No place for theory? Security studies in Latin America

Arlene B. Tickner, Mônica Herz

Producción científica: Capítulo en Libro/ReporteCapítuloInvestigación

6 Citas (Scopus)


Until the late 1980s, when a wave of democratization hit South America (and to a lesser degree Mexico), the Central American peace process was well under way, the Cold War was coming to an end and security was almost exclusively the work of generals. Both domestic and international defense policies and the concept of security itself were heavily influenced by the military’s approach to the subject. From independence in the nineteenth century until the onset of the bipolar conflict, geopolitics held sway over security ideas, especially given the exigencies of state-building, the porosity of national borders and the ominous presence of the United States. During the Cold War, the dominant mode of thought, a national security doctrine, legitimated widespread repression and authoritarian rule based on the assumption that leftist and other opposition groups constituted a domestic and regional “communist” threat that destabilized the prevailing social order. The transition to democracy and the perceived relevance of international relations, in terms of both globalization and norms and rules framing social, political and economic life, ushered in a new generation of security thinking, characterized primarily by its civilian authorship and its concern with issues related to political regime type, the proper role of the military in public policy, institutional weakness, the relationship between democracy and security, and transnational threats. The fact that interstate conflict was all but eliminated after the 1995 rift between Peru and Ecuador reinforced this shift in perspective, although it did not erase conflict from the regional lexicon altogether. This chapter analyzes Latin American security studies in two main steps. First, we examine the security concepts and practices that have been prevalent during distinct historical periods. This discussion leads us to identify four main stages in regional approaches to security: the geopolitical doctrine, national security doctrine, democratic security, and the broadening of the concept to include domestic insecurity and transnational threats. Second, we explore what we consider to be some of the key characteristics of security thinking in Latin America today. We argue that, like Latin American International Relations (IR) itself, security knowledge has been practical, applied and policy relevant (Tickner 2008, 2009). Given the region’s long history of authoritarian regimes, training a new cadre of civilian security experts capable of accompanying/complementing the military and designing a democratic security and defense architecture were seen as the necessary drivers of the subfield, both domestically and abroad.1 To this end, international actors played a key role in forging bridges between Latin American states and academia immediately before and long after the democratic transition. In 2000, donor efforts were stepped up given concern for rising levels of citizen insecurity, the region’s incapacity to address it, and the perceived need for new approaches to non-traditional security threats. Even in those cases in which scholars set out to explore security “con- cepts” and “theories, " what emerges in their stead are descriptive reflections on Latin American security dynamics and prescriptive recommendations. What this suggests to us is that, in addition to being driven by the production of “policy knowledge, " security (and IR) scholars in the region may understand the meaning of theory differently (Abend 2006). Shedding light on how concepts such as security evolve in diverse national and regional settings demands accounting for these epistemological differences. Security studies’ fixation on the state has been more pronounced than that of regional IR. During the military’s reign over all things security related, this was an inevitable result of the armed forces’ concern with “securing” the nation-state. However, following demilitarization and academization the state continued to be the main referent of security, even as concepts such as human security trickled into Latin American debates. The fact that key security challenges in the post-Cold War period, both domestic (such as citizen insecurity) and transnational (such as organized crime and illicit flows of drugs and arms), came to be associated-at least in partwith the institutional weakness of Latin American states reinforced this tendency. Before we proceed, several caveats are in order. First, notwithstanding the tremendous diversity (in size, global position and domestic concerns, to name but a few) that characterizes Latin America (and the Caribbean) and that makes it difficult to speak of the region as a discrete geographical unit or “region” of security thinking, a series of commonalities make this effort not only feasible but worthwhile. All the region’s countries share a similar history of colonization and independence (even though Brazil’s former colonizer was Portugal and not Spain), all have been affected security-wise by their proximity to the United States and its claims to hegemony and a sphere of influence, 2 and all of their states, although to differing degrees, have had and continue to experience some degree of institutional weakness that has hampered their ability to provide security for their respective populations. Security debates have been influenced by the fact that low levels of interstate war have coexisted with high levels of intrastate violence and/or conflict, meaning that alongside the generalized absence of war scenarios, the domestic sources of insecurity have been on the region’s radar for nearly its entire independent history.

Idioma originalInglés estadounidense
Título de la publicación alojadaThinking International Relations Differently
EditorialTaylor and Francis
Número de páginas23
ISBN (versión digital)9781136473821
ISBN (versión impresa)9780415781305
EstadoPublicada - ene. 1 2013
Publicado de forma externa

Áreas temáticas de ASJC Scopus

  • Ciencias Sociales General


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