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Securitization Forum: Are they just not that into it?

September 18, 2015

This is the third contribution in our forum on securitization theory in the U.S.  Amir Lupovici is a lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Tel Aviv University. His book The Power of Deterrence is forthcoming in Cambridge University Press. His previous publications appeared in International Studies Quarterly, Review of International Studies, International Studies Review, International Studies, Perspectives and Foreign Policy Analysis. His research interests include constructivism, cyberspace, securitization, and deterrence.

In their preamble, Hayes and Van Rythoven clearly justify the need to address why securitization theory has had little traction in American IR—a tendency that is puzzling not only given this theory’s prominence outside the US (e.g., in Europe), but also when we consider its important implications for so many fields of research and relevance to policy making. I address this puzzle here by comparing it to a similar case—that is, the curious absence of Israel from the study of securitization. While the comparison doesn’t fully explain the scant use of the theory in the US, it lets us place it in a larger context and elaborate on what exactly it means. In other words, although (and maybe because) the two cases are significantly different, we can contrast key characteristics of Israel’s absence in securitization studies with characteristics of the American case.

Despite a few recent exceptions of comprehensive works on securitization in the Israeli context (e.g., Barak and Sheffer, 2013; Abulof, 2014; Lupovici, forthcoming), scholars, both Israelis and non-Israelis, tend to overlook this state in studying this theory—even given the prominence of practices and discourse of (in)security in Israel. We find research on similar phenomena—i.e., security discourse and practice, threat inflation, the construction of (in)security—that employ various approaches, including constructivist and critical. But these do not employ securitization theory.

I suggest that the limited study of Israeli securitization moves is influenced by the connections between the prominence of security discourse in Israel and the limited discussion of the meaning of securitization success. On the one hand, securitization theory has tended to focus on non-traditional security issues; on the other hand, the securitization of these issues in Israel has tended to fail, or these issues have been subsumed by traditional security issues. Among other things, since securitization scholars have shown much less interest in studying traditional security issues, or studying “failed” securitization moves, Israeli cases were not appealing (Lupovici, 2014).

The Israeli case points then to three main aspects that characterize Israel’s absence in literature: i) Israeli scholars tend to avoid studying securitization moves in Israel; ii) Non-Israeli scholars tend to avoid studying securitization moves in Israel; iii) There are only very few publications on securitization moves in Israel. While these overlap, it is helpful here to distinguish among them.

What do we learn from this about the American case? Foremost, the Israeli case is different from the American. The main question in the former is not about publications on securitization in general, but rather about a research tendency to avoid using securitization theory to explore Israeli securitization moves. Conversely, as Hayes and Van Rythoven rightly emphasize, the tendency of leading American journals is to downplay the theory of securitization in all cases. It isn’t, therefore, necessarily the characteristics of securitization moves in the US (which, as in the Israeli case, are not a clear fit for securitization theory) that are less appealing to leading IR journals’ editors, but rather securitization in general (see also, Checkel qtd. in Watson 2012: 280); and Bourbeau’s (2011: 1-2, 36-37).

However, this does not make the comparison redundant, as we see in leading American IR journals a strong bias toward considering American cases. Regardless of the reasons (and avoiding the debate over the research field of IR being American), there seems to be an overlap between studying American cases and studying/publishing in IR. In other words, to some extent we can argue that not studying securitization moves in the US is directly linked to not publishing on securitization in general.

But this (non-)publication may be influenced by other factors that the comparison with the Israeli case reveals. The tendency not to publish on securitization may result from: i) American scholars’ general tendency not to use this theory; ii) Scholars’—either American or non-American—tendency to avoid studying securitization moves in the US. For example, given the prominence of American scholars in (American) IR, their avoidance of studying securitization reflects but also affects what is published in leading journals. Likewise, journals that tend to focus on the US (and on the threat to the US) are less likely to publish on securitization if scholars—both American and non-American—avoid these cases. These aspects also overlap. For example, knowing the difficulties of getting work on securitization published in leading American IR journals creates disincentive for scholars who are experts in American security discourse and practices to use this theory.

Still, the situation is not entirely bleak. American securitization moves have been researched in several important works, most notably those that concern the 9/11 attacks (see a special issue in Security Dialogue), the war in Iraq (Donnelly, 2013; Stritzel, 2014: 117-142), China and India (Hayes, 2013); migration (Salter and Piché, 2011), and the environment (Floyd, 2010). These have been published by both American and non-American scholars, albeit mainly in non-American outlets. Admittedly, when compared to the potential, richness and prominence of American cases explored using other theories, the study of American securitization moves is significantly limited. However, if we look at it in a comparative perspective, this tendency seems to have much more to do with American standards of IR research than with the characteristics of securitization scholarship per se—as we saw in the Israeli case.


Abulof, Uriel (2014). Deep Securitization and Israel’s “Demographic Demon”. International Political Sociology 8(4): 396-415.

Barak, Oren, and Gabriel Sheffer (2013). Security Networks: Israel in a Theoretical and Comparative Perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Bourbeau, Philippe (2011). The Securitization of Migration: A Study of Movement and Order. London: Routledge.

Donnelly, Faye (2013). Securitization and the Iraq War: The rules of engagement in world politics. London: Routledge.

Floyd, Rita (2010). Security and the Environment: Securitisation Theory and US Environmental Security Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hayes, Jarrod (2013). Constructing National Security: U.S. Relations with India and China. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Lupovici, Amir (2014). The Limits of Securitization Theory: Observational Criticism and the Curious Absence of Israel. International Studies Review 16(3): 390-410.

Lupovici, Amir (forthcoming). Securitization Climax: Putting the Iranian Nuclear Project at the Top of the Israeli Public Agenda (2009-2012). Foreign Policy Analysis.

Security Dialogue 38(2) (June, 2007): Special Issue on Securitization, Militarization and Visual Culture in the Worlds of Post-9/11.

Salter, B. Mark, and Piché Geneviève (2011). The Securitization of the US–Canada Border in American Political Discourse. Canadian Journal of Political Science 44: 929-951.

Stritzel, Holger (2014). Security in Translation Securitization Theory and the Localization of Threat. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Watson, D. Scott (2012), “Framing” the Copenhagen School: Integrating the Literature on Threat Construction. Millennium 40 (2): 279–301.

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