Regions and Powers:  The Structure of International Security Edit

by Barry Buzan (IR Prof at London School of Econ) and Ole Waever (IR Prof at Univ of Copenhagen)

Copyright 2003, Cambridge University Press

Assigned Chap 2, part of 3, and one region (e.g. Asia, Middle East, etc.)


Thesis: Argues that, in security matters, more attention needs to be paid to what happens in the region, as a subset embedded in the larger int'l system, i.e., the regional level as the appropriate level of analysis "for a large swath of practical security" matters (p 43).

The central idea in their Regional Security Complex Theory (RSCT) "is that, since most threats travel more easily over short distances than over long ones, security interdependence is normally patterned into regionally based clusters" called  Regional Security Complexes (RSCs) (p 4).  RSCs are formed in the tensions between the balance of power dynamics present in the int'l anarchy and the pressures of geographic proximity (p 45).  The weakness of alternative int'l security theories is that they overplay the role of the global level, and underestimate the role of the regional level.  Size does mater but a global-scale int'l system must differentiate between those great powers that operate across the whole system while also significantly impacting just part of that wider system, and those with little or no power. 

3 categories:

-          Superpowers: broad-spectrum capabilities exercised across the whole of the international system.  Must possess a first-class military and economic able to support the military with global reach. One in thier model.

-          Great Powers: Not strong in all areas, status rests mainly on a single key capability – usually what they are identified by.  Must be considered in the calculations of other major powers as if the Great Power will make a bid to become a superpower.  Able to apply some power over the global system. Four in their model.

-          Regional Powers: define the polarity of the region.  They are important within their region, but do not register much in the global system.  Excluded from higher-level calculations, but approached in regard to regional issues.  Many in their model.

Identifies 3 means of evolution open to a region:

-          Maintenance of the status quo: no change to the structure of the region

-          Internal Transformation: power status of the states within the region change, thereby changing the overall structure of the region’s balance of power.

-          External Transformation: changes to the borders of the state – states are added to or removed from the region.

Identifies 2 reasons why Regional Security Complexes (RSCs) may not form:

-          Overlay: when a Great Power’s interests transcend mere penetration, and comes to dominate the pattern of security relations virtually removing individual state operations.

-          Unstructured: when the regional states are so weak that they cannot project power beyond their own borders or geography prevents interaction with neighboring states.

Two key processes from their theory of securitization:

Securitization - "the discursive process 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" (p 491)

De-securitization - "a process by which a political community downgrades or ceases to treat something as an existential threat to a valued referent object, and reduces or stops calling for urgent and exceptional measures to deal with the threat.  The process can be discursive addressing the definition of the situation; more often it is indirect, where a shift of orientation towards other issues reduces the relative attention to the previously securitised issue" (p 489)

Applications to Strategy:

·         Provides indications that 2nd, 3rd, 4th order effects may not be just within your intended target.  Effects can ripple through a region and upset the balance of power.

·         Also so how states that are not global players can still be significant participants in regional power struggles and must be considered.


Inside Cover material from publisher:

"This book develops the idea that, since decolonisation, regional patterns of security have become more prominent in international politics."  "Their framework brings out the radical diversity of security dynamics in different parts of the world."