Understanding Security Practices in South Asia

Understanding Security Practices in South Asia

Monika Barthwal-Datta is a research fellow at the Centre for International Security Studies at the University of Sydney. Understanding Security Practices in South Asia: Securitization Theory and the Role of Non-State Actors weighs in at almost 200 pages, including a 40-page bibliography and more than 48 pages of extensive chapter endnotes. Ms. Barthwal-Datta’s work is a 2012 addition to the Asian Security Studies Series published by Routledge. Although this is her first published book, she has contributed to at least one other scholarly tome, as well as published a journal article and more than half a dozen conference papers since 2006.

In Understanding Security Practices in South Asia: Securitization Theory and the Role of Non-State Actors, Ms. Barthwal-Datta argues that not enough attention has been paid to non-traditional security challenges in the region. She asserts that both the traditional, realist approach and Securitization Theory as promulgated by the Copenhagen School are inadequate to thoroughly address the nuances of complex issues confronting contemporary South Asians at the regional, national and sub-state levels. To support her argument, she draws on three case studies, misgovernance in Bangladesh, human trafficking in Nepal, and climate change in India. Ms. Barthwal-Datta concludes that security analysis would be improved by a more appropriate analytical framework for the study of critical challenges presented by non-state actors, challenges affecting millions of vulnerable people but not necessarily rising to the level of “national” security in the classic sense or directly touching the policy-making elites.
The traditional, realist approach to international relations has long focused on interstate conflict and security threats. As the actors in this paradigm are states and their institutions, the emphasis has been on maintaining territorial integrity from external aggression and safeguarding the interests of the state from hostile intrastate separatist and insurgent movements. In post-Cold War Europe, the Copenhagen School sought a broader definition of security studies, developing its Securitization Theory, which looks at how contemporary non-traditional challenges are securitized, or raised to the level of posing existential threats to the state or other large collective. The actors in this paradigm are the elites with the influence to pressure political leaders and institutions to adopt their view of the threat. Ms. Barthwal-Datta argues that the realist and Securitization Theory approaches,
by focusing on the state apparatus and national leadership, have resulted in scholars and practitioners largely ignoring less privileged sub-state groups and their legitimate security concerns.
Two alternative analytical paradigms, briefly discussed by the author, offer methods for study at the sub-state level, but they also have their shortcomings. Critical Security Studies (CSS) as advanced by the Welsh School seeks to expand study to include non-state actors and non-military security matters, questioning political and economic organization within the very structures of the state. Human Security is a concept fostered by the United Nations focusing on freedom from fear and economic want and extrapolating the definition of security to cover almost any conceivable issue. She summarizes the critiques of CSS and Human Security as opening up the spectrum of security studies to an extent that is so inclusive as to render the findings incoherent. In Understanding Security Practices in South Asia: Securitization Theory and
the Role of Non-State Actors

, Ms. Barthwal-Datta composed her own analytical framework drawing upon the broader consideration of threats introduced by the CSS and Human Security models and of the insecurities perceived by sub-state groups, as well as the responses by non-state actors outside the public policy-making domain.
Before delving into her specific case studies, the author provides a description of the general security dynamics in the South Asia region. She briefly describes the history of conflict between India and Pakistan, including its nuclear dimension and the dispute over Kashmir. She also touches upon the incessant intrastate and cross-border terrorism, the various and diverse insurgency movements, the forced migration of some 35 million refugees and displaced persons, the trafficking in humans, and the concern about the potential effects of possible climate change. Ms. Barthwal-Datta contends that non-state actors, in many cases, directly or indirectly define the issues, shape state policies and responses, and measure the effects on affected populations.
After acknowledging that misgovernance is
a significant problem throughout South Asia, the author’s first case study focuses on Bangladesh, specifically on the role played by three leading English language newspapers, The Daily Star, New Age, and The Bangladesh Today before and after the

2007 state of emergency following the national elections crisis in late 2006. She argues that Human Security and CSS would recognize as security threats the effects of misgovernance, such as internecine political violence and the inability of the state to deliver basic necessities to its citizens and severely limiting socio-economic freedoms. Ms. Barthwal-Datta identifies the newspapers exhorting reform as the securitizing actors and their readership, mostly Bangladeshi political and civil society elites, as their audience. She then examines, in accordance with Securitization Theory, the newspapers’ securitization move to raise misgovernance to the level of a generally accepted threat to national security. She concludes that Securitization Theory’s ambiguous definition of terms limits its applicability in this case. To be a security actor, the theory calls for the actor to be agent as well, one who performs or provides security. The newspapers do not meet that criterion. A successful securitization results in a breaking of normal rules and procedures enabled after the audience permits their breakage. This case does not meet that criterion, either. If one accepts the premise that misgovernance represents a serious threat to the citizens and state of Bangladesh and is one of the root causes of instability in the region, then Securitization Theory, as it is loosely defined today, offers an inadequate framework for the empirical analysis of the problem.
The author cites an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 persons, mostly young women and children, are victims of human trafficking each year within and out of South Asia, mostly for the sex trade and cheap labor. Although human trafficking arguably threatens the sovereignty of the state as well as the physical and economic security of the victims and their families, the issue has been relegated to a law and order concern rather than one of national security. After describing the scope and nature of the problem regionally, Ms. Barthwal-Datta narrows her focus to Nepal, one of the primary sources of victims. She identifies non-governmental organizations (NGOs) Shakti Samuha and Maiti Nepal and others as securitizing actors and security practitioners. Their audience has included the government leaders who write the legislation and regulations pertaining to human trafficking, as well as, through their outreach programs, the survivors of trafficking and the at-risk groups frequently targeted for exploitation. Securitization Theory would identify Shakti Samuha and Maiti Nepal as legitimate actors, given their success in securitizing the issue of human trafficking as evidenced by changes in national policy. However, the preventative and rehabilitation programs, carried out by the NGOs to tackle the problem in the absence of effective government responses, pose an analytical dilemma, because Securitization Theory, as currently defined, reserves for the state the actual practice of security.
In the book’s final case study, the author turns her attention to climate change as a widely perceived security threat. After describing how environmental activists have successfully securitized the issue internationally, she examines the subject of climate change in the Indian context. Climate change consolidates and adds a sense of urgency to existing concerns, such as scarce water resources and food production as well as vulnerable coastal areas and extreme weather. Ms. Barthwal-Datta characterizes two non-state organizations as “scientific policy communities” and “knowledge-based activists,” the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI), and she identifies them as key securitization actors. In terms of influencing the government to accept climate change as a security threat and adopt corresponding policies, their most important audiences have been the Indian parliament and other state institutions. She contends that the success of CSE and TERI are an example of how Securitization Theory is most applicable in contexts wherein non-state actors, as securitization agents and security practitioners, have direct access to policy-makers. However, it is not clear that Securitization Theory’s state-centric paradigm would accept the other-than-political authority exercised by CSE and TERI, nor is it clear if their success involved the breaking of normal procedures and rules, another Securitization Theory requirement.
In Understanding Security Practices in South Asia: Securitization Theory and the Role of Non-State Actors, Ms. Bhartwal-Datta effectively draws attention to the myriad and serious insecurities faced by hundreds of millions of people in South Asia. The sheer scale and scope of threats and the multitudes of victims are themselves a strong argument for adopting the broader, non-traditional definitions of threats prescribed by proponents of Human Security and Critical Security Studies. Ms. Bhartwal-Datta makes a convincing case that the Copenhagen School’s Securitization Theory will require further refinement, if it is to remain broadly relevant in contemporary scholarship of security studies and international relations. If Securitization Theory’s adherents cannot adapt, there may be an opportunity for some worthy person to develop a more useful theoretical framework.
Understanding Security Practices in South Asia: Securitization Theory and the Role of Non-State Actors will be of particular interest to South Asia specialists, proponents of subaltern studies in general, scholars of international relations and security studies more specifically, and others seeking a greater awareness of issues relating to the insecurities of non-elites in the region.

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