Security as a new ideology of the 21st century: the phenomenon of “securitocracy”

The past century has become an arena for the struggle of three fundamental ideologies. These are, in a broad sense, liberalism, communism, and fascism - the three main political theories of the time. In 1991, with the collapse of the USSR, for some time it seemed to humanity that liberalism had won a complete victory. Fascism was defeated in 1945 following the Second World War, and the main communist regime in the world - the Soviet - collapsed under the weight of internal contradictions and economic problems. At the same time, the famous researcher Francis Fukuyama proclaimed his famous thesis, which has already become a kind of political science meme - "the end of history." As we know, Fukuyama was wrong.

The collapse of the Soviet Union, of course, was not the "end of history." It also did not mark the complete and unconditional victory of liberalism. The new century has seen the development of Islamic fundamentalist movements in the Middle East, communist China (although economically this system is more like state capitalism) and post-Soviet autocracies led by the Putin regime in Russia. The countries of the "global south" are also actively developing, which generally do not accept liberal democratic values in their Western understanding. Humanity is experiencing a new "Cold War": international confrontation and the division of countries into opposing blocs with different economic and geopolitical interests, as well as fundamental differences in interests and vision of the future, are intensifying.

Many scientists, political scientists, and philosophers have tried to predict what the new ideology of the new century will be. Various ideas and concepts have been expressed: from Dugin's "fourth political theory" to Harari's AI-based "digital dictatorship." However, observing the modern world and analyzing the available data, we have a slightly different picture.

Today states around the world are especially concerned about their security. Phrases such as "safety guarantees", "security guarantees" or "guarantees of safety", if you enter them into a Google search, in total produce several billion (!) search results. It is safe to say that this is now one of the most popular phrases that appears in international relations. It seems that it is Security or the "idea of Security" that is becoming today the new ideology of the 21st century - and unfortunately, authoritarian and even totalitarian tendencies are already clearly visible in it.

Securitocracy and Securitopia as ideological phenomena of the 21st century: interpretation, theses and main features

Ideology in the general understanding is “the study of ideas” (literal translation from Greek). This term usually means a set of certain ideas in the form of socio-economic and political models or philosophical concepts of the organization of society. Which, in turn, shapes the political regime and its worldview.

We consider Security or the "idea of Security" to be the new idée fixe of our time. It already has signs of an ideology that we call "securitocracy," and the political regime that it can theoretically form is "Securitopia." This is a rather dystopian state of affairs in a country in which the main goal has become security and its total sovereignty, which in practice can result in paranoia, "espionage mania," exaggeration of problems and the creation of artificial challenges, and as a result – a decrease in the level of freedom, curtailment of political competition of ideas and meanings, systematic violation of human rights, etc.

Let's try to look at the phenomenon of "securitocracy" from different angles and put forward the main theses concerning it.

Thesis one: Security is the new ideology of the 21st century.

Today, security has become the top priority for many countries and political leaders. This is manifested in increased control over citizens, restrictions on freedoms and rights, as well as the emergence of new laws and political mechanisms to ensure security.

The formation of "securitocracy" in the 21st century began with two important events. The first of these was the bombings of residential buildings in Russia, which many suspected or even directly accused the FSB of organizing. This, in turn, contributed to a significant increase in the ratings of Vladimir Putin, who eventually came to power with his famous "We will kill terrorists in the toilet." The ex-chairman of the country's main intelligence service, who was trained in the Soviet KGB school, adopted several "security" laws, started the Second Chechen War and finally built an aggressive semi-totalitarian regime.

The second event was the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in the United States. Al-Qaeda terrorists flew planes into the heart of American capitalism: the World Trade Center towers. Another plane flew to the Pentagon, but could not destroy the US defense department. The death of almost three thousand people in the very center of New York became the most daring and terrible terrorist attack in the history of mankind, which led, in particular, to the further American invasion of Iraq and bloody wars throughout the Middle East. After the terrorist attack in October 2001, the so-called "Patriot Act" was adopted in America, which gave the government, police, and intelligence agencies enormous powers to supervise citizens (wiretapping, surveillance, control of the Internet, etc.). The law was in force until 2015.

All these regulations were implemented for a good purpose: ensuring the safety of citizens and the state. However, the other side is the violation of several constitutional provisions and fundamental human rights: confidentiality of correspondence, privacy, freedom of movement, etc.

