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The transformation of contemporary security practices: the logic of risk

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We will start from the practices, but add an element to the reflection which is that of questioning the logic of risk. We remain on the idea of transforming contemporary security practices, but we will look at what the logic of risk can bring to understand them. How this logic will make it possible to understand the transformations of the practices that interest us.

The previous session focused on the typical ideals of policing and military practice and the convergences between them. In this session, we will focus on the common rationality that underlies these practices today. The rationality we will explore is that of risk. Risk is becoming an increasingly problematic issue in our societies. We are going to talk about "rationality of risk" and not its socially constructed or not socially constructed nature. We will try to identify and explore the idea that risk has its own rationality, which is occupying more and more sectors of our society. How did this rationality of risk interfere with all the security practices we are interested in?

Safety through the prism of risk: from deterrence to risk management[edit | edit source]

Rationality of risk[edit | edit source]

What is risk? According to Aradau, Lobo-Guerrero and Van Munster in the article "Security, Technologies of Risk, and the Political: Guest Editors' Introduction" published in 2008, risk is an estimate of the dangerousness of the future. A reference to the probability of an adverse event occurring in the future. We are between the notions of the present and the future, when we think in terms of risk, we think in terms of the future. One thinks in reference to the probability of an event. With calculations and data, we could mathematically succeed in preventing the future.

Thus, risk is seen as an attempt to tame uncertainty; the risk can be classified, quantified and predicted. So risk can be understood as a way of acting and thinking that involves calculating probable futures, followed by interventions in the present to control this future potential by preventing it from happening. That sounds absurd, but we are not here to say if the risks are not real or constructed, we are here to say how a vision of the world and rationality intrude into practices.

Sociologists have taken rationality and its influence on the world very seriously. In 2001, Ulrich Beck published his book "Risk Society". Another important author is Anthony Giddens. For these authors, but also for John Adams and Niklas Luhman, for a very long time, the main risk to individuals came from events that individuals did not control at all. The idea behind the reflective modernity concept is that we produce our own risks, threats and dangers. Paradoxically, we have come to societies that have solved many problems, but they have created new ones. This is linked to a new modernity with the idea that we ourselves produce our own risks and threats. This interest in risk stems from a series of environmental disasters that raise the idea that we have entered a new paradigm of risk. The novelty is that we produce our own risks ourselves. The development of industrial society is both evolution and problem.

The logic of risk rationality is present in several areas, including strategy, finance, health, the environment and insurance, for which François Ewald is one of the leading representatives. It is, therefore, necessary to question the impact of risk on society and how we will measure and perceive our security. The example of the environment is central to the emergence and diffusion of risk thinking, but it is also an example that speaks to everyone concerned. Questions need to be asked about the way in which society from risk to an impact on the way in which safety is measured and perceived. Indeed, there are certain transformations on what is meant by the notion of "risk society".

Threats and risks[edit | edit source]

Threat Risk
1) intentionality: threat;
2) negative or ambiguous connotation;
3) consequence: a threat can be countered and eradicated;
4) refers to something that already exists (in the present), countering a threat: no threat;
5) threat can be unlikely.
1) no intentionality;
2) can be positive, tolerable, an opportunity: for example, in financial markets, the risk can generate gains;
3) a risk, one manages it, one arbitrates it: For example, road traffic;
4) we extrapolate from something that does not exist in the present (statistical risk): thus turned towards a virtual future, the strength of risk thinking is to act before it happens;
5) a risk is necessarily formulated in the form of probability: probable and mathematized.

With the logic of risk, we move from deterrence to risk management. The term "deterrence" is common to all security practices. Deterrence is before nuclear deterrence. Risk management is fundamentally different from the logic of deterrence. When risk is addressed, it has never materialized. Final results cannot be produced, for example, crime or terrorism will not disappear. We are going to do things that will prevent crime from increasing. Thus, the goal of managers is to keep the situation under control by managing risks according to the resources they have and allocate. It is therefore necessary to act in a preventive way based on scenarios, because it will be too late if we act in a reactive way, we will not have enough resources. The challenge is to manage an unpredictable environment and govern the future. We're gonna have to figure out what can happen so we can be effective.

Is the question raised as to whether there is a questioning of instrumental rationality at the heart of bureaucratisation? The ends become the means. This rationality was widely accepted in modern times. From the seventeenth century onwards, with Clausewitz, the army was rationalised in an instrumental way leading to the creation of efficient bureaucracies. In a war, in a bureaucratized state, the end is military victory, the way is to have absolute war in order to mobilize the population and its resources in order to be able to lead this war. That would no longer be possible today. To go to war, we would have to secure victory as much as their own people. This is the height of bureaucratization. By wanting to be rational, by wanting to quantify everything and evaluate everything in terms of risk, we no longer really distinguish between the end of the means and the end becomes the means.

The aim is now to secure populations by minimizing risks. Before, during the Cold War and before, when we talked about security, things were pretty easy. It is interesting to look at how risk is a rationality that enters different spheres of practice at different times and what risk thinking is not new. In the European welfare states, citizens were already turning to the state and asking them to behave in a way.

