Skip to main content Accessibility help

Macrosecuritisation and security constellations: reconsidering scale in securitisation theory



The Copenhagen school's theory of securitisation has mainly focused on the middle level of world politics in which collective political units, often but not always states, construct relationships of amity or enmity with each other. Its argument has been that this middle level would be the most active both because of the facility with which collective political units can construct each other as threats, and the difficulty of finding audiences for the kinds of securitisations and referent objects that are available at the individual and system levels. This article focuses on the gap between the middle and system levels, and asks whether there is not more of substance there than the existing Copenhagen school analyses suggests. It revisits the under-discussed concept of security constellations in Copenhagen school theory, and adds to it the idea of macrosecuritisations as ways of getting an analytical grip on what happens above the middle level. It then suggests how applying these concepts adds not just a missing sense of scale, but also a useful insight into underlying political logics, to how one understands the patterns of securitisation historical, and contemporary.



Hide All

1 Barry Buzan, Ole Wæver and Jaap de Wilde, Security: A New Framework for Analysis (Boulder CO.: Lynne Rienner, 1998), pp. 36–7.

2 Ole Wæver, ‘Securitization and Desecuritization’, in Ronnie D. Lipschutz (ed.), On Security (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), pp. 46–86; Buzan, Wæver and de Wilde, Security.

3 Lene Hansen, ‘The Little Mermaid's Silent Security Dilemma and the Absence of Gender in the Copenhagen School’, Millennium, 29:2 (2000), pp. 285–306; Michael C. Williams, ‘Words, Images, Enemies: Securitization and International Politics’, International Studies Quarterly, 47:4 (2003), pp. 511–29; Claudia Aradau, ‘Security and the Democratic Scene: Desecuritization and Emancipation’, Journal of International Relations and Development, 7:4 (2004), pp. 388–413; Thierry Balzacq, ‘The Three Faces of Securitization: Political Agency, Audience and Context’, European Journal of International Relations, 11:2 (2005), pp.171–201; Holger Stritzel, ‘Towards a Theory of Securitization: Copenhagen School and Beyond’, European Journal of International Relations, 13:3 (2007), pp. 357–83; Matt McDonald, ‘Securitisation and the Construction of Security’, European Journal of International Relations, 14:4 (2008) pp. 563–87; Juha Vuori, ‘Illocutionary Logic and Strands of Securitisation’, European Journal of International Relations, 14:1 (2008), pp. 65–99.

4 Ole Wæver, Barry Buzan, and Jaap de Wilde, The Politics of Security: The Securitization Framework of Analysis (Boulder CO: Lynne Rienner, forthcoming); Ole Wæver, ‘The Meta-politics of Theorising: Desecuritization, Responsibility and Action in Speech Act Theories of Security’, forthcoming.

5 Ole Wæver, Barry Buzan, Morten Kelstrup, and Pierre Lemaitre, Identity, Migration and the New Security Order in Europe (London: Pinter, 1993), ch. 2.

6 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of Prison (New York: Vintage Books, 1979).

7 Barry Buzan and Ole Wæver, Regions and Powers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

8 Buzan, Wæver and de Wilde, Security, pp. 201–2.

9 See discussion in Jef Huysmans, The Politics of Insecurity: Fear, Migration and Assylum in the EU (London: Routledge 2006).

10 Buzan, Wæver and de Wilde, Security, chs. 5 and 7.

11 Wæver, ‘Securitization and Desecuritization’; Buzan, Wæver and de Wilde, Security.

12 Thanks to Lene Hansen and Karen Lund Petersen for this point.

13 Obviously, these three dimensions are not strictly quantifiable or measurable, but they can all be meaningfully conceived in terms of scales, and principled reasoning can lead to meaningful depictions in this three-dimensional space.