Let us note that “securitocracy” organically comes from the ideas of political realism and neorealism, which were developed by such famous scientists as Kenneth Waltz and Hans Morgenthau. They argued that states always prioritize their security. International relations are characterized by a constant struggle for sovereignty and the selfish interests of political regimes, and states as political actors can and must use force to achieve their goals. Both theorists emphasized the importance of cool rationality and tough pragmatism in international relations. The main paradigm for the existence of states in political realism and neorealism is the need to observe exclusively national interests and use force if necessary to ensure the security and power of one’s state.

These trends have not bypassed Ukraine. In the context of Russian aggression, the main metanarrative of our state’s foreign policy activities has become “security guarantees.” President Zelensky mentions them as a fundamental goal of state policy in almost every speech he makes. The President's Office is actively working to attract other countries to sign agreements on security guarantees for Ukraine.

Russia also constantly demands its security guarantees. This was voiced even before the war during the meeting between Putin and Biden in Geneva in the summer of 2021. Personally, the President of the Russian Federation has repeatedly demanded direct security guarantees from NATO. Although it is not entirely clear who and how can threaten the largest state in the world with the largest nuclear arsenal on the planet.

Players such as China, the United States, Poland, France, the Baltic countries, etc. constantly talk about the importance of security and inviolability of the sovereignty of other actors in international politics. Before our eyes, security itself and its guarantees are becoming the main and sometimes even existential idea for many world states.

Thesis two: authoritarian features are visible in "securitocracy".

We use the term “securitocracy” to describe anti-liberal, anti-democratic tendencies in modern political systems. Security becomes the basis and main legitimation of power and control, which almost inevitably leads to restrictions on civil liberties and rights.

It is for these purposes that states and regimes use a method or policy called "securitization." It is a process in which a particular problem, challenge, or issue becomes a matter of security and national interest. In the context of "securitization," political actors and states use the "idea of ​​Security" as a fundamental basis for decision-making and a reason for mobilizing resources (military, human, financial, etc.).

This process includes three main steps:

  1. identifying a problem, challenge, or issue as a threat (often an existential threat) to security;

  2. mobilizing resources and taking security measures;

  3. legitimation and justification of measures taken within the framework of the “idea of ​​Security”.

Securitization” can be a useful tool to respond to real security threats and problems. However, it can also be used for political manipulation and to justify authoritarian measures and policies.

In this context, we can recall the famous "security dilemma". This concept was proposed by political scientist John Hertz. It describes a situation where each state is trying to ensure its security by increasing its military capabilities, strengthening its defenses, and internally mobilizing resources and society.

However, such a policy may be interpreted by other states as a threat to their security. They, in turn, also begin to strengthen military power and increase internal mobilization. This leads to a significant increase in tension in international relations, a decrease in the level of trust between political actors, and as a result, seriously increases the likelihood of direct military clashes.

As a result, each state tries to maximize its security, but it leads to aggravation of relations with other subjects of international politics. Thus, even if a state does not intend to attack others, it is still forced to increase its power to protect against possible threats. A vicious circle emerges in the form of an arms race and a decline in the level of international relations, the result of which could be open war.

However, the question is whether increasing the security level of one state necessarily threatens another. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently spoke about this, in particular. He also argued that our era should not become an era of new wars - as we see, today, unfortunately, everything is happening exactly the opposite.

Thesis three: The main challenge for societies in a "securitocracy" is the loss of balance between security and freedom.

Security in general is in some ways a social construct or even a political technology. First, society is convinced that it needs more security, and it is the state and its political regime that can provide this. And then the intimidated people themselves demand this from the state.

In principle, these processes are part of the "social contract" - an informal contract between society and the state, in which the people give up part of their rights in exchange for protection and security. This theory was developed by Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and others. The meaning of the state as a form of organization of social life is, first of all, to ensure security for the population. However, the problem is that under a "securitocracy," there are fewer and fewer rights, but there are more and more responsibilities, challenges, and problems. As a result, the country may begin internal repression, persecution of dissenters, suppression of civil society actors, curtailment of "public policy", reduction or complete deconstruction of political competition, etc.

As a result, such a regime comes to the idea of "securitopia" - a vision of the state as a completely safe space in which the political regime uses any methods to protect its power (identified with security and stability) and state sovereignty, even at the cost of systematic violations of rights and freedoms person.

This worldview is utopian because it is impossible to achieve one hundred percent security. However, the constant suppression of civil liberties increases internal tension, often resulting in mass protests, uprisings, and the growing threat of a coup or revolution. Or a political regime, paranoidly concerned about its safety, may start a war - and then there will be no security or stability left. That is, under "securitocracy" the social contract is partially or completely distorted by the state and ceases to operate.