Where security becomes interesting is that security, at the base, is the use of force. The prerogative of security is the use of force. If the concept of security that already exists within States is beginning to differ, it is that security is no longer simply the use of force. Thinking in terms of risk is linked to this contemporary movement where security is increasingly becoming the preservation of life. Security is no longer limited to the use of force. The best example is social security. Thinking in terms of risk will make it possible to secure populations. The threat is calculable, from a risk point of view, the best one can hope for is to manage or prevent a risk. You can never achieve "perfect security". Managing one risk can generate another.

In military matters, the advent of these rationalities is also made possible by technological advances through the "politics of the great number". This opens the field of possibilities and the emergence of new actors. There are quite different security universes that have evolved in a distinguished way for some time. When we are going to question the adaptation or transformation of the rationality of the world of security through a logic of risk, we can observe in an interesting way a gap between the military strategy and the control of the crime sustained by the Cold War. In The Risk Society at War published in 2007, Rasmussen shows how countries are in a predictable environment where one operates quite independently of internal security, which is in the process of moving towards a rationality of risk revolving around precaution and the notion of future governance. Police methods are increasingly oriented towards this type of rationality while military logic and locked in a Clausewitzian approach until the end of the Cold War.

Risk, security and globalisation (flows, etc.)[edit | edit source]

We must try to see globalisation as a point of contact between two security worlds where we see a strong influence of risk strategy on military strategy from the end of the Cold War onwards. From the point of view of risk, globalization is above all a reduction in transaction costs in order to communicate, do business or circulate. This is both positive and mixed, with those who will take advantage of globalisation to achieve their goals. Globalization influences the thinking of risk since it can be seen as a scenario and will be widely accepted as credible. Globalisation has a dark side.

The idea that the dark side of globalisation must absolutely be managed has been brought up to date by the attacks of 11 September. What's interesting is how 9/11 accelerated this way of thinking. It was on 11 September that this scenario was given credibility. In a globalised world, individuals will take advantage of opportunities such as committing a crime and therefore represent a risk. Globalisation can be seen as a scenario that has become credible, not only because there are probabilities, but also because events take place. In this vision of globalization, it is not only the dark side thesis, but also the thesis that everyone else will benefit from globalization.

Thus, managing risks, in a globalised world, has set up efficient filters so that transaction costs remain low for those who do not represent a risk. With the example of the airport, the goal is to put systems in place to prevent those who pose a potential risk from passing through. The problem is how to set up filters and who is at risk. We cannot be satisfied with the fact that people who are going to commit crimes are in databases, we need systems that make it possible to profile. The question is how to set up filters, but also how to profile dangerous people. Risks are flows to be managed and require the installation of filters. Security practices will, among other things, redeploy around this idea.

We are not only going to talk about the military, but it affects all the aircraft, security agencies and security actors, if we take the idea of globalisation as a scenario further in a world that we will be able to manage. In an interconnected world, the object to be secured is no longer the State, but the future.

Why are we going to intervene in local conflicts? We will therefore intervene in local conflicts that could potentially have consequences "here". This comes with the war in Kosovo, we will intervene in "distant" countries so that national interests are not threatened, and we will intervene so that these countries do not generate dangers for us. Behind the concept of nation-building arises the idea that rebuilding a state after invading it is the idea of changing the values of a state so that it is no longer a threat. In the American strategy, a failed country is a potentially dangerous country that can generate terrorism, migration and ecological risks. The idea is that going upstream to take care of a country is one way to avoid it becoming dangerous for "us" one day and thus to manage a risk. With the metaphor of "meteorologists" who give probabilities, we have a similar reflection that could illustrate the intervention in Iraq. Going to Iraq is not when you have put together a dossier and think that you should go, it is rather than when you are in a scenario. The question of seeking the truth was not central, the idea was to set up a scenario since it was felt that going to Iraq was a way of managing a risk.

The spread of risk in security practices[edit | edit source]

Pre-emptive War and the Precautionary Principle: The 2003 War in Iraq[edit | edit source]

What rationality led to the decision to go to Iraq compared with the concept of the "precautionary principle". The question here is not why the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, but rather why the Bush administration felt that this operation would make the United States safer. Managing this type of business was in a containment logic linked to a deterrence strategy. We left that rationality. Just before the intervention, there was an article by Mearsheimer and Walt entitled An Unnecessary War published in 2003 criticizing the pre-emptive doctrine chosen by the Bush administration to invade Iraq. According to them, we are facing a change. To show the novelty of this conflict, the debate between those who were "in favour" and the critics was somewhat impossible. Critics were led to say that the Bush administration was hiding its true motives. For the administration's supporters, the idea was to go to Iraq to manage a risk, but this was not a traditional "medium-to-fine" logic of causality. The argument of pre-emption was that we had to go there to deal with a threat. The pre-emptive dimension of the approach was not necessarily what was being questioned. For Cheney, in a 2002 speech,"the risk of inaction is far greater than the risk of action". There is its own coherence in bringing down the regime and reshaping it to values that are closer to our own, so that we can be more "safe" in the long run. This is the doctrine of pre-emption, namely to attack in a pre-emptive way. Doing state-building leads to managing risks, it is a way of having partners who will not be a threat in the future. Preemptive thinking is already present before 2001.

