Sweeney there are constructed things—identity—and real things—the state, securit
y! Identity he argues is peculiarly uid and therefore not to be treated as an o
bject. This he argues by various contrasts to how other things are tangible, mea
surable and to be ‘challenged by evidence’. We prefer to take a social construct
ivist position ‘all the way down’. However, identities as other social construct
ions can petrify and become relatively constant elements to be reckoned with. Es
pecially, we believe security studies could gain by a constructivism that focuse
s on how the very security quality is always socially constructed: issues are no
t security issues by themselves, but de ned as such as a result of political pro
cesses.
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Barry Buzan and Ole Wæver
McSweeney tells us: ‘Identity is not a fact of society; it is a process of negot
iation among people and interest groups. Being English, Irish, Danish is a conse
quence of a political process’. We agree. He continues: ‘and it is that process,
not the label symbolizing it, which constitutes the reality that needs explicat
ion’ (p. 85). Maybe, but we doubt that this would be a very effective approach f
or security studies. One could study process, just as one can study the historic
al origins of a state to explain why it is there as object of security policy, r
ather than studying its current security policy. But to understand an identity a
s a possible referent object for security policy, one actually has to understand
the label symbolizing it. McSweeney asks for a deconstructionist approach to id
entity. That means precisely that one has to understand powerful symbols, labels
and the discursive structure of political moves that surround them. Security di
scourse always uses a symbol or a concept—as all other discourse, it is unable t
o grasp the thing or people as such. A label surely can be securitized. McSweene
y sees social identity as permanently mutable and unstable: ‘never more than a p
rovisional and uid image of ourselves as we want to be’ (p. 90). We agree that
identity is socially constructed, but see it as often solidly sedimented. Furthe
rmore, the knowledge that an identity is never fully stabilized, that it is alwa
ys problematic, should not lead us to just denounce the possibility of doing sec
urity in its name. Quite the contrary, this lack is often the key to understandi
ng its vulnerabilities, restlessness and security efforts. If we want to underst
and the peculiarities of the branch of security policy that is conducted on beha
lf of identity, it is indeed helpful to investigate the inherent paradoxes of ac
ting in defence of an identity which is never simply constant in itself, but alw
ays contains a longing for a desired self. Collective identities of this sort ca
n never be more than a series of partially or temporarily successful, but ultima
tely impossible, closures.7 Our rejection both of McSweeney’s characterization o
f our position, and of his either/or choice about analytical method has two root
s, one normative and the other ontological. Both issues are important to how sec
urity studies is pursued, and are worth investigating a little more closely.
Ontological issues Here the problem seems to be our preference for methodologica
l collectivism versus McSweeney’s for methodological individualism. The issue is
much bigger than methodology, the underlying question being whether to reduce s
ecurity to the level of individuals. This is an ontological issue: is society th
e sum of the individuals or does it have group qualities that go beyond the sum
of its parts? Even Durkheim, who held that society had sui generis features that
were to be located as attributes of society as a whole, actually studied societ
al processes and vigorously defended individualism. Just because we are methodol
ogical collectivists, does not bar our
7
Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Toward a Rad
ical Democratic Politics (London, 1985); Ernesto Laclau, New Re ections on the R
evolution of Our Time (London, 1990); Slavoj Zizek, For They Know Not What They
Do: Enjoyment as a Political Factor (London, 1991); Ole Wæver, ‘Insecurity and I
dentity Unlimited’, in Le Gloannec and McNamara (eds.), Le Désordre européen.
Discussion: the Copenhagen school replies
245
engagement with questions about how collective identities are shaped. The argume
nt of McSweeney, as of many critical theorists and peace researchers, seems to b
e that if one wants to open up to a world beyond the state, one has to take a bo
ttom-up, individualist (and/or small-group) perspective. In this individualist p
erspective, identity is indeed one ‘among the countless values which people are
concerned about and which can be attributed to the collectivity of society’ (p.
