Writing Security Essay : United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity-A Book Review
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Campbell, D. (1992) Writing security: United States foreign policy and the politics of identity. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 1-269.
In this book, the author, David Campbell addresses the issue of a political actor’s identity and its usefulness in understanding motives behind actions taken in the political arena. As such, the ‘other’ is a subjective reference which enables a better comprehension of self, as this allows for the description of elements which can be highlighted as foreign. Among the world’s political science scholars and more so, in the US, Campbell’s evaluation of the US’ foreign policy, its political implications and philosophical perspectives are well respected. He points out that this particular policy serves to identify the US identity’s role in influencing international relations.
Human security as an international relations model provides that the person as an individual ought to be the main reference point and not the state. Campbell’s book invokes and critically addresses the issue of identity and its defining natural tendencies. These include differences, otherness and perceived danger as well as impacts on the US’ projected identity as a leader in the global political arena. This essay seeks to present a book review on ‘Writing Security: United States Foreign Policy and The Politics of Identity’. The book review will analyze philosophical arguments herein as projected by David Campbell with a primary emphasis on the perception that identity creation is reliant on security capabilities concerning national borders.
The US being the sole super power in contemporary world politics has continuously reviewed its foreign policy founded on experiences acquired from past events, the most notable in this book being the Cold War. The US’ current experiences with its contemporary foreign policy underscores the significance of identity role in politics and security studies. The author’s primary argument revolves about challenging the traditional notion of security. More so, Campbell sets his sights in contesting against the realists as well as the neorealist beliefs molded by the spread on an anarchic world structure and relative power. The author does so on the basis that, such ideals are fundamentally limited in scope. Having depressed the viability of the traditionalist notions, he sets a new focal point founded on the language of discourse as well as the crucial role of identity. The emphasis of the new perception is that different countries will always project unique identities which tends to compel them to project varying interests whether political, economic, social, cultural or otherwise.
Such an outlook on role identity thus, negates the traditionalist notions by realists which assume all countries tend to embrace similarly selfish interests. Identity and thе role it plays as well as critical understanding of identity are in essence quite significant in political studies and international relations especially concerning perceived threats posed by ‘others.’ For instance, NSC-68 was during the times of the USSR employed by the US through its foreign policy to identify Soviet States as having aggressive values as compared by the upright values embraced by the US. As such, Campbell underscores the fact that political actors play a significant role in interpreting perceived threats.
Danger or in other words, threats, is an issue which concerns the mode of interpretation. As such, after threat interpretation, a situation or event can then be prioritized as being spatial or temporary. The author’s opinion on this matter sheds light on how the Middle Eastern country of Iraq, came to be perceived as a threat by the US. Conversely, the Marxist and Realist schools of thought tended to express threat as some degree of hostility against another sovereign nation (which in this case is Iraq) with the primary aim of controlling its oil reserves as well as market resources therein. As such, the traditional approach is seen as missing the point entirely as a result of the failure to identify underlying dangers or threats which is in essence subjective.
According to Campbell, identity is a crucial dimension of being, it is therefore a necessary and inescapable dimension towards the existence of the self. It is, however, important to point out that the identity concept as put across in this book is postulated relative to difference and as such, is not rigid. Therefore, the identity problem has no tangible foundations. In the context of Campbell’s book, identity is in essence based performative outcomes. The fact that identity is defined on the basis of the ‘other’ and perceived differences, then a country, state or nation is thus identified via a non-traditional definition. One can therefore discern that statehood is a product of a primary discourse for stable identity which takes time to form and as such is an outcome of repeated actions achieved through this regulated and repetitive process. This book therefore provides that countries are in a perpetual state of becoming as they are currently in existence due to the ongoing process that supports their creation.
Going by anarchic state of nature as postulated by Thomas Hobbes, a thorough comprehension of the prevalent International System tends to be overly problematic. This is because it entails the elaboration of relations between persons especially in the absence of the state. Using such a basis to attempt to enforce realist notion such as the prevalence of some continuous power struggle. On the same note, the neorealist ideals on International System can be deemed as anarchic, as it legitimizes the drawing of boundaries that establish self, the ‘other’ as well as foreign policies whose purpose is to underscore such differentiation. This implies that foreign policy is primary a strategy to relate with otherness.
To validate the identity formation process as well as its reflection via foreign policy, David Campbell goes on to clarify how a presumably imagined society that is America came to be. As such, the apparent demarcation differentiating self from the ‘other’ is strengthened relative to the self being considered as fragile and more so, to ensure the self is differentiated within itself. This implies that there may seem to be some ‘other’ existing within the self which thus, gets submerged. One the same precinct, America was essentially not discovered but invented. It was the American colonizers who in essence created America’s identity and as such, tis identity was championed for by a group of dedicated nationalists after the culmination of the American Revolution. The current affirmation of the American identity as projected through its foreign policy can be aptly understood after comparing it with the Amerindian, African and Irish identities relative to the identity of the English. The colonizers who were English viewed America as savage lands where religion was lacking such that, only enslavement and/or colonialization could correct the situation and by extension, civilize these savage laden lands.
The birth of the USA brought about a situation where the English sought to consolidate their power base and more so, reproduce their own especially unique identity. As such this was a spatial revolution that emphasized much on detachment from British imperial apparatus instead of reconstituting a new political, social and economic order.
One can therefore point out that Campbell indeed highlights the evident problems with conservative international relations schools of thought and by extension, their perception of the current International System. More so, Campbell’s opinion as to the self as well as the ‘other,’ and the demarcation therein relative to the manner with which the other is projected through foreign policy.
As the author provides, it’s the identity of society that constitutes and legitimizes state identity. With this in mind, the human security model moves towards integrating the individual within the national security definition. Therefore, state identity legitimization constitutes a vital aspect of the contemporary international security model. As such, identifying the ‘other’ and by, extension creating a distinguishable level of communal identity such that security parameters are redefined. Campbell places much emphasis on the statement that the reproduction of some standard to serve as an optimal mean through which identified modes can be regarded to as being normal so as to be organized. This is to enable their manifestation needed for the creating and establishing the set of ideals defining the identity of self as well as the identity of the ‘other.’
From the above ideals postulated by Campbell one can discern that challenging the optimal mean only serves to realign the standards of normality on the basis of humanity rather than state-centrism. The outcome is such that identity with reference to boundaries is extended and more so, the capabilities to work towards ensuring human security the world over becomes more tangible. Going by the above stated concept, boundary generating practices which immediately offer identity to individuals within them and inherently create communal identity tend to become unrestrictive. As such, the moral valuations consistent with any spatial inclinations tend to dismiss the need for the term foreign as these incorporate the presence of common internal threats which project security dilemmas to persons irrespective of boundaries. International organizations such as the United Nations Development Program Human Development Report published in 1994 which, is considered as the birthplace on the current debate concerning human security. As such, it serves to equate security with regard to persons as opposed to relating to security with reference to territories and more so, with development as opposed to using weapons.
This book, however, also serves to compel international relations and political studies scholars and students to query some of Campbell’s opinions. For instance, how do the existing power struggles as well as economic intentions behind foreign policies get to be submerged such that, the only remaining critical factor appertains to foreign policy formulation is interpretation alone. On the same note, domestic conditions cannot be perceived as the only element which can be employed to identify something as a potential threat to a nation. As such, as a scholar, one can point out that submerging of the other which is within the self as in some internal cold war tends to gives a truthful outcome but the demarcation of the self with respect to the ‘other,’ (as in external ‘other’) tends to be ultimately imprecise.
Through this book, David Campbell has made a great effort towards enabling readers to acquire a good degree of informative insights into the study of security from a constructivist standpoint. His use of transcripts like the NSG-8 adds value to his arguments with reference to the purpose of discourse. This is especially the case with concerning security as a construct and its developments in the realm of identity. As such, political security is thus, more aptly understood through explanations highlighting why neorealist and realist considerations are inappropriate. On the same note, this analysis has provided that the fundamentals of constructivism offer new understanding of security in light, more precisely, security being a social construct. However, the book does not accord any viable insights as to how a threat can be constructed from a social standpoint, identify it and by extension, acquire solutions.
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