Security and Development: Critical Reflections on a Conceptual and Political Nexus
“In an increasingly interconnected world, progress in the areas of development, security and human rights must go hand in hand. There will be no development without security and no security without development.” During the past decade, such mantras linking the concepts of security and development into a singular, interdependent framework have become remarkably commonplace. Today, it has become the dominant view among both academics and decision-makers that security and development are mutually interlinked and reinforcing and, moreover, that this interdependence is (rightly) the subject of widespread agreement. However, this view is also being challenged by scholars from several corners. This collective review will therefore focus on conceptual commonalities, differences and gaps in recent critical approaches to the so-called “security-development nexus”.
Sceptics of this nexus and its growing academic attention may argue that security and development have both been key concepts within global politics for several decades and, some would say, inseparable ones at that. Yet in the prevailing liberal-internationalist narrative following the end of the Cold War, the early 1990s saw an unprecedented global attention to new frameworks for military intervention and peacekeeping which emphasized ‘humanitarian’ concerns in the face of intra-state conflicts in less-developed states, thereby also perceiving a link between conflict, (in)security and lack of development. This was soon followed by a related trend toward combining such issues as economic and social development, (non-state) security and human rights into so-called “comprehensive approaches” for foreign policy-making. Initially popularized through its use within the UN Development Program’s Human Development Reports from 1993-94 onward, “human security” became the preferred term for this new holistic framework in many Western circles. Notably, “human security” gained official recognition as a foreign policy objective in countries such as Norway, Canada and Japan yet was largely ignored or rejected in the United States, where development aid remained strongly tied to perceived national security concerns, a tradition arguably reinforced by the events of 11 September 2001.
Around 2004, a turning point occurred. Where the acceptance of “human security” had largely been limited to scholars and decision-makers concerned with “softer” issues such as development aid, environmental degradation, and peace and conflict management – while also becoming an area of study in its own right – an emerging global attention began to focus on the idea of a perceived security-development nexus. This concept took on a number of different implications as it was translated to policy initiatives at international and national levels – ones that have not yet been fully understood, it is argued here. Depending on who one asks, the “nexus” now either describes a policy framework of increasing importance or it encompasses two inextricably linked challenges “on the ground” in developing countries, not least so-called ‘fragile states’ and other countries negatively affected by violent conflicts, transnational crime, disease outbreaks, terrorism and – although this aspect may often be downplayed – the global war on terrorism itself. The security-development nexus, however vague, thus also implies a “hard” foreign policy perspective to problems that are “not only” (as it is often phrased, tellingly) about development, about health, or about humanitarian concerns.
The Security-Development Nexus between Politics and Academia
In 2003, the International Peace Academy (now IPI) in New York launched a “Security-Development Nexus Program”. The launch conference in December 2003 revealed a large degree of hesitance as to the link between the two concepts among the invited speakers, which was not surprising given the absence of conclusive research (arguably made difficult by the multifarious, abstract and complexly normative nature of these two concepts). The conference summary asked: “In addition to the need to improve conflict management strategies, fundamental questions remain to be addressed: can or should security and development strategies be necessarily [sic] linked? Are external interventions intended to avert conflict and build peace actually doing what they intend?” In his keynote address, UNDP head and later UN Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown supported the idea of giving “rigor” to the understanding of the security-development nexus. However, he also warned against “misleading generalities” and emphasized the need to develop a conceptual framework that fully captured the complexity of the relationship between conflict and development. Much the same concern was reflected in the program description, which suggested that “there has been relatively little systematic assessment of the implications for policy and practice of the interplay between security and development concerns in conflict contexts and the effectiveness of current approaches”.
