“Security” is a word that we all use every day in a variety of contexts – so much so that it rarely occurs to us to reflect on what we think it means (or on what it ought to mean). The academic study of International Relations is something of an exception: scholars from a variety of schools of thought embrace unconventional, idiosyncratic, and sometimes downright weird definitions. Accordingly, most IR scholars would describe security as an “essentially contested concept.” I argue that it is not, or at least it should not be so considered: there is one, and only one, useful definition of security. But more than this, if we are to wield the word effectively – for example, if we are to have confidence in our ability to allocate resources wisely to various security problems – we need to think deeply about what is worth securing, and why. For this, we need a clear axiology, or theory of value, as well as a solid understanding of why it is often so difficult to gauge security threats properly. I make the case that if we are bold enough to go down this rabbit hole, we will discover that we grossly misallocate resources to security problems and that there is a clear hierarchy as between ecospheric security, state security, cultural security, and human security.
About the speaker
David A. Welch is University Research Chair and Professor of Political Science at the University of Waterloo. He teaches at the Balsillie School of International Affairs and is co-editor (with Toni Erskine and Stefano Guzzini) of International Theory. His 2005 book Painful Choices: A Theory of Foreign Policy Change (Princeton University Press) is the inaugural winner of the International Studies Association ISSS Book Award for the best book published in 2005 or 2006, and his 1993 book Justice and the Genesis of War (Cambridge University Press) is the winner of the 1994 Edgar S. Furniss Award for an Outstanding Contribution to National Security Studies. He is the author most recently of Security: A Philosophical Investigation (Cambridge University Press, 2022) and is also co-author of Understanding Global Conflict and Cooperation (Pearson Education, 2020); Vietnam if Kennedy had Lived: Virtual JFK (Rowman & Littlefield, 2009); The Cuban Missile Crisis: A Concise History (Oxford University Press, 2011); On the Brink: Americans and Soviets Reexamine the Cuban Missile Crisis (Noonday, 1990); and Cuba on the Brink: Castro, The Missile Crisis, and the Soviet Collapse (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002). He is co-editor of Japan as a ‘Normal Country’? (University of Toronto Press, 2011) and Intelligence and the Cuban Missile Crisis (Frank Cass, 1998), and his articles have appeared in Asian Perspective, Canadian Foreign Policy Journal, Ethics and International Affairs, Foreign Affairs, The Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, Intelligence and National Security, Group Decision and Negotiation, International Journal, International Negotiation, International Security, International Journal, International Studies Quarterly, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, The Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, The Mershon International Studies Review, The Review of International Studies, and Security Studies. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1990.