Do you agree with Stephen Walt’s claim that the definition of Security Studies should be limited to ‘the study of the threat, use and control of military force’? Justify your answer.

“Forgotten were the legitimate concerns of ordinary people who sought security in their daily lives. For many of them, security symbolized protection from the threat of disease, hunger, unemployment, crime, social conflict, political repression and environmental hazards. With the dark shadows of the cold war receding, one can now see that many conflicts are within nations rather than between nations.” (United Nations Human Development Report, 1994)

The concept of security and moreover the definition of Security Studies is highly contested in the realm of international relations. Through this logomachy, different schools of thought place emphasis on different nuances within the discipline; Neorealism on the state and the Welsh School on the individual (Pupinis, 2011). In this essay I will address the intentionally bounded definition of Security Studies that Neorealist scholar Stephen Walt advocated in his 1991 paper titled ‘The Renaissance of Security Studies’ (Walt, 1991). To Walt, the definition is predicated solely on military force. I disagree. Throughout this paper I will be arguing that “The study of the threat, use and control of military force” (Walt, 1991, p.212) is both an overly narrow and outdated lens by which to view Security Studies, this is my first claim.

I will present a multifaceted critique of Stephen Walt’s definition that uses a combination of works from the international relations scholarship, including the United Nations Human Development Report of 1994 as a key argument for the need to diversify the definition of Security Studies. A salient contribution to the counter-argument to the work of Stephen Walt is the 1992 paper titled ‘Renaissance in Security Studies? Caveat Lector!’ by Edward Kolodziej (Kolodziej, 1992). I will draw upon his central arguments, the work of thinkers such as Barry Buzan and from the field of Critical Security Studies (CSS) in response to Walt. In addition to this, I have formed a definition of Security Studies that can be effectively applied to multiple areas of security and insecurity; such as state, economic or human security; in the process this would both widen and deepen the term (Krause and Williams, 1996, p.230). This is my second claim which is in conformance with my argument that the term Security Studies should be used as a principal label to assemble the different spaces of academic discourse attributed to security. In conjunction to this new definition, I will forward my third claim, which is a recommendation that the study of military state-to-state security would be best served by re-adopting the heading ‘Strategy Studies’ that was previously used during the Cold War and in the early 1980’s (Wæver and Buzan in Collins, 2010, p.464)

By Walt’s definition, “Security is simply stipulated as the study of war and diplomacy and confined essentially to state-centric analysis” (Kolodziej, 1992, p.422). Walt views the state as central in to the discourse of Security Studies. Therefore, it is essential to undermine this neo-realist assumption in order to effectively argue that Security Studies is more than merely the balance and control of military force and power. The idea that security is defined by the safety found within the state is born from the Hobbesian idea that anarchic life outside of the social contract is “nasty, brutish and short” (Hobbes and Macpherson, 1986). Besides the presence of economic, social, political, environmental and medical insecurities that can be found inside of the state, there is also non-state violence. This is supported by Kolodziej in his 1992 response to Walt:

“Also worthy of study are the armed pursuits, strategies, and claims of non-state actors, like Kurds, Serbs, or Tamil Tigers. Guerrilla warfare, terrorism, and low intensity warfare, as the arm of the weak and disenfranchised, are no less central to security studies” (Kolodziej, 1992, p.422).

Kolodziej’s rebuttal to the neorealist viewpoint offered by Walt is in concurrence with Barry Buzan’s book ‘People, States and Fear’ (Buzan, 1991) that argues security of both the individual and the state are contingent upon each other. Walt argues against broadening the definition of Security Studies because “Defining the field in this way would destroy its intellectual coherence and make it more difficult to devise solutions to any of these important problems.” (Walt, 1991). As with arguments that security of the individual and the state are linked, this point will be addressed later with in unification with the work of Barry Buzan.