In light of such hesitance in late 2003, it is worth noting that the opening quote of this review positing “no development without security and no security without development” appeared in a key United Nations report issued less than two years later. A few months after that, the outcome document of the heavily publicized World Summit in New York 2005 also categorically stated that security and development were “interlinked”, “interconnecting” and “mutually reinforcing”, an opinion now fast gaining traction among academics and NGO representatives along with national and international policy-makers. (In fact, this type of argument had been used since before 9/11 by such actors as UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, only then framed by the need for “human security”.)
Examining the critical attention given to the security-development nexus today may help to illuminate conceptual gaps and illustrate how these have been navigated by academics from various disciplines. In this sense, it may also help to historicize the “security-development nexus” as a political and academic concept which has so far been heavily naturalized. Arguably, the overall picture is that the multitude of “security and development” discourses share certain similarities in drawing from (a) the preceding human security/human development framework, (b) the discourse surrounding the global war on terror and the ‘failed states’ agenda, and (c) the discourse of peacekeeping, the prevention of armed conflict and protection/security as a human right. Yet it does so in distinct ways and through diverse forms of adaptation. With such issues in mind, this review aims to examine a cross-section of recent, critical scholarship originating in several distinct research environments.
Published in 2010, Security & Development: Searching for Critical Connections, edited by Neclâ Tschirgi, Michael S. Lund and Francesco Mancini, concludes the multiyear policy and research program mentioned above at the International Peace Institute in New York. Its fifteen authors make up a multidisciplinary group comprising e.g. political scientists, area specialists, historians, conflict researchers and employees at several UN offices. Interestingly, the book’s foreword by IPI President Terje Roed-Larsen endorses the “overlapping nature of security and development challenges” (p. vii), warns against compartmentalizing the security and development and notes how both international institutions and national governments have integrated defense, diplomacy and development (3D) in recent years. Yet Roed-Larsen also notes a “lack of clarity” when it comes to policy implications, regretting how their connection is often “generalized” and “muddied” (p. viii). Roed-Larsen first argues that a crucial distinction is needed between security and development as “societal goals and as policies to achieve [those] goals”, secondly that the book produces policy ideas “grounded in hard realities that, we trust, will advance our understanding of the ways that security and development interplay on the ground, as well as how international interventions can be more effective in promoting human and international security.” (p. viii) A more thorough distinction between security and development as labels given to policies/objectives and as labels given to “hard realities” might have been helpful. It does not necessarily follow from Roed-Larsen’s own distinction that security or development policies are also policies designed to achieve those same goals “on the ground” in developing countries, given especially that what is labelled “security policy” in Western states is often openly aimed at achieving national security and national defence objectives.
The book by Tschirgi, Lund and Mancini is roughly divided into two sections, the first three chapters examining relationships between armed conflict and development issues such as poverty and the environment, the next seven chapters consisting of country-specific case studies concerning, respectively, Yemen, Somalia, Guinea-Bissau, Namibia, Guyana, the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan. The introduction presents a brief overview of some key issues and very recent historical developments, first offering the good news that the numbers of armed conflicts and conflict casualties have been on the decline globally, then tempering this optimism with the observation that many countries are still plagued by conflict and insecurity, while also being “chronic development laggards”. (p. 2) The “critical connections” the book sets out to investigate are thus contained in the complex relationship – both a correlation and a system of causal interactions, it is stated – between underdevelopment and insecurity. After noting some difficulties with an investigation into such complex issues, the editors tweak their aim in a more politically normative direction, writing: “this volume seeks to understand how both security and development can be pursued complementarily and how developing societies can escape the conflict trap.” (p. 4)
