Identity, Migration and the New Security Agenda in Europe

by Waever, Ole, Barry Buzan, Morten Kelstrup, and Pierre Lemaitre. 1993. Pinter Publishers

Key words: European integration, societal security, identity, migration
Summary by Margaux Dandrifosse (IBEI)


Micro-summary: With European integration and the end of the Cold War, societal insecurity has increasingly overshadowed other forms of insecurity in Europe, with the major perceived threat to Western identities coming from Eastern and Southern migration.

Summary: In this book, the authors are inspired by the end of the Cold War and the project of European integration to develop a new conceptual framework on security: societal security. This concept moves beyond traditional understandings of security by shifting the referent object from the state to societies. Societies are defined as large communities sharing a sense of belonging and a collective identity. In contrast to social groups, the collective identity of a society is sufficiently large and robust as to be able to challenge the territorial state identity. While societal security is, therefore, independent and distinct from state security, the two are often intrinsically linked, complementing or threatening each other. Societal insecurity arises when a society perceives its identity to be threatened by challenging identities.

Based on this conceptual framework, the main argument of the book lies in the claim that, due to the end of the Cold War and the process of European integration, societal security has replaced other forms of security as the central concern in Europe. The referent objects of security have become ethno-national societies. However, different societal dynamics have created a cleavage between the European Community and the former Soviet states. On the one hand, in Western Europe, integration is leading to a growing detachment of the national/cultural identity from the nation-state. As competences are transferred beyond the state and the free movement of persons expands, ethno-national identities can no longer rely on the nation-state for protection. Instead, they increasingly protect themselves by strengthening their cultural identities, becoming cultural-national communities and moving beyond the traditional nation-states. Accordingly, the authors advocate for an overarching political European identity, rather than a cultural one which would create societal insecurities. On the other hand, Eastern European states actively attempt to build effective nation-states with an ethno-national identity closely associated with the state.

In the West, the main societal threat lies in migration, due to its peripheral and destabilizing regional environment. Migration threats come from the newly created and fragile Eastern European nation-states and their emphasis on national rhetoric, and from the unstable Middle-East, with the cultural shock of Islam. Not only has migration transformed the previously homogenous European societies, it has also been politically turned by elites into a societal threat to justify social and economic problems and maintain political legitimacy. In the East, the main societal threats come from large minorities in homogenizing nation-states and the fear of imperialism and penetration by the dominant West.

Accordingly, it is argued that the success of European integration lies not only in the management of state sovereignty, it also significantly depends on the attention given to societal insecurities. Societal security both in the West and the East will determine if Europe integrates further or fragmentizes and returns to traditional nation-states. At the same time, the future of European integration will influence the structure and nature of the European security complex.

Follow-up: This book introduces the conceptual framework of societal security, linking identity, security, and migration in Europe. This concept has formed the basis of a significant number of further academic works on securitization. As such, it represents a foundational book for the study of security, moving beyond traditional conceptualizations. Following this book, the authors have published a large amount of works on securitization theory. An important follow-up book by Buzan and Waever is “Security: A New Framework for Analysis” (1998) which extends the concept of societal security to other regions of the world.

Relevance for the SECUREU Project: This book introduces a relevant conceptual framework to understand the link between xenophobia and migration in the EU, ever more relevant in the current context. It highlights that migration not only threatens state security, it also causes societal insecurities. Growing xenophobia in the EU could, therefore, be understood as a self-response by European ethno-national societies to their increasing societal insecurities due to migration and the failure of Member States and the EU to provide societal protection. It would be interesting to examine how migration impacts state and societal security differently, and how those two forms of security interact as regard to migration. Furthermore, is the growing securitization of migration leading to a fragmentation of the EU and a public willingness to return to nation-states to ensure the protection of their societal identity? How do we explain the inherent contradiction between the securitization of migration at the European level and the possible negative effects such securitization has on European integration through rising nationalism and xenophobia? The book, written in 1993, had envisioned that the management of societal insecurities would be crucial to European integration. The current anti-EU and nationalist resurgence since the 2015 migration crisis, therefore, seem to suggest that the failure to manage societal insecurities may, indeed, be leading to a fragmentation in Europe.