84), in which case it seems problematic to single it out above the numerous othe
r values. McSweeney prefers an analysis of all the individual values that can be
threatened, and is here taking over formulations verbatim from peace researcher
s such as Johan Galtung and Jan Øberg. He seems to want to de ne a priori that a
ll security is reducible to individual security. As we argued in IMNSAE (pp. 20–
7), to move down to the individual level has severe consequences. It is possible
to take the individualist, aggregate view of security, but as far as we can see
, unless one is extremely careful, this becomes another mono-unit ontology, wher
e all security is ultimately individual security and the security of the state h
as to be measured and discussed on the basis of how it in uences the aggregate s
ecurity of ‘its’ individuals. We resist this turn because the state cannot be re
assembled from individual-level attributes; it has sui generis statelevel attrib
utes and one has to see the state itself as a unit reality. Individual security
can be studied from our perspective, because we are interested in all action tha
t ful ls the criteria of being a security speech act. Doing this in the name of
individuals is, however, much more dif cult than action in the name of limited c
ollectivities or on behalf of general principles. In our securitization perspect
ive, identity is not a ‘value’ (i.e. the individual’s), it is an intersubjective
ly constituted social factor. To us it seems that the two approaches are complem
entary: each can do things that the other cannot. The individualist approach is
not able to grasp a lot of the securitization that takes place, which mostly has
various limited collectivities—states, nations or, as we show in our next book,
speci c principles at the international level—as referent objects. Neither is i
t able to manage larger interactive formations—for instance, regional security c
omplexes—as our more Realist and reactionary approach can. Conversely, we cannot
answer critical and emancipatory questions about the ‘real’ security of margina
lized groups who do not articulate security demands in any powerful way. This cr
itical thrust in McSweeney’s enterprise underpins the normative problems that se
parate our positions, and allows us to put the charge of objectivism back at his
feet.
Normative issues McSweeney more than hints that the purpose of studying process
is to discredit as political manipulations at least some claimed identities. As
an antidote to nationalist attempts to present identities as necessary or innoce
nt, it is politically important to expose the tainted roots of all identities. B
ut this neither sorts problematic or arti cial identities from ‘authentic’ ones,
nor identities from more ‘real’ political referents. Is there any state whose c
urrent existence does not depend on centuries of violence, selective memory and
politically motivated identity politics? As Derrida
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Barry Buzan and Ole Wæver
argues: ‘You cannot object to a unity simply because it is the result of a proce
ss of uni cation . . . [T]here are no natural unities, only more or less stable
processes of uni cation, some of them solidly established over a long period of
time’.8 Against our allegedly static, objectivist concept of identity, McSweeney
rather disturbingly proposes that identity be ‘corrected’, and calmly goes on f
rom there to call for someone to take on ‘the task of speaking ‘‘objectively’’ f
or the society’ (p. 88). According to McSweeney (p. 87), ‘perception and fear of
threats to security can, in principle, be checked by observing and evaluating t
he facts external to the subject’. McSweeney feels able to assess security perce
ptions for their objectivity. We do not, so we designed a security theory that i
s much more radically constructivist. As against McSweeney’s traditional, critic
al approach, with its ‘objective’ requirement for understanding of security, our
approach has the advantage of insisting that any securitization always rests on
a political choice. Security can never be based on the objective reference that
something is in and of itself a security problem. That quality is always given
to it in human communication. And when securitization is seen as a political cho
ice, there is less chance that security gets idealized as the sought for conditi
on, and more chance that the path to desecuritization—taking things back into no
rmal politics—stands out more clearly.9 This is the starting-point that McSweene
y missed in IMNSAE. He therefore imposed a false reading on all the rest, leadin
g to the paradoxical accusations that we are too objectivist. But why would McSw
eeney counter our approach with one ‘correcting’ identities, why expect security
analysts to be able to arbitrate between competing identity claims (p. 88)? McS
weeney’s scepticism towards societal security seems to stem from a concern that
identity is often not the root cause of con icts but rather an instrument used b
y (nationalist) elites (p. 86). Others have also spotted this problem with an id
entity approach to security. As argued above, we are sceptical about attempts to
judge which identities are authentic and which not, because all are constructed
and all are shaped by politics. Once mobilized, identities have to be reckoned
with as something people perceive that they belong to, and act upon as objective
, given. The Israeli–Palestinian con ict is not solved by exposing the contingen
t nature of both identity groups. It might be a part of con ict resolution to st
imulate collective rede nition in each group to change the constellation away fr
om complete incompatibility, but no solution is viable that denies either group
a right to survive. There is a consistent, though in our view often unhelpful, a
lternative to our approach in the stand taken by most post-structuralists (and s
ome radical constructivists): to question all identities, celebrate contingency,
and generally aim for weaker, more self-consciously fragmented identities: a ‘p
olitics of disturbance’.10 McSweeney’s suggestion seems to be less radical than
this but also less theoretically consistent. He wants ‘criteria for legitimizing
decisions about identity’ (p. 90); he wants to be able to correct identity clai
ms. To correct can either mean just to change as a result of debate, or it can m
ean to righten, to approach to the true. We address these separately as correcti
ons 1 and 2.
