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Non-Traditional Security and New Modes of Security Governance in Southeast Asia

Date: Wednesday, 20 April 2011
Time: 3 – 4.30pm
Venue: RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies

Speaker: Dr Shahar Hameiri, Australian Research Council Post-doctoral Fellow; and Lecturer in International Politics and Fellow of the Asia Research Centre, Murdoch University, Perth.

Chairperson: Dr Alistair D.B. Cook, Post-doctoral Fellow and Coordinator for the Internal and Cross-Border Conflict Programme, RSIS Centre for NTS Studies.

Discussant: Dr Jochen Prantl, Visiting Senior Fellow and Advisor for the Energy and Human Security Programme, RSIS Centre for NTS Studies.



In this seminar, Dr Shahar Hameiri aimed to address the dichotomy that currently exists between, on the one hand, the views of those who posit that the state’s role is withering away in the face of globalisation, and on the other, the views of those who reassert the state’s dominant role. He proposed a third, alternative approach, which focuses instead on the way states are being transformed under contemporary conditions. This perspective allows for the possibility that, while states have largely remained central agents of domestic governance and international politics, they are undergoing significant transformations which are conditioning how and what they govern, and how regimes of governance are emerging across states.

In order to explore the nature and implications of contemporary state transformation, Dr Hameiri drew on non-traditional security (NTS) issues and explored the way in which NTS threats are governed – and how NTS threats and their governance feed off and further accelerate the transformation (or disaggregation) of the modern state. In particular, he examined processes of internationalisation, whereby elements of the state apparatus are becoming interlinked across territorial boundaries, representing the rescaling of modes of governance away from the national level. Ultimately, he suggested that new security challenges increasingly involve relocating security from the national arena to a range of new spatial and territorial arenas. He argued that this presents a fundamental challenge to the ‘methodological nationalism’ largely underpinning mainstream security literature but that this, at the same time, reaffirms that states – despite their ‘transformed’ nature – remain critical to emerging structures of international governance. Broadly speaking, locating the shifting nature of security in the context of state transformation allows for an explanation of the different ways in which security is governed.



Dr Hameiri began by outlining his rationale for choosing NTS issues as a framework for analysing state transformation. He argued that NTS issues present an effective case study given that they are typically defined by their transnational nature and that they intrinsically problematise the idea that world politics is conducted along formal territorial (state) boundaries. This assumption about NTS issues inherently raises the question of the scale at which they should be governed, and leads to the proposition that despite their local impacts, they must be governed regionally or internationally. Thus, securitising NTS issues typically also involves rescaling their governance. This in turn transforms the way states operate. Ultimately, Dr Hameiri argued that in the process of addressing NTS issues, states themselves are becoming non-traditional.

Dr Hameiri’s presentation comprised three main sections. He first examined the limitations of the existing literature on NTS. He zoned in on two of the more critical approaches to security studies, namely, the Copenhagen and Paris Schools, which both prioritise the question of how issues (in this case, NTS issues) actually become securitised. He then outlined his views on the nature of the observed shift from traditional to non-traditional security, suggesting that it should above all be conceptualised in terms of a deep-seated historical transformation in the scale of the state’s institutions and activities. In doing so, he proposed an alternative approach to conceptualising NTS, and its implications for the nature and scale of governance and statehood. Finally, to demonstrate the ways in which the governance of NTS issues and the transformation of the contemporary state are interlinked, he interspersed his analysis with a number of preliminary case studies from the Asia-Pacific region, including that of the annual haze that blankets parts of Southeast Asia and the issue of health governance, specifically that of H5N1.

Dr Hameiri started off by highlighting the way in which the contemporary concept of security has expanded, both functionally and geographically. In the post-Cold War world, states’ security agendas have shifted decisively from traditional (inter-state, military challenges) to non-traditional threat perceptions and agendas. Different schools of thought focus on the NTS phenomenon through different lenses. Some suggest that the shift is simply a rational response to an empirical increase in NTS threats. Others, however, emphasise the political and contested nature of security, viewing it as a socially constructed phenomenon. Ultimately, however, Dr Hameiri argued that both fail to adequately account for processes of state transformation, sharing an essentially static view of states. Both perspectives also fail to explain the broadening of the security agenda or to examine how new (non-traditional) security issues are actually governed in practice in various contexts.