A clear example of this is Russia's invasion of Ukraine, as a result of which, instead of conquering "Kyiv in three days," bloody and aggressive battles have been ongoing for a year and a half; the "canonical" territory of the Russian Federation suffers almost daily from drone attacks and sabotage at certain important facilities, and the Kremlin was forced to announce a partial mobilization, which was negatively received by Russian society.

To ensure complete security, states can and do cross all or most of the unspoken boundaries, dismantling the basic principles of democracy and neglecting human rights. The primary need for all societies living in the ideological field of "securitocracy" is to maintain a balance between security and freedom and democracy to avoid authoritarian or even totalitarian "securitopic" tendencies that are already clearly visible.

Thesis four: reconsidering the role of the state and civil society in a “securitocracy”.

In this context, it is important to pay attention to the need to reconsider the role of the state and civil society in ensuring security. With a gradual decrease in the level of freedom, the need for citizens to resist these processes critically increases. It is civil society that must actively participate in the discussion and adoption of political decisions; it is obliged to exercise control over the state’s security policy.

This problem refers to the concept of public policy. However, the European political science school views this term more broadly. Public policy is a communicative field, an area of dialogue between the state and civil society, in which problems relevant to the public are articulated and discussed, and integration and unification of society around common goals and values occurs. Public policy in this context is designed to stimulate the political activity of citizens, increasing their level of participation in society.

However, it happens that public policy is degraded and distorted - not without the active participation of the state and the political regime. Public policy may include politics (the struggle to strengthen power) but contain only the appearance of politics (the implementation of certain decisions for the benefit of citizens). In other words, while in power, the elite does not take measures to solve problems that are truly important to society. At the same time, it gains political dominance with all the opportunities and preferences that it gives. In our previous studies on this topic, we called this "quasi-policy" - political activity with a pronounced politics-beginning, which does not aim to implement the promised policy and at the same time is engaged in the profanation of dialogue with civil society.

In this context, one cannot fail to mention the ideas of Antonio Gramsci. He believed that civil society is not an opposing, but a directly servile structure concerning the state. The state, in turn, is a political structure that controls society and ensures the interests of the ruling class (Gramsci was a Marxist). He noted that civil society is completely subordinate to the state and carries out its will.

However, Gramsci did not consider civil society to be completely passive or powerless. He emphasized that there could be space for opposition and the possibility of fighting for social justice. Gramsci saw the potential for the development of civil society and noted the importance of its organization and mobilization to change the social order and create better conditions for all members of society - although he did not believe in it.

Under the ideological dominance of "securitocracy" in a given state, pro-government activists, media, and public organizations often ardently support strengthening "security measures" at the cost of reducing the level of freedom and violating human rights. The boundaries of the state and NGOs in public policy are blurring, and active civil society, formally opposed to the authorities and the political regime, is beginning to work out its agenda. Isn't this the same manifestation of "quasi-policy" that replaces real public policy? With a high degree of confidence we can say that yes, it is so.

Thesis five: “securitocracy”– this is a challenge for “global humanity”.

Currently, the crisis of globalization is visible in the world - at least in the Western understanding of this process. The United States is tending to lose its role as a world hegemon or at least its severe reduction. The European Union is experiencing a transformation crisis due to the war in Ukraine, which has led to a significant severance of economic ties with the Russian Federation - primarily in the energy sector because cheap energy from Russia has long been one of the main factors in the European "economic miracle".

At the same time, China is growing stronger. It is already actively and successfully entering the countries of the "global south" (Africa, Latin America, etc.) with its investments, infrastructure projects, and its model of globalization. Finally, Russia also posed a direct challenge to US dominance, at least in the European context, by committing military aggression against Ukraine.

Many of these destructive processes are caused by the implementation of “securitocratic” policies. In particular, it was the far-fetched "danger" from Ukraine and NATO that became the formal reason for the Russian Federation to invade our state. This led to serious anti-globalization processes, problems in the global economy, and the destruction of large economic chains and logistics corridors that had been developing for decades.

As a result of the "security dictatorship," we see an increase in conflict, a permanent increase in global tension, the beginning of a new arms race, and, in fact, the hot phase of a new "Cold War". Before our eyes, the world continues to disintegrate into "large spaces" built on one or another nomos.

In this context, it is impossible not to mention the ideas of the German political philosopher Carl Schmitt. According to his theory, “large spaces” are political entities (a kind of local formal or informal unions of states), based on the principles of total sovereignty and capable of controlling their internal territory and foreign policy.

The theory of “great spaces” is based on the assumption that the political organization of the world is based on the conflict between different nomoi, each of which claims sovereignty and control over its territory. This conflict is a fundamental component of political life and can lead to armed clashes or even major wars between states. One of the options for the development of these trends is a new world war.

