Institute of Political Science

Theoretical Framework

Securitisation as framing

While the Copenhagen School describes the process of securitisation as a speech act, it could also be interpreted as framing. In his relatively unnoticed book Threat Politics, Eriksson (2001) poses the question of how an issue gains societal salience as a threat, which he explores using the concept of framing. Developed in Sociology (Goffman 1974), frame analysis has been applied in communication and media studies (Entman 1993) as well as in social movement theory, predominantly to explain the emergence and actions of social movements in western industrialised states (Della Porta and Diani 2006). Framing is a process whereby an agent is developing a particular interpretive scheme (Benford and Snow 2000). Securitisation is one such scheme.

Framing has both overlap with agenda setting research and important distinctions (Scheufele and Tewksbury 2007, cp. McCombs and Ghanem 2008 on the convergence of both strands of research). In particular second-level agenda setting, which focuses on the characteristics or attributes of issues rather than its salience per se, shares many similarities with framing (Weaver 2007), and is based on similar processes (Scheufele 2007) albeit this view is contested (Takeshita 2006). We assume that agenda setting can be one but not the only possible effect of a successful framing of the climate change security nexus as illustrated below.

We distinguish between the narrower concept of frames and the wider idea of images. A single image can be framed in different ways, as shown by Carragee and Roefs (2004: 26) in their account of multiple anti-nuclear frames. Likewise, environmental degradation as a security threat is a specific image that can be framed in different ways (for example as environmental conflict or environmental security, see below). In that sense, the treatment of environmental security in the Copenhagen School has been too abstract and has negated the different ways in which the environment is framed in a security image. The frames may differ, for instance, in the causal mechanisms they provide for the relationship between environment and security, in the referent objects they invoke, and in the intensity of the “existential threat”, which may vary with the kind of referent object, but also with the concrete aspect of the existence of a group that is threatened (on these degrees of securitisation, see also Diez et al. 2006, 2008). They also take on diagnostic (problem identification), prognostic (articulation of proposed solution) and motivational tasks (“call to the arms” providing a rationale for engaging in action, including the construction of a motive with adequate vocabulary), which are interconnected to the extent that, for instance, diagnostic frames enable certain prognoses and lead to particular policy recommendations (Benford and Snow 2000: 615) – an observation that Hajer (1995: 6) has made in relation to acid rain, for which there exist different solutions which all depend on the framing of the problem.

Framing the climate change-conflict nexus

Reconfiguring securitising moves as an instance of framing therefore allows us to identify different kinds of securitising climate change, in which frames stick to the basic “grammar” of securitisation, but construct the threat differently, refer to different referent objects and propose different kinds of extraordinary measures. The categorisation of different frames securitizing climate change builds upon and combines several approaches discussed in the literature. Page (2010: 3) distinguishes between a shallow demilitarised view of security (climate change as threat to state security) and a deeply demilitarised notion referring to the concept of human environmental security. Detraz and Betsill (2009) focus on two distinct discourses linking climate change and security. The environmental conflict theme is concerned with violent conflict resulting from a degradation of natural resources whereas environmental security is a broader conception closely linked to the notion of human security. Trombetta (2011) refers to two tendencies in the environmental security debate, a national security discourse and a framing of environmental degradation as a threat to global order and stability.

From this literature, we deduce two ideal typical framings of the relationship between environment and security: a more specific one which postulates a relationship between environmental degradation (in our case climate change) and violent conflicts, sticking to a rather narrow conception of security, and a more general one which is concerned with the effects of environmental degradation on the everyday lives of human beings, following a broader concept of human security. We label these frames environmental conflict and environmental security respectively. As shown in the table below, these frames also differ in terms of the respective diagnostic and prognostic dimension.

To these, we add a third potential frame, which sees human beings as part of a greater whole and on this basis focuses on the environment as such as the main referent object. We call this frame ecological security. It follows the notion of complex ecology described by Cudworth and Hobden (2010) as well as Dalby (1992), both of whom focus on the ecosystem as the referent object to be secured. They emphasise the interdependence and symbiosis of different elements within a global ecological system and question the belief that a techno-institutional fix for the present problems is possible (Cudworth and Hobden 2010: 8). Bertell (2001) develops a similar idea of ecological security, prioritizing the health of the environment over other referent objects. In this analysis, the ecological security discourse tends to shift from security to risk alleviation and aims at restructuring and transforming risk-producing activities rather than securing specific groups.

