The concept of security as defined by Georgios Karyotisand Rens van Munster

After the fall of the Iron Curtain and the September 11 attacks, the debate of security gained impetus among international scholars and governments. In portraying two different issues relating to the security question, the authors Georgios Karyotis and Rens van Munster argue for a new definition of the concept. Both articles shall be elaborated on in turn, thus outlining the semantic meaning of the concepts of security within the text, the intentions of the authors in using these concepts and the relevance of the context in which they find application. As a conclusion, I shall present the arguments leading me to accept or refuse the definition of the two authors.


Karyotis (2007) uses a concept of security which has to great extent been defined by the ‘Copenhagen School of Security Studies’, a collection of security studies which emerged as such in the mid-1990s (p. 2). According to the Copenhagen School, security is not a fixed unit but it is created through a process of securitization (p. 3). In other words, politicians can turn a political issue from a non-security related problem into a security problem by confronting it with an external threat. In a mere “speech act”, they can construct a common enemy and thus inspire their subjects to more closely identify with each other (p. 3, p. 9). For Karyotis, in the particular depiction of immigrants as ‘the others’, politicians engage securitization to firstly maintain “culture and identity” of their electorate (p. 9), secondly prevent economic destabilization through massive immigration (p. 10) and thirdly “safeguard their [own] legitimacy and increase their electoral power” (p. 11). Thus the security question is institutionalized and can be evoked where it promises political advantages.

However, even though Karyotis largely agrees with the concept of the Copenhagen School, his concept of security differs from it with respect to one aspect. He asserts that securitization is not only expressed as a speech act, but also in terms of “non-discursive practices and institutional developments” (p.3). As such, he names the categorization of unwanted immigrants by procedures of admission, their classification into migrant groups and their submission to passport and visa control.


His intention in using the concept is to oppose the securitization of migration in the EU which he finds “problematic both as conception and as political practice” (p. 2). His article may have the objective to encourage European politicians to adapt a more positive view upon migration as an economic source and to regard it independently of security. However, even though this view seems promising, Karyotis believes that also in future, “the security discourse will prevail over all competing ones” (p. 13).

In order to underline his arguments, Karyotis uses rather clear language, stating what he will argue and underfeeding the argument with examples. His style of argumentation is neutral; Karyotis largely avoids metaphors and only sporadically resorts to expressions like “pave the way” (p. 5) or “shed light on” (p. 3). When defining the concept of security in its new terms, however, Karyotis is rather evasive and does not significantly elaborate on it. The overall impression is thus one of factual knowledge about migration, but not necessarily about the global implications of security.


This is confirmed when taking a look at his personal background. Georgious Karyotis is a scholar at the faculty of Law, Arts and Social Sciences of the University of Strathclyde[1]; his main field of research centers around international security theory and European migration policy. Originating from Greece, Karyotis recently also published an article on the “Securitization of Greek Terrorism” (2007) in which he argues that “the belated securitization of terrorism was the key to the arrest of the terrorists that held Greece hostage for almost three decades” (p. 1). Putting together both of his publications, we can say that Karyotis’ concept of security is mainly focused on Europe and migration.

The issue on European security policy can also be seen in face of increased illegal immigration from Africa. Pictures of overboarding ships of refugees on television spark fear that common citizen will have to integrate them into European culture and job market. It is in this respect that politicians evoke a possible threat that immigration poses to security. Karyotis’ analysis of European migration policy thus helps to see the reasons behind the securitization of migration in European politics.



Just as Karyotis, Van Munster (2005) bases his concept of security upon the definition of the Copenhagen School. Accordingly, security is a concept which is characterized by the political issue which becomes a security issue through securitization (p. 2). However, securitization can only come into application, according to the Copenhagen School, if three building blocks are met: Firstly, the fact that there is an existential threat to survival, secondly, the notion that exceptional measures are taken to fight it and thirdly, the justification which allows these measures to disable democratic procedures (p. 3). In other words, the security concept limited to the event of an existential danger such as the outbreak of war (p. 5). According to the Copenhagen School, the existence of this exterior threat and thus the constant need for security is crucial for the shaping of a common identity. The securitization act thus polarizes and only brings an enemy into being in the first place. As soon as the threat diminishes, the identity of the community is also downgraded.