Using the critical approaches to security as his starting point (given that these approaches are fundamentally concerned with questioning the concept of security and thus hold greater utility for explaining the apparent emergence of new security issues), Dr Hameiri went on to elaborate on some specific limitations of the two main schools of critical theory: the Copenhagen and Paris Schools. Using the NTS lens, he acknowledged that while the Copenhagen School’s theory of securitisation has been extremely influential, it nonetheless focuses on the discourse of security at the expense of accounting for changes in the actual governance of security. He argued that the School failed to provide an accurate description of the dynamics of security politics and also emphasised the role of speech in processes of securitisation while ignoring the possible effects of images, physical action, etc. Moreover, he suggested that the School focuses on discourse while neglecting the broader material context in which the securitisation of issues occurs. As a result, he argued that the Copenhagen School’s theory of securitisation is insufficient to explain the apparent shift in the content of security. He perceived there to be a disinterest (or implicit disbelief) in a qualitative change in the politics of NTS. Indeed, Dr Hameiri argued that the discursive framing of threats has diverted Copenhagen scholars’ attention from the transformation in the nature of security, particularly its governance. He suggested that it is the School’s conformity to methodological nationalism (which essentially fails to problematise the nation or the state) that has prevented its ability to explain the shift towards NTS and their changing governance, which in turn is transforming the state. In particular, methodological nationalism fails to examine the nature and implications when the governance of NTS issues is rescaled to different levels or actors. However, Dr Hameiri argues, it is through securitisation of NTS issues that rescaled forms of political rule are constituted and reconstituted, leading to state transformation. Ultimately, the Copenhagen School neglects to acknowledge that securitisation of NTS issues can actually change the nature of statehood, and influence where state power is located, who exercises it and how it is justified.

Similarly, Dr Hameiri pointed out the limitations of the Paris School in explaining the relationship between NTS, its governance and state transformation. By focusing almost exclusively on the security ‘field’ and the networks of professionals it comprises, the Paris School privileges the agency of an extremely small number of individuals and the role of conflicts over power and influence among them in shaping perceptions of threat and security risk. It fails to account for the relationship between the security field and the broader socio-political-economic context, which inadvertently shapes the security field as well as the relative autonomy of security experts. It effectively neglects the notion of security politics. This is consistent with Dr Hameiri’s broader contention: that little has been done to systematically explain the politics shaping the emergence of particular modes of governance for managing NTS issues.

In the second part of his presentation, Dr Hameiri elaborated on the idea that NTS issues not only constitute an expansion of security discourses, but more fundamentally involve the (often contested) rescaling of the spaces, instruments and discourses of security to be in line with the choices and interests of key actors and interests. As such, the securitisation of NTS and the forms that its governance ultimately takes is a deeply political process. Rescaling, Dr Hameiri claimed, is the crucial element of the securitisation of NTS issues; it constitutes more than a mere discursive framing of NTS issues as a threat. He argued that the rescaling of both the institutional and discursive production of security is both an outcome of as well as a facilitator for a more deep-seated historical transformation in the scale of state institutions, and more broadly, its activities. Thus, struggles over security and its governance are part of wider contestations over the nature of political rule and its institutional, spatial and territorial aspects. Ultimately, this means that in order to make sense of securitisation efforts (including the securitisation of NTS issues), they must be contextualised within wider processes of state transformation, in particular those connected with globalisation and the emergence of regulatory forms of statehood.

At the heart of the transformative processes associated with the securitisation of NTS and the rescaling of governance structures is a relocation of NTS issues beyond the national scale. However, this does not necessarily mean that they are taken out of state hands. Instead of simply shifting issues beyond the state, such as to regional intergovernmental organisations, these transformative processes result in the rescaling and reconstitution of the state itself. This leads back to one of Hameiri’s core contentions: that the state is not withering away as some would claim, nor has it been left intact as a coherent, sealed entity. More accurately, in the process of the securitisation of NTS issues and the subsequent emergence of new modes of security governance, elements of the state are themselves being transformed. The result is a process of state disaggregation, characterised by the diffusion of political authority to a wide array of governance actors, which often operate outside the official boundaries of the government. At the same time, the framing of NTS issues and modes of governance developed for dealing with them also reflect a pre-existing diffusion and disaggregation of governance as a result of globalisation, with concern for and responses to new security issues providing further momentum to this transformation of the contemporary state.



