Seeking Security in an Insecure World, 3rd ed.

  • Published

Seeking Security in an Insecure World, 3rd. ed. by Dan Caldwell and Robert E. Williams Jr. Rowman & Littlefield, 2016, 327 pp.

The post–Cold War era has unfolded various new sources of insecurity that demand immediate attention from the international community. Taking into account these new sources, Seeking Security in an Insecure World provides a descriptive analysis of the immense developments and changes that have taken place within the framework of security concerns. Written by two distinguished professors of political science of Pepperdine University, Dan Caldwell and Robert E. Williams Jr., who are also experts in security studies, Seeking Security in an Insecure World is the expanded version of the first two namesake series, published in 2006 and 2012, respectively. Addressing a wide range of subjects of security studies, covering traditional issues such as war, deterrence, and arms control along with newer concerns of security—including cybersecurity, infectious disease, and environmental threats—this book can be preferred as a beginner’s guide to comprehend the new security agenda.

The concept of security covers a broad terrain as it can encompass both an individual’s perception of well-being and state of order in the national and international system. In simple terms, it implies the condition or state of being free from harm. Different schools of thought have used the term “security” to explain it in different connotations. While the traditional approach to security studies, dominated by the realist school, privileges national security as the fundamental concern of security paradigm, the new security agenda, articulated by the Copenhagen school, a critical approach, associates security with “speech act,” which recognizes any phenomenon of existential threat as a security issue simply by an act of utterance. The traditional paradigm regarded security as a military issue dependent upon the capabilities and intentions of states, while the critical theory considered security to be a social construction whose meaning is a product of intersubjective understanding. The views forwarded by different schools have also resulted in the heated debate of security dilemma. Acknowledging the arguments provided by both schools, this book attempts to provide a comprehensive definition of security that can accommodate the traditional paradigm with the new security agenda.

In doing so, the authors focus primarily on exploring the sources of insecurity, as they believe that solutions could be attained only through a proper understanding of the problems. Based on their listing of sources recognized as international security threats, the authors have divided them into three parts: traditional, new, and political and social conditions of security. The traditional threats include conventional weapons and war, weapons of mass destruction and proliferation issues, and also terrorist threats. This part is devoted to surveying technologies with detailed qualitative and quantitative analysis of the lethal events that have resulted from use of advanced weapons. The second part addresses the new sources of insecurity, which include infectious diseases and health insecurity, transnational criminal organizations and trafficking, and insecurity in cyberspace. Ranging from issues like the Ebola virus and AIDS to arms and human trafficking to cyberterrorism and cyberwarfare, a breakdown of all life-threatening incidents, posed by the new sources, is discussed in this part. The third and final part emphasizes the social and political conditions that engender threats. It is an exhaustive analysis of the role played by ethnic conflicts, economic conditions, and environmental degradation that have generated insecurity and resulted in new forms of terrorism.

While providing an extensive understanding of international security threats, the authors argue that specific changes have developed with regard to security studies that have become more salient to it. One of the major features is the rise of nonstate actors who have become significant threats to both states and individuals. They include ideologically driven individuals, terrorist networks, and transnational criminal organizations. Another change highlighted by the authors is the transnational character of threats that have made borders irrelevant in combating them. These changes have resulted in security being indivisible now more than ever. Further, security has become increasingly subject to the law of unintended consequences. Changes have also been witnessed with regard to geographical shifts of security concerns, and some old problems that have risen again as new threats.

One of the biggest limitations of the book is its ethnocentric approach. As mentioned by the authors, the primary focus of the book is to understand security as conceived by the developed world, that is, the advanced market democracies such as the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and the European Union. They believe that it is the security of the West that influences the security of other states. In their attempt to justify their beliefs, the authors neglect the various incidents of violence caused by these advanced democracies that resulted in degrading political and social conditions, further endangering international security.

However, despite the limitations and biases of the authors, this book offers a comprehensive understanding of security issues around the world today. With its arguments supported by logical evidence and written in simple language, this book caters to audiences of all age groups interested in exploring the concerns of security. It is an excellent reference book, especially for students of security studies, as it provides an inclusive and thorough analysis of security issues recognized by the international society.


Tanushree Malakar

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."