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An Analysis of Grand Strategy Through the Lens of Neo-Security Complex Theory

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An Analysis of Grand Strategy through the Lens of Neo-Security Complex Theory

Barry Buzan, Ole Waever, and Jaap de Wilde attempt to structure a fundamentally new approach to the study of security issues by attempting to incorporate traditional notions of security analysis into a broader understanding of international security that incorporates non-military threats. Their neo-security complex theory does provide substantive insight into how the process of securitizing issues occurs and how one can address non-military existential threats within a security studies framework; however, there are some substantive problems that require greater theoretical precision in order to prevent making the securitizing process they describe nothing more than a residual category. Ultimately, Buzan, Waever, and de Wilde need to incorporate both temporal elements as well as and probability into their approach in order to disaggregate existential threats. Without such modifications, the existential threat posed by an incoming nuclear or chemical warhead is equivalent to increased levels of radon in the home.

In order to show the virtues, flaws, and possible improvements that would allow neo-security complex theory to become a more powerful analytic tool in security studies it is first necessary to briefly explicate the core elements of the approach and show how it diverges from the traditional understanding of security studies. Then one must show how its application would provide substantive insight into particular security practices found in the literature, such as grand strategy. After doing so, we must address substantive problems generated from the application of the theory and then show how various improvements would strengthen the neo-security project.

The neo-security complex theory revolves around an attempt to expand the possibilities of what constitutes a security threat by conceptualizing it as meaning solely a threat to one's physical existence. While recognizing that there are many threats and vulnerabilities that arise both within and outside military issues, Buzan, Waever, and de Wilde argue that including all such events would ultimately prove the traditionalists' critique that expanding security beyond military issues inevitably leads to a lack of coherence. The way out of this conceptual morass is to distinguish between political issues and construct security as pertaining to "existential threats to a referent object by a securitizing actor who thereby generates endorsement of emergency measures beyond rules that would otherwise bind."

Like neorealism, neo-security complex theory relies upon levels of analysis as a means to situate actors, issues that pose existential threats, and the interactions between them that constitute security. Buzan, Waever, and de Wilde attempt to occupy a middle ground between the implied state-centrism inherent in utilization of levels of analysis by arguing that such hermeneutic devices do not constitute metaphysical truths, but instead constitute pragmatic and convenient tools for the analyst. However, they also make it clear that they do not subscribe to the notion that it is necessary to jettison these assumptions simply because they reinforce the primacy of state-centeredness and dichotomous relationships between the inside and outside. Instead, Buzan, Waever, and de Wilde embrace the notion of units with inside-outside relationships with the caveat that "one should be aware of the tendency for the levels of analysis scheme to reinforce state-centric thinking."

The next element of the neo-security complex theory incorporates the notion of sectors that fundamental disaggregate the totality of security practices into specific areas that allow for a closer analysis of particular patterns. In essence, this is another nod to pragmatic considerations that facilitate an easier grasp of the inherent complexities. Accordingly, the use of sectors "starts with disaggregation but must end with reassembly. The disaggregation is performed only to achieve simplification and clarity." The disaggregated sectors utilized by Buzan, Waever, and de Wilde to accomplish this task consist of the military, environmental, economic, societal, and political sectors. Regions also play a substantive role in neo-security complex theory since bipolarity is no longer a hallmark of the international system. Instead, power spreads among many different actors. As such, regions become subsystems within the level of analysis framework and manifest themselves in various iterations such as the EU, NAFTA, ASEAN, and various other associations.

In addition to incorporating levels of analysis, sectors, and regions within the hermeneutic framework there are also elements of both homogeneous and heterogeneous complexes. The former focuses on relationships among similar units within specific sectors, while the latter expands beyond similarly situated units. The assumption within heterogeneous complexes is that more than one type of actor can interact in more than one sector and at different levels. The determination on which to deploy is contingent upon the judgment of the analyst when considering the case at hand.

The key element in expanding beyond the traditionalist notion of security without encompassing anything and everything under its conceptual umbrella is to discern what constitutes the notion of an external threat within particular contexts. By doing so, the analyst may be able to discern the difference between a security practice and the mere politicization of particular issues. Since there is no singular, substantive definition that proves immutable in every circumstance, analysts must discern the definitions of threats by the usage and practices surrounding actors within particular sectors and levels. Borrowing from philosophers of language such as Ludwig Wittgenstein and J.L. Austin, neo-security complex analysts argue that language does not comport to utterances of fixed representations of objects, but instead derives meaning from actions derived from particular usages: speech acts. These speech acts originate from actors who attempt to use language to securitize a threat to a referent object and attempt to change patterns of behavior, rules, and norms, to reflect their linguistic construction. For example, within the military sector, the referent would be the state, in the political sector, it would be sovereignty, in the economic sector it would be the material well-being of the population, or the institutions on a domestic and international level responsible for ensuring prosperity, in the societal sector it would be identities.

The key to successfully expanding security beyond the military-state-centered sectors is in focusing on how actors successfully securitize these speech acts to the

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