Though once accepted as the mainstream view of Security Studies, one that may have been the most appropriate interpretation during the Cold War, by the time Walt presented his definition almost 25 years ago, during the conclusion of the Cold War, it was already an outdated, immature and primitive way of looking at security (Buzan and Hansen, 2009). For this reason, I find his definition problematic because it fails to acquiesce the changing nature of international politics in an increasingly globalised world and it does not account for issues of human security; this neglect covers threats that are economic, social and environmental, amongst others. This has already been addressed, for example, by academics such as Barry Buzan and Ken Booth, who sought to both widen and deepen the discourse surrounding Security Studies (Pupinis, 2011). Rothschild (1995) explained the widening of the definition as “extended, therefore, from military to political, economic, social, environmental, or “human” security.” (Rothschild, 1995, p.55). In doing so, the definition is broadened to include various other elements of security. In addition to this, Rothschild outlined the deepening of Security Studies. “The concept of security is extended from the security of nations to the security of groups and individuals: it is extended downwards from nations to individuals.” (Rothschild, 1995, p.55). I would build upon this point further, by advocating that it can also be extended upwards, to the international community.

Barry Buzan endorsed the popular view to widen the definition to include non-military threats to state security. Ken Booth of the Welsh School of thought backed adaptation of the term, but differed in approach, employing the question ‘of whose security?’ which places the focus on the individual or the international community, as opposed to the state (Pupinis, 2011; Krause and Williams, 1997, p.230). Before I focus on the widening and deepening of the field of Security Studies, I must first explain my requirements from its definition.

In my opinion, ‘security’ as a term is fluid and applicable to more than one area of discussion held in the sphere of international relations academia. By this I mean that there is more than one type of security; it’s subjective. “The precise definition of what it means to be secure, the causes of insecurity, and who or what the concept of security should apply to, have long been debated” (Peoples & Vaughn-Williams, 2015, p.2). The vagueness of the concept and the tensions engulfing its definition implies that Security Studies should address a plurality of issues that challenge security (and by extension, insecurity) to both the state and the individual. In his 1952 paper, realist thinker Arnold Wolfers noted the ambiguity surrounding the term (Wolfers, 1952). The 1994 United Nations Human Development Report defined security as the “freedom from fear” and the “freedom from want” (United Nations Human Development Report, 1994). Clearly, this definition is aimed towards security of the individual (Burke et al, 2014, p.34), and is evidently in juxtaposition to the Walt’s point of view; although more appropriate to contemporary security discourses, I still find this to be an inadequate definition by virtue of my view of Security Studies as a wider, overarching field of study. I would define Security Studies as “The overall study of security and its sub-fields in regards to both the individual and the state and the relationship between them”. I believe that this definition suitably acknowledges the wide range of issues encompassed in the discourse and pays homage to the importance of the dynamics between both the security of the individual and of the state and of security in international space.

As alluded to in the introduction, in the wake of the Second World War and during the Cold War “Academics and policy makers alike sought to explain, and predict, all forms of conflict within the international ‘system’ through the lens of bipolar superpower conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union” (Snyder, 2008, p.1). It is key to note that “the emergence of security studies as an identifiable subfield of international relations was closely related to the cold war” (Baldwin, 1995, p.141) However, the late 1980’s and early 1990’s saw a new wave of thinking in regards to Security Studies. “New concepts […] addressed not only the military realities of the contemporary world but also the political, economic and social realities were developed.” (Snyder, 2008, p.1). The 1994 United Nations Human Development Report pressed the need to adapt and expand the definition further. This is evidenced by the calling for a move away from the narrow defined state-centric security to incorporate more individualistic security issues. “We need another profound transition in thinking – from nuclear security to human security” (United Nations Human Development Report, 1994, p.22). The report goes on to elaborate on my claim that Walt’s view may have been once an accurate lens by which to view Security Studies (during the Cold War).

“The superpowers were locked in an ideological struggle-fighting a cold war all over the world. The developing nations, having won their independence only recently, were sensitive to any real or perceived threats to their fragile national identities.” (United Nations Human Development Report, 1994, p.22).