Framing Discourse

Referent Object

Diagnostic Dimension

Prognostic Dimension

Related Key Words

Environmental Security

All human beings,

the individual

Everyday security implications for all human beings, focus on human vulnerability to environmental change, environment as a common good

Long term strategies to combat environmental change, rather mitigation and precautionary measures

Human security, global security, climate as a common good, human vulnerability, global governance infrastructure

Environmental Conflict

Particular communities, including states

Focus on violent conflict when natural resources degrade, military plays central role, environment as a limited resource

Short term measures, rather adaptation and reactive (military) measures

Resource security, resource conflicts, degradation of natural resources water wars, energy security and energy diversification, military responses

Ecological Security

The environment or ecosystem as a whole

Embeddedness of human beings in global ecosystem, threat to the environment as such, including plants and animals, environment as a good in its own right

Move from security to risk alleviation, restructuring of risk creating activities rather than attempts to secure specific groups via mitigation or adaptation

Ecosystem, limits of growth, human-nature relations, interdependence, symbiosis, risk

Securitising actors

Wæver (1995: 57) suggests that security is articulated predominantly by elites. According to Buzan et al. (1998: 40-42) the most significant securitising actors tend to be ‘policy entrepreneurs’. Since the realm of security is often strongly institutionalised, it privileges the government and special security institutions. Not only the securitisation approach, but also the concept of framing suffers from an over-emphasis on the political elites in a narrow sense (Benford 1997: 409).

Contrary to the usual emphasis on securitising moves performed by political elites, this project will focus on securitising moves by non-state actors (NGOs and think tanks). Buzan et al. (1998: 31-32) acknowledge that the dominance of state elites in performing securitising moves is neither static nor absolute. Securitisations of the environment are also articulated by NGOs and think tanks (Brzoska 2009), often before they are taken up by the mainstream political debate. In the case of the ozone regime it was shown that the main securitising actors were NGOs and environmental groups that tried to mobilise states to act collectively (Trombetta 2011). Thus, we assume that it is predominantly non-state actors that attempt to securitise climate change, not least as an attempt to mobilise resources and gain attention (Detraz and Betsill 2009, Dalby 1992, Nordås and Gleditsch 2009). Non-state actors will therefore be the starting point of our analysis, while we remain open for the possibility that the main securitising actors are located within the government or opposition.

Accounting for different securitising frames

There are broadly speaking two general explanations of why actors pursue particular securitising frames. These align with the norms vs. interests divide and the distinction between different logics of action in the social sciences. Litfin (1994), in her study on Ozone discourse, calls them “specific interest” and “pre-existing discourses”. The latter explanation relates particular securitising frames back to broader cognitive frames or “metanarratives”. Such an explanation can be grounded in a variety of approaches that emphasise the role of norms, ideas and discourses, including cognitive mapping (e.g. Axelrod 1976), ideational research (e.g. Goldstein and Keohane 1993) or discourse analysis (e.g. Wæver 2002). They all would argue that there are broader discourses that enable particular arguments to be put forward in the sense that they provide a context of meaning that makes such arguments possible. Thus, securitising frames would have to be consistent with broader assumptions and worldviews held by the securitising actors. In turn, these “metanarratives” provide both substantive and procedural backgrounds, i.e. they may not only provide a set of core elements of worldviews and their interconnection (e.g., are they causally linked and in which direction does causality flow?), but also a sense of how it is possible to have an impact on this world. The alternative explanation would see material interests at work in a particular securitising frame (for instance see Hajer’s [1995: 13] discussion on the particular interpretation of the image or what he calls story line rain forest according to the respective actors’ interests). In other words, the specific way of securitising climate change may depend on underlying interests in, for instance, promoting a particular instrument to tackle climate change or strengthening a specific political or societal position.

The empirical problem with these arguments is that they are related to different ontologies, i.e. assumptions about how actors “work” which cannot be directly observed unless there are strong inconsistencies in behaviour, which we do not expect to be able to find in the case of securitising climate change. Furthermore, both consequentialism (following one’s interests) and appropriateness (acting according to norms) may play a role simultaneously. Rather than determining directly whether it was norms or interests that led to a particular securitising frame, therefore, we pursue a two-pronged strategy that (a) determines how securitising moves are themselves introduced (i.e. to what extent are they linked to interest-based arguments, and to what extent are they consistent with the broader cognitive frames), and (b) tries to reconstruct the way in which securitising moves have found their way into policy-documents (i.e. who were the crucial forces and what were the core events that led to the development of a particular document). This will not allow us to settle the norms/interest divide in the sense of determining motivations of actors, but we can see if other actors had an influence on non-state actors’ decision to carry out particular securitising moves, assuming that these moves are hence performed in the interest of these actors. It will also allow us to assess whether securitising actors see themselves as acting on behalf of particular interests, both in their rhetoric and in their own narrative of the background of a particular securitising move.

