Ontological Security in International Relations: Self-Identity and the IR State (New International Relations)
Brent J. Steele
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The central assertion of this book is that states pursue social actions to serve self-identity needs, even when these actions compromise their physical existence. Three forms of social action, sometimes referred to as ‘motives’ of state behaviour (moral, humanitarian, and honour-driven) are analyzed here through an ontological security approach.
Brent J. Steele develops an account of social action which interprets these behaviours as fulfilling a nation-state's drive to secure self-identity through time. The anxiety which consumes all social agents motivates them to secure their sense of being, and thus he posits that transformational possibilities exist in the ‘Self’ of a nation-state. The volume consequently both challenges and complements realist, liberal, constructivist and post-structural accounts to international politics.
Using ontological security to interpret three cases - British neutrality during the American Civil War (1861-1865), Belgium’s decision to fight Germany in 1914, and NATO’s (1999) Kosovo intervention - the book concludes by discussing the importance for self-interrogation in both the study and practice of international relations.
Ontological Security in International Relations will be of particular interest to students and researchers of international politics, international ethics, international relations and security studies.
theories suggest that it is possible to reconcile moral, humanitarian, or even honor-driven actions with a self-regarding, selfinterest perspective, an account that unleashes the internal contradictions nation-states (like Lifton’s protean Selves) possess as not only beneficial but vital toward a transformation of action that might benefit the welfare of large populations of people. It is precisely the fact that such a transformation is never guaranteed that makes this benefit possible in the
were the ones most capable of confronting those situations. Both the powerful state and, somewhat less importantly, the international community share this obvious interpretation. An ontological security interpretation sees the act of ignoring such crises, when they are easily preventable, as seriously imperiling a sense of self-identity formulated by (certain) powerful states’ biographical narratives. There are higher costs with non-intervention because such inaction produces shame and ‘‘strips
physically insecure, but also which will make them ontologically insecure as well. Thus, just as arms buildups are a ‘‘strategic signal’’ to adversaries in order to produce an intended outcome, discursive representations can ‘‘shame’’ states into certain processes which benefit the signaler, and, perhaps, the international community. Second, the more promising possibilities which could follow British neutrality and the American Civil War 93 will be rare if states are impaired in reflexively
the Belgians waited so long to respond to the gathering German threat, but it cannot account for the Belgian decision to fight, as the Belgians were fully aware of German intentions and capabilities following the ultimatum. If the ‘‘friendly German’’ frame was so salient that it prevented Belgium from recognizing the German threat, there is no reason to believe that it would have been eliminated so easily, in Albertini’s terms, ‘‘at one stroke.’’ Additionally, the same identity of neutrality that
tried and will continue to try. The ontological security story is not a determinist view of international politics. Contingency is a fact of life. I will therefore avoid the practice, which has become so common in International Relations theory, of ‘‘prophecizing’’ about world politics at the end of my study: ‘‘human prophecies – which are a form of prediction – are often self-negating’’ (Lebow et al. 2000: 52). Agency levies upon us (1) opportunities for transforming world politics to attend to