On the other hand, as the quote below shows, it was already an outdated view by the time ‘The Renassiance of Security Studies’ was published in the early 1990’s (Walt, 1991). It speaks of the shortcomings of this definition. “For most people, a feeling of insecurity arises more from worries about daily life than from the dread of a cataclysmic world event.” (United Nations Human Development Report, 1994, p.22). This clearly highlights the need to expand and widen the definition to meet the needs of not only nation states, but of their own citizens too. The quotation offered at the start of this paper supports the argument that people care more for their own individual security on a daily basis, rather than from threats that are posed from other states to their state, of which they are a citizen of.

Advocates of the neorealist perspective would suggest at this point, that this is irrelevant because insecurity within the state does not make the state itself, insecure. I vehemently disagree with this viewpoint. Civil War, pandemics and economic recessions can bring a nation to its knees without outside threats from aggressor states. Furthermore, medical insecurities know no sovereign bounds and can spread like wildfire. A prime example of this is the outbreak of HIV/AIDS in the 1980’s and its rapid spread throughout Africa that is still prevalent today. The HIV/AIDS case study is paramount in the debate surrounding the involvement of human security in state security (Whiteside, 2002). Not only do individuals within the state care more for their own security, any insecurity on a personal basis, such as disease, can contribute to the insecurity of the state. “Human security is a critical component of the global political and development agenda […] the protection of individuals is a strategic concern for national as well as international security” (Hussein, Gnisci and Wanjiru, 2004). This link is expressed by Barry Buzan. Walt and neorealists on the whole may not accept the premise that there is a connection between state and human security, or that Security Studies should be extended to encompass the security of the individual, but they are doing so in the face of contemporary popular opinion. I end this point with a quotation from Stefan Elbe (2006) which states “the framing of HIV/AIDS as global security issue has been of immense help in addressing its pernicious effects in Africa” (Elbe, 2006).

The book ‘People, States and Fear’, which was originally written by Buzan in 1983 and was edited in 1991, (Buzan, 1991). As supported by Kolodzeij, Buzan writes of the Hobbesian state of nature and the inherent paradox where the state and the social contract, which was created for the security of individuals, can actually become a threat to the individual. In doing so he identifies that the security of the individual is intrinsically linked to that of the state. For this reason, he advocates that we need to move away from a purely military definition of Security Studies (Buzan, 1991).

At this point, it is important to stress that Security Studies should not exclude Walt’s definition, but moreover it should be encompassed into a wider understanding of security. Which is an over-arching field of scholarship with a far-reaching discourse across multiple disciplines (Nye and Lynn-Jones, 1988). For this reason alone, it makes little sense to have such a definitive and precise scope of the by which to not only define Security Studies by, but to limit discourses further afield from the conversation, hence the broader definition I have offered.

As briefly mentioned earlier, in his 1997 paper ‘Rethinking Security after the Cold War’ (Buzan, 1997) Buzan argues that criticism that widening the definition of Security Studies would make it incoherent is redundant. “The debate between wideners and traditionalists grew out of the dissatisfaction with the intense narrowing of the field imposed by the military and nuclear obsessions of the Cold War” (Buzan, 1997, p.8-9). Similar to the argument that I have advanced in this paper, Buzan advocated the re-adoption of the term ‘Strategy Studies’ and the redeployment of ‘Security Studies’ as an overarching label for the discourse. “I have argued for maintaining a distinctively military sub-field of strategic studies within a wider Security Studies” (Buzan, 1997, p.9). Buzan’s argument that Security Studies would not become an incoherent discipline because the term would be employed as a label for a wider discourse funds my central claims that it should be used as such and that also a return to the use of Strategy Studies as a military sub-field warrants consideration. This would allow Security Studies to both diversify on the whole and concentrate into specific complementary fields of debate. Stephen Walt’s concerns are protected and satisfied by this development.