Sakiko Fukuda-Parr’s Chapter 2 merits special mention. Here, the former director of the UNDP’s Human Development Reports critically and objectively evaluates the various factors commonly advanced to explain the links between aid, poverty and armed conflict. This chapter especially gains from sidestepping the trap of relying too heavily on broader, negative terms such as underdevelopment and insecurity in its research framework, a choice which threatens to render the object of study in certain other chapters somewhat elusive. How, after all, does one define the (anti-normative) idea of “insecurity” in relation to entire societies? Fukuda-Parr’s conclusions mostly recognize and constructively engage with limitations in the existing knowledge, one exception being where the author advocates introducing a set of proposed Millennium Security Goals (MSGs) – a “key dimension of human well-being” – to parallel the MDGs agreed upon in 2000, which did not include security issues among its development indicators. (p. 39)
Concluding the book, the three editors take on the difficult task of synthesizing the volume’s contributions into a set of factors that may explain different “security and development trajectories” among states – socioeconomic, environmental, demographic, political/institutional, and external factors. They then go about extracting several policy lessons. The former is an unenviable task given that the editors establish no clear criteria for assigning any (more or less) fixed meaning to “security and development” – and how could they? Rather than being about security, development and the nexus between the two, it seems that the book actually adds more value to a somewhat different debate concerning armed conflict and its prevention, in which economic issues are of course one important factor, as the economist Paul Collier – cited in several key passages here – has demonstrated. The headlines assigned to the policy recommendations concluding the book reflect this implicit aim: Structural prevention, preventive diplomacy, building capacities and resilience, assessment /monitoring, and peacebuilding. These appear to be recommendations intended to curtail localized armed conflicts, not to understand or resolve larger security-development issues in any transnational or global sense. While the volume’s individual contributions are very substantial, it thus adds somewhat less than promised to an overall understanding of security-development framed as either “hard reality” or as policies among donor nations and at the global level.
Where Security & Development: Searching for Critical Connections presents an approach strongly rooted in the peace and conflict concerns of the New York-based and partly UN-funded International Peace Institute, Security and Development in Global Politics: A Critical Comparison, edited by Joanna Spear and Paul D. Williams, published in 2012, is very much a product of Washington, DC, with twelve of its fourteen authors being associated with institutions in the District of Columbia. Five authors, including the two editors, hold positions at George Washington University, while two are at George Mason University and two at the Henry L. Stimson Center. One is employed at the World Bank, one at the liberal think-tank Center for American Progress, and one at the U.S. Institute of Peace, also in Washington, DC. Most are international relations and international affairs specialists. The Washingtonian affiliations are readily apparent when perusing the book’s end notes: Whereas Tschirgi et al. rely heavily on reports from the UNDP and other UN agencies, here the UNDP is cited twelve times in total and all other UN publications receive a total of 36 mentions (sixteen of these in Chapter 9 alone, leading to an average of three UN publications cited per chapter but a median of one). In comparison, publications by the World Bank are cited 58 times in total. Former World Bank economist Paul Collier is no less a popular source in this volume, receiving 21 citations, comparable to the OECD’s 23. Also reflecting the Washingtonian outlook, reports issued by the European Union are cited a total of four times.
Spear and Williams’ volume zeroes in on seven broad issues, each of which it approaches from the alternating “perspectives” of security and development. It treats each of the seven issues – aid, humanitarian assistance, governance, health, poverty, trade and resources, and demography – in two separate chapters, each pair concluded by a brief comment from the editors. In Chapter 1, Spear and Williams introduce an overarching conceptual approach to security and development, describing the two as “essentially contested concepts” (p. 10). The editors enumerate a number of different ways the security-development relationship may be conceptualized, e.g. positive-sum (mutually reinforcing), distinct (pursued using different methods), sequential (each is a precondition for the other), hierarchical (security priorities structure development choices), and selectively co-constitutive (often interconnected but in complex, context-dependent ways), the latter being the editors’ preferred analytical point of departure.
