Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Is security and development a shotgun marriage? Why we need to account for security from below

by Robin Luckham

In recent years, security has become increasingly commonplace in development analysis and practice. Now is a good time to revisit the relationship between the two fields. 

Major organisations like the OECD, the UN, the EU and most bilateral aid agencies have given an official stamp to the relationship between security and development. DFID has been influential in bringing it in from the cold and has linked it to stabilisation. It is the centrepiece of the World Bank’s 2011 World Development Report on ‘Conflict, Security and Development’.

This marks a significant change from the situation prevailing 20 years ago, when violent conflict and security were ignored by the development community.

However, huge conceptual confusion still surrounds the topic of security. The relationship between security and development remains poorly understood, despite a growing research literature. And the situation has not been improved by the critiques of ‘securitization’ by Duffield (2001) who voices the unease that many feel about the tendency of security priorities to trump development priorities.

The critiques are general and have conceptual and empirical weaknesses that mirror those of security analysis itself.

What’s in a word? Different problems are hidden under security

It would be easy to dismiss security as just another development buzzword. But words matter greatly.

Framing an issue as one of security has profound consequences for both analysis and policy. Yet almost nowhere in the large security and development literature is security properly defined. The 2011 World Development Report skirts around the issue by defining ‘citizen security’ in terms very similar to human development, plus an added dimension of citizenship.

“Security” hides very different kinds of problems under one label, for instance:
  • the wars on terror and drug
  • suppression of dissent in Russia, Singapore, Ethiopia and elsewhere;
  • Sri Lanka’s brutal final campaign against the LTTE or Israel’s military operations in the West Bank and Gaza
  • security assistance provided by Western countries to Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen
  • corporate security in the Niger Delta and other resource-rich regions
  • merging of security and development by Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan
  • restoration of functioning security institutions in post-conflict countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone or Timor Leste
  • efforts by peacekeepers and humanitarian agencies to ensure safety and livelihoods for vulnerable people in Darfur, Eastern DRC and other conflict zones
  • impacts of desertification in the Sahel on the survival strategies of Touaregs and other marginalised groups
As these examples suggest security is not only multi-headed, but also morally ambiguous and politically contested. Everything depends on who speaks in the name of security. Whose security are we talking about? From what are they are secured? And how is their security protected (or neglected)?

These ambiguities might make us want to wash our hands of security altogether and say it should be of no concern to development practitioners. But security is too important to be left in the hands of securocrats and politicians.

Two perspectives on security: Security as order vs. Security as an entitlement

The moral and political confusion around security stems from two different perspectives on the theory and practice of security itself.

On one side, security involves ‘seeing like a state,’ even in a modern world where ‘the state’ comprises global and national power structures as well as nation states. The state based perspective on security sees it as a process of social and political ordering.

This order is achieved through military power, surveillance or the control of new media. Post-conflict ‘stabilisation’ and ‘state-building’ in countries like Sierra Leone or Afghanistan has been premised upon the creation of political order so that development can take place.

But there is another perspective on security, which sees security as an entitlement of citizens. This vision of security in spelt out in the World Development Report’s formulation of citizen security, as well as in the UN’s endorsement of human security and the ‘responsibility to protect’.   

In principle, these frameworks open the way to challenging the state’s power and monopoly of security provision.  But the irony is that they have also helped to shape a new policy consensus around forcible interventions in the affairs of fragile and conflict-torn countries.

We should see these two perspectives on security not as rivals but as mutually interconnected faces of governance. Both address the problems of power and the use of force, but from different directions.

The key questions are: Who controls force? Who holds it accountable? And how do they do so? 

Why do we need to account for security from below?

The moral and political confusion over security persists.  Powerful states and international institutions still dominate despite all the rhetoric about citizen and human security.

How convincing is the talk about the responsibility to protect when those who are supposedly protected have few if any means of redress? This question applies for repressive states like Syria and Zimbabwe; for armed jihadis, militias and criminals; and for external powers, peacekeepers and humanitarian agencies which condone abuses or fail to deliver security.

We lack robust accounts of how security looks ‘from below,’ what weapons are available to the weak and how the powerful can be held accountable. For research on this perspective, see IDS Bulletin March 2009 and June 2009.

Accounting for security from below is a priority for two reasons:
  1. It reveals the agency of people who are insecure, including their survival strategies and their capacity to challenge dominant social orders, as has been seen in the Arab Springs.
  2. It helps us understand the complex local contexts where vulnerable people seek security. In these contexts, state security agencies can easily become oppressors. Ordinary people may well seek protection elsewhere, even from otherwise malign and violent bodies such as paramilitaries and criminal mafias.

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