All Research Fields

The term ‘tools’ refers to the practical instruments available to governments, international agencies, local communities and individuals to provide security. This includes personnel, equipment, intelligence and communications, sources of finance, and administrative arrangements. The aim of this component is to track changes in the scale and composition of tools and investigate the extent to which different types of tools contribute to security. This will include the following elements:

Personnel. This covers trends in military personnel, international policing, peace-keeping, as well as new civilian capabilities and the relevance of different mixes of personnel in different situations. It will also cover the growth of private security actors and develop a typology of different types of private actors, e.g. private security companies, NGOs, militias, insurgencies, criminal gangs and so on.

Equipment. The ratio of equipment to personnel has tended to rise in advanced countries because of the growing cost and complexity of military equipment. Many countries face hard choices between keeping traditional platforms – aircraft carrier, advanced combat aircraft, submarines – and maintaining sufficient personnel for stabilization, peace-keeping and/or counter-insurgency. The programme will investigate existing military technology and its utility in situations of insecurity as well as the application of new technologies, including satellite imagery and communication and robotics. It will also track the new technologies used by private actors, for example, IEDs or mobile phones.

Intelligence and communications. During the twentieth century, intelligence and communications tended to be technologically driven and focused on political elites, and it prioritised the identification of enemies. A study of communications and intelligence will focus on how tools are or are not being reoriented towards understanding of contemporary situations of insecurity, with more emphasis on bottom-up human and open sources of information, even though advanced communications and access to Internet can be important tools.

Methods of Financing. This will cover overall trends in military budgets, the changing composition of military budgets, and other relevant security budget lines, covering, for example, humanitarian assistance or civilian crisis management. It will also investigate how private security actors are funded and develop a typology of different types of funding, including official budgets, voluntary contributions, criminal activities and so on.

Administrative Arrangements. One reason why adaptation is so difficult is the way in which administrative arrangements are based on twentieth-century security thinking with Interior Ministries and Ministries of Defence taking prime responsibility for security. The programme will enquire into recent efforts to build inter-agency co-operation like the Stabilisation Unit in the UK or the civ-mil planning cell in the European Union.

In areas of insecurity, where public security provision is inadequate, people may turn to private security actors. Or they may seek creative ways to cooperate among themselves and establish local zones of security. In nearly all situations of insecurity, it is possible to identify what Kaldor has called ‘islands of civility’ – in Northern Somaliland, for example, or in Tuzla during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. One of the objectives of this component of the programme is to identify some of these zones and find out what kind of new (or old) tools local communities have invented and deployed.

This component of the programme will rely on three methods: classic political science methods to track existing capabilities, for example, official documentation and statistics, media reports and interviews with relevant actors; investigative journalism to help trace the role and methods of financing of private actors (see below); and field work in zones of insecurity and security to assess the effectiveness of different tools. Case studies will include Afghanistan, Kosovo, Colombia, and Basra in Iraq.

In the twentieth century, threats to security were measured in terms of the military capabilities of potential enemies. Publications like the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Military Balance would provide lists of capabilities of NATO, the Warsaw Pact and non-aligned nations including trends in personnel, military equipment and budgets. The aim of this component of the programme is to construct a date base of alternative indicators of insecurity better suited to the contemporary period.

There have, of course, been many efforts to develop alternative indicators of insecurity or global risk. Because this is a new field, the effort is fraught with definitional and empirical difficulties. There are, for example, new attempts to measure the incidence of violent conflict. The Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) provides numbers that are used both in the Human Security Report and the annual Stockholm International Peace Research (SIPRI) Yearbook (SIPRI various years, UCDP various years). The UCDP data was initially based on a twentieth century notion of conflict. For a conflict to be included in the data, there had to be at least one thousand battle-related deaths and a state had to be involved. This is highly problematic since battles are rare in twenty-first century conflicts and conflicts usually involve non-state actors or a mixture of state and non-state actors. More recently, UCDP have updated their data to include conflicts involving non-state actors and to include what they call one-sided violence, i.e. violence against civilians. In addition, recent versions of the Human Security Report also include some measure of human rights violations, in particular, the use of child soldiers. But they still mainly count battle deaths as casualties and provide insufficient information about direct civilian casualties (from violent attacks) and indirect civilian casualties (from lack of access to food and medicine, the spread of disease in conflict zones and the loss of livelihoods). Moreover, they depend primarily on media reports, which tend to underreport deaths and are rather patchy.