8 9
10
Jacques Derrida, ‘The Deconstruction of Actuality’ (interview), Radical Philosop
hy, 68 (1994), p. 41. Ole Wæver, ‘Securitization and Desecuritization’, in Ronni
e D. Lipschutz (ed.), On Security (New York, 1995), pp. 46–86. William E. Connol
ly, Identity/Difference: Democratic Negotiations of Political Paradox (Ithaca, N
Y, 1991), and The Ethos of Pluralization (Minneapolis, 1995).
Discussion: the Copenhagen school replies
247
Correction 1 means to engage in debates over how ‘we’ de ne us, and there should
be no doubt that this will often be a major issue in any speci c security con i
ct involving identity. We cannot claim to be able to tell what is the ‘correct’
identity, but we hope to be able to predict some consequences of one or the othe
r self-de nition due to the way different identities will interact in security m
ode. This seems an appropriate task for the security expert. With Durkheim we co
uld say: ‘Yet because what we propose to study is above all reality, it does not
follow that we should give up the idea of improving it.’ 11 More speci cally, w
e suggest in IMNSAE a focus on how constellations form with identities at differ
ent levels and how to assist developments where these become mutually compatible
(pp. 193ff. and the case-study of Europe, ch. 4). We think that one can and sho
uld engage in critical debates over how communities construct their identities.
But we think it is too optimistic to think this will solve all the problems. The
re will still be the issues we were concerned with arising from security that ac
tually gets articulated in the name of threatened identities. Correction 2 is so
me form of reasoned intervention telling what is the right identity. We are scep
tical of correction 2 because we are unable to follow McSweeney into ‘objective’
security. To be able to tell people that they are not what they think they are
demands an objectivist conception of identity. McSweeney rightly criticizes us f
or being relativist: ‘we are stuck with every other community’s account of its i
dentity’ (p. 87). In the good classical Realist tradition, a major task for secu
rity analysis is to help actors understand how others construct their conception
of security. This should not be replaced by a demand that others think ‘correct
ly’ in accordance with some scienti c theory of security (which usually means ho
w we would like them to conceptualize themselves in ideological terms that suit
us). He is worried that our position leads to something like: ‘We may not like w
ho they are, but if they think that way, so be it’ (p. 87). Classical Realists a
s well as post-structuralists will prefer this to the universalism and harmony-o
f-interest assumptions necessary to avoid such situations. There will be others
who are different; if we can’t live with that, we will certainly have security p
roblems. McSweeney’s argument at this place is perplexing. He tells us at length
that identity cannot be just read from polls, culture or some other form of his
tory of the community, it ultimately involves a choice. This is exactly the view
we presented. After our review of the literature on nationalism in IMNSAE (ch.
2), we conclude (like most others in the eld) that there can be various objecti
ve markers at play— language, history, culture, race, political borders—but that
ultimately national identity cannot be de ned in terms of any of these, only as
the choice of identi cation made by individuals. All these conditions might str
ongly in uence their choice, but none determines it. Because of McSweeney’s eith
er/or move quoted above, he has constructed a Wæver et al. that say with the nat
ionalists that identity is objective, given and necessary, it is what we are and
have to be because of history. He then succeeds in refuting this ctitious posi
tion. McSweeney’s task in this section, however, was to get to a way to ‘correct
’ identities—against our ‘relativism’—so just pointing to the element of choice
does not help him much. McSweeney ends up with a strong call (p. 89) for a refer
ee to settle identity questions authoritatively, but at this crucial point of hi
s analysis
11
Emile Durkheim, The Division of Labor in Society (New York, 1984 [1893], preface
to 1st edn, p. xxvi.