14 Buzan and Wæver, Regions and Powers, p. 296.

15 Buzan and Wæver, Regions and Powers, pp. 295–8.

16 Buzan, Wæver and de Wilde, Security, pp. 25–26.

17 In addition to the above reference (note 9) to Buzan, Wæver and de Wilde, Security, pp. 201–2, the Copenhagen School origins of the concept might be traced back through Egbert Jahn, Pierre Lemaitre, and Ole Wæver, Concepts of Security: Problems of Research on Non-Military Aspects, Copenhagen Papers, 1 (Copenhagen: Centre for Peace and Conflict Research, 1987); Ole Wæver, ‘Conflicts of Vision ? Visions of Conflict’ in O.Wæver, P.Lemaitre and E.Tromer (eds), European Polyphony: Beyond East?West Confrontation, (London: Macmillan 1989), pp. 283–325 – to roots in Norbert Elias's concept of ‘figuration’, cf. Über den Prozess der Zivilisation. Soziogenetische und psychogenetische Untersuchungen. Vol. 1, Wandlungen des Verhaltens in den weltlichen Oberschichten des Abendlandes and Vol.2, Wandlungen der Gesellschaft. Entwurf einer Theorie der Zivilisation (Basel: Verlag Haus zum Falken 1939; English translation of the two volumes as The Civilizing Process, in 1978 and 1982).

18 For general discussion see Buzan, The United States and the Great Powers, pp. 16–30.

19 Michael Doyle, ‘Liberalism and World Politics’, American Political Science Review, 80:4 (1986), pp. 1151–69; John Owen, ‘How Liberalism Produces Democratic Peace’, International Security, 19:2 (1994), pp. 87–125.

20 The difference it makes what kind of identity is shared -- liberal-democratic or fascist – can in some contexts (for example, democratic peace literature) be studied in terms of the question: does peacefulness come from similarity or from that which is similar? However, in the present context, it soon becomes clear that the similarities are not similar: liberal democracies are mush more prone to define each other as similar, whereas fascist states will see each other as different (because the core is ethno-nationalist, nor self-conceived as ideological), and communist states will see only themselves as true representatives and the other communist state as not really one. This points to the importance of the dynamics of different kinds of universalisms – how do inclusive and exclusive elements in different universalisms interact and unfold? Therefore the angle we take in this section.

21 Anthony D. Smith, National Identity (London: Penguin, 1991).

22 See: Chris Brown, ‘International Political Theory and the Idea of World Community’, in Ken Booth and Steve Smith (eds), International Political Theory Today (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 90–109; Molly Cochran, Normative Theory in International Relations: A Pragmatic Approach (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999); Nicholas Rengger, ‘A City Which Sustains All Things? Communitarianism and International Society’, Millennium, 21:3 (1992), pp. 353–69.

23 John Herz, ‘The Territorial State Revisited: Reflections on the Future of the Nation-State’, Polity, 1:1 (1968), pp. 111–34; Robert Jackson, The Global Covenant: Human Conduct in a World of States (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

24 cf. T. Todorov, The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other (New York: Harper Perennial, 1992); Lene Hansen, Security as Practice: Discourse Analysis and the Bosnian War (London: Routledge, 2006).

25 Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996).

26 Barry Buzan and Richard Little, International Systems in World History, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

27 At this point, our argument converges with some of the literature on hegemonic discourses. Drawing often from a Gramscian interpretation, discourse theorists have argued the importance of the representational dimension of hegemony. Whereas some of the more simplistic versions of this tend to depict ‘the hegemonic discourse’ as a kind of all-controlling power limiting even the imagination of all subjects, the more sophisticated theorists (for example, Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (London: Verso, 1985); Roxanne Lynn Doty, Imperial Encounters: The Politics of Representation in North-South Relations (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996)) emphasise – well in the Gramscian tradition – the tension filled practices of hegemony, where hegemonic projects have to accommodate and assist various other projects in society for these to merge into a hegemonic discourse.

28 Buzan and Wæver, Regions and Powers, pp. 267, 296, 327–31, 336.

29 Barry Buzan, ‘Will the ‘global war on terrorism’ be the new Cold War?’. International Affairs, 82: 6 (2006), pp. 1101–18; Ole Wæver, ‘What's Religion got to do with it? Terrorism, War on Terror, and Global Security’, Nordic Journal of Religion and Society, (2008); Wæver, Buzan, de Wilde, The Politics of Security, ch. 9.

