Desecuritization and Iran

Nov 7, 2013

nuclear_donald_duckIt is shocking how little attention Iran’s recent efforts to satisfy the international community’s demands on nuclear question have received in the news media and academic discourse.  As I write this, there are 1182 related news stories on related to Rob Ford’s struggles with the crack cocaine and only 85 related to Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Prepping for my graduate course on IR Theory, it struck me how little we talk about the process of desecuritization.  The securitization process is well covered, we often are able to analyse, describe, and deconstruction the process of how threats enter the international agenda.  The real failure is in how we fail to examine the desecuritization process.

As Karyotis and Patrikios note, “the exact process through which this [desecuritization] occurs is not clearly explained by the Copenhagen School.”  The failure of the collective international relations community to engage such questions can be seen in action as Iran appears to be ready to make a deal on its nuclear weapons program, yet few seem to have noticed what may be the most important international relations event of the last few years.

It has always been said war is so fascinating because of the “if it bleeds it leads” paradigm.  Even being aware of this bias has not changed the situation; there is still a collective ignorance of how security processes exit the international agenda.  The how and when states might choose to take a more cooperative path without outright force is not often explained.

How do we explain recent moves in Iran?  I will not speculate on that issue, the key thing is that the IR community needs to be really think about what we do and why.  If the goal in the community is examine the process of conflict and cooperation, why do we often fail to examine instances of cooperation and the end of conflict?  The events in Iran are important, just as there appears to be a collective ignorance of the drastically changed security situation in Israel (Egypt is now solidly an ally, Syria is gone, Jordan is quite, and Palestine is bereft with infighting).  These moves towards a more cooperative international system are important, yet the during this sweeping tide we seem focused on traditional notions of threat construction through fears of such things as terrorism, piracy, and cyber security violations.  If securitization as a concept is to be taken seriously, we must seek to understand how threats are securitized, but also how threats are desecuritized.

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Valeriano serves as the Donald Bren Chair of Military Innovation at the Marine Corps University.His work also includes serving as a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and as Senior Advisor to the Cyberspace Solarium Commission.