This chapter introduces the concept and practice of security in international relations. It explores the dilemmas faced by states, individuals and the global community by first, looking at contemporary crises and disagreements about security; second, examining how security has been differently defined and focused; and third, surveying how different theoretical approaches have understood and analysed security.
Security and insecurity in the early twenty-first Century
Security has been a major focus of national policy and global governance since the end of World War II, although its origins date back to the Renaissance. In modern political thought, security is associated with the perpetuation of a social order and constellation of power controlled and guaranteed by a sovereign—which, by the twentieth century, meant the government of a sovereign nation-state (Burke 2007a; Neocleous 2008). With the rise of the national security state after 1945, security became associated with national defence, deterrence and alliance management, and it also remained concerned with the security of major power empires, trade and investment. However, the devastation of World War II meant that it also became a global concern expressed in the Charter of the United Nations, which in Article I declared that its primary purpose was to ‘maintain international peace and security’ and ‘save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’; it therefore established major organs such as the Security Council and General Assembly. Over the subsequent half-century, member states have expanded global security governance with new treaties such as the chemical and biological weapons and landmines conventions, the Geneva conventions codifying the law of armed conflict, the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and new norms such as the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). This global system based in international law is termed ‘collective security’, and coexists with (and aims to regulate) the national security policies of states and strategic alliances into which they have entered, such as NATO. Another layer of global security governance is provided by regional organisations like the African Union, South America's Organisation of American States (OAS), East Asia's ASEAN and Europe's CSCE.