As to another option, labelled “sui generis”, it is suggested: “Security and development issues are always entirely context dependent; hence, it is impossible to draw meaningful conceptual generalizations across different times and places.” (p. 21) One might suggest that the inverse conceptualization would be more helpful. In other words, security-development links might be approached precisely as historically and contextually dependent, which would make it possible to draw meaningful connections (not generalizations) “across different times and places”. If the aim is to achieve an understanding of security-development as a form of political practice carried out through the use of specific concepts, this option would seem essential. Regrettably, the editors do not draw such conclusions from their choice to view security and development as “contested concepts”. Rather than “conceptualizing” the nexus in any rigorous sense, they engage in a more sophisticated form of naturalization through their argument – very similar to that of Tschirgi et al. – that the relationship is complex, non-generalizable and only relevant in certain contexts. The nexus, very basically, is treated as signifying something identifiably objective and “real” rather than as a political and academic construction, however much this would seem a natural conclusion on the basis of its many competing conceptualizations.
In explaining their choice to explore a series of international issues from the alternating perspectives of security and development, the editors state that they are doing so “in order to assess the extent to which there really is a “nexus” between these two concepts, and, crucially, whether that nexus should be encouraged or resisted.” Although links may “seem real and desirable,” the editors state, “we are skeptical of the claims of an almost automatic nexus”. (p. 1) In other words, the normative aim might be said to be the promotion of a narrower, more contextually sensitive understanding of the nexus. However, it is never stated unambiguously whether the nexus is also thought to be less than “automatic” in the sense that it joins together political concepts and thus requires a degree of political agency. The editors thus implicitly foreground the murky issue of whether the “nexus” is meant to describe a real-world relationship or whether it is a normative concept that seeks to create “a more positive relationship” either in policy terms or in terms of positively altering causality “on the ground”. In other words, is the argument that a nexus exists regardless of political action or is the argument primarily that it is imperative to create, strengthen or manage the nexus through political action?
Briefly dealing with Tschirgi, Lund and Mancini’s preceding volume, Spear and Williams claim that “[that] book’s detailed empirical studies only traces how the security-development relationship plays out in particular countries that have experienced armed conflict, and traces how powerful governments might respond. Less effort is devoted to making more general claims.” (pp. 20-21) They continue: “The existing academic literature has therefore not provided anything like a systematic account of the possible ways of conceptualizing the security-development relationship.” (p. 21) This is an interesting suggestion, given that Spear and Williams’ contributors in fact often engage in lengthy discussions – and often illuminating ones – of “how powerful governments might respond” themselves, albeit discussions where both the instruments and aims of governments and other important actors sometimes remain obscured.
In sections of the book, e.g. the pair of chapters on aid written by Bernard Harborne and Daniel Morrow, particular actors and their policy instruments – mainly the U.S. and a few international organizations – are more clearly highlighted. In fact, both these chapters engage in a compelling and useful corrective to recent, simplistic narratives that have identified “securitized aid” as an essentially novel post-9/11 phenomenon. For instance, Bernard Harborne sceptically remarks: “[T]he pursuit of security objectives in some instances has had dire developmental consequences. The deterioration in socioeconomic indicators in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia – front line states in the so-called war on terror – give little evidence of synergy; rather, they provide evidence that security objectives have triumphed and undermined development ones.” (p. 42) These two chapters perhaps stand out because aid as an overarching theme lends itself well to a substantially actor-focused perspective. Much the same applies to George C. Fidas’ and Julie E. Fischer’s chapters on health which, similarly, offer basic yet interesting perspectives e.g. on the “securitization” of health. Other sections offer less fresh perspectives. For instance, imparting the “security perspective” on demography, Jack A. Goldstone’s chapter entertains the Huntingtonian notion that Muslim migration to Western countries constitutes a prima facie (terrorist) security challenge since, as he muses, “[u]rban settings – even more than remote caves – offer excellent opportunities for recruitment and hiding of terrorist networks.” (p. 288)
Ramses Amer, Ashok Swain and Joakim Öjendal’s edited volume is the product of a collaboration beginning at the 2009 conference of the Swedish Network of Peace, Conflict and Development Research (PCDRNET) on the topic of the ‘Development and Security Nexus’, held in Stockholm in November 2009. A multinational group, ten of its thirteen contributors are affiliated with Swedish research institutions, most drawing from the universities of Uppsala and Gothenburg and from various Stockholm institutions. The volume draws on a diverse range of peace and conflict research traditions, offering perhaps the most esoteric multidisciplinary approach of the four books reviewed here.