International agencies, particularly UNDP, have attempted to measure a broader concept of security, namely a holistic interrelated set of factors that affect the wellbeing of human beings. Thus, for example, the Arab Human Development Report for 2009 addresses the challenges to human security in the Arab region (see Report and additions at It includes qualitative and quantitative data on seven dimensions of security. These are: people and their environment; the state and its insecure people; the vulnerability of those lost from sight (women, children, displaced persons, etc); volatile growth, high unemployment and persisting poverty; hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity; and health security challenges. The report provides an invaluable documentation of human development failings in the Middle East that would undoubtedly need to be studied by those identifying insecurity in the Middle East. But by being so broad, there is perhaps an inadequate emphasis on physical threats to security that are most pressing for people who experience them; these are not only deaths from violent conflict as in Gaza – they have to do with the breakdown of or disruptions in law and order. Moreover, socio-economic indicators are more readily available from such sources as UNDP, the World Bank, or the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

There is a set of indicators that need to be developed that address this physical aspect of insecurity. As well as violent conflict, these include human rights violations, violent crime, domestic violence, refugees and displaced persons and casualties from natural disasters (floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.). A number of places, both governmental and non-governmental, collect data on human rights violations (Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Amnesty International, the US State Department, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office) but the results tend be anecdotal and difficult to compare. The major database for crime statistics is the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (see It collects data via questionnaires addressed to governments. However, as typical with these kinds of data, coverage is weakest in those countries experiencing greatest insecurity. Other possible sources include statistics collected and supplied by national governments – these vary greatly in terms of availability and coverage.

Obtaining comparable data on domestic violence is extremely difficult, for a number of reasons. Definitions vary between sources, and so therefore do measurements. Currently, there is no central or major database for this indicator. Case studies exist for individual countries, and it is possible to draw information from reports by Amnesty International, Oxfam, local women’s groups, etc., but there is no repository as such for ‘hard figures’. Official statistics are scarce, especially in developing countries. In many regions, any information on the incidence of domestic violence exists only in ‘qualitative’ form, reported from interviews, etc.

Data on refugees and internally displaced persons is more comprehensive. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees provides detailed statistics on refugees and internally displaced persons as does the United States Refugee Committee. The Internally Displaced Monitoring Centre in Geneva also traces internally displaced people (see According to UNHCR’s 2009 Global Trends Report, some 42 million are uprooted worldwide; 16 million are refugees and some 26 million are internally displaced people.

Finally, the main source for victims of natural or man-made disasters is the international disaster data base at the University of Louvain in Belgium (see Guha-Sapir et al. 2004). A general problem with this data collection, like in any database that builds on various sources, is the dependency on the individual data suppliers and their accuracy – even more, since the original data is not specifically collected for statistical purposes. In addition, data for a number of countries are not available in the database at all.

The indicators component of the programme will aim to pull together this miscellaneous collection of data, and to develop methods that can potentially fill lacunae and improve accuracy. It is extraordinary that, whereas information about military casualties, where regular forces are involved, is acccurate and detailed, in most conflicts, even the order of magnitude of civilian casualties is disputed. Moreover, statistics that could assist planners in identifying areas of actual or impending insecurity are, at present, quite inadequate.

Two approaches have some promise. Firstly, in asessing areas of insecurity world wide, data on population displacement (refugees and internally dislaced persons) could be used as proxy indicators. People are displaced deliberately as in wars and genocides; they flee danger; they look for work and food where livelihoods have been destroyed or they flee from natural and man-made disasters. And the data sets are relatively good. Secondly, in local sitations, the factors that contribute to human insecurity vary. The distribution of insecurity is not uniform even within a particular area, neither in terms of levels of threats, nor in terms of types of threats. One method that has been proposed to deal with this variation is to use Geographical Information Systems (GIS) software to map the specific combination of factors that are relevant in a particular area, their relevance being determined by consultation with actors local to the region (Owen 2006).