The wish to widen and deepen the definition is outlined by Critical Security Studies (CSS), in particular, the Welsh School (Bilgin in Williams, 2008, p.98). In Booth’s 1991 paper ‘Security and Emancipation’ (Booth, 1991) he claims that “the last decade or so has seen a growing unease with the traditional concept of security, which privileges the state and emphasizes military power” (Booth, 1991, p.317). To Ken Booth “’Security’ means the absence of threats. Emancipation is the freeing of people (as individuals and groups) from those physical and human constraints which stop them carrying out what they would freely choose to do. […] Security and emancipation are two sides of the same coin. Emancipation, not power or order, produces true security. Emancipation, theoretically, is security” (Booth, 1991, p.319). Similarly to my disagreement with the Hobbesian view that security is found within the state, I do not believe that complete emancipation from the bounds of culture and society allows for security in the fullest sense. I do not find the merit of CSS here.

What is salient, however, is that CSS allows scholars and students to “de-centre the state and consider other referent objects above and below the state level” (Bilgin in Williams, 2008, p.98). During the process of advocating CSS, Booth also successfully undermines both Walt and neorealist assumptions about security. “To countless millions of people in the world it is their own state, and not ‘The Enemy’ that is the primary security threat” (Booth, 1991, p.318). This supports, like the majority of this paper, that regarding Security Studies as a purely military discipline is a shallow and under-developed way to view the discourse. CSS, is by its own nature, intrinsically linked to human security. “Security is about confronting extreme vulnerabilities, not only from wars but in natural and man-made disasters as well – famines, tsunamis, hurricanes” (Kaldor, 2007, p.183).

A paramount distinction between the work of Buzan (which is now considered part of the Copenhagen School of CSS) and that of the Welsh School is that:

“For Buzan, individuals could not be the referent object for the analysis of international security. That had to be the state for three reasons: It was the state that had to cope with the substate-state-international security problematic; the state was the primary agent for the alleviation of insecurity; and the state was the dominant actor in the international political system.” (Smith in Booth, 2005, p.32).

Although there is dispute amongst CSS scholars, the contribution the school plays to the discourse is key to my argument that Walt’s definition is narrow, under-developed and has failed to account for not only human security, but also security against the state from within the state, which is the central claim of my paper. This in term strengthens my secondary argument that Security Studies should diversify into concentrated sub-categories; such as military security under the heading ‘Strategy Studies’.

To conclude, I do not agree with Stephen Walt’s claim that Security Studies should be limited to “the threat, use and control of military force” (Walt, 1991, p.212). Throughout this paper I have supported this claim with the use of the wider scholarship on the discourse surrounding Security Studies. In his definition, Walt has failed to account for a number of different elements of Security Studies, which has resulted in his basic and unsophisticated conceptualisation. I believe that issues of security to both the individual and the state, such as, the environment, economics, poverty and health are key elements of Security Studies, including a military sub-focus. Ironically, the paper which Walt drew his definition of Security Studies from (Nye and Lynn-Jones, 1988) supported the broadening of the field and highlighted areas in which a military focused Security Studies is lacking.

In concurrence with my second claim, I advocate expanding the definition, as I have done in this essay, to an overarching umbrella term that satisfies multiple areas of security. This was forwarded as a potential idea by Krause and Williams (Krause and Williams, 1997, p.33). As Kolodziej mentions in (Kolodziej in Croft and Terriff, 2000, p.21), it is a concern for many that once a field loses its specific focus, it risks losing all focus and discipline. The criticisms of my prescribed solution do not stop there. “Although the dimensions of security can be specified very broadly, the utility of the concept does not necessarily increase when this is done” (Baldwin, 1997, p.17). Conversely, I believe that the utility of Security Studies would increase if better defined sub-sections with more clarity between issues were created in conjunction with the widening of the field (all under the general term Security Studies). This would allow for interaction between different security elements on a bilateral basis. This could be furthered by satisfying the demands of the deepeners to encompass unilateral contact between different referent objects in Security Studies.

