Securitisation, The Danish Way

The aim of this essay is to explore and discuss critical issues of human security with relevant application of the framework of securitisation suggested by the Copenhagen School. Specifically this essay will argue that since the end of the Cold War western governments have placed an emphasis on securitising the relocation and resettlement of victims of forced displacement. Furthermore this essay suggests, drawing on the ideas presented by Hammerstad (2010) and Suhrke, in Newman & van Selm (2003), that through the securitisation of the displaced persons from areas of conflict and political unrest western governments have been able to justify further conflict and constructed a vacuum which has caused net migration of displaced persons to increase. This article concludes that until forced displacement is treated as a humanitarian issue and not a security issue migration will continue to be a contentious issue within the global political sphere. To effectively achieve this the essay will; establish an underlying framework from constructivist theory drawing on Wæver (1995), Neumann (2010) and McDonald (2011) of the Copenhagen School to apply to the human security issue of forced displacement and migration, analyse trends in the rate of displaced persons globally since the end of the Cold War and specifically noticeable changes post-September 11, and finally, the issue of securitisation of forced displacement and migration will be comparatively analysed in a case study that explores the issue in both Australia and Europe. Further to Hammerstad (2010), Suhrke (2003), Wæver (1995), Neumann (2010) and McDonald (2011) this essay will also be supported by key readings from Gleeson (2016), Klocker & Dunn (2003), Huysmans (2000) and others which will be cited accordingly.

The twentieth century brought with it many advances in political international relations theory and after the Cold War ended detailed security studies became more prevalent issues on the global political stage. As society progressed so too had the idea of security as a medium, though widely acknowledged by scholars to be of an ambiguous meaning anyway, the scope by which security was defined has evolved beyond immediate threats to a nation and its borders (Neumann 2010; Wilkinson 2007). At the centre of this revolution of socially aware theory the Copenhagen School proposed that any referent object can be securitised when facing an existential threat, from entire countries right down to smaller collective groups sharing a common identity, provided they hold a perceived value within their community (Wæver 1995; Wæver 2003; Wilkinson 2007). This shift in focus saw the prioritisation and securitisation of specific individual issues and threats to national interests become more justifiable as genuine security threats where this may have not been the case previously. Williams (2013, p.72) asserts that this approach developed by the Copenhagen School in the context of post-Cold War International Relations encourages the broadening of security to include any manner of pressing and hitherto neglected concerns such as poverty, climate change, and, most relevant to this paper human rights on state security agendas. This specificity builds on the underlying principles of social constructivism which, while encouraging the inclusion of ideas, culture, identity and interaction in international relations (Agius 2016, p. 71), has strong opposition from Rationalist theorists who claim that it cannot be observed empirically (Agius 2016, p. 84).

In the context of this essay’s subject matter, the securitisation of displaced persons, the interpretation of the Copenhagen School’s approaches is in line with Hammerstad (2010, p. 241) who states that the process of securitisation in this respect is a hermeneutical circle in which, “the way we talk about a phenomenon helps shape how we react to it… our actions and their consequences in turn help shape how we discuss the phenomenon”. Based on this understanding of the Copenhagen School and the social constructivist theories, and the subjectivity of their application, Suhrke (2003, pp.97-98) offers perspective from the other side of the argument recognising legitimate occurrences where the relocation of asylum seekers may be legitimately securitised for fear of the speed or volume of migratory persons entering a new country. This is recognised, however, as having more to do with a nation’s infrastructure and ability to cope with resettlement of the migrant populations and not their willingness to abide recognising that the societies that formed the backdrop of the Copenhagen School’s explorations were strong industrialised states. This interpretation of Suhrke’s is vital to appreciating the securitisation of forced displaced persons through the remainder of this essay as it is these same strong and stable industrialised nations currently looking for alternatives to helping with the currently high levels of displaced persons globally.   

Since the end of the Cold War, and more recently the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, heightened levels of international conflict have seen the total number of displaced persons globally rise to an estimated 65.5 million as of 2018 (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 2018). The gravity of this most recent figure can be better appreciated where Odhiambo-Abuya (2003, P. 237) shows that the United Nations High Commisioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported the total number of displaced persons at the end of 2001 was an estimated 5 million, a figure which has increased more than thirteen times. While the UNHCR figures account for both internal, those who are still living within their native countries borders but forced away from their native home, and external displacement the two are not mutually exclusive as both cases are brought about as a result of conflict or civil unrest which, in a modern geopolitical sphere, can be considered threats to international security which should be addressed as the obligation of each country who is in a position to assist (Ayoob 2010, p.81). Odhiambo-Abuya (2003, p. 236) recognises this as being caused by many modern conflicts being typified by non-state actors such as terrorist groups or militias, as opposed to tradition state versus state conflict, though as can be seen by the United States and Allied Forces ‘War on Terror’ these traditional conflicts still play a part. Further to this Internal Displacement is often an afterthought of the international community who feel it is the obligation of local governments to provide for their people (Cohen 2001, para. 6) and as such intervention may not come from outside forces until such a time that conflict is unavoidable, as has been the case in the Middle East, which in turn causes a shift in migration as civilians seek to flee the violence. A contemporary example of this can be seen with through the mass-migration of Afghan and Iraqi refugees to Australia in late 2001, following the events of September 11, when international intervention was made into already ongoing conflict.