30 Buzan and Wæver, Regions and Powers, p. 300.

31 Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx, the state of the debt, the Work of Mourning, & the New International, translated by Peggy Kamuf, (Routledge 1994); Ernesto Laclau, Emancipation(s) (London: Verso 1996); Linda M. G. Zerilli, ‘This Universalism Which Is Not One’, Diacritics, 28:2 (Summer, 1998), pp. 3–20; Judith Butler, Ernesto Laclau and Slavoj Žižek, Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left (London: Verso, 2000).

32 Laclau & Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy.

33 Didier Bigo, ‘When Two Becomes One: Internal and External Securitisations in Europe’, in Morten Kelstrup and Michael C. Williams (eds), International Relations Theory and the Politics of European Integration: Power, Security and Community (London: Routledge 2000), pp. 171–204; Didier Bigo ‘Internal and External Securit(ies), the Mobius Ribbon’, in Mathias Albert, David Jacobsen and Yosef Lapid (eds), Identities, Borders, and Orders (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 2001), pp. 91–116.

34 We appreciate insightful suggestions from one of the anonymous reviewers particularly on this point. On institutionalized securitizations, see Buzan, Wæver and de Wilde, Security, pp. 27–29.

35 Ole Wæver, ‘The European War on Terror – Ironies of an Americosceptic Cleverness’, presentation at the conference ‘The Social Construction of Threat and The Changing Relation between Liberty and Security’, 5 & 6 June 2008 at Centre for European Policy Studies, Brussels, Belgium.

36 Egbert Jahn, Pierre Lemaitre, and Ole Wæver, Concepts of Security: Problems of Research on Non-Military Aspects, Copenhagen Papers no. 1., (Copenhagen: Centre for Peace and Conflict Research, 1987).

37 Barry Buzan, People, States, and Fear: An Agenda for International Security Studies in the Post-Cold War Era (Colchester, ECPR Press, 2007; first ed. 1983).

38 Barry Buzan, and Lene Hansen, The Evolution of International Security Studies (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2009).

40 Morten Kelstrup, ‘Globalisation and societal insecurity: the securitization of terrorism and competing strategies for global governance’, in Stefano Guzzini and Dietrich Jung (eds), Contemporary Security Analysis and Copenhagen Peace Research (London: Routledge, 2004) p. 108.

41 Buzan, The United States and the Great Powers, ch. 9.

42 Wæver, ‘What's Religion got to do with it?’.

43 In addition to the recurrent use of the phrase ‘clash of civilizations’ by bin Laden, it is striking how often he cites George W. Bush's lapse about a ‘crusade’. After stating this once in the days after 9/11, Bush immediately back-pedalled with the puzzling explanation that he had meant crusade in a non-religious sense(!), but whereas Bush used the term once, bin Laden has cited this usage at least 5 times. Osama bin Laden, Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden, ed. by Bruce Lawrence, (London: Verso, 2005).

44 Buzan, ‘Will the “global war on terrorism” be the new Cold War?’; Wæver, ‘What's Religion got to do with it?’; Wæver, Buzan, and de Wilde, The Politics of Security.

45 Wæver, ‘What's Religion got to do with it?’

46 Wæver, Buzan, and de Wilde, The Politics of Security, ch. 9.

47 See See also Martin Rees, Our Final Century (London: Heinemann, 2003).

48 cf. Wæver, Buzan, and de Wilde, The Politics of Security, ch. 3.

49 To the extent that critical political engagement with security often goes through the path of desecuritisation (Wæver, ‘Securitization and Desecuritization’; Wæver, ‘The Meta-politics of Theorising’; Buzan, Wæver and de Wilde, Security), possible alternative strategies for approaching the concerns thematised through macrosecuritisations will correspondingly be a big part of the critical agenda.

* Thanks for the comments on an earlier draft of this paper to: Kirsten Ainley, Roy Allison, Aron Ammon, Andreas Antonides, Jens Bartleson, Chris Brown, Mick Cox, Ulrik Pram Gad, Stefano Guzzini, Birthe Hansen, Lene Hansen, Kim Hutchings, Morten Kelstrup, Andrew Linklater, Noel Parker, Karen Lund Petersen, John Sidel, Karen Smith, Jaap de Wilde, Anders Wivel and several anonymous reviewers.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Review of International Studies
  • ISSN: 0260-2105
  • EISSN: 1469-9044
  • URL: /core/journals/review-of-international-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed