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Book Review: Critical Approaches to International Security

K.M. Fierke republished the Critical Approaches to international Security in 2008 that contains 235 pages. There are total nine chapters which mostly challenge the traditional concept of security and its understanding in international studies. The purpose of the book is to analyze the debate about security in relation to “war on terrorism”. Critical security studies have been distinguished from longer traditional security studies by raising questions about historical location and their theory. Various range of concepts such as relationship between security and change, identity, the production of danger, trauma, human security, immanent critique and emancipation are discussed. Although some of the concept were very complex and even challenged my capacity on understanding of security, overall I like this book. It has been able to challenge the narrow military definition of security based on cold war and political manifestation.

Chapter 1 “Definitions and Redefinitions” argued that the narrow traditional definitions of security are always political and contextually bound because it always define within political context. The traditional approaches tend to assumed that security is a property of objects in the world. It was understand as military as the threat and use of the force. However, other argues that the meaning change over time especially post 9/11. This chapter mostly highlighted that state as protectors of its population and at the same time, it can also be a source of threat. It also describes how a security of one state can be a threat of others.

Chapter 2 “The Proliferation of Concepts” mostly focuses on why post war security is ethnocentric? According to ethnocentric, it draws Europe and America as center and others as rest. This chapter argues that the need to an alternative approach based on analysis of security cluster. For instance, China as a security threat, Has China Military threatened to any other country to justify china as a security threat? However, one party system, internal oppression and Tibetan colonization all of these make us think that china is a security threat. It requires rethinking and mapping relationship that constitutes various threats to human life. The security can be diverse while localizing the own idea of security.

Chapter 3 “Change” explores the problem of change and emphasized how change comes out of interactions. This chapter mainly analyze between human nature as social construction. It examines the idea that war is a social construction especially gender construction which is mostly about famine and masculine. Then it questions about relationship between structure and agents through the analysis of conflict to dialogue and peace to war. I totally agree with the notion of peace that “peace is not the absence of war but is the absence of violence.”

Chapter 4 “Identity” analyzed the several aspects of identity and its importance of discourse analysis in relation to security. The author challenged the notion of fix identity and argued that identities are constructed through the process of interactions and highlighted four dimensions which might overlap with each others. Alterity, fluidity, constructedness, and multiplicity are the dimension of identity. It also examines identity in relation to discourse, interest, dialogue and differences where the author mostly uses the examples of west versus Islam and particularly Iraq invasion. This chapter questions the scope of identity and how it has been threatened?

Chapter 5 “The Production of Danger” analysis how danger or threat or risks or insecurities are produced in particular concept of securitization. The formation of identities is the production of danger or threat. Critical approach sees threat as the product of political representation. The author raises the important questions related to protection such as:
1.Who can legitimately claim the need for protection?
2.Against which danger?
3.Who is to do the protection?

Chapter 6 “Trauma” highlighted how it resulted from war and its effect to people and militaries. The author first highlights psychological experiences of individuals, securitization of trauma and therapy response. The therapy that was used to hide trauma was peaceful alternatives such as TRC, speaking publicly, listening, acknowledgement and intermediator. I totally agree with the author that who are traumatized today might be the perpetuator of tomorrow. Therefore, we need peaceful alternatives for therapy to avoid any future casualties from war.

Chapter 7 “Human Insecurity” examines human security as one of the increasing problem from war. The author ties the issues of human security with failed states and IMF and World Bank aid and neo-liberal structural adjustment programs as democracy promotion. The author see the need to raise the questions that “who has failed the failed states” because he understand it as consequences of colonial background.

Chapter 8 “Immanent Critique” is the expose of the current war on terrorism and the contradiction and the end of politicizing the historical and cultural fault lines. The securitization of terrorism emphasized on technology and militarization as the nest means to solve the problem however, critical approaches prove it as problem rather than solution. It gives power to those who are oppressed and marginalized.

Chapter 9 “Emancipation” starts with questioning and rethinking of what it means to be secured in the word. The chapter argues that emancipation is a process of freeing ourselves from the assumption of militarized understanding of security and have challenged all those traditional assumptions such as “weak versus strong state, state as a protector, military as a core of security and vulnerability must be avoided at all cost” and open a space for the weak to have a voice in defining alternative worlds. The another claim of the book is that protection has become a source of danger itself not only to those who suffer directly from the war in the name of protection people but also to those who suffer indirectly due to the disproportionate allocation of resources to the military. The author highlighted how the superpower, USA failed to protect its certain groups of people during the Hurricane Katrina. The author also explained how emancipation is different from the understanding of liberty.

This is one of the best books; I have ever read about critical securities studies. It offers a wide range of comprehensive analysis and a good introduction of international security and international relations which includes the various dimensions of contemporary debates about security and security studies. The best part of this book that interests me is gendering of war, war on terrorism, securitization of Hurricane Katrina, trauma that reproduces insecurities and emancipation. It’s a must read book if you want to deepen your knowledge in security studies. It has been able to address something that was not addressed previously.

However, some of the contents are missing in the text. In Chapter 6, author was unable to include some other alternatives therapies of trauma that are practiced in developing countries especially in south Asia such as poetry, song and story. In last chapter, the author talked emancipation as a struggle to be free from oppressions however; the author didn’t even touch upon how these vulnerability groups can be transformed? Every examples that were presented in the book were related with security either in Europe or USA and the issues of insecurity in Asia was fully neglected which is one of the weak point in this book. We should not forget that security of one sides create insecurity for others. For instance, how has the rise of military expenses in Europe and USA affected so-called developing countries, how has china rising creates threat to others?

The overall missing was the debate on who was legitimate actor to attack 9/11 because without going to the particular event, for some people it might be little uncomfortable to look into details and talk about aftermath of 9/11. This uneasiness has to be address.

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