The securitisation of displaced persons, particularly refugees, in Australia since the turn of the twenty-first century has been characterised by the narrative of the “boat people” (Bolger 2016, p.13; O’Doherty & Lecouteur 2007, p. 1) and the perceived threat that they pose to the Australian people and their way of life. For a country which regards itself as one of social and cultural progression (Hancock 2017, para. 17; Social Progress Index 2017) Australia’s approach to the resettlement of migrants throughout this period and into the current day has been polarising in international political discourse (Australian Institute for Progress 2015, p. 3; Crowe 2016, para. 1). The Pacific Solution legislation which passed through parliament on September 21st 2001 (Commonwealth of Australia 2002, p. 291; Phillips 2012, para. 2) in the wake of the Tampa affair, which saw a Norwegian freighter rescue a sinking boat carrying refugees (Klocker & Dunn 2003, p. 73; Commonwealth of Australia 2002, p. 1), the securitisation of displaced persons in Australia had begun. The public were desensitized to the influx of refugees fleeing conflict in the Middle East and the legislation saw the use of smaller pacific islands, notably Papua New Guinea and Nauru, as well as the Australian territory of Christmas Island used to detain asylum seekers until they were eligible for on shore settlement, processing  or return to their country of origin (Karlsen 2016; Refugee Council of Australia 2016, para. 1). The then Howard government set about systematically demonizing legitimately displaced persons as a threat to Australia and eventually, in October 2001, would publicise allegations that refugees had intentionally thrown children off of boats in an attempt to force a rescue and settlement in Australia (Head 2004, para. 3; McGrath 2004). These allegations were later investigated and found to be falsified and used to wilfully mislead the Australian public (Commonwealth of Australia 2002, p. xiv) but not before the general perception of displaced persons in Australia had become one of severe negative connotations.

A study published in the Australian Journal of Psychology found that more than half (59.8%) of individuals surveyed held negative attitudes towards refugees on a set of data collected in 2002, twelve months after the aforementioned Tampa affair and Children Overboard incidents (Schweitzer, Perkoulidis, Krome, Ludlow and Ryan 2005, pp. 17-18). Over the years that closed out the decade, and in subsequent elections, immigration policy remained one of the top priorities in Australian mainstream politics, with election campaigns built by both major parties on the securitisation of asylum seekers (McDonald 2011). By 2011, despite a decrease in the overall number of migrations to Australia, the securitisation of the issue meant more than half of people surveyed felt that immigration numbers were increasing (Wilkie 2011, para. 7).  By engaging the Australian public with this perceived security threat, with Government ministers even going as far as to claim ‘an undeniable link between illegal immigrants and terrorism’ (Klocker & Dunn 2003, p. 71), the Australian government was able to justify its involvement in international conflicts in the Middle East as an allied partner of the United States and the ‘War on Terror’ (Aslan 2009, p. 112; Gleeson 2016, p. 85). In committing themselves to this conflict and the escalating violence in the Middle East the Australian government was in effect contributing to the creation of further forced displacement and following a vicious circle in which they were assisting in creating the very asylum seekers that they were then refusing entry into their country. Humanitarian groups, including the Refugee Council of Australia and the UNHCR, raised concerns with the validity and legality of the Australian approach to immigration policy (Archbold 2015, pp. 137-158; Bhuiyan & Islam 2013, p.33) not only for the immediate impact it had on the displaced persons seeking refuge but also on the precedent and example it set for other western countries, particularly in Europe where the issue was also coming to prominence, to go against a moral obligation to lend aid where possible.      

Following the end of the Cold War there has been an ongoing struggle for power across each of the three sectors of Europe. The Eastern bloc, characterised by ex-soviet states and borders into Asia and the Middle East, has existed in a state of near perpetual conflict since this time. The dismantling of Yugoslavia, unrest in the Balkans and war in Kosovo throughout the 1990’s saw millions of persons displaced within Europe itself (Cohen 2001, para. 3) while conflict continued from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on Europe’s doorstep (Reuveny & Prakash 1999, pp. 693-708). As tensions in the West towards the Middle Eastern states of Iraq and Afghanistan escalated into war following September 11, 2001, there began an influx of displaced persons into mainland Europe. As the conflict moved through the Middle East and into Syria over the decade the mass-migration of displaced persons, refugees and asylum seekers reached its peak in the summer of 2015, when millions of Middle Eastern and African natives began travelling by land and across the Mediterranean sea  seeking admittance en masse in numbers not previously seen in Europe since the aftermath of the Nazi regime at the conclusion of the second world war. The ‘European migrant crisis’ as it became known lead to the widespread securitisation of immigration as, in the wake of jihadist style terror attacks in France, Belgium and the United Kingdom, European governments and International intelligence agencies reported concerns that the crisis was being used by Islamic terrorist cells were smuggling trained jihadists amongst the genuine refugees with the explicit purpose of committing further acts of terror across Europe (Faiola & Mekhennet 2016; Reuters 2016).

