Position paper for the Bologna meeting (2-3 July 2004) By Lorenza Sebesta



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Why a dichotomic scheme?
With these priorities in mind, we asked ourselves four main questions.

  • What are the assumptions behind these visions?

  • What does each of these visions explicitly or implicitly mean by “security”? Which are the challenges they consider as crucial?

  • What are the possible approaches to these challenges?

  • Which is the discursive frame these challenges are built in?


These questions are embodied into four blocks of the dichotomies (Assumptions/What security is about/ What are the means through which security is granted/ In which kind of discourse is security embedded) we’re offering for common speculation11.
Visions help people to organize their discourse (in both analytical and prescriptive terms), and one of the eminent forms of the philosophical debate is the dialogue, intended not so much as a “debate” in which opposite convictions are defended (whereby one just stresses the strong points of her/his thesis in order to overcome the objections of the opponent) but, in the Platonic sense, as a “discussion”, aimed at finding, in good faith, the better way out of a controversial question. Participants to a discussion try to single out all of the pros and cons of a certain thesis12. Despite the difficulties to stick to this rather theoretical distinction, we share the view that dialogue, intended as a way to find an agreement on a reasonable solution, is the best way to pursue our basic goal.

This dichotomic scheme reflects, very generally, the two main traditions of thought dealing with security which, we believe, have been fundamental in the shaping of security visions in the Mediterranean. We could call them realism and liberalism. This does not mean that all the traditions of thinking can be reduced to these two original ones, nor that the original ones are as simple and straightforward as we pretend them to be.

Some ways to analyse the security realm resist any mechanic reduction to one of the two models. Such is the case, for example, of the Grotian solidaristic view, which shares the assumption of realists (that states are the main actors in the international realm), but makes reference to some tenets of the liberalists as well (that pacification of the international realm is increased by its juridification) –introducing, however, the original concept whereby, if “just”, wars may be legitimate ways to solve controversies.

Marx and Marxism is another good example of a doctrine which doesn’t fit into either categorization, in the sense that it doesn’t take either the state or the individual as the basic category to analyse the dynamics of the international realm, but the social forces behind the states and above the individuals. It is the clash of these socials forces, whose antagonism is rooted in their different role within the capitalist system (labour/capital), that explains their behaviour in the internal and external realm – security and international pacification, in this view, are linked to the end of social struggles within every single state and the advent of a communist global society.

The so-called British School is equally resistant to any kind of categorization, its authors insisting on both the necessity to impose order to the international system through some rather realist “institutions” (so they call them), such as the balance of power, and, at the same time, making a looking-forward distinction between the international system (the venue of states), where power politics dominate, and international society (the venue of people), built on law, intended as a social system of rules, loyalties and traditions.

We have decided to renounce to comprehensiveness in favour of clarity. Moreover, we think Marxism, for example, as a typical product of industrial western culture, and Marxist views on the dynamics ruling the international realm less “universal” in their meaning and conceptual coverage than, say, the views of Kant, Hegel or Tucydides -therefore less apt to offer hints of commonality to thinkers of both shores of the Mediterranean.

Indeed, the scheme we’re proposing is mainly devised to give some sense of common purpose to the plurality of texts here presented. Our approach being not systematic, but simply discursive, we’re open to critics and revisions on this crucial point.

This approach is reflected in the way dichotomies are built: they rarely represent mutually exclusive approaches – in this sense, the word “dichotomy” appears to be somehow incorrect. For example, what, at first sight, can appear as a bold opposition in the way to conceive the relationship between state and citizens (the state as a function of citizens’ needs versus the citizens are functions of states’ needs) does not seem to resist a further scrutiny.

In practice, therefore, most of the elements embodied in a dichotomy do not exclude each others. The relationship between state and citizens can change in time and according to different circumstances. Or, taking another instance, you can think that territorial integrity is the first aim of security, while you also deem it necessary to guarantee, as far as possible, the personal integrity and protection of citizens living within those borders.

Moreover, when you switch from analysis to prescription, you sometimes feel that the choice is not made on an “either or” basis, but on various kinds of trade offs. Typically, the effort to defend the integrity of the state territory leads states to restrict the liberties of their citizens, thereby impacting on their “borders of dignity and respect” – as we call them in the scheme. On the other hand, mastering change through violence, which is one of the tenets of the realist approach, does not exclude the compliance with certain international rules and institutions.
The difference between the two visions (realist and liberal) does not rest primarily, therefore, on the oppositions embodied in the dichotomies. It rather pertains to other more basic aspects.

  1. Liberal and realist views embody a different sense of rationality. Using the language of the game theory, realists consider states as actors playing just once, in a zero-sum game context –where the most convenient behaviour for each player, in a context of defective information, is to betray and, indeed, players are easily transformed in enemies. Liberalists, first of all, object to the assumption that any game played in the international realm is a zero-sum one. Indeed, territorial conquest seems the only instance fitting into this scheme. Even in the case of zero-sum games, liberals think that actors in the international realm do not play just once for all. Relations in the international realm resemble more to a repeated prisoner dilemma, where, actors know that the game will be repeated an indefinite number of times; in this case, notoriously, cooperation is the most rewarding behaviour 13. Modern scholars linked to the liberal tradition, therefore, concentrate their effort in characterizing the best conditions under which cooperation can be reinforced –these are both “objective” conditions, such as technical challenges which can only answered by a common response, and “voluntaristic” conditions, such as the creation of norms, institutions and loyalties.

  2. Liberals and realists focus on different elements as the main objects of their analysis. Realists concentrate on states as the major actors in international relations, and on war as the crucial dynamic in the security realm. For realists, the international realm is intended, primarily, as a system made up of states, and this system is the primary locus of their analysis.


Security, in their view, is deeply linked to the capacity to wage and win wars, to the quality and quantity of state’s strategic resources (whether arms or raw materials or technology) -si vis pacem para bellum. Their favourite approach to security matters is, therefore, the study of why and how wars originate and which is the best way to win them –Tucidides is still the unrivalled master here (see the extract by Tucidides).

As a matter of fact, as Martin Wight reminds us, “security, on these premises, is necessarily exclusive, and your security is my insecurity"14 . So, liberals says, referring to war as a crucial aspect of security is not only partial (it means looking but at one of the many crucial elements of security), but misleading, as it encourages the vicious circle of rearmament. This feature is especially frightening in the atomic age.

Liberals, on the other hand, focus on individuals as the fundamental unity of analysis and to menaces to their life, liberty and property as the most important dynamics affecting their security (see the extract by Locke). The locus of their analysis is the international society, intended as a civitas maxima, made up of individuals and groups.

If war is not the only “epiphany” of menaces, militarization is not the best way to cope with all the other epiphanies.

The juridification of the international space, intended in a broad sense as the creation of common norms, rules, institutions and loyalties, is seen as the most effective way to cope with these menaces and create a durable peace. Security is not simply embodied in the late eighteenth century maxima si vis pacem para justitia, it is rather organized through a series of interlocking regimes, governing such disparate realities as the navigation on the Danube, the control of the civilian air traffic, the nuclear disarmament procedures or prosecution of crimes against human rights in the Ex-Yugoslavia.
As Bobbio so clearly writes (see the extract by Bobbio), rights do not grew once for all, they have been developing in time, in order to answer the new challenges imposed by social or technological developments. While the creation of new rights reassures individuals and social groups vis-à-vis the increasing power of other individuals, social groups or sovereign states, international juridification is the best way societies can pursue to cope efficiently with the new challenges in a globalized world15 - intended either as a multifaceted arena, in which “sovereign states (…)share the stage of world politics with ‘other actors’ just as in mediaeval times the states had to share the stage with ‘other associations’ (to use the mediaevalists’ phrase)”16 or as an ambiguous and ever changing reality, based on a logic of deterritorialization17.
The two ways to look at security proposed through the dichotomic scheme do not, therefore, represent the sein (realists) and the sollen (liberalists) of security, the “what it is” and the “what it ought to be”. They simply represent two different ways to analyse security and provide for its fulfilment.




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