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Numbers in global security governance

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 June 2017

Stephane J. Baele*
Senior Lecturer, Politics and International Studies, University of Exeter
Thierry Balzacq
Francqui Research Chair, University of Namur Invited Professor, London School of Economics and Political Science
Philippe Bourbeau
Lecturer, Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge
* Correspondence to: Dr Stephane J. Baele, Department of Politics, Amory Building, Rennes Drive, University of Exeter, Exeter, EX4 4RJ, UK. Author’s email: (corresponding author).


The use of numbers has been remarkably effective at pressing global claims. While research has documented the historical processes through which numbers gained such prominence, and has examined the political and ethical consequences of this omnipresence, very little is known regarding the specific ways in which numbers create the outcomes that sustain governance. This article proposes to close that gap. Building on the literature that acknowledges that numbers not only describe things but also have profound impacts on things themselves, this article offers an integrated account of the working dynamics of numbers in the governance of security. To do so, the article identifies three distinct but connected vectors of power through which numbers shape security governance: persuasion, (de)politicisation, and standardisation. These insights are exemplified through the prism of different empirical examples, the variety of which aims to display the advantages of the approach we propose.

Research Article
© British International Studies Association 2017 

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Professor Thierry Balzacq, University of Namur, Faculté des sciences économiques, sociales et de gestion, Rempart de la Vierge 8, B-5000 Namur, Belgium. Author’s email:


Dr Philippe Bourbeau, Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS), Sidney Sussex College, University of Cambridge, 7 West Road, Alison Richard Building, Cambridge, CB39DT, UK. Author’s email:


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