“The starting point [for the book] is the exploration of the conceptual dimensions of the security-development nexus,” the editors state in the volume’s brief introduction. (p. 10) True enough, the book does offer one of the more conceptually attuned explorations of the security-development nexus to date while also finding room for eight case studies on Kosovo, China, ASEAN, Ache (Indonesia) and Sri Lanka, Central Asia, Vietnam, the DRC and South Africa which deal specifically with such issues as, respectively, environmental security, the role of an emerging superpower in international affairs, the principle of non-interference in regional cooperation, localized peace processes, regional overlaps between human security challenges, diasporas as critical agents in peacebuilding and reconstruction, ‘dirty’ resource trading, and local water management/rights.
The editors describe how the international tide has shifted from emphasizing human security concerns to heavily prioritizing countries and regions perceived as a threat to the security interests of donor countries as recipients of development aid. Yet the editors acknowledge that there is even more at stake. Viewing development and security as relational concepts, they question whose security and whose development the nexus is concerned with. It also remains underexplored, they state, how the nexus is imbued with meaning and ultimately employed. In Chapter 2, Maria Stern and Joakim Öjendal suggest a sophisticated framework for mapping the multiple understandings which underlie “the nexus” in its various political articulations. Stern and Öjendal first trace a number of separate “stories about development” and “stories about security” before attempting a mapping of “the nexus” in its various iterations, e.g. as modern(ist) narrative, as a technique of governmentality, as a potentially harmful “impasse” between desired realities, and (more beneficially) as an alternative to global (neo-)liberalism that attends to the localized experiences (fears, desires, needs) of vulnerable peoples.
The two typologies employed as frameworks for Security and Development in Global Politics and The Security-Development Nexus arguably suffers from similar limitations, although the latter is arguably more finely attuned to other critical perspectives from within academia. Namely, they are more concerned with presenting different “perspectives” than with treating security-development as both a form and an instrument of agency which may also take on changing, localized shapes depending on its setting. This is to say that the security-development links has meant different things for different political agents.
To use Scandinavia as one example, the security-development link has – for political actors – concerned such diverse issues as the protection of children and other vulnerable groups in conflict areas (Norway), the clearing of landmines and other disarmament initiatives using development funds (Sweden), and the training of security forces in ‘failed states’ such as Afghanistan, based to some degree on arguments concerning both national security and the rights – e.g. to education – among local girls and women (Denmark). In this sense, the security-development nexus also appears to have become a handy and very flexible tool in the justification of foreign policy priorities among states. The authors’ unease that national and global policies proceed “as if we collectively understood the context and the consequences” of the attention given to security-development nexus is well-placed. Yet it is perhaps doubtful, more generally, whether Western foreign policy consequences are ever fully and appropriately understood. As such, achieving a better understanding of security-development links as a highly adaptable policy instrument first seems desirable – if this can be coupled with the difficult task of engaging in case studies demonstrating the effects of such policy instruments, all the better.
It may appear self-evident that violent conflicts inhibit social and economic development in many ways, e.g. destroying livelihoods, societal institutions, infrastructure, etc., and that lack of development (however defined) often correlates with armed conflict. In this sense the link between lack of development and tangible ‘security challenges’ may seem clear enough. However, if one acknowledges that national security policies still operate even partly on the basis of its own set of policy instruments which are, say, aimed at militarily ensuring the stability of states, it does not follow that bringing such policy into the equation will have positive effects for development nor security, “human” or otherwise conceptualized. For this to be the case, security policy instruments among “donor” countries and institutions would have to be radically transformed to suit the humanitarian security/development paradigm that it purports to aim at achieving, that is, truly aimed at protecting the individual from a wide range of threats. To shift from acknowledging the adverse effects of conflict to prescribing an even more intrusive form of national/global security policy is thus a very risky move: It involves a degree of conceptual slippage and is therefore not self-evidently useful. Mark Malloch Brown’s caution against “misleading generalities” from a decade past certainly still seems relevant today.
