Journal of Cold War Studies 4.2 (2002) 108-110
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Critical Reflections on Security and Change
Stuart Croft and Terry Terriff, eds., Critical Reflections on Security and Change. London: Frank Cass Publishers, 2000. 255 pp. $59.50.
The field of international security came of age during the Cold War. Its growth was galvanized by the Soviet-American rivalry that emerged after World War II. The central preoccupation of security studies was the military dimension of that rivalry and above all the nuclear arms race at the heart of the competition. Although the field grew increasingly diverse over time, its core concerns (especially for so-called "mainstream" or "traditional" security studies) remained focused on the superpowers, their allies, their militaries, and their global competition. Indeed, to critics of traditional security studies, the field itself seems like an artifact of the Cold War.
What are we to make of the field now that the world has changed so suddenly and so stunningly? What does the end of the Cold War mean for a field that wassoheavily shaped by Cold War concerns? These are the broad questions that undergird this volume, a collection of diverse essays loosely linked by the theme of change.
Half of the book consists of offerings by critics of traditional security studies (including chapters by Barry Buzan, Edward Kolodziej, Patrick Morgan, Steve Smith, and Terry Terriff) reflecting on the definition of the field, its post-Cold War state, and its theoretical evolution. As might be expected, traditional security studies does not fare well (nor does its close sibling, realism).
The now familiar indictment is well articulated here. Mainstream security studies is criticized as too narrowly focused on military issues, too state-centric, too status quo oriented, too preoccupied with power and structure, and too wedded to an outdated and incorrectly deterministic conception of anarchy. The authors also generally agree that the field has been discredited by the end of the Cold War—an event that security analysts could neither predict nor explain—and is ill suited to cope with many of the phenomena that mark the new, postmodern, post-Cold War era. Buzan puts it well in a typically pungent essay, offering a thought echoed by other contributors:
Changes in the real world became so huge as to bring much of the traditional strategic enterprise into question.... The ending of the Cold War ... took with it not only what had seemed a deeply rooted geostrategic landscape, but also much of the theory that had been used to understand it." (p.5) [End Page 108]
Touted here instead are ways to broaden the security agenda and alternatives to traditional security studies and its realist foundations. The agenda of the field, it is noted approvingly, has widened to include actors other than the state (including individuals, institutions, and nongovernmental organizations), issues other than purely military concerns (including economics, the environment, and human rights), and approaches and theoretical traditions other than realism. Particularly useful (and assignable) is Smith's sympathetic survey of seven nontraditional schools of thought that represent "new thinking" on security. He very efficiently imposes order on this cacophonous collection of "more radical" nontraditional approaches (though, as an openly repentant former traditionalist, he is too enthusiastic about these departures from the mainstream to provide hard-nosed assessment of their net contribution). Indeed, there are so many nonrealist, nonmainstream schools of thought and so many scholars working in these other traditions that one wonders about the validity of the common mantra that realism is still the dominant paradigm in the field.
The most prominent alternative to realism, and the one spotlighted by most of these authors, is liberalism. If realism and its variants are seen as the big theoretical losers in the aftermath of the Cold War, liberalism appears to be the big winner. As Buzan comments, the world has taken a "liberal turn" (p.11). Gone is the world of global military rivalry in which analysts and policy makers were mesmerized by armored-division equivalents and missile throw weights. Gone is the world whose structure was determined...