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"Securing Europe, Fighting its Enemies: The making of a security culture in Europe and beyond, 1815-1914"

Final Report Summary - SECURE (Securing Europe, Fighting its Enemies: The making of a security culture in Europe and beyond, 1815-1914)

Security is a driving force in history, and history is key to understanding security. With our project, we historicise the notion of security from a truly global and interdisciplinary perspective. The research goes beyond the traditional realist, state-centred, essentialist, and timeless approaches in security studies. Employing concepts from the social sciences (securitisation theory) we draw attention to the dynamic processes where security threats and interests were intersubjectively defined and constructed, and where corresponding practices were exercised by transnational, international, and local actors in several different regions, domains, and periods of the long nineteenth century.

Contemporary focus on security as a political imperative of urgent executive planning has overlooked the historically developed, contingent trajectory of security thinking. Today’s security concerns have therefore remained highly Western-centric, and parochially informed. This research puts global histories and trajectories of security governance in the limelight, with particular focus on the birth of modern security thinking, that is, in the nineteenth century. We unpack security in multifarious ways: (1) as an analytical concept informed by historical contestation and construction, (2) as a discursive tool and an objective for contemporaries - worldwide. Moreover, we argue that security played a major role in shaping a new world order in the nineteenth century – not as an instrument of national strife and conflict, but through collective, joint efforts of global and local agenda setting processes. Our main finding is that a multitude of security questions served to create, shape, and consolidate inter-empire cooperation and convergence in this age of internationalisation as early as 1815.

We have identified epistemic communities of inter-empire security making in the nineteenth century amongst diplomats, engineers, river traders and merchants, police officials, and military experts. These communities of actors – just below the surface of heads of state and governments – developed and tested new administrative, regulative, juridical, military, and reactionary practices, that were truly transnational, and that were based upon novel ‘logics of security’, for example in the field of identification and registration practices, of safety and security regulations, of humanitarian conventions, financial securities, and of deliberative practices. These technocratic practices were moreover wed to specific notions of security that were used as motivational frames. Terms as moderation, balance, tranquillity, civil, Christian - as opposed to revolutionary, anarchism, barbaric, or even demonic – were used to engineer support and legitimacy for these practices and interventions.

With our approach, we address security cultures not only from a Western perspective, but set Middle Eastern, and East Asian histories of insecurity and threat/interest perceptions centre stage as well. We also give voice to indigenous (in)security considerations and the agency of these actors in the processes of the creation of new systems of rule and order. We explicitly highlight the interactive dynamics and reciprocal change that characterise security cultures, and that have not been addressed properly by existing (Western) narratives of globalisation and global rule.

In short, our project sheds new light on ‘the troubled encounters’ between expansionist empires and encroached locales, and the production of (in)security as discourse, policy and objective in their ‘contact zones’ in Europe and beyond. It shows how in the nineteenth century imperialism shaped security, and the empire/security nexus shaped Europe, and affected or even consolidated and partly co-created the asymmetric power divisions at the home continent itself. Imperial expansionism, control and surveillance directed against the indigenous peoples directly piped back to rule and governance at home. We could even argue that the birth of the modern European process of integration started in 1813 as a veritable project of inter-empire security cooperation, with its encompassing culture of indirect rule, threats and practices.