Development and Security

3 May 2015, 2220 EDT

For a range of reasons, I have been thinking lately about the relationship between development and security. At one level, the relationship is obvious, if somewhat banal: resources allocated for security (e.g. guns) cannot be used for development purposes (butter). I suspect that for many American IR scholars, and certainly most Americans in security studies, that is the limit of their thinking on the relationship.

If we think about security in material terms, then perhaps those limits make sense. But what if we think about security in social terms—as a socio-political logic—that organizes social/political activity, gives meaning to events in the world, and binds society together. After all, Tilly tells us in The Formation of National States in Western Europe that war made the state and the state made war. This point on security as a social logic emerges in Grand Duck Dan Nexon’s enlightening discussion of Tilly a couple years ago: Tilly’s work can be understood as an effort to introduce “different explanatory accounts of variation in the European topography within which bargaining around warfare and the mobilization for warfare took place.”

What then, is the socio-political logic of security. Not surprisingly, my thinking along these lines echoes that embodied in securitization theory. Security is a logic that centralizes power and tends to reinforce the state along with certain elements of the state (the national security complex). It is an anti-democratic logic, establishing relationships of enmity and alienation while marginalizing critical voices. For evidence of this, we need look no further than the 2003 Iraq war and the onslaught suffered by the country group the Dixie Chicks when they (very mildly) criticized the Bush Administration. The successful invocation of security generates short-termist temporal horizons, currents of fear and anxiety, intrasocial epistemic closure and interpolitical antagonism.

But if we reframe our conception of security as a social logic, then the same must be done with development—a less challenging shift to be certain. But in looking at the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG) materiality predominates: Eradicate poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, gender equality, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat AIDS/malaria/etc., ensure environmental stability, and build a global partnership for development. Looking past the materiality of the list, there are strong suggestions that development, like security, is a social organizing logic. In particular the inclusion of gender equality suggests an underlying assumption that the practice of development alters social and political relations.

So what is the socio-political logic of development? Here I am admittedly on thinner ground than when I discuss the social logic of security. But as a questionably coherent first-cut, I think the logic runs in opposition to much of the logic of security. The UNDP goals are focused on individuals rather than the state and this emphasis is reflected in initiatives like the Grameen Bank (although admittedly the state is often the central administrator of development policy). Rather than reducing the world to antagonistic self-other frameworks, development logics tend to emphasize cooperative perspectives (again exceptions can be found such as the import substitution industrialization model, grounded as it is in a self-other perspective). This cooperative logic ideally sets the stage for a culturally sensitive engagement with what individuals and social collectives conceive of as development—the opposite of the power-centralization inherent in security.

Once we consider security and development as social logics and organizing principles then I think we have a potentially powerful analytical framework since in many ways security and development are fundamentally linked but also in deep tension. The short term power of security is appealing, and might be put to good use to address pressing social problems (here I am thinking of the securitized dimensions of attacks against women), but in the medium-to-long term represents a socio-political inability to come to terms with pressing problems in a democratic (and thus implicitly healthy) way. Conversely, development lacks political tools for developing policy quickly but in the medium-to-long term represents a more sustainable basis for political orientation and policy.

If my admittedly quasi-baked notions about the relationship between security and development as social logics are correct, then security and development scholars need to pay a lot more attention to each other. The relative prominence of the logics can say a lot about the underlying social and political health of social collectives. Returning to Tilly, the dysfunction of security logics can be seen in his argument in “War Making and State Making as Organized Crime.” In short, logics of security facilitate the coercive pursuit of self-interest by political leaders to the detriment of the collective good. Logics of development offer a potentially significant remedy for the aspects of security, and might very well break potentially destructive and self-reinforcing cycles of securitization.