Actually, according to Schmitt, nomos is precisely the basis for the creation of a political community and determines the rules and norms governing the interaction between the actors of political processes. The philosopher believed that nomos is a specific exponent of sovereignty and political power and can be established through the will and decision of the sovereign. According to the theory of nomos, Schmitt distinguished between two types of political order: the nomos of the land (Landnomos) and the nomos of the sea (Seanomos). The nomos of the earth are based on control over a specific territory and are based on the principles of sovereignty and territoriality. The nomos of the sea, in turn, is based on the control of maritime spaces and is characterized by freedom of maritime trade and communications. This is, in fact, the same famous geopolitical concept of "civilization of the sea" and "civilization of the land",

However, in the 21st century, another nomos seems to be emerging - the “nomos of security”. And new "great spaces" are no longer formed based on land or sea, but on the fundamental "idea of Security" or "securitocracy", where the main priority is to ensure security guarantees inside and outside one's "living space" - what Husserl called Lebenswelt. Between these nomos, new "iron curtains" of security will almost inevitably be erected, removing even the theoretical prospect of the evolution of the planet's political systems towards the idea of "one humanity."

Newspeak of “securitocracy”: terms and concepts Pax Securitopia

Like any authoritarian or totalitarian system, "securitocracy" produces new words, concepts, and meanings, and creates a kind of newspeak, which it then actively uses in public discourse. We propose to consider several new terms that reflect modern trends in the genesis of the "security dictatorship".

  • "Smart Security". It is a concept related to the use of new technologies and innovations to ensure security. Many of the technological achievements of mankind as of 2023 of the 21st century are already being used today as part of the implementation of the "smart security" policy. These are, for example, the "digital concentration camp" and the social rating and filtering system in China, the ideas of the "sovereign Internet" in Russia, large national firewalls to protect computer networks, CCTV systems based on artificial intelligence and facial recognition, etc.

  • "Humanitarian Security".This concept focuses on the protection of human life, including aspects of health, education, economic well-being, and the environment. This concept at first glance looks pretty good, but it hides challenges for the freedom of the population. For example, under the slogan of caring for health, the state can receive and use citizens' medical data for its purposes, which is a violation of medical confidentiality.

  • "Cybersecurity". It is an industry that deals with protecting computer systems, networks, and data from cyber threats. Its reverse side is control over people's actions on the Internet, secret collection of information, and the formation of big data arrays with the personal data of millions of users.

  • "Global" or "Cross-border security".This term should be understood as cooperation between allied countries within the framework of their nomoi, ensuring security in the context of negative trends of globalization and cross-border threats, such as migration, terrorism, trafficking in arms, people, and/or drugs, etc.

Conclusions and postscript

So, assessing the current state of affairs in the world, the policies of several world states, and the rhetoric of individual political leaders, we came to the assumption that security or the "idea of Security" is becoming a new kind of modus operandi for many political actors. This, in turn, evolves and turns into a whole ideology - "securitocracy".

By "securitocracy" we mean such a foreign and domestic policy from which a practical ideological system emerges, which in turn forms a political regime in which the authoritarian and totalitarian tendencies of the security industry will prevail - "Securitopia" or "Security utopia". Such a regime assumes security as the basis of domination and control by the authorities, and becomes the basis for the state, which can lead to the restriction of civil liberties and rights due to the policy of "securitization". It consists of three points: defining a problem, challenge, or issue as an existential threat to security, mobilizing resources and taking measures to ensure security, and, finally, legitimizing and justifying the measures taken within the framework of the "idea of Security".

It should be noted that the new global world faces many new challenges (from territorial disputes to climate problems and cybercrimes). New digital technologies for managing mass consciousness and a rapidly developing state are emerging. It is also undeniable that each state has its interests and its natural right to security and sovereignty. However, in pursuit of the "idea of Security," there is a risk of a significant strengthening of authoritarian and totalitarian development tendencies, as well as restrictions on individual rights and freedoms. Moreover: "security" or, conversely, an imaginary "security threat" can even become a reason for large-scale wars of aggression – an example of this is Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

This is precisely the main danger of “securitocracy”: the loss of the balance between security and freedom, the increasing paranoia of elites and society over time, a decrease in trust between the actors of international politics, and as a result - permanent tension, conflicts and wars that potentially threaten all of humanity.

Author – Nikita Trachuk, political scientist, and expert at the Ukrainian Institute of Politics

Editor of English version — expert at the Ukrainian Institute of Politics Andrew Timchenko