International Relations Theories and Security

Authors: Fatima Ahmed and Areeja Syed

The post-cold war world has experienced many changes, not only in practical terms but also in theoretical sphere. One of the significant paradigm shift that took place was in the traditional meaning of security. The traditional meaning of security is state centric, it means that the territory of the state needs to be protected against any hostile attack. It can also be seen as protection from external threats.  On the other hand, non-traditional security is human centric. It means that the people of a state should be protected from hunger, disease, poverty and natural disasters(Yousaf, 2017).In 1994, UNDP HDR presented a report according to which seven things were added to the concept of security, these are personal, environmental, economic, political, community health and food security(Tsai, 2009). The state should protect its people from these internal threats.(Yousaf, 2017).

The theories of International relations defines security differently. Realism that still dominates the field of IR through its new version As Realist perceives the nature of human as selfish and egoistic which will incline more towards immorality. They argue that as the nature of human is selfish, same is the case with the states, They also act selfishly by looking in to just their own national interests and have nothing to do with other’s interest. If war is in their national interest they will go for war, and if co-operation is in their interest, they will cooperate with the other state. Neorealism, the branch of realism claims that there is no change in the world after the end of cold war, power is still the main entity in international relations and this power structure is due to the anarchical structure of international system and they still question the int. structure that it is still anarchic and there is constant competition among the states. The Realists and neorealist are not willing to come out of the traditional concept of state centric security. They stick to the narrow definition of security which refers to the protection of the country against external aggression(Lasan). On the other hand, Neoliberals agrees with neorealism on many points e.g. both believe that states are the main actors in the world, both views them as rational actors and considers the international system anarchic. Neoliberals do not approach the concept of security directly; rather they say that international security can be maintained through strengthening the institutions, international law, democratization and political integration. Marxism is another mainstream theory of IR. According to them, the definition of security is determined by the structure of global capitalism (ibid).

Constructivist school of thought gained popularity after the end of cold war. It addressed the issue of identity, security and material issues in the contemporary world. Constructivists do not consider security as an objective reality. They view security as being constructed and re-constructed through inter subjective human understanding. There focus shifts from materials to ideas. For constructivist, the concept of security is broad as they say that nothing is true or false, it’s the perception of the observer how he/she sees that particular point.(perception) As Alexander Wendt said that anarchy is what states make of it, the same can be said about security(Sorensen, 2013).

Along with constructivists, The Copenhagen school of thought is important to mention, it is built on the writing of Barry Buzan. In 1983, Barry Buzan, highlighted that the concept of security includes military, economic, social and environmental security. So this school of thought extends the concept of security beyond military aspects(Lasan). This school of thought talks about securitization. It conceptualizes security as a process of social construction of threat which includes securitizing actors who will declare that a particular threat is present which needs to be handled, this situation will be presented to the audience and if they accept it, the actors will have legitimacy to act against that threat. This is how an issue is securitized. This is an interesting way of defining security (Sulovic, 2010).

There is another significant lens to view security .i.e. through critical theory. Their focus is on how the institutions and relations evolved and how they can be altered. This theory shifts the focus from state to the individual. It envisions the freedom and liberty of the individuals(Lasan).When the focus is shifted to individuals, we have feminist theories. There are four strands of feminist theories, all lay emphasize on the fact that the current security studies has been fashioned and put into practice by male and females has been excluded from it. If women are included in defining security, the World could be more peaceful (ibid).

From Feminist theory, we move towards the post-modern security studies. This approach, like the critical studies, shifts the focus of security from state to non-state actors, from individuals to ethnic and cultural groups, regional blocs, NGOs including MNCs. This theory intends to bring alternative reality to that of realist reality for a more peaceful world (Lasan).


The subject matter of International Relations is still evolving. The concept of security is one example of it. It is a contested concept. With the change in the geopolitical environment, contemporary theories have given their definition of security which moves away from the traditional state-centric concept of security. Contemporary IR theories have given unconventional definitions of security which is a major development in the studies of IR. This has generated debates within the IR community which will ultimately affect the policy makers across the world in the days to come but eventually there is a need to have that security where all the people and states across the world feel sheltered and safe. furthermore the concepts like ‘positive peace’ by johan galtung and ‘stable peace’ by Kenneth Boulding which are the newest emerging trends of security needs to spread rapidly in order to make this world a peaceful and safe place for all.

Fatima Ahmed
Fatima Ahmed
Fatima Ahmed is pursuing M.phil in International Relations from Comsats University Islamabad.