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Non-Traditional Security Issues and the Danger Not to See the Forest for the Trees: A Critical Analysis of the Concept of Environmental Security

Abstract

This article discusses the development of environmental security and the role this approach has played within the security debate of International Relations. First, it is argued that the determining aspects of environmental security are not found merely in the fact that it expands the security concept around the nexus of security and environment, but in the way it projects these elements onto different vertical levels, which are in turn interlocked with one another. Second, the concept of environmental security is criticised from both a conceptual and an empirical perspective. Conceptually, it is shown that the approach is both too unclear and too inclusive to be operational. Empirically, it will be demonstrated that the approach is in danger of being misused in the socially undesirable sense of securitisation, i.e., that persons responsible for political decisions can use vaguely defined, assumed, but scientifically unfounded, environmental “threats” to justify political decisions while avoiding public discussion.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Here it must be noted that there had been previous attempts to expand the security concept, for example in papers by Galtung (1969, 1975) and by Senghaas (1972).

  2. 2.

    Here we will follow the terminology as used by Schlegel and Schuck (2017: 101), applying the term critical security studies in lower case letters to refer to the very broad current of such studies to distinguish them from the Critical Security Studies (CSS; in upper case letters) of the Welsh or Aberystwyth School.

  3. 3.

    The UN Commission on Human Security emphasised the following central aspects of human security: “Its concern is the individual and the community rather than the state; menaces to people’s security include threats and conditions that have not always been classified as threats to state security; the range of actors is expanded beyond the state alone; achieving human security includes not just protecting people, but also empowering people to fend for themselves” (UN 2003: 4). As the human security approach has already been examined in numerous scientific analyses, it will not be discussed in detail here. See instead Kaldor (2007), Zwierlein et al. (2010), and Schuck (2011), among others.

  4. 4.

    Once again, the conceptual fuzziness of ecopolitics was recently evident in Philippe Le Prestre’s book in which he explicitly applies the approach to the global level: “‘Global ecopolitics’ here refers to the set of political dimensions governing the identification and resolution of global and worldwide environmental issues and, in particular, to attempts by a variety of international actors to impose their own definition of security with regard to nature and people’s welfare, and to use emerging environmentally induced scarcities for their own ends” (Le Prestre 2017: 6). Here, it is interesting to note the connection that can be made to securitisation, which can also be found in the concept of environmental security, as we will demonstrate.

  5. 5.

    For a list of major multilateral environmental agreements see Barnett (2010: 221).

  6. 6.

    We would like to thank an anonymous reviewer for bringing our attention to this aspect.

  7. 7.

    Here, it is important to note that there were parallel developments in political science corresponding to both the individual- and the supra-national focus of environmental security. While the increased emphasis on the individual corresponded to the growing influence of the human security approach, the debate on a phenomenon which Habermas (2001: 61) had described as a “post-national constellation” in which “the most basic functions and legitimacy conditions” of nation states were increasingly called into question, was widely evident.

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Correspondence to Kathrin Rucktäschel.

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We would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful remarks on earlier drafts of this article. We also express our gratitude to the editors of the European Journal for Security Research for the excellent communication.

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Rucktäschel, K., Schuck, C. Non-Traditional Security Issues and the Danger Not to See the Forest for the Trees: A Critical Analysis of the Concept of Environmental Security. Eur J Secur Res 3, 71–90 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41125-017-0022-8

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Keywords

  • International relations
  • Security studies
  • Environmental security
  • Ecopolitics
  • Human security
  • Securitisation