Insuring terrorism, assuring subjects, ensuring normality: the politics of risk after 9/11.

Author:Aradau, Claudia

Security has been located either in the political spectacle of public discourses or within the specialized field of security professionals, experts in the management of unease. This article takes issue with these analyses and argues that security practices are also formulated in more heterogeneous locations. Since the early days of the "war on terror," the insurance industry has had an instrumental role and "underwriting terrorism" has become part of the global governmentality of terrorism. We explore the political implications of the classificatory practices that insurance presupposes and argue that the technologies of insurance foster subjects who are consistent with the logic of capitalism. Insurance entrenches a vision of the social where antagonisms have been displaced or are suspended by an overwhelming concern with the continuity of social and economic processes. These effects of insurance will be discussed as the "temporality," "subjectivity," and "alterity" effects. KEYWORDS: war on terror, security, insurance, subjectivity, capitalism


"Terrorism could devastate your organization. An attack on, or near, your facilities could result in loss of life, property damage, denial of access and business interruption. In an increasingly litigious society, liability is also becoming a major concern. " (1) The words came from Chicago-based AON Corporation. AON is a global leader in risk management, insurance, and reinsurance broking, and theirstatement might come as a surprise to those who associate insurance with social security, often viewed as unrelated or in stark contrast to practices of national security.

Whereas national security is often argued to involve more directly differential and exclusionary modes of governing, the notion of insurance is not related to that of peril or danger but, instead, correlated to probability, hazard, and risk management. (2) Rather than being related to danger and the forms of enemy construction entailed by security practices, insurance as a form of collective social security was seen as a "social technology of justice." (3) Michel Foucault, too, envisaged the possibility that insurance might be deployed differently, allowing more liberty and autonomy to the subject. (4) Given this distinction between national and social security--the Copenhagen School, for example, clearly delimits the realm of securitization from social security concerns--the practices of insuring against terrorism have drawn little interest in security studies. (5)

Yet, a quick internet search of some of the main insurance companies that underwrite terrorism post-9/11 would come across statements that engage in threat construction in order to provide a remedy in the form of terrorism coverage. Terrorism is a danger, and the insurance industry tells us they can ensure the continuity of social and economic life by underwriting this danger. If terrorist attacks might not be prevented, security practices shift their attention to what US Senator Joseph Lieberman (Democrat) has called "mitigating the damage from an attack" and "recovering rapidly." (6) Here the role of terrorism insurance is paramount. Insurance enters the "war on terror" as a complementary strategy in the prevention and management of terrorism.

This article argues that insurance is located on a continuum of danger and risk rather than being a separate rationality that can provide a radically different logic for governing the social. As we have shown elsewhere, insurance has become allied with precautionary technologies and has entered the heterogeneous dispositif for governing terrorism. (7) Therefore, insurance is consonant with, rather than disruptive of, the global modes of security practices, and a governmental analysis of risk needs to locate security practices, not just in the bureaucratic field of the "professionals of unease management" (8) but also in the "shadows" of the insurance industry. Although insurance and its actuarial practices have been seen as inconspicuous practices of social life (and hence unconnected with security), their "un-obtrusiveness is precisely why they have become so important: they make power more effective and efficient by diminishing its political and moral fallout." (9) Insurance enters the continuum of national-security / social security by ordering a future of precariousness, threat, and uncertainty through actuarial practices.

Locating insurance in the continuity of security practices allows us to unpack the political implications of underwriting terrorism. How does terrorism insurance enter the dispositif of governing terrorism, and what does this mean politically? The insurance industry has had an instrumental role since the early days of the "war on terror," and underwriting terrorism has become part of the global governmentality of terrorism. (10) We explore the political implications of the classificatory practices that insurance presupposes and argue that the technologies of insurance foster subjects who are consistent with the logic of capitalism. Insurance entrenches a political imaginary where antagonisms have been displaced, or are suspended by, an overwhelming concern with the continuity of social and economic processes. Underwriting terrorism is an integral part of securing capitalism and its processes. While connections have been explored between the "way of life" that the so-called war on terror purports to secure and the neoliberal economy, (11) this article investigates its political consequences of insuring terrorism by unpacking the relationship to time, subjectivity, and alterity.

To this purpose, the article proceeds in three stages: It starts by questioning the inattention to insurance in security studies; it moves on to offer a specific interpretation of the logic of insurance and its practices as situated in the continuity of security practices; and finally turns to an analysis of the political implications of underwriting terrorism.

From Writing to Underwriting Security (12)

Since 9/11, politicians and policymakers have become increasingly aware of the important role insurance plays in reducing vulnerability and promoting preparedness and prevention in the current war on terror. Policymakers have come to appreciate the role that insurance plays in securing vital economic interests, while at the same time the insurance industry has begun to recognize its reliance upon government security policies.

Commenting on the difficulty of calculating the frequency and severity of terrorist attacks, Joe Gunset, general counsel for Lloyd's America, has argued that "this most uniquely linked to government policy and security measures and therefore is the proper focus on government role in this area of insurance." (13) Also the London-based company Risk Management Solutions (RMS), an independent analysis and modeling company that provides services to the insurance industry and maintains close relations with the US Department of Homeland Security, understands that security policies actively shape the risk of terrorism that insurance companies set out to cover:

Unlike the hazard of an earthquake or the occurrence of a hurricane making landfall, terrorism risk is not an absolute or a natural phenomenon. It can be changed by the actions of the government....Government action, through the resources and direction it provides to law-enforcement agencies and to counterterrorism intelligence operations, can reduce the threat of terrorism by catching terrorists, making it harder for terrorists to operate and by interdicting increasing numbers of the plots they devize. Improved counterterrorism effectiveness reduces the overall risk. (14) Indeed, in many instances the government is seen as the insurer of last resort (15) due to its capacity to allocate risk taking through law making and its fiscal power to spread out risk over multiple generations: "Government also has the greatest information resources about terrorism, and therefore its participation in an insurance programme is vital to both underwriting and preventive security measures in an overall protection package for both insurers and insureds." (16) Yet, if security policy and actors are seen here as influencing the insurance industry, we put forth a blunter proposition: Insurance is placed in the continuity of national security practices. (17) Insurance is one of the technologies mobilized in the dispositif to govern terrorism and the future of potentially catastrophic risks.

Despite policymakers having recognized the importance of insurance for maintaining security, the study of insurance has so far been relegated outside the boundaries of international relations. Although David Campbell has pointed out that "for both insurance and international relations...danger results from the calculation of a threat that objectifies events, disciplines relations, and sequesters an ideal of the people said to be at risk," (18) he also assumes that insurance and international relations are to be thought of as two separate domains. In his book Writing Security, Campbell thus focuses solely on discourses of danger uttered by high-ranking policy officials, while no attention is given to how insurantial practices of underwriting security structure social relations.

In fact, the discipline of security studies has found it difficult to reconcile the logic of insurance with its own understanding of security as being guaranteed by military techniques to neutralize dangers. (19) The relative absence of risk and insurance in security studies can be found in the theoretical premises of approaches within security studies. In their renowned understanding of security, for instance, the Copenhagen school explicitly distinguishes national security (defense) from social security (insurance): "To the extent that we have an idea of a specific modality labelled 'security' it is because we think of national security and its modificationsand...

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