For Rasmussen, it is surprising that Bush and Blair's argument did not convince him that he was close to the precautionary environmental discourse. It is astonishing that the speech did not go through and perhaps if it did not, it was from the diplomatic point of view making the Bush administration implacable to form a coalition. The precautionary principle has become an integral part of security doctrines on both sides of the Atlantic.

The category of precautionary principle in terms of environmental safety is well established in our society. Even at the legal level, since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, it has had a high level of legal value and popular support. The doctrine of pre-emption and the precautionary principle are more than an analogy, we are in the same type of rationality having in particular in common the politics of urgency. With preemptive doctrine, we will not take the risk of taking an even greater risk. The precautionary principle is based on scenarios that predict the future. Climate-septics still demand evidence on global warming and criticize the precautionary principle in the environmental field as long as a causal link? between human pollution and global warming is not empirically established. The precautionary principle is the opposite, their discourse rejects the precautionary principle. From the moment we generate our own threats, we risk destroying ourselves and we cannot wait for it to happen to react. Lomborg says "Preventive trap". But establishing such a link is exactly what the logic of the precautionary principle rejects.

Combating crime and intelligence-led policing[edit | edit source]

Cesare Beccaria, 1738 - 1794

The logic of prevention has existed since the foundation of modern criminal law was laid. Already in the 18th century, Cesare Beccaria, in 1764, advocated a preventive approach to crises. For him, crime prevention is better than punishment. Prevention was therefore very early on a key concept in the fight against crime. This is a utilitarian argument in relation to risk. If the criminal is discouraged from taking action, the cost of the crime will be too high and he or she will not commit a crime. The criminal being considered rational, he will be discouraged from committing a crime. Very soon the question of the dosage between prevention and punishment will arise. With the welfare state and solidarity insurance logic, as Ewald shows, the socio-economic conditions that made crime possible with rehabilitation as a horizon were then tackled. So the crime was prevented otherwise.

From the moment these preventive logics are put in place, there is like a step backwards in the 1970s. As early as the 1970s, this approach was challenged by an increase in crime. With the failure of rehabilitation, the idea of eradicating crime is abandoned. This represents an important change, as it breaks with the belief that an ideal society could be achieved through social engineering. Crime was therefore accepted as part of social life. Crime is part of social life and crime becomes a risk to be managed.

The risk society brings together and blends practices. In the late 1970s, mainly in the United States, there was a desire to predict crime in an increasingly effective way.

Intelligence-led policing is what is known in French as "renseignement pénale de sécurité". ILP originates from the police intelligence plans implemented in the United Kingdom in the mid-1990s following an initiative initiated by Kent Constabulary. The basic premise is that police waste too much time responding to emergency situations and therefore there is a need to take a fresh initiative by preventively targeting known offenders with enough information on who to target in order to have a more effective risk management policy. As far as the criminal logic is concerned, it is a question of doing the right profiling, whereas in a risk logic we act with filters.

The ILP spread from the 1990s to Australia and New Zealand in particular, before becoming a success in the United States after the attacks of September 11, 2001. This new interest in intelligence is due to the lack of coordination among the American specialized agencies. The CIA had information about what was going on outside the territory and the FBI had information about what was going on inside and there was poor information sharing.

Discussions are currently taking place on young Europeans going to fight in Syria and Iraq, and most European governments are trying to set up new ways of managing the risk represented by these jihadists, particularly as regards their return. We are in a risk management logic because we reproach them for representing a potential threat when they return to Europe. There are different ways of dealing with radicalization that lead them to use violence. Compared to the different possible responses, there are some of them more coercive than others, including one that is withdrawing passports from potential jihadists. These people have done nothing for proactive logic. We are going to make political decisions about things that could happen and we can see how important this rationality is in the management of security matters. With regard to radicalisation, there are different strategies, particularly in Denmark, for example, to prevent them from being considered criminals.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

The rationality of risk allows several spaces to communicate with each other around a common vision of the world. 
Rather, the logic of risk was rather the prerogative of the public policies of the welfare state extended to the world of external security and in particular to the military world through counter-insurgency or counter-terrorism strategies in order to increase the security of each individual. There is the idea of a boomerang effect, which is that risk management creates new risks. Risk is also seen as an opportunity, a rationality of risk creates a distinction between two types of people: risk-averseness and risk-takers. In a society where the rationality of risk has become increasingly important, this raises questions about how to have a democratic debate in the risk society. Risk management is the colonization of the future, so how can we have a democratic, informed debate about events that have not even taken place? There is a parallel with the management of environmental issues. There is the precautionary principle where we are talking about an event that has not happened and that must be prevented. As the rationality of a debate on terrorism issues is being transposed, the rules of the game have changed somewhat. In Europe, in the 1970s and 1980s, the years of terrorism, we will ask ourselves how to deal with the terrorist threat. We are talking about a phenomenon where we are trying to prevent events from happening when they have not even happened. This is a fundamental principle of democratic functioning and accountability, and in democratic regimes it is increasingly difficult to control regimes that want to prevent.

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References[edit | edit source]