Climate Change and Securitization of Migration

Master's Thesis 2011 123 Pages

Earth Science / Geography - Geopolitics




Chapter 1- Revisiting Securitization In The Context Of Climate Change

Chapter 2- Framing ‘Climate Change’: Science, Knowledge and Power

Chapter 3- Climate Change, Migrations and Security: Conceptualizations and Contestations

Chapter 4- Conclusions: Towards Desecuritization of Climate Migration?



List of Tables

Table No. 2.1 Top five costliest extreme weather events 1970-2001

Table No. 2.2 Top five deadliest extreme weather events 1970-2002

Table No. 2.3

Table No. 2.4 Projected Global Average Surface Warming and Sea Level Rise at the End of the 21st Century

Table No. 3.1 Major Floods in Bangladesh from 1988 to 2007

Table No. 3.2. Estimates of the U.S. Unauthorized Immigration Population from Mexico, 2000-2008


Human beings have always migrated in search of better opportunities and better life. Migrations are also well tested strategies followed by various communities to adapt to various calamities and disasters. Most of civilizations (e.g. ancient Egyptian and Indus Valley civilizations) have come up as a result of people migrating to river valleys. It was only with the emergence of modern nation- states system, particularly after the treaty of Westphalia, that new notion of legality and illegality got attached to the process of migration, boundaries became rigid and exclusive, and the flows of people became an issue of ‘Others’ and ‘Othering’. In short, the history of mobility is much longer than the history of Westphalian territoriality and borders.

In the present era climate change is becoming the defining factor in human migration. The current dominant geopolitical narratives and framings of climate change tend to focus on the impacts of climate change on potential drivers of conflict, such as population movements, border disputes, and access to food, water, energy and other scarce resources. It is against the backdrop of a whirlpool of highly imaginative and alarmist geographies of a ‘catastrophic’ climate change that a new and highly contested concept of ‘climate refugee’ has emerged. Those who are forced to leave their native land by the’ global’ climate change are now described as climate migrants for want of a better term. Millions of people around the globe are said to be at risk of displacement due to climate change; being forced to leave their homelands, temporarily or permanently. It is believed that nine out of every ten disasters are somehow related to climate change. (see Climate Change and Displacement Review, 2008). It has become an accepted fact among the international community that climate change is going to result in large number of displacement. The Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has minced no words in warning that “The impacts of climate change on Asia will place additional stress on socioeconomic and physical systems... A further demographic response will come about through the risk of extreme events on human settlements. If the incidence and magnitudes of events such as droughts and coastal floods increase, there could be large-scale demographic responses—for example, through migration” (IPCC, Working Group 2, 2007:497).

One of our key intentions in this thesis is to examine how, why and by whom the issue of climate migration is being securitized; how the issue is being removed by certain actors and agencies from the agenda of low politics and placed in the domain of high politics and national security. Security, which was traditionally looked upon as a protection from threats from outside has acquired new meanings and interpretations in recent times. We intend to critically examine the growing trends in certain parts of the world to securitize climate migration, taking Bangladesh, United States and Australia as our major case studies.

This work is divided into three main chapters. The first chapter, which is of theoretical nature, attempts to understand the complex nature of the process of securitization, with special reference to insights provided by the Copenhagen school of IR. In the second chapter we focus on the interplay between science, knowledge and power in order to show, on the one hand, how the IPCC frames, though not without inviting criticism, climate change as a ‘problem’ demanding and deserving ‘a solution’. On the other hand, we show how different agencies and their reports such as the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change and the UNDP Human Development Report on Climate Change, while fully drawing upon the ‘scientific’ language of the IPCC assessment reports, frame the issue of climate change in terms of their own agendas and narratives. . The science of climate change has been presented as certain as IPCC regards that there is consensus among scientist about the climate change.

But after discussing all this we have find out certain loopholes in these scientific reports especially in IPCC. Whereas in the third chapter we critically examine the emerging trans-national securitizing discourses of ‘climate migrants’, focusing notions of ‘vulnerability’, ‘threats’ and ‘national security’, with special reference to Bangladesh, Australia and the United States.

In our concluding reflections we raise the overlapping issue of ‘de-securitization of climate change in general and climate migration in particular’ and emphasize the critical importance of keeping the debate on climate change in the domain of low politics, diplomacy and dialogue. We conclude on the note that various ideas and representations of climate change, dictated and driven by the discourses of ‘national security’ will make the already contested identity of migrants more complex by adding yet another alarmingly ambiguous, and fear-driven category of ‘climate migrants’ and/or ‘climate refugees’.


Our key objective in this chapter is to critique the concept of security in the context of global warming and climate change. It is pertinent in our view to raise the following questions at the outset. What does it mean to be secure? Who is securing what or whom? Who or what is being secured and in what sense? The word security is derived from the ancient Greek expression “Se-Cura” and literally translates to “without fear”. Security is considered by some as a state of freedom from danger, freedom from fear and anxiety or freedom from the prospect of being displaced from home or vocation. In other sense security according to Soroos (1997:236) may be defined as, “the assurance people have that they will continue to enjoy those things that are most important to their survival and well-being”.

Security is sometimes treated as a simple and self-evident concept where conceptual contestations over the modifiers and specification are often intense but ignored (Waever, 1995). There are various dimensions or facets of security, understood differently in different contexts, namely ‘national security’, ‘international security’, ‘environmental security’ and ‘human security’ etc. According to the conventional state- centric wisdom, security is often understood as ‘national security’ in which nation state is conceived as the major security actor relentlessly engaged in pursuit of its national interest, defined in terms of national power. In this situation “a nation is secure to the extent to which it is not in danger of having to sacrifice core values, if it wishes to avoid war, and is able, if challenged, to maintain them by victory in such a war” (Lippmann,1943:51). Such a view mainly focuses on the militarily dimension and relates to state borders. This view of security emanates from realist theory of international relation, which believes that human nature is conservative, pessimistic, and self-interested. According to this view all states are involved in constant and unavoidable struggle for power (Smith, 2002).

