Aporias of security.

Author:Burke, Anthony

Maybe the [task] nowadays is not to discover what we are, but to refuse what we are. We have to...get rid of the political "double-bind," which is the simultaneous individualization and totalization of modern power structures.... The political, ethical, social, philosophical problem of our days is not to try to liberate the individual from the state and from the state's institutions, but to liberate us both from the state and from the type of individualisation which is linked to the state.

Michel Foucault, "The Subject and Power"


What does it mean to be secure? Should we even need to ask? Surely we know. We know that security is one of the most fundamental human needs: an irrefutable guarantee of safety and wellbeing, economic assurance and possibility, sociability and order; of a life lived freely without fear or hardship. That security is a universal good available to all, and a solemn pledge between citizens and their political leaders, to whom their people's security is "the first duty," the overriding goal of domestic and international policy making. As such it has been able to trace a powerful path between subject and world, state and citizen, to promise simultaneously a solution to the inchoate fears and insecurities of everyday life and the enormous spatial, cultural, economic, and geopolitical complexities of government. In short, security remains one of modernity's most stubborn and enduring dreams.

However, I believe that, more than ever, we do need to ask what it is to be secure. Surely we no longer know what security is--in that Platonic sense. Surely more than ten years after the end of the Gold War, after the Clinton Doctrine and the destruction of the Twin Towers, after humanitarian and policy disasters in Indochina, Africa, East Timor, the Middle East, and Central America, and after a growing body of humanist and critical scholarship has questioned security's unity, discursive structure, and political implications, security no longer possesses a credible wholeness. (1) This article begins from the premise that security's claims to universality and wholeness founder on a destructive series of aporias, which derive firstly from the growing sense that security no longer has a stable referent object, nor names a common set of needs, means, or ways of being, and secondly, from the moral relativism that lies at the center of dominant (realist) discourses of security that pretend to universality but insi st that "our" security always rests on the insecurity and suffering of an-other.

While this article argues strongly that security has no essential ontological integrity, it also argues that if the power and sweep of security are to be understood and challenged, its claims to universality must be taken seriously. They underpin and animate sweeping forms of power, subjectivity, force, and economic circulation and cannot be dismissed out of hand. Nor, in the hands of some humanist writers--who have sought to think human and gender security in radical counterpoint to realist images of national and international security--are such claims always pernicious. They have a valuable moral and political force that undermines, perhaps unwittingly, the logocentric presuppositions of the realist discourses they question. Yet a common assumption that security can be ontologically completed and secured does present a hurdle for the kind of "ontopolitical" critique that we really need. (2)

The answer is not to seek to close out these aporias; they call to us and their existence presents an important political opening. Rather than seek to resecure security, to make it conform to a new humanist ideal--however laudable--we need to challenge security as a claim to truth, to set its "meaning" aside. Instead, we should focus on security as a pervasive and complex system of political, social, and economic power, which reaches from the most private spaces of being to the vast flows and conflicts of geopolitics and global economic circulation. It is to see security as an interlocking system of knowledges, representations, practices, and institutional forms that imagine, direct, and act upon bodies, spaces, and flows in certain ways-to see security not as an essential value but as a political technology. This is to move from essence to genealogy: a genealogy that aims, in William Connolly's words, to "open us up to the play of possibility in the present ... [to] incite critical responses to unnecessary violences and injuries surreptitiously imposed upon life by the insistence that prevailing forms are natural, rational, universal or necessary." (3)

This article explores the aporias of security. And then begins the work of its genealogy--a genealogy of security's conceptual and discursive roots that aims to uncover, at its crucial points of formation, the order of knowledge lying beneath security's drama of struggle, technology, violence, and metaphor--in the hope that this order of knowledge can in turn be challenged, altered, and rethought. It is to ask: Is there something beyond or "outside" security? What might its possibilities and dangers be?

Two Kinds of Aporia

In both its realist and humanist guises, security takes the form and promise of a metaphysical discourse: an overarching political goal and practice that guarantees existence itself, that makes the possibility of the world possible. US President Bill Clinton prefaced the 1997 National Security Strategy by saying that "protecting the security of our nation--our people, our territory and our way of life--is my foremost mission and constitutional duty." Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, of Malaysia, has argued that "national security is inseparable from political stability, economic success and social harmony." In 1995, former Australian Labor leader Paul Keating argued that "a prime minister's duty, his first duty, is to the security of his country," while his successor Kim Beazley declared the party's central values as "security and opportunity" and elevated security to an overarching goal that linked, along a seamless continuum, the personal security of individuals and families with the security of the nation itself. (4) In Indonesia, security was a fundamental societal discourse during the entire tenure of the Soharto New Order, and it has taken on only greater urgency in the turmoil that accompanied his retreat from power. In Indonesia's doctrinal continuum between national and regional "resilience," security links the unity and prosperity of the nation to ideal systems of regional and international order. (5)

Indeed, the European political theorist R. N. Berki argues that security is the ultimate and overriding human value, the basic condition for life and freedom: "Security is the paramount value for self-conscious, rational, thinking individuals ... not just an external (and therefore optional) condition of life and freedom but simply another word for life and freedom." (6) More critically, the critical scholar Michael Dillon recognizes the same drive: "Security impress[es] itself upon political thought as a self-evident condition for the very existence of life--both individual and social." (7) R. B. J. Walker likewise argues that modern accounts of security define "the conditions under which we have been constructed as subjects subject to subjection. They tell us who we must be." (8)

Even a position admirably antithetical to that of Berki and other realists, as set out by J. Ann Tickner in her 1992 book Gender in International Relations, accepts that "the achievement of security has always been central to the normative concerns of international relations scholars." Her work seeks to realize a "truly comprehensive security" that adds the removal of "gender relations of domination and subordination" to "the elimination of physical, structural and ecological violence." (9) Similarly R. B. J. Walker's earlier (1988) One World, Many Worlds argued for "a clearer sense of what it means to have security for all people rather than the national security that now renders' everyone increasingly insecure." (10) Whatever the important differences between Tickner, the 1988 Walker, and the still hegemonic claims of realism, there remained a common assumption that security is universal.

However, these differences should not be quickly effaced. While the common metaphysical assumption presents a problem, the critiques developed by Tickner, Walker, and others have been of enormous political value and have implicitly contested both their own and realist assumptions that security was universal. This occurred in two ways. Firstly, in arguments for human security there was a radical shift in the nature of the subject to be protected--from the highly abstract imaginary of the nation-state to the immediate, corporeal distress of the human, a human that, in that distress, activates a call for difference that simultaneously undermines the illusory unity of a body politic that would subsume all differences beneath a common imagination of home. Secondly, the force of such critiques shattered realism's claim to be a founding and comprehensive account of security, scattering its objects, methods, and normative aims into an often contradictory and antithetical dispersal. What was revealed here was not a u niversality but a field of conflict, as much social as conceptual. This creates some serious problems for a more radical and inclusive language of security, however important its desire for justice. This was recognized later by Walker, who argued in 1997 that "demands for broader accounts of security risk inducing epistemological overload." (11) Indeed, Simon Dalby argues that security, as a concept, may no longer be viable: "That the political structures of modernity, patriarchy and capitalism are the sources [rather than the vulnerable objects] of insecurity. . . is so different as to call into question whether the term itself can be stretched to accommodate such...

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