This securitisation lead to widespread fear across Europe and destabilised faith in the European Union, leading a resolute United Kingdom to vote to secede following a referendum where voters were promised full control over their borders and a stop to the relocation and integration of displaced persons into their country. One of the key issues in the securitisation of migration in Europe is the blanket European Union (EU) regulations implemented via the Dublin Convention which creates a more restrictive and control oriented approach to the resettlement of asylum seekers (Huysmans 2000, p. 756). By enforcing a set guideline across the Union it becomes harder for member states to ignore their responsibility to aid in the humanitarian process of resettlement. As the European migrant crisis unfolded the issue became not the task of resettlement but with who the responsibility lied to undertake it. Ultimately the threat of action resulted, at least in the case of the United Kingdom, the member state feeling that the EU had too much power over the immigration policy of their country despite their active participation in the conflicts which had contributed to the crisis itself. In a 2017 report published by Chatham House public attitudes of United Kingdom citizens were found to default to negativity when asked about immigration with a strong link made between displaced persons and a threat to national security and sovereignty (Dempster & Hargrave 2017, p. 10). Similarly to the earlier case study focused on Australia this combination of public opinion combined with government securitisation of the minority group lead to widespread fear and vocal disapproval, in this case of both the displaced persons and of the European Union itself for seeking humanitarian assistance. 

While the situations are noticeably different between the two continents analysed in this papers case studies the approach to the securitisation of forced displaced persons in Australia and Europe share several key similarities. Most notably the securitisation of refugees as a threat to national sovereignty and individual security, an indifferent approach to their relocation with a predisposition to attempt to shift the burden onto other countries and, with respect to Hammerstad (2010, p. 241), the contributions of both Australia and the United Kingdom to the hermeneutical circle of conflict which aides in the creation of forced displacement. In the instances outlined in the case studies both shared in the public action of securitising Middle Eastern immigrants. The handling of the Tampa affair and the children overboard issue, publically citing Middle Eastern refugees as potential terrorists, was much the same as in Europe where it was suggested that jihadists were being smuggled across the borders amongst those seeking legitimate humanitarian aid. The key difference between these two cases however is that the European concern was found to be legitimate with several arrests made as a result of joint operations through European Police (Faiola & Mekhennet 2016; Reuters 2016).

This highlights the importance of using securitisation as a tool to assist in the development of the international narrative as stated by Suhrke (2003). In the European case study the United Kingdom’s approach to the Dublin Convention for managing the relocation and settlement of refugees can be seen as having direct parallels to Australia’s attempts to force the Norwegian government to take responsibility of the individuals that were rescued during the Tampa affair (Klocker & Dunn 2003; Commonwealth of Australia 2002). When this approach was unsuccessful the Australian government then attempted to return those individuals to their point of origin in Indonesia which was also unsuccessful before eventually having no choice but to take them in for processing. Unlike the United Kingdom, who were bound by European law, Australia was not able to avoid their humanitarian responsibility under the United Nations charters both countries remained vocal in their desire to return migrants to their point of origin. This aversion to fulfilling a humanitarian obligation under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights further demonstrates the separation that exists and is perpetuated by Western governments in the securitisation of migrants to take the safety to people rather than take the people to safety (Schmeidl 2003, p. 145). The third and final comparison in this critical analysis considers each of the points that have been raised throughout this paper and considers them with the application of Hammerstad’s (2010, p. 241) proposition of a cycle of conflict.

Both Australian and European forces continue to be a presence in active conflicts around the world with the war in Syria and the Middle East continuing to threaten the lives and residency of millions. This state of affairs only deepens the potential for the refugee crisis to grow and further delays a timeframe in which resettlement for displaced persons to return to their native land, if at all possible. Until conflict can be resolved the situation will continue in a state of perpetual warfare and as such the displaced persons, refugees and asylum seekers will continue to exist without a national identity.

This paper has considered the current state of securitisation of migrants from a critical approach with the application of social constructivist theories from the Copenhagen School and demonstrated how the issue is escalated by the use of conflict as a means of resolution and dehumanising of the individual displaced persons. Throughout the exploration and discussion of human security in this essay a recurring theme, particularly in the two case studies, has been the securitisation of what is very much a humanitarian issue. Regardless of the progress that is made by international bodies in the quest for conflict resolution the displacement of people from affected countries will remain to be an issue long after the fact. This serves as a realisation that displacement and issues of human security must be treated as humanitarian issues and not security threats as this securitisation can only serve to continue perpetuating a divide between sovereign publics and those displaced who come seeking asylum. Without systemic change at an international level migration will continue to remain a contentious issue within the political sphere as illustrated in the Australian and European case studies. Ultimately it is the responsibility of international bodies to see displaced persons not as a burden of the state but simply as people who are doing their best to survive. 



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