During very recent years, an abundance of academic conferences and even entire academic programs have been organized and established around “the security-development nexus”. This has resulted in a variety of published volumes by a wide range of e.g. political scientists, peace and conflict researchers and human security scholars on this issue. Yet despite its obvious impact on national and international political agendas, the security-development merger still only received passing mentions in e.g. historical accounts of development/aid policies and a number of conceptual uncertainties still exist. As such, given the attempt to naturalize and de-historicize the link, it is still unclear how the widespread acceptance of this nexus have (a) influenced the component concepts of security and development and (b) been adapted into a variety of national/institutional policy settings. This review has attempted to emphasize the links between these two aims: The security-development nexus must both be understood as a historically contingent concept and as transnational policy. An approach to the security-development nexus and related conceptual/political mergers founded in critical transnational and/or comparative history therefore seems essential.
 Kofi Annan, In Larger Freedom. Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All. Report of the Secretary-General, New York 2005 (UN A/59/2005), annex, point 2.
 S. Neil MacFarlane, Yuen Foong Khong, Human Security and the UN, Bloomington 2006; Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh, Anuradha M. Chenoy, Human Security. Concepts and Implications, Abingdon 2007.
 For radically critical perspectives on the ‘nexus’, see e.g. Mark Duffield, Global Governance and the New Wars. The Merging of Development and Security, London 2001; David Chandler, The Security-Development Nexus and the Rise of ‘Anti-Foreign Policy’, in: Journal of International Relations and Development 10 (2007), p. 362-86; Tara McCormack, Human Security and the Separation of Security and Development, in: Conflict, Security & Development 11 (2011), p. 235-60.
 International Peace Academy, Strengthening the Security-Development Nexus. Assessing International Policy and Practice since the 1990s, New York 2004, p. 3.
 IPA, Security-Development Nexus, p. 15.
 IPA, Security-Development Nexus, p. 21.
 United Nations General Assembly, 2005 World Summit Outcome, New York 2005 (UN A/60/L.1), points 9, 24, 72, 74.
 See also Robert Picciotto, Rachel Weaving (eds.), Security and Development. Investing in Peace and Prosperity, Abingdon 2006; Lasse Buur, Steffen Jensen, Finn Stepputat (eds.), The Security-Development Nexus. Expressions of Sovereignty and Securitization in Southern Africa, Cape Town 2007; David Carment, Stewart Prest, Samy Yiagadeesen, Security, Development, and the Fragile State: Bridging the Gap between Theory and Policy, London 2009; John-Andrew McNeish; Jon H. S. Lie (eds.) Security and Development, New York 2010; Henni Alava (ed.), Exploring the Security-Development Nexus, Helsinki 2010; George Mavrotas (ed.), Security and Development, Cheltenham 2011.
 While Paul Collier’s concept of the “conflict trap” may well have influenced the ‘success’ of integrated security-development policies, it does not describe the totality of those dynamics or ideas which have led to today’s unprecedented attention to “the security-development nexus” and thus seems ill-placed to analyse the nexus in any conceptual sense. See e.g. Paul Collier et al., Breaking the Conflict Trap. Civil War and Development, Washington 2003; Paul Collier, The Bottom Billion. Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done about It, Oxford 2007.
 W. B. Gallie, Essentially Contested Concepts, in: Max Black (ed.), The Importance of Language, Englewood Cliffs, NJ 1962, p. 121-46.
 See also Maria Stern; Joakim Öjendal (eds.), Special Issue on the Security-Development Nexus Revisited, in: Security Dialogue 41 (1) (2010).