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Barry Buzan and Ole Wæver
(pp. 88–90) he becomes frustratingly unclear. His worst case seems to be that id
entity remains unsettled and vulnerable to political manipulation; his best that
it is somehow negotiated amongst the citizenry. He is not clear about what role
security analysts are supposed to play in this process, and if they are to part
icipate how they should separate the role of analysts from that of participant i
n the securitization/ desecuritization process. Although he wavers on the questi
on, the state lurks in the background as the authoritative imposer of ‘arbitrati
on’ should negotiation fail and anarchy threaten. In this discussion McSweeney
rst slips into reifying society as that which is contained by the state, and the
n into the assumption that this ‘society’ must somehow nd, or have imposed on i
t, a collective image of itself. Our startingpoint was that we found this essent
ially Hobbesian position deeply unsatisfactory. We wanted to leave room for a co
ncept of society detached from the state, and for circumstances in which identit
y politics was about maintaining difference rather than nding a collective imag
e. In those circumstances the question is not McSweeney’s one of who arbitrates,
but whether there should be an arbitrator, and how de nitions of difference can
be constructed in ways that exacerbate or mute insecurity. Our unease with the
state is supported by a very long list of profoundly problematic state intervent
ions on identity issues. To take just one: the Kurds in Turkey. Should the Turki
sh state really be the nal judge on Kurdish identity and security? As we explai
ned in IMNSAE (pp. 24–5), this was a major reason for our revision of PSF concep
ts: when societal security was conceived of as one more form of state security—‘
the way states could be undermined or destabilized by ‘‘their’’ societies becomi
ng threatened or weakened in terms of social cohesion and identity’—it had the p
erverse effect that a state would feel most secure if some minority could just b
e put down. If one wants to take this minority seriously and say societal securi
ty is about their security, one has to open up to a more complex landscape of mu
ltiple referent points for security. In sum, McSweeney seeks to cast our positio
n much more narrowly than is in fact the case. Ironically, his attempt to formul
ate a critical position pushes him towards an objectivism that he otherwise want
s to reject, whose problems he has not resolved, and from which our constructivi
st approach offers at least a partial escape.
3. Buzan and the Copenhagen school McSweeney mounts a vigorous attack on Buzan,
arguing that the work of the Copenhagen school, particularly IMNSAE, does not re
medy the shortcomings of his previous work, but rather guts the general state-ce
ntric assumption that underpinned many of its most useful ideas (pp. 82, 91–3).
McSweeney puts himself in a dif cult position. He seems to defend PSF ‘as the ca
non and indispensable reference point for students of security’ (p. 81), while w
anting to attack IMNSAE. Yet PSF should be the more objectionable to him for bot
h its greater objectivism and its state-centricity, while IMNSAE actually moves
towards his preferences in terms of both its subject focus and its constructivis
t method. Fortunately, McSweeney’s argument that by signing on to IMNSAE Buzan h
as collaborated ‘in the abandonment of state primacy’ (pp. 82, 92) is so oversta
ted that
Discussion: the Copenhagen school replies
249
most of the points he tries to hang on it fail by default. We argue that what is
or is not prime in international security, including the state, depends on hist
orical conditions. The particular case of 1990s European security is dif cult to
grasp if seen simply as a constellation of nation-states. Much more of the dyna
mics can be brought out by a constellation made up of at least three kinds of (n
on-like) units: states, nations and the EU. We do not, as McSweeney would have i
t, argue that societal identity has now become the core value in security (p. 82
), only that it can become a referent object for security action. While McSweene
y is right to point out that IMNSAE does raise questions about Buzan’s formulati
on of weak and strong states, and security complexes, he is wrong to think that
Buzan has therefore ‘to reformulate his entire theoretical framework’ (p. 92). I
n one sense, the arguments in IMNSAE are simply an elaboration on the whole prob
lematique of weak states. Giving societal security the status of a referent obje
ct does not prevent the existence of strong states. Nothing in the idea says tha
t collective identity has to be in opposition to the state, or even that societa
l issues have to become securitized. But it does enable one to look more deeply
into the problems of weak states, where societal insecurity is often a central i
