Security studies

This article is about the discipline within the field of international relations. For the study of security management, see security management studies.
For the journal, see Security Studies (journal).
The United Nations Security Council Chamber in New York, also known as the Norwegian Room

Security studies, also known as International security studies, is traditionally held to be an academic sub-field of the wider discipline of international relations.[1] The field rapidly developed within International Relations during the Cold War, and examples from the era can be considered to include the academic works of mid-20th century Realist political scientists such as Thomas Schelling[2] and Henry Kissinger,[3] whose works focused primarily on nuclear deterrence. While the field is mostly contained within Political Science and Public Policy programs, it is increasingly common to take an interdisciplinary approach that incorporates knowledge from the fields of History, Geography (stressing classical geopolitics), and Criminology.

While the field (much like its parent field of International Relations) is often meant to educate students who aspire to professional careers in think tanks, consulting, defense contractors, Human Rights NGOs or in government service positions focused on diplomacy, foreign policy, conflict resolution and prevention, emergency and disaster management, intelligence, and defense, it can also be tailored to students seeking to professionally conduct academic research (from either traditional or critical perspectives) within academia, or as public intellectuals, pundits or journalists writing about security policy. One example of the latter students of the field is journalist Max Fisher of The Washington Post and Vox.

At its core, international security studies, as an area of inquiry, takes organized violence as its focus, and the steps individuals and aggregations of individuals can take to both employ organized violence effectively and, much more importantly, to protect themselves from organized violence (accumulation of knowledge in the former being essential for the accumulation of knowledge in the latter). Thus subjects can range from the micro—weapons types, effectiveness, tactics, human-weapons interfaces, individual and group motivations—to the macro; including the causes of war, nuclear strategy, military doctrine, defense spending, and conventional and unconventional strategy.

In recent decades however, the international security studies field has come under sustained pressure to widen to include areas of inquiry which have not traditionally been the concern of international relations. Traditional approaches to understanding insecurity and security have been taken up by realism, liberalism, and radicalism and their variants. Realism and its variants are held to be closest in spirit to the study of security and strategy because realism holds, at its core, that the global distribution of the threat of war can never be reduced to zero; and because realism and its variants give unit-of-analysis priority to states. Liberalism and Radicalism (and variants) tend to hold out some optimism regarding the eventual withering away of war. A so-called English School, whose principal figure in security studies was Hedley Bull, argues that because states are inherently sociable, international politics cannot be reduced to individual states but must focus on aggregations of states much like Samuel P. Huntington's later "civilizations" thesis.

More recently, however, these traditional approaches to security have been supplemented (one leaves the utility open to argument) by variants such as critical security studies, and the Copenhagen School. Clearly useful contributions to our understanding of insecurity and security have also come from constructivism (international relations), peace studies and critical theory. As implied by the close association of the Cold War with the advent and establishment of international security studies as such, broader historical trends (or rather perceptions of them) created the openings that these alternative schools have sought, with mixed effect, to provide an array of theoretical foundations.

In particular, WWII marked a watershed in the presumed interest and capacity of states in protecting their own citizens from physical harm. According to David Ekbladh, writing in the journal International Security, Edward Mead Earle, a specialist in the role of the military in foreign relations at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, had much to do with the evolution of security studies as a field that are still felt today.[4] The original principle of sovereignty was an odious bargain whose chief benefit was reducing the likelihood of interstate war and, by extension, the mass killing (or other harm) of people. But after WWII, it became progressively necessary to abridge the principle of sovereignty in order to protect the lives of ordinary people who in previous centuries would have been axiomatically protected—at least from physical harm—as supports to state power. This has led to a great deal of contestation over what "security" means, and whether states remain as useful as foci of interest and explanation as convention would have it.

Contemporary security studies is therefore as contested a field of inquiry as it is both interesting and important.[5]

See also


Some Universities with academic programs in Security Studies


  1. Wæver, Ole (2004) "New 'Schools' in Security Theory and their Origins between Core and Periphery" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Studies Association, Le Centre Sheraton Hotel, Montreal, Quebec
  4. "Present at the Creation: Edward Mead Earle and the Depression-Era Origin of Security Studies" International Security, volume 36, issue 3, pages 107-141
  5. Williams, Paul (2012) Security Studies: An Introduction, Abingdon: Routledge


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