One of the key themes of the proceeding discussion was the nature of state transformation. Participants saw value in the focus on the notion of state transformation, agreeing that the state has not disappeared nor stayed intact. However, questions were raised on the precise nature and implications of the evolution. In this context, the notion of ‘intermediary state’ was discussed. Central to this concept is the idea that the Westphalian state is transforming itself into a sort of clearing house; it is increasingly acting as an intermediary or broker between internal and external policy expectations (‘imperatives’) and essentially embedding national policy within global public policy frameworks. It was suggested that this notion of the intermediary state could be useful in helping to conceptualise the idea of state transformation more clearly.

On the other hand, the resilience of the contemporary Westphalian state was also acknowledged, with further affirmation that state transformation is by no means a linear process. Indeed, alongside the changes in statehood that occur as a result of evolving modes of governance, is an ostensibly renewed focus on nationalism and national security issues (for instance, nuclear weapons). Indeed, one participant suggested that there has been a quiet return of balance-of-power logic in international affairs. The underlying contention of this part of the discussions was that the process of state transformation is very messy and often involves contradictory trends. In response, Dr Hameiri acknowledged that there has been a return to the centrality of the notion of national security, but he also questioned whether national security is now being conceptualised differently. Nonetheless, geopolitical considerations would of course come into play. Moreover, forces that do choose to resist the rescaling of governance do often continue to prevail. To illustrate his point, he returned to the issue of environmental degradation in Southeast Asia and the interest groups and actors that are resisting a coherent and comprehensive response to the haze issue. One participant noted that while the state may be ‘coming back’, it is arguably an increasingly empty entity.

Another topic of discussion was whether the era we live in should really be considered the most globalised. Indeed, it was suggested that the early 20th century was quite possibly a relatively more globalised era, and if this is so, questions were raised as to why NTS did not develop as a field and area of concern then. In response, Dr Hameiri explained that the uniqueness of contemporary globalisation is that it is more deeply related to a process of disaggregation or diffusion of state functions. Thus, contemporary globalisation is at least qualitatively different, if not necessarily quantitatively so, compared to globalisation in the past.

Another participant asked if there is an alternative to the Copenhagen School’s focus on securitisation and the overriding notion of existential threat. If will or resources are not to be mobilised on the basis of an existential threat, then what is the alternative? Dr Hameiri suggested that the notion of potential threat could overcome some of the concerns raised about the implications of framing issues as existential threats. A bias towards potential threats would imply an emphasis on risk management. However, another participant followed on from this comment by questioning how the speaker conceptualised the term ‘risk’ and whether it implied risk to individuals, the state, quality of life or progress. It was argued that such an outlook could potentially open up a can of worms. Thus, it was suggested that it is important to monitor how language is employed. In this context, it was argued that it may be more effective to use the term ‘uncertainty’, given the endless possibilities and security threats that are apparently unearthed when perceptions of risk are the core driver. Ultimately, it was suggested by the participant that it is an absence of strategic vision that encourages, and is perpetuated by, a focus on risk and the consequent multitude of possible scenarios.


About the speaker:

Dr Shahar Hameiri is currently an Australian Research Council Post-doctoral Fellow, Lecturer in International Politics and Fellow of the Asia Research Centre, Murdoch University, Perth, Australia. He was recently awarded a three-year fully funded Australian Research Council Post-doctoral Fellowship for a joint Discovery Project with Dr Lee Jones from Queen Mary, University of London in 2011. The project, entitled ‘Securitisation and the Governance of Non-traditional Security in Southeast Asia and the Southwest Pacific', is a comparative study of the factors shaping the way NTS problems are defined and governed in the two regions of the world closest to Australia.

His research interests are diverse, traversing the fields of security, development and aid, governance, political geography and international relations. He is particularly interested in understanding the evolving nature of statehood and political agency under conditions of globalisation. He has written extensively on issues of state building, NTS, risk and risk management, regional governance and Australian development and security policy. His work has been published in a book, Regulating Statehood: State Building and the Transformation of the Global Order (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), and in journals such as Political Studies, Millennium: Journal of International Studies, Journal of Contemporary Asia, Third World Quarterly, The Pacific Review and The Australian Journal of International Relations.

Posted on: 20/4/2011 3:00:00 PM  |  Topic: Other NTS Issues

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