My third claim is that Walt’s definition of Security Studies should re-adopt its previously held title ‘Strategy Studies’ which was used from the 1940’s into the 1980’s (Wæver and Buzan in Collins, 2010, p.464). This argument is more for practicality. Any title could be used for this sub-section of Security Studies so long as it is definitive and unique.

Lastly, of the pre-existing schools of thought, I would most readily advocate the views of Barry Buzan and the Copenhagen School. However, I believe that my argument has used a healthy mix of the Copenhagen and Welsh Schools, enabling the collaboration of both under the principle title, Critical Security Studies as a counter-argument and successful answer to Stephen Walt, neorealism and his incorrectly and overtly limited definition of Security Studies.


Baldwin, D. (1995). Security Studies and the end of the Cold War. World Pol., 48(01), pp.117-141.

Baldwin, D. (1997). The concept of security. Review of International Studies, 23(1), pp.5-26.

Bilgin, P. in Williams, P. (2008). Security studies. London: Routledge.

Booth, K. (1991). Security and emancipation. Review of International Studies, 17(04), p.313-326

Burke, A., Lee-Koo, K. and McDonald, M. (2014). Ethics and global security: a cosmopolitan approach. Routledge: Abingdon.

Buzan, B. (1991). People, states, and fear. Boulder, CO: L. Rienner.

Buzan, B. (1997). Rethinking Security after the Cold War. Cooperation and Conflict, 32(1), pp.5-28.

Buzan, B. and Hansen, L. (2009). The evolution of international security studies. Cambridge [U.K.]: Cambridge University Press.

Elbe, S. (2006). Should HIV/AIDS Be Securitized? The Ethical Dilemmas of Linking HIV/AIDS and Security. Int Studies Q, 50(1), pp.119-144.

Hobbes, T. and Macpherson, C. (1986). Leviathan. Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin.

Hussein, K., Gnisci, D. and Wanjiru, J. (2004). SECURITY AND HUMAN SECURITY: AN OVERVIEW OF CONCEPTS AND INITIATIVES WHAT IMPLICATIONS FOR WEST AFRICA?. [online] Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), p.8. Available at: [Accessed 6 Dec. 2015].

Kaldor, M. (2007). Human security. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

Kolodziej, E. (1992). Renaissance in Security Studies? Caveat Lector!. International Studies Quarterly, 36(4), p.421.

Kolodziej, E. in Croft, S. and Terriff, T. (2000). Critical reflections on security and change. London: F. Cass.

Krause, K. and Williams, M. (1996). Broadening the Agenda of Security Studies: Politics and Methods. Mershon International Studies Review, 40(2).

Krause, K. and Williams, M. (1997). Critical security studies. London: UCL Press.

Nye, J. and Lynn-Jones, S. (1988). International Security Studies: A Report of a Conference on the State of the Field. International Security, 12(4).

Peoples, C. and Vaughan-Williams, N. (2015). Critical security studies. London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis.

Pupinis, M. (2011). Critique of Ken Booth’s “Security and Emancipation”. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Dec. 2015].

Rothschild, E. (1995). What Is Security?. The Quest for World Order, 124(3), p.55.

Smith, S. in Booth, K. (2005). Critical security studies and world politics. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Snyder, C. (2008). Contemporary security and strategy. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

United Nations, (1994). United Nations Human Development Report 1994. [online] Oxford. Available at: [Accessed 8 Dec. 2015].

Wæver, O. and Buzan, B. in Collins, A. (2010). Contemporary security studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Walt, S. (1991). The Renaissance of Security Studies. International Studies Quarterly, 35(2), p.211-239.

Whiteside, A. (2002). Poverty and HIV/AIDS in Africa. Third World Quarterly, 23(2). pp.313-332.

Wolfers, A. (1952). “National Security” as an Ambiguous Symbol. Political Science Quarterly.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s