Furthermore, it may be that discursive frames are applied according to specific contexts. In particular, the context of specific national debates may have an impact on securitising moves in terms of political style, basic political understandings, and specific interests. Likewise, it may be that particular ideological traditions are prone to the use of particular securitising frames.

Explaining the success of particular frames

The Copenhagen School defines securitization as a successful speech act ‘through which an intersubjective understanding is constructed within a political community to treat something as an existential threat to a valued referent object, and to enable a call for urgent and exceptional measures to deal with the threat’ (Buzan and Wæver, 2003: 491; our emphasis). Thus, our explanation of the success of a particular frame draws on the analysis of whether and how such a move has an effect on concrete policy (Vuori 2008). More precisely, we will look at the degree to which the recommendations, concepts, reports and definitions developed by the securitizing actors influenced the political decision-making process, for instance by citation, reference to a particular concept or an idea more generally. Hence, we define success in terms of policy relevance. This relevance however can take various forms. It can (a) establish a particular construction of climate change on the political agenda (agenda-setting), (b) suggest particular policy alternatives, (c) create an “emergency” situation in which political alternatives are crowded out (securitisation in the definition of the Copenhagen School) or (d), as a subset of (c), move the issue of environmental security into the field of military security (securitisation as used by Brzoska (2009), but better labelled as “militarisation”). In a first step, we therefore need to “forward-trace” the fate of particular securitising moves and check the extent to which they were taken up by governments in their policies, and to what extent they were agreed by other political parties in opposition.

We then need to look for possible explanations for this success. The literature on the success of securitising moves and its facilitating conditions (Stritzel 2007, Balzacq 2005, Buzan et al. 1998) suggests three crucial factors that can also be found in the wider literature in policy success and failure:

- Consistency of the argument, meaning that the speech act itself (or more general the “threat text” as Stritzel (2007: 374) calls it) must be in accordance with the grammar of security (see also Balzacq 2005: 179). For our purposes, we may therefore expect securitising moves to be more successful as they stick to a particular securitising frame, as this would make for the most consistent argument and not allow room for alternative representations (H1).

- “Goodness of fit” means that the articulated securitising move must resonate with existing discourses. Balzacq (2005: 171) emphasises that effective securitisation is audience-centred, pointing to its interactive dimension. This is both reflected in the position of the securitising actor vis-à-vis the audience and the “goodness of fit” argument, referring to the extent to which a securitising move resonates with the audiences experiences and beliefs. In thatcontext, the role of narratives of history, culture and identity (McDonald 2008) is also underlined. Accordingly, we would expect that the greater the overlap between the securitising frame used and the generally prevailing worldview, the greater the chances of a successful securitisation (H2).

- The position of the securitising actor vis-à-vis the audience that he is trying to convince. As outlined above, the Copenhagen School assumes that in the strongly institutionalised field of security the political elite is privileged to speak security (Buzan et al. 1998). In contrast, Balzacq (2005: 179) differentiates between the formal powers of a securitising actor on the one hand - it is easier for state officials to securitise an issue – and their image as knowing the issue and being trustworthy on the other hand. On this basis, we would expect the success of a securitising move to be dependent on the specific profile of a securitising actor within a society, both relating to the organisation on whose behalf the actor speaks, and to the standing of the actors themselves (H3).

A fourth condition can be added following the discussion of the Paris School conceptualisation of securitisation and our reading of this as an issue of feasibility (see p. 4) Accordingly, the success of a securitising move may depend on its perceived feasibility in terms of (a) technological possibilities, (b) fitting administrative practices and (c) expected cost (H4). While the Copenhagen School downplays such factors by stressing the emergency character of measures countering security threats, which overrides any such concerns, we would argue that this is only a characteristic of the debate once securitisation has been successful. However, it seems reasonable to assume that securitising moves are easier to accept if the cost is relatively low and there is a measure that is readily available to combat the alleged security threat.