The programme will test out these different approaches and also collect its own primary data, both from case studies undertaken in other components and through the use of the Internet as a research tool. How this is done will be described in the methodology section, but the main utility of this new approach is that it greatly expands the geographical and analytical scope of data on insecurity and it allows those who experience insecurity to shape the categorisation of indicators.

Security related law is undergoing fundamental changes with the growing importance of human rights law, international criminal law and transitional justice. These changes reflect the continuing adaptation and reformulation of legal rules and instruments, as well as the development of new ones. A prominent example is the extension of responsibility for protection and prevention from states to individuals in cases of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The rules concerning state responsibility are also changing, in particular the duty of the state to protect its population and the basis for other state or non-state actors to fulfil this duty when it fails to do so (e.g., Responsibility to Protect).

Nevertheless, the current legal regime represents a mismatch of new families of law that extend internal notions of the rule of law, based on individual rights, beyond the nation-state, and classical international law that applies to states, such as international humanitarian law, as well as domestic law. The tensions, gaps and contradictions inherent in this regime raise a number of unsettled questions, for example what body of law should apply in occupation situations like those associated with the ‘war on terror’. The security implications of novel legal instruments, such as the International Criminal Court and various mechanisms of transitional justice, are also currently unclear and subject of ongoing debate. A major part of the programme is about clarifying these developments and analysing how and whether they can address the changing experience of insecurity.

The central research questions for this part of the project are the following:

1. Is the international legal regime adapting to address the security gap and how effectively?

The objective is to assess the changing international legal regime and its accessibility, coherence and effectiveness in addressing insecurity across a spectrum of social conditions. Legal categories such as international armed conflict, internal conflict, internal unrest, displacement, international territorial administration, occupation, and post-conflict reconstruction do not fit easily into contemporary forms of insecurity, thus we will need to redefine what those categories are. Since 1945 the international legal system has evolved from a system for protecting state security to the concept of collective security for the maintenance of international peace and security through the prohibition of the use of force in international relations, except where authorised by the United Nations Security Council. National security, however, remains key in the exception provided for self-defence in the event of an armed attack. Alongside this jus ad bellum is the jus in bello – the legal framework for the conduct of armed conflict and regulation of permissible weaponry (international humanitarian law).

Both these legal regimes assume classic ‘old wars’. The emergence of new forms of insecurity has exposed gaps and uncertainties in the law that have given rise to claims for new exceptions to both regimes. In addition, since 1945 other legal regimes have evolved that are centred on the protection of individuals from arbitrary exercises of power and from deprivation of the essentials of life: human rights law, applicable to all individuals within a state’s jurisdiction and other regimes applicable to particularly vulnerable persons, for example refugees, internally displaced persons, children. These regimes may be more appropriate for ensuring individual security than those crafted for situations of armed conflict but again there is lack of clarity about their scope of application, substantive requirements and permissibility of exceptions.

2. Do novel instruments of international criminal law and transitional justice exacerbate or help to close the security gap?

The objective is to clarify the role of novel justice instruments, in particular international criminal law and evolving mechanisms of transitional justice, in addressing and mitigating contemporary forms of insecurity. The investigation will break with the old paradigm of thinking about justice, peace, and transition, which has been premised on a clear demarcation between ‘war’ and ‘peace’ and discrete, linear stages of conflict and transition (e.g. in the Peace v. Justice debate and discussions of ‘sequencing’). The impact of justice responses on contemporary forms of insecurity will be assessed by exploring their potential to address a set of challenges currently ignored in the literature, such as the persistence and recurrence of conflict, the links between political violence and organized crime, and the erratic course of transition. Against this background, the project will seek to ascertain whether justice exacerbates or mitigates the security gap and in what ways. The methodology will combine conceptual and empirical analysis, focusing on two case-studies: the Balkans and Afghanistan. These regions offer insight across the whole set of questions raised about conflict, peace and transition. They are particularly well-suited to assess the impact of various justice responses (Balkans) and of their absence (Afghanistan), contributing to a balanced examination of the relationship between justice and security.

The ‘Culture/s’-research component focuses on the ‘security gap’ from an analytical perspective that is – in the broadest sense – informed by discourse theoretical premises. In