Van Munster proposes to enlarge the definition of the Copenhagen School and to incorporate non-existential every-day risks into the concept of security. He coins the term of Risk Management as a preventive “regulating form of security” (p. 6) to tackle these threats. Rather than reacting to a concrete danger by force, it aims at preventing the rise of this danger by monitoring and repressing the different factors in society that might allow it to emerge. To this end, Risk Management collects “risk factors” of individuals into a databank and acts upon them when necessary. However, Van Munster also presents many drawbacks to Risk Management, most of all the fact that it limits personal freedom and privacy of those it intends to protect (p. 11).


Van Munster’s main aim in the analysis is to clarify the Copenhagen School definition of security. He believes that Risk Management and the reaction to an existential threat do not exclude each other but that rather the “Copenhagen (S)chool logic of security . . . can be theoretically complemented with the more routine-like logic of risk management” (p. 1). In order to meet the various risks and threats in the contemporary world, the concept of security cannot embrace either one or the other, it has to incorporate them both (p. 11).

However, Van Munster also views Risk Management critically and believes that it can have a spiralling effect: If it fails in recognizing a threat, more surveillance will be the consequence (p. 12). Therefore, he appeals to those who implement security policies and argues that “long term desecuritization” should be their goal (ibid). As this does not seem a very near perspective, however, Van Munster proposes to scientific researchers that in the short run, more research be done on the potential advantages and disadvantages of Risk Management (p. 11).


We can get a better understanding of Van Munster’s article by regarding his publications and his research area. Rens van Munster is a PhD-student in International Politics at the faculty for Political Science of the University of Southern Denmark. The PhD-Thesis on which he is currently working bears the name of “Migrants as a Risk Class: The Production of Dangerousness at European Border Sites”[2]. While his former publications vary in research area, most have a focus on international terrorism or security. Thus, the reader can trust the author to have a broad range of knowledge on international security issues.

Van Munster’s contribution to the debate of the security concept can also be viewed in the context of international relations after the terrorist attack on September 11. Confronted with a new way of fighting (namely to resort to suicidal terrorist attacks on civilians instead of open warfare), international scholars and governments needed to redefine their understanding of security and adapt their policies to the new challenge. Van Munster’s article, proposing the complementary use of the “existential decision” and preventive Risk Management can help governments to better define their security policy in face of different forms of threats and risks after September 11.





Both conceptions of security start from the contention of the Copenhagen School that security actors can turn a non-security issue into a security one through a process of rhetorical securitization. Karyotis develops the concept further to incorporate the non-verbal component of securitization; the audience can also perceive migration as a security issue when regarding institutional processes like visa and identity control of immigrants. Van Munster focuses on institutional security by adding a new dimension of low-level threats and risks to the prevalent idea of existential threat.

In my view, the concept proposed by Van Munster can be seen as more complete. The author incorporates the rhetorical and institutional meaning of security on an international scale, while also outlining which importance it has for the shaping of identity, namely to create an ‘other’ as a permanent threat and giver of communal feeling. Compared with this multi-layered analysis, Karyotis’ concept does not provide significant strength in face of the new international security framework. Although Karyotis highlights that the concept’s meaning may change with regard to the issue for which it is used, it is mainly centered on the issues of European migration. I am therefore led to adapt Van Munster’s concept rather than Karyotis’ concept.





Karyotis, G. (2007). European migration policy in the aftermath of September 11. Innovation: the European Journal of Social Science Research, 20, 1-17.


Karyotis, G. (2007). Securitization of Greek Terrorism and Arrest of the ‘Revolutionary Organization November 17’. Cooperation and conflict, 42(3), 271.


“Karyotis Georgios Dr - University of Strathclyde” (2008), Retrieved from


“Rens van Munster” (2008), University of Southern Denmark, Retrieved from


Van Munster, R. (2005). Logics of security: the Copenhagen school, risk management and the war on terror. Political Science Publications, 10, 1-19. Retrieved from


[1] “Karyotis Georgios Dr - University of Strathclyde” (2008), Retrieved from


[2] “Rens van Munster” (2008), Retrieved from