This view of security was dominant during the cold war, when world was divided into two blocks and nation states were implicated in the ideological geopolitics. During the cold war the state actors often behaved according to the traditional notions of security, especially as deployed and defended by the US and the USSR. The arms race between two super powers, at a deep fundamental level, was dictated and driven by the anxieties related to anarchical view of international system and imperatives of security dilemma. Neo-realists, such as Kenneth Waltz (Burchill, 2001) have explained this phenomenon through their notion of structure. According to them, the nature of international relation is determined by the nature of international structure, and national security is a top-down conception where the security- survival related concerns of state actors and their power elites come first and those related to human security much later.

After the cold war, the traditional understanding of security underwent a change as some international theorists tried to explain the nature of world order differently. As the period of 1970’s ushered in some major transformations in international geopolitical economy, the environmental concerns and identity politics emerged as new fields of critical studies in international politics and Security (Buzan, 1998: 2). As a result, security was removed from a purely military context and placed on a wider spectrum of issues including migration. This is not to suggest that traditional state- centric notions of security were totally eclipsed, but they were critiqued by new theoretical engagements. Realist perspective continued to view security as "the study of the threat and used it as a weapon to control the military force" (Waltz, 1991:212).

There are new approaches promoted by scholars like Barry Buzan, Ole Waever and Jaap De Wilde, known as Copenhagen school, which are expanding the realist conception of security. The concept of security stands widened due to the inclusion of non- traditional or soft security issues. The Copenhagen school has examined security from the perspective of the state, society and individuals. Whereas the realistic approach focuses on the state as the referent of security, the so-called Copenhagen school of security studies attempts to combine the society and state levels for examining security in its broadest possible meaning.

Scholars who prefer alternative understandings of security include Richard Ullman (1985) and David Baldwin (1995). While questioning the narrow focus on strategic-military dimensions, they would insist upon incorporating non-military, people-centric perspectives related to human-environmental security. On the other hand, there are scholars who remain highly skeptical about such alternative reformulations. For example, Waltz (1991) would argue that at the heart of security studies should be the study of war. Whereas Freedman (1998) fears that due to various competing alternative perspectives the term security might become too fuzzy and loose it analytical edge.

Scholars like Caroline Thomas (1987) and Ayoob (1984) too have argued in favour of widening the scope of security. According to them the realist notion of security suits the power political pursuits of major powers and is simply inappropriate in context of third world countries and their societies, which remain insecure more due to the lack of autonomy, crisis of governance, increasing social inequalities and the growing sense of vulnerability on the part of masses. Such an understanding stands in a sharp contrast with the approach that focuses exclusively on the behavior of states actors, which are perceived as ‘rational’ in the sense of being self-interested and value-maximizing. This approach, calling itself ‘realist’, as pointed out earlier, has dominated the disciplines of political science and international relations, particularly in the United States of America (Burchill, 2001., Brown ,2001).

The neo-classical realists too have chosen to define the notion of security in a manner that is distinct from others school of thoughts. It is based on the inner politics theory, which regards the foreign policy of a state as an outcome of interplay among various domestic factors such as political, economic ideological, socio-economic structural and national character.


Quite outstanding among different alternative framing of security is the concept of human security. Human security does not focus exclusively on the security of the nation-state but pays critical attention to many other dimensions of insecurity. Accordingly, “Human security is not a concern with weapons. It is a concern with human dignity. In the last analysis, it is a child who did not die, a disease that did not spread, an ethnic tension that did not explode, a dissident who was not silenced, a human spirit that was not crushed” (Haq, 1995: 166). In a broader sense it insists that human security is about “freedom from want” and “freedom from fear”, carrying both the positive and negative rights connotation and relating with the threats to core or basic individual needs. Human security as a normative notion argues that there is an ethical/moral responsibility to (re)orient security around the individual in line with internationally recognized standards of human rights and governance (Newman, 2009). “For most people today, a feeling of insecurity arises more from concerns of daily life rather than from the dreads of a cataclysmic world event. Job security, income security, health, environmental security, and security from crime - these are emerging concerns of human security all over the world” (Malcom cited in Visser, Matten, Pohl and Tolhurst, 2007: 261) Human security therefore “means, first safety from such chronic threats as hunger, disease and repression and then protection from sudden and hurtful disruptions in the patterns of daily life - whether in homes, in jobs or in communities” (UNDP 1994: 3, 23).

Although human security is a concept which has gained prominence after the cold war, the concept is not entirely new in itself. However the traditional concept of security just centers only on security of state rather than individual concerns like “Plato’s Ideal state, Aristotle’ s Statesman, Hobbes ‘concept of Leviathan, Machiavelli’s Prince and above all Marxian concept of Dictatorship of the proletariat highlight the ultimate goal or end of state as security and protection of individual and community, even though they have different views about the means to attain this goal” (Sudha and Menon, 2007:2). S. Neil Macfarlane (2006) argues that there is little that is new about human security. He emphasizes that it is already rooted in western political philosophy and intensified with the evolution of nation-state. This concept of human security is thus contemporary manifestation of an old idea with a new label. Its importance was realized after the end of cold war due to growing political visibility of issues like state failure, internally displaced people, global terrorism, new technologies, as well as new threats arising in chronic forms like hunger, diseases, and state repression (MacFarlane and Khong, 2006).

Imperatives of human security and safety do at times give rise to a diverse coalition between different groups like middle power states, development agencies, and non -governmental organizations. What distinguishes these groups from state actors is that they hold a distinctive view of using resources not for conventional security but for people security. In today’s world some of more prosperous countries have increased their aid to poor nations especially for poverty eradication programmes. In 1994, the United Nation Development Programme, through its renewed focus on human development concerns, provided institutional mechanism to the concept of human security. The UNDP has tried to redefine security by emphasizing a strategic shift from territorial security to people security, and from security through armaments to security through sustainable human development.