ssue. McSweeney worries unnecessarily about the impact of all this on the link b
etween strong states and mature anarchy. Although an important logical and ideal
ist component in PSF, that link was always highly quali ed: strong states were a
necessary but not a suf cient condition for mature anarchy. PSF had little usef
ul to say on how to solve the problem of weak states. IMNSAE does not solve the
problem either, but it does offer better analytical tools for examining it. In t
his context, the idea that the international system is not in any way allowed ‘t
o determine shifts in the security position of the state’ (p. 92) has never been
part of Buzan’s position and is a contradiction of the central tenets of all fo
rms of structural realism. McSweeney is right to hint (pp. 91–2) that IMNSAE cre
ates dif culties for security complex theory. Why was the concept of security co
mplex not used more in IMNSAE? Why not either construct a ‘societal security com
plex’, or integrate the new concept of societal security directly into classical
security complex theory as presented in PSF, which was constructed from the pol
itical and military sectors and was purely state-based? It is not obvious that s
ecurity complex theory with its basic claim about a regional focus for security
dynamics also holds for the new sectors of security, the environment, economic a
nd societal security. To insert the security of societies into regional formatio
ns de ned by the states, as we did in IMNSAE, was not an ideal solution, and it
demands serious re ection whether security complex theory can be rearticulated f
or a post-sovereign system where actors other than states are also players. This
problem of how to reconcile the new sectors of security studies with security c
omplex theory is a core theme of our next book. 4. Conclusion If space allowed,
there are other points we could take issue with in McSweeney’s piece. But it is
more pertinent to raise some general questions that stem from the nature of his
review. Most worrying is McSweeney’s implicit argument that there is only one co
rrect way to study security. We believe that there are many ways to
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Barry Buzan and Ole Wæver
understand security, and that each will have its merits and its drawbacks. Focus
ing on any one element will always make some things clearer at the cost of obscu
ring or distorting others. That is the nature of social theory, and there is no
escape from it. We also found it odd that he (kindly) designates us as ‘the Cope
nhagen school’, and then ignores what this might mean. There are enough institut
ional barriers against collective writing, without the academic critique and deb
ate also being unable to acknowledge collective works as collective. By focusing
on Buzan, McSweeney virtually ignores Wæver, who made the main theoretical cont
ribution to IMNSAE.12 This blindness seems to explain how McSweeney missed the s
trong constructivist approach to societal security. He also missed the opportuni
ty to consider all four of the works he lists, and thus to get some handles on t
he nature of the school. How is it that the reactionary objectivist Buzan, and t
he postmodern Realist Waever have been able to work together—with each other, as
well as with liberals like Pierre Lemaitre, Morten Kelstrup and Jaap de Wilde—a
nd what kind of synthesis have they created? There is also a certain implication
that having written one classic position piece, Buzan should either shut up or
go on repeating it endlessly. Even though we dispute much of McSweeney’s accusat
ions of inconsistency, the fact that he makes it suggests that authors are not a
llowed to develop or change their positions. PSF was valuable because it helped
to start a debate about the concept of security. It was never intended to be the
last word on the subject, and it has served as a springboard to help others, in
cluding its author, to formulate alternative positions. The eld will develop as
those positions (including the methodological individualist, critical one favou
red by McSweeney and others) articulate themselves and compete to see how well t
hey help us to understand and act upon the security problems of the day.
12
Ole Wæver, ‘Security, the Speech Act’ Working Paper, 1989/19, (Centre for Peace
and Con ict Research, Copenhagen); ‘Securitization and Desecuritization’; ‘Europ
ean Security Identities’, Journal of Common Market Studies, 34 (1996), pp. 103–3
2; ‘What is Security? The Securityness of Security’, in Birthe Hansen (ed.), Eur
opean Security—2000 (Copenhagen, 1995), pp. 222–49; ‘Sikkerhedspolitik—nationals
statens monopol?’ (The Concept of Security—A Monopoly of the Nation State?), Gru
s, 46 (1995), pp. 43–70; ‘Insecurity and Identity’; ‘Societal Security—A Concept
and its Consequences’, in Cooperation and Con ict (forthcoming).