While many of the threats listed by the UNDP to human security are local threats, the global threats to human security in the next century are said to include at least six categories of factors, which in turn are caused more by the actions of millions of people rather than by deliberate aggression by specific states. As such they may not easily qualify as security threats under narrowly defined formulations of security studies. These six categories are as follows: (a) unchecked population growth, (b) disparities in economic opportunities, (c) excessive international migration, (d) environmental degradation, (e) drug production and trafficking and (f) international terrorism.

Such unconventional formulations of human security underlie a growing number of re-assessments of the current state of world politics and in particular recent attempts to encapsulate political agendas for reforming the international system (Dalby, 2000). Mahbub Ul Haq (1994) in his capacity as a consultant to UNDP once argued that, “we need to fashion a new concept of human security that is reflected in lives of our people and not in the weapons of our country.” Human security also includes community security, cultural dignity and inter-community peace within which an individual is enabled to realize his/her potentials to maximum possible extent. (Sudha and Menon 2007: 9). Although the concept of human security has been widely discussed after the cold war, it is still evolving and yet to develop as a full-fledged policy level for most of the countries.

The notion of human security in some way reflects the inadequacy of state-centric international system to deal with various facets of security. There is therefore a need to understand human security in broader terms. As Simon Dalby (2009:143) puts it,

A broader notion of human security is clearly needed to grapple with contemporary changes; but one sensitive to the interconnections between place and the increasingly artificial context within which people are vulnerable. But likewise the recognition that vulnerable people are in motion, and will be seen either as victims in need of assistance or as illegal migrants who can be portrayed as a security threat to border… Human security isn’t only about dealing with people in suit; in present times it also very much about dealing with people who move to escape environmental change in long run and disaster in short run.

Concept of Securitization

The main argument of securitization theory is that security is a speech act that could be deployed by various actors and agencies in pursuit of specific geopolitical agendas.

Jutila has argued (2006:171) that “successful securitisation means that the securitised issue is shifted from the domain of 'normal' politics to 'emergency' politics. In other words, securitisation takes politics out of the domain of 'normality' - i.e. established rules of the game - and frames the particular issue in question as unique or above politics altogether. Thus securitisation is an extreme version of politicization”. The intellectual roots of the concept of ‘speech act’ can be traced back to British philosopher Johan L Austin, considered to be the father of the theory of speech act. His book titled How to do Things With Words (1955) explains at length his ideas about speech act. Austin uses three key terms namely locutionary act, the illocutionary act and the pre -locutionary act (Austin, 1962).

The most basic act for Austin is the locutionary, whereby meaning is given to a certain utterance. In Austin‘s concept of speech act, ‘felicity’ is important, which in turn depends on appropriate circumstances and appropriate rules. Felicity is important because in its absence, the utterance can go wrong and it can make speech act not only look false but also unacceptable (Taureck, 2006). For felicitous speech act Austin lists out following conditions:

First, the speech act must be in line with the “accepted conventional procedure” referring to the utterance itself. (Austin1962:14). Secondly “particular persons and circumstances in a given case must be appropriate for the invocation of the particular procedure invoked” (Ibid:15). Thirdly, “the procedure must be executed by all participants both correctly and [fourth] completely” (ibid:15). The next important point is that a “person participating in a speech act must be sincere in his/her utterance”. And finally, “the enunciator of the speech act must live in accordance with the utterance subsequently” (Ibid).

French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1977) too has made an outstanding contribution to further elucidation of the concept of securitization. In his 1982 essay titled, Signature Event Context Derrida argues that in Austin’s theory of performative speech act the context is taken as fixed. Whereas for Derrida, context can never be fixed, and both the utterance and the context are subject to diverse meanings and interpretations. In other words \ context always remains in a state of flux. Secondly he argues that speech act can never be taken for granted (Taureck, 2006). Derrida is important for securitization theory at a meta-theoretical level, because fundamental premise of securitization theory, which is that ‘ security is what it does ’, is derived from his idea that a text matters more for what it does than for what it says. Therefore, we can say that Derrida’s conception of text is important in interpretation of securitization theory, since he believed that there is no outside-text (Derrida quoted in Taureck, 2006:10).

Carl Schmitt is another leading theorist to have made a major contribution to securitization theory. His ideas of friend and enemy have added further insight to the theory of securitization. He has argued that "every religious, moral, economic, ethical, or other antithesis transforms itself into a political one if it is sufficiently strong to group human beings according to friend and enemy" (Cited in William, 2003:516) . Even the Copenhagen school has used his ideas while formulating various aspects of securitization theory (William, 2003). Schmitt underlined the nature of politics by drawing a distinction between friends and enemies and argued that security can be determined by the division between normal democratic, rule-driven politics and extraordinary politics beyond rule and regulation. As we will argue and illustrate later in this thesis, such a distinction assumes a great deal significance with regard to Bangladesh-India relations in the context of climate induced migration. There is already a great deal of mistrust and disagreement between these two states over the issue of cross border migration from Bangladesh into India. In case of climate change forcing Bangladeshi more and more people to move across the Indian border, certain actors and agencies might call for the declaration of some kind of an emergency. In the eventuality of India refusing to provide relief and shelter to ‘climate refugees’ from Bangladesh on its territory, international community and Bangladesh might look at the Indian state as not being friendly (rather hostile) to Bangladeshi people. The point we wish to flag here is that the discourse and practices of securitizing are likely to generate new kinds of pressures for state responses based on morality and ethics. Although securitization is not a new phenomenon in the context of Bangladesh-Indian borderlands, climate change is likely to reinforce this process and give it unprecedented complexity.

Michael William (2008) has found yet another important insight on securitization in Schmitt’s writings. For Schmitt the distinction between friends and enemy is strongest during times declared and described as an emergency. According to William, “it is in the realm of emergency that the essence of sovereignty as decision is most clearly illustrated” (ibid: 517). This further suggests that the decision or action taken (or not taken) by the actor or actors concerned during the declared emergency becomes an important marker of authority, legitimacy and effectiveness of the regime in question (Taureck, 2006).

The fourth theorist who has made major contribution to the theory of securitization is Kenneth Waltz, the well known leading proponent of structural realism. According to some analysts, the relationship between Waltz and securitization can be understood in reference to the relationship between survival and security. Whereas for Waltz (1979) “[survival] is taken as a ground for action in a world where the security of states in not assured”, for Waever, “security means survival in the face of existential threats” (Buzan, Wæver, Wilde, 1998:27). Secondly the notion of distribution of capabilities elaborated by Waltz is also important in securitization. A securitizing actor with greater capabilities to his credit is more likely to be successful in his pursuit as compared to those who possess less or none (Taureck, 2006).

Copenhagen School on Securitization

The Copenhagen school of security studies found its initial major expression in the book titled ‘ People, States and Fear: The National Security Problem in International Relations ’, by Barry Buzan (1983). Barry Buzan, Ole Weaver, and Jaap De Wilde are the leading theorists associated with this school (1998). This school is particularly concerned with the social aspects of security. For Copenhagen school security as a spectrum of issues and concerns can be examined from varied perspectives of the state, society and even individuals. Whereas the realistic approach focuses largely on state actors as the referent of security, the Copenhagen school attempts to combine the society and state levels for a broader and deeper understanding of security. This school focuses on three key concepts namely sectors, regional security complexes, and securitization (Skidmore, 1998). The concept of ‘sectors’ draws our attention to different sites where the discourse of security operates; including military/state, political, societal, economic, and environmental. Whereas the concept of ‘regional security complex’ draws attention to how security is clustered in geographically defined regions. The security of each actor within a given security complex is related to the security of other actors. In other words, one is likely to find intense security interdependence within a regional security complex region which may not be the case s between regions.

The key idea behind the securitization theory is essentially that security is a ‘speech act’. There are no security issues per se, but all issues can be constructed as security issues through ‘speech acts’ by ‘securitizing actors’ Wæver (1995:55) Indeed, for the Copenhagen School, “the utterance itself is the act”. This understanding of the concept of securitization has received a great deal of critical scholarly attention in recent times and has been applied in different areas and contexts, ranging from analyses of state foreign policy behavior to the construction of transnational crime and criminal networks and HIV/AIDS as security threats, to various facets of the ‘war on terror’ and to minority rights. According to Copenhagen school, security is not an objective and measurable threat like military threat. A perceived major threat to something like a referent object which is highly valued by a group of people might result in a call for extreme measures or emergency measures of some sort. Which in turn is likely to result in the transfer of certain issue-areas from the realm of low politics (normal dialogic politics) to high politics agenda (where the necessary space for diplomacy drastically shrinks) marked by a sense of emergency and the corresponding reshuffling of priorities in favour of military-strategic pursuits (Buzan, 1998). A speech act is interesting also because it carries the insurrecting potential to question the ordinary (the prevailing common sense on a given issue so to speak) and to establish meaning that is not already in the context. It reworks or reconfigures a given context through the performative success of the speech act. (Buzan et al, 1998: 46; Wæver, 2000: 286).

For Buzan and Waever the conditions for successful speech act would normally fall into two categories. The first one is internal and relates to linguistic, grammatical aspects that enable the target audiences to follow the rule of the pronounced act. As Austin argues, accepted conventional procedure must exist and the act has to be executed according to these procedures. Whereas the second category comprises external, contextual, and social factors that decide a position from which the speech act can be made.

By now it should be fairly obvious that three things are considered by the Copenhagen school as central to the theory of securitization, namely (a) securitizing actor, (b) referent object and (c) audience. As pointed out above, by ‘talking’ security an actor attempts to remove a topic away from the agenda of dialogic politics and place it in the realm of security concerns, thereby legitimating certain extraordinary means against socially constructed threats (Williams, 2003). The process of securitization is characterized by inter-subjective meaning, that is to say it is neither entirely a question of objective threat nor exclusively a subjective perception of a threat. There is no doubt that the Copenhagen school of security studies has not only questioned the realist and neo realist framings of ‘security’ it has also opened up new discursive spaces for alternative understandings of a phenomenon that remains central to the theory and practices of international politics. It is to a discussion of whether or not Copenhagen school facilitates a better understanding of phenomenon described as ‘human security’.

‘Human security’ and the Copenhagen School’s securitization

Even though the notion of human security remains multifaceted and quite nuanced what unites various strands of this concept is their conviction that the concept of ‘security’ needs to be liberated from its state-centric territorial trap. From one critical perspective, human security is concerned with the protection of people from traditional threats which may emanate from ecological degradation, global warming, natural disasters, hunger, and various other factors and forces that can neither be understood not effectively addressed within the territorial boundaries of sovereign state actors. Also conceptualized in terms of “freedom from want” and “freedom from fear, human security then becomes a much broader concept encompassing developmental and social welfare/justice issues such as socioeconomic deprivation and exclusion, egregious abuses of human rights, and widespread diseases such as HIV/AIDS with serious implications for peace and stability within and between states (Newman, 2001). Anuradha M. Chenoy (2005: 167) has argued that “Human security is the necessary response to the unending spiral of armed conflicts that continue to engulf the contemporary world. The concept of human security emphasizes that every aspect of human rights and needs is necessary for security”. Whereas Kanti Bajpai (2000) would argue that,

There is a parallel therefore between national security values and human security values. Broadly, if sovereignty of the state is at the heart of the traditional national security conception, so sovereignty of the individual is at the heart of human security. If national security is, at base, about territorial integrity or protection of the body politic, so human security is, at base, about physical integrity or protection of the individual human body from harm. If national security is also about the political freedom of a state to choose its diplomatic partners/adversaries and to regulate its internal affairs, so also human security is about the political freedom of an individual to associate with others (civic freedom) as well as the freedom to live private life without undue interference from fellow citizens and state authorities (basic freedom) (23).

The idea of human security received further impetus due to the efforts by the Palme Commission or the Brundtland Commission (1987:19) which has noted that “The whole notion of security as traditionally understood—in terms of political and military threats to national sovereignty—must be expanded to include the growing impacts of environmental stress—locally, nationally, regionally, and globally”.

Despite enormous normative appeal and policy relevance, the concept of human security remains a contested notion. Different state actors might prefer their own definitions of human security to suit their perceptions and priorities. For example, prior to the tragic events related to 9/11, one could identify two divergent perspectives with Canada emphasizing the protection of civilians during armed conflict as a core tenant and Japan (along with a few Southeast Asian states) underlining ‘freedom from want’ as the essence of human security. While Canada stressed the importance of economic and developmental issues in advancing human security, Japan argued in favour of the need to protect the dignity of the individual (Acharya, 2005). In 1994, the United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) gave its report on human development stating that the concept of human security is essentially people centered and should remain a universal concern.

There are at least three interrelated reasons for the emergence of human security discourse (Acharya, 2005). The end of the cold war and super power rivalry has facilitated acknowledgement across cultures and societies of the need to evolve new kinds of security discourses. The second factor is the rise of trans-border normative concerns such as ecological degradation that call for the establishment of international institutions for some kind of a global governance. The changing nature of both interstate and intra-state conflicts, resulting in large scale casualties, displacements and human sufferings, especially of the poor and the marginalized, is yet another major catalyst behind the emergence of human security discourse.

How do we relate the insights offered by the Copenhagen school to a human security agenda, which, by its very nature, is a policy-making agenda situated in the realm of low politics? The Copenhagen school, on the other hand, is more of a theoretical tool, albeit extremely useful and insightful, to analyze security policies in the domain of high politics. The two concepts therefore occupy different positions in the logic of security. Security for Copenhagen school is a set of interrelated reasoning and practices that revolves around issues such as who can securitize what issue, under what conditions, and with what effects. And the key objective of this relentless discursive interrogation is to highlight persisting features in the process of how individuals or groups of individuals are securitized in diverse contexts. Whereas the notion of human security promises to offers an alternative to security analysis per-se. These appear to be rather two competing definitions of human security. On one hand there are those who define human security as freedom from want and understand the concept as more than safety from violent threats such as poverty, diseases, and environmental disasters. On the other hand, there are those who define human security as freedom from fear, whereby human security is understood as freedom from violent threats only. Overall, human security is the idea that the individual is at the receiving end of all security concerns, be it the freedom from want or freedom from fear. Security threats now come in all domains of life such as economic, political, food, health, environment, community, and personal (Floyd, 2007).

The concept of human security raises new kinds of questions that are rather difficult to answer. Who is to provide human security? To whom should an individual claim his/her own right to survival? Some could possibly argue that the provision of human security can only be provided by state, society or some global institution, or as the Copenhagen school puts it, “security action is usually taken on behalf of and with reference of collectivity” (Buzan, Wæver, and Wilde, 1998: 36).

To conclude this section, the emergence of the concept of human security has in some ways challenged the Copenhagen school’s understanding of security. But on the other hand insights offered by the Copenhagen school do suggest that greater the securitization of places, peoples and issue-areas the greater are the prospects of human security becoming more illusive. No doubt the notion of Human security is much broader than the Copenhagen school’s understanding of security and securitization. The primary actor and audience in securitization theory are state elite and people within the state respectively. Both the Copenhagen School in general and the securitization approach in particular, operate within a state centric framework, whereas the scope of human security is much wider in the sense that as it is not dependent exclusively on the state actors.

Critics of Copenhagen ‘Securitization’

Copenhagen school no doubt has made the concept of securitization an important and useful concept, which is now considered as the shorthand of the larger notion of security. However, there are several shortcoming of this kind of analysis, as pointed out by a number of scholars of international relations. According to Matt McDonald (2008) there are primarily three main grounds on which the theory of securitization could be criticized. In the first place, the exclusive focus on the speech act of dominant actors is rather narrow. The context of the speech act too is defined rather narrowly, with the attention focused only on the moment of intervention. Finally, the framework of securitization is restricted and limiting in the sense that the nature of act is defined solely in the terms of designation of threat.

The concept of speech act is problematic in the sense that in the process of securitization the language is considered as only a medium through which meaning is communicated by the securitizing actor to the concerned audience. However, a number of authors have underlined the need to take into account the role of images as potential forms of securitization. For example the role of photographs, exhibitions, and television is also very important in the process of securitization. MacDonald (2008) has further argued that an exclusive focus on language is problematic in the sense that the role of bureaucratic practices and physical actions, that are the integral to the process of securitization and through which security is constructed and communicated do not receive the attention they deserve.

The so called ‘Paris School’ has drawn our attention to a range of routinized practices deployed in the process of securitization on different issues. It is further pointed out that it is through a range of ‘acts’ and not simply through specific speech acts that emergency measures are invoked by the actors or agencies concerned. The Paris School has had varied disciplinary locations, including political sociology, criminology, law and IR, and its leading proponents are broadly interested in themes related to internal security. What binds them together intellectually-academically is their research interest in “policing as a structuring practice, the politicization of societal insecurities (including hooligans, migration and border controls) and the structuration of internal security fields” (C.A.S.E. Collective, 2006:449).

One of the leading theorists of Paris School, Thierry Balzacq (2005) has offered one of the most powerful critiques of Copenhagen School securitization theory. His major argument is that Balzacq that to define ‘securitization’ as a simple ‘speech act,’ performed by securitizing actors conceals a more complex relationship that lies at the core of power-knowledge-nexus. In other words, the critique offered by Balzacq raises the important, but often ignored question of how the locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary dimensions of a speech act might operate in relation to each other. The question then becomes whether the securitizing actors are speaking security with regard to concern of an existential threat, or whether they have some kind of a hidden agenda which leads them to deploy a rhetoric to secure something else than what is actually proposed.

Didier Bigo is one of the leading figures of Paris school. He has shown empirically how internal and external security intermingle and overlap as various agencies compete with one another for gradually de-territorialized tasks of traditional police, military and customs. Together they also participate in the manufacturing of a new site of threat through imagined geographies that connect immigration, organized crime and terror. His major contribution lies in his deviation from official discourses and greater focus being placed on routine practices of various agencies that also contribute to securitization.

Huysmans is another major scholar in Paris school who has provided major insights on the process of securitization. The 1990s saw a great debate between Huysmans and Bigo on the one hand and Huysmans, Bigo and Wæver, on the other hand, about the societal security and the importance of blending practices and speech acts in order to strengthen the theory of securitization promoted by Copenhagen (C.A.S.E. Collective, 2006).

Scholars like Hansen and Wilkinson have criticized Copenhagen school’s framework of securitization for neglecting the physical action. For these scholars “The problem here is more simply that this potentially important insight which takes us beyond a set of strict criteria to be met in terms of the act of securitizing is not incorporated within securitization framework itself which focuses overwhelmingly on performative role of speech act rather than the condition in which securitization itself become possible” (Buzan and Wæver cited in McDonald, 2008:15). Such an approach is better than other approaches also because it focuses on day to day practices rather than simply the discourse (Waever, 2004).

Weaver has also been criticized for his argument that ‘security is articulated only from a specific place, in an institutional voice, by elites’ (Weaver 1995: 57). Such a focus results in further marginalization of the perspectives, experiences and concerns of the powerless in global politics, presenting them at best as part of an ‘audience’ that can collectively consent to or question securitizing moves, and at worst as passive objects or recipients of elite discourses. Some feminist scholars have argued that the Copenhagen school not only neglects experiences of women but in fact serves to further marginalize them (McDonald, 2008).

Another shortcoming of the Copenhagen school is its emphasis on the ‘moment’ of intervention, as for example in the case of US intervention in Iraq. The critics have pointed out that only by focusing on the moment of intervention we cannot understand how and why a particular intervention becomes possible precisely at that movement. Why do certain actors choose to frame a particular issue as an existential threat? And why do the audience concerned decide to support the action undertaken by security actor or actors? Questions such as these needs to be addressed critically and the theory securitization should help us understand not only how the Bush administration securitized the issue of Iraq by portraying Iraq as the existential threat to the US, but also why a vast majority of Americans came to perceive Iraq as an existential threat.

The example of asylum seeker in Australia has been used by McDonald (2008) to argue that securitization framework does not provide us the necessary analytical tools with which we could possibly understand some of the most important dynamics of that which it proposes to explain. We will be returning to discuss this issue at length in chapter 3 of this thesis.

Holger Stritzel (2007) has also criticised the Copenhagen school’s understanding of securitization. According to him the concept of speech act is too limited to allow a serious and systematic study of ‘real world’ securitization. Stritzel would like to give more importance to process of articulation than to speech act. Whereas some scholars have questioned the securitization theory’s emphasis on societal security and the way it defines society as a group that possesses distinguishable identities. Critics have argued that the concept can be misused to label an ethnic or religious minority group living in a particular society as a “potential enemy” and to legitimize the development of an exclusionary policy directed against minority groups in a society. This can promote the rise of “intolerant, exclusionary identities that make conflicts more likely” (McSweeny cited in William, 2003: 519).

Securitization theory has also been criticized because the way it is presented as an extraordinary measure of politics is contradictory to the democratic principles that the Copenhagen School assumes to take place under normal political processes. It seems to legitimize authoritarian policies, with little public review that could check the implementation of such policies against potential abuses (Aradau, 2004: 392).

Despite the above criticisms, securitization remains popular and widely used concept in migration studies.

Securitization of climate change: Divergent Sites, Similar Discourses?

In fast multiplying discourses of major ‘global’ risks and threats to humanity as a whole Climate change looms large. It is seen as security threat to nation states, communities and individuals. The rising sea level is already posing great threat to coastal zones and communities and small islands. Whereas in the Arctic region the melting snow cover is becoming less predictable and hunting becoming more difficult for the indigenous peoples. Low lying countries such as Bangladesh are becoming increasingly vulnerable to flooding.

Climate change came up as an issue of security threat for the first time in America. It was pointed out by the 1996 United States ‘National Security Strategy’ (NSS), that there might be armed competition between nations for “dwindling reserves of uncontaminated air” (Clinton, 1996:26). In the context of the present debate on climate change projects as a national security concern one of the most cited countries happens to be Bangladesh where 5.5 million refugees are feared to be posing a direct threat to the legitimacy and internal harmony of the state and society. It is further anticipated that climate change will adversely affect the economic well being and livelihoods, degrade human health, undermine military capability and state wealth and further intensify insecurity between people (Barnett, 2001).

Many people believe that climate change will result in violent conflicts, which would result it as an issue of security. Degradation of soil, deforestation, stress on water resources would lead to violent conflicts. But there is not clear consensus among researchers that climate change will lead to interstate conflict. John Barnet has argued that “conflicts in which environmental change appear to be a contributing factor tend to be within state rather than between states” (ibid: 6).

Brzoska (2008) has observed that the issue of climate change is becoming essentially as a political problem since climate change debate deals with the distribution of costs of prevention and adaptation and also the losses (losers) and gains (winners) of climate change. Once framed in state-centric concerns of security and dangers, the debate on climate change tends to become rather narrow. What needs to be appreciated in all sincerity is that the impact of climate change will be more prominent in global south, where nation states themselves are less capable of mitigating the consequences of climate change. It is the countries of global north, which are framing climate change as the threat and calling it an issue of national security. In other words, they are securitizing the whole issue as an existential threat. This process of securitization could be used as a justification for improving the military preparedness and could even lead to arm race.

Strategies, Responses and Documents

Taking a clue from Brzoska’s analysis (2008) what we intend to do in this section is to focus on four major studies which frame climate change as an issue of security. These four studies are: (a) The Scientific Advisory Council on Global Environmental Change of the Federal Republic of Germany (WBGU, 2007), a body consisting of nine eminent natural and social scientists from Germany and Switzerland; (b) International Alert (see Smith and Vivekananda, 2007), an international NGO supported by the UK Department for International Development; (c) The CNA Corporation, a think tank of the US Navy, and (d) Study Group of the Center for a New American Security (Campbell et al, 2007), which is primarily composed of former high-ranking members of the Clinton Administration (Ibid) .

All these four reports see climate change as a great security problem. According to Bazoska (2008) there are at least four common findings in all these studies. All predict (a) an increase in the number of violent conflicts, including interstate wars; (b) military interventions in poor countries by the armed forces of Western states, primarily in order to prevent humanitarian catastrophes as well as prevent the further destabilization of states; (c) massive migration that risks bringing armed conflict to neighboring countries and terrorism to industrialized countries; (d) deterioration of relations among major powers because of a mixture of energy supply and climate- change issues.

The Report of German Advisory Council on Global Change titled World in Transition - Climate Change as a Security Risk (2007) discusses connection of climate change to security, especially human security. The report points out that climate change could lead to a possible collapse of an already weak fragile state and also pose a risk to global economic development. This report further suggests that there would be conflict between the drivers and the victims of climate change. Climate change will also threaten the human rights of poor and marginalized people especially if in response to climate changed induced migrations certain actors and agencies feel ‘compelled’ to resort to classical security policies and responses.

“Climate change, ultimately undermine fundamental human rights: Food security and access to drinking water could be challenged by the impacts of climate change in affected countries and regions, destruction caused by rising sea levels and extreme weather conditions could put people’s livelihoods at risk, and all this could trigger strong environmentally induced migration. Unabated climate change could threaten natural life-support systems, erode human security and thus contribute to the violation of human rights” (ibid: 173).

It is worth noting that this study has deployed the notion of human security in a broader sense that focus on all kinds of physical violence. The study entitled International Alert: A Climate of conflict (2007) has focused on violence against communities and individuals, underlining the importance of a society’s capacity to adapt to climate change. Writing about human security this report highlights issues like increasingly scarce water resources and the impact of climate change on agriculture. According to the report, climate change could seriously undermine food security especially for poorer section of society. According to the report, “failure by the state to provide for basic public health in fragile states is a fundamental factor that erodes the social contract between state and citizens which, in most cases, leads to increased political instability and, often times, violent conflict” (Smith and Vivekananda 2007:15). The report does not look at migration as essentially as destabilizing factor, but points out that climate change will stimulate extensive flow of people and this in turn could also lead to violent conflicts. In such demanding circumstances, governments with lesser resources will not able to cope with this problem.

The report further points out, “in the event of climate change, an already weak government may find itself unable to meet these basic needs, and one of the consequences of that is an increased risk of violent conflict” (Ibid:21). The study has identified certain states, which do not have identified capacity to adopt climate change. “There are 46 countries-home to 2.7 billion people in which the effects of climate change interaction with economic, social, and political problems will create high risk of violent conflict” (Ibid:3).

The next report that deserves our critical attention is that of Center for Naval Analysis (CNA, 2007). CNA is a body of top military and naval officials. It presented its report titled National Security and Threat of Climate Change in 2007. The purpose of this study was to examine the consequences of climate change to national security of the United States though human security issue are also mentioned in passing with regard to loss of arable land, hunger, and disease. According to the report, Climate change acts as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world (…) unlike most conventional security threats that involve a single entity acting in specific ways and points in time, climate change has the potential to result in multiple chronic conditions, occurring globally within the same time frame. Economic and environmental conditions in already fragile areas will further erode as food production declines, diseases increase, clean water becomes increasingly scarce, and large populations move in search of resources. Weakened and failing governments, with an already thin margin for survival, foster the conditions for internal conflicts, extremism, and movement toward increased authoritarianism and radical ideologies. (ibid: 6).

The report gives the overall impression that the Global North is at the receiving end of the adverse consequence of climate change. It is envisaged that hundreds and thousands of climate migrants and refuges will be seeking help and shelter from the rich and prosperous countries of the North and this will lead to new sets of problems for border control and border management. This report looks at migrations caused by climate change not as an issue of human security, but as a threat to national security and a major cause of civic unrest.

The last report that demands some scrutiny by us for the purposes of this chapter is the report of Center for New American Security Study titled, The Age of Consequences: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Global Climate Change (Campbell. et al, 2007). Linking climate change to the issues of ‘global security’, this report ignores risks to communities and individuals. Climate change is being presented as a danger to all nation- states for which international cooperation needed. This study also presents climate change as a national security issue and points out that, Nations around the world will be overwhelmed by the scale of change and pernicious challenges, such as pandemic disease. The internal cohesion of nations will be under great stress, including in the United States, both as a result of a dramatic rise in migration and changes in agricultural patterns and water availability. The flooding of coastal communities around the world, especially in the Netherlands, the United States, South Asia, and China, has the potential to challenge regional and even national identities. Armed conflict between nations over resources, such as the Nile and its tributaries, is likely and nuclear war is possible. The social consequences range from increased religious fervour to outright chaos. In this scenario, climate change provokes a permanent shift in the relationship of humankind to nature’ (Campbell et al 2007: 7).

It is quite obvious that the authors of this report put greater emphasis on the large scale migration of people, competition, conflict and war over access to resources. Even though they do not dramatically portray climate change as a national security issue the underlying argument is that dramatic migration and movement of people will trigger deep insecurity in some communities.

In present times climate change is being increasingly projected as a threat to national security by many countries. A growing number of the EU member states are projecting climate change as a major security threat to be addressed in the Security and Defense Policy of EU. In the case of NATO, seven former Commanders in Chief have listed climate change as the most important future threat to national security. In case of Australia as Chaturvedi and Doyle (2010) have argued, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is reported to have said recently that global warming was now a ‘formal’ threat to the country's national security. In delivering his first national security statement to the parliament, Rudd said ‘less attention has been given to the security implications that climate change could bring to Australia compared with other traditional threats.

Securitization of Climate Change and Copenhagen school

With climate change increasingly being portrayed as threat to national security, it becomes pertinent to ask whether the theoretical-analytical insights provided by Copenhagen school of securitization could be fruitfully applied for a better understanding of such trends. As pointed out by us earlier in this chapter, according to Copenhagen school, four things are essentially very important for an issue to be securitized, namely the referent object, securitizing actor, audience, and facilitating condition.

Referent object are those that are seen to be existentially threatened and that have a legitimate claim to survival. If we look for a referent object in the context of climate change we find that environment as such is identified here as referent object of security. There are said to be many threats to environment like disruption of ecosystems, loss of biodiversity, desertification, deforestation, ozone layer depletion, disorder in the global water cycle and so on. These threats to the environment are also being seen as posing a risk to human existence on the planet and imaginatively linked to the entire spectrum of security concerns; human to national to global.

While talking about environmental security, Buzan, Wæver and Jaap de Wilde have emphasized that the preservation of existing levels of civilization is the predominant concern in much of the debate around environment and security. This is because the above identified threats to the environment also constitute a threat to human living standards. This leads them to conclude that “the ultimate referent object of environmental security is the risk of losing achieved levels of civilizationwhile apparently being able to prevent doing so” (Buzan, Wæver, and Wilde, 1998: 75).

The next to enter the Copenhagen school calculus is the securitizing actor or a group of actors. A securitizing actor can be an individual or a group, who perform the task of securitizing through speech act. Such a role can be played by political leaders, bureaucracies, governments, lobbyists and pressure groups. In case of climate change what we are witnessing is that many NGOs, pressure groups and lobbyist have already started behaving as securitizing actors; increasingly using the rhetoric of security to address climate change. If we take the example of EU, we find that the main securitizing actors at this level have been various European Union institutions, namely the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, and also some member states, especially the United Kingdom, Germany and France. These three states are acting as climate securitizers by pushing climate change to the realm of security at the national, European and international levels. The report of EU representative on climate change submitted in March 2008 depicts climate change as “a threat multiplier which exacerbates existing trends, tensions and instability” (European Commission, 2008:2).

Then comes the important role played by the audience in the securitization of an issue. The securitization process cannot be considered as complete unless it is accepted by the relevant audience, i.e. an audience that accepts the need/possibility of adopting exceptional measures to deal with the existential threat. In this case, media and public opinion too can be considered as actors capable of transmitting the audience’s level of acceptance of the securitizing move. Brito (2009) in his article has analyzed how EU has used media as mean to securitization of climate change. “The securitization of climate change has entered the international agenda generating both concerns of a militarization of the actions regarding the management of its negative effects as well as an expectation of effective change due to the fact that security constitutes a high politics matte par excellence ” (Ibid:2) . A leading British daily newspaper Guardian (2004) has called climate change as ‘our greatest threat’ where as Le Monde (2007) has reported that global warming could trigger global civil war, etc. Climate change has thus been presented as an existential threat in the British, French and German media, functioning as a vehicle of the securitizing move being performed by governmental actors.

Finally comes what are described as the ‘facilitating’ conditions for all of the actors concerned, the actions they perform, and the perceptions they carry; with obviously none of these occurring in a vacuum. The important internal condition of the speech act for example “is to follow the security form, the grammar of security, and construct a plot that includes existential threat, point of no return, and a possible way out” (Buzan, Wæver and de Wilde, 1998: 33). Various attempt of constructing climate change as a security threat appears to have the following conditions. Climate change is presented by the securitizing actors as an existential threat: “climate change is becoming the biggest security threat in today's world” (European Parliament, 2008: 3, emphasis added); “we need to treat climate…as an immediate threat to our security and prosperity” (ibid).

The notions such as climate and environmental security were originally written with the intention of exposing the inadequacy of militarised practices of security, the porous nature of sovereignty in the face of environmental change, and to elevate environmental problems from the level of ‘low politics’ to ‘high politics’ so that states would commit as much energy and resources to address environmental problems as they do to other security problems. This is precisely what is meant by ‘securitisation’. Consequently, environmental change problems have been militarised and vociferously portrayed as a major cause of violent conflict rather than human insecurity. The focus has come to be placed more on exogenous environmental threats to the state, for which unspecified others were seen to be responsible, as opposed to addressing domestic causes of environmental change and deeply entrenched ecological irrationalities in capitalist economies (Barnett, 2001).


To conclude we can argue that securitization is a process which turns a low politics issue into a high politics issue. This concept is becoming increasingly important and visible in contemporary international politics. Same appears to be the case with climate change. Climate change which ought to have been an issue of low politics within the broader and deeper paradigm of human security is now been securitized by different nation states in the name of ‘national security’. The USA, European Union and Australia have already declared climate change as a threat to their national security. Would this help us to mitigate climate change? If yes then how? And what about those who might be losing out to various negative and adverse consequences of climate change? What will be the status of human rights of those people who will become immigrants and refugees due to climate change? These are some of the key questions, which, as the chapters to follow will argue and illustrate, will make the process of securitization of climate change much more complex.



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Climate Change Migration Securetization Desecuretization Climate Refugees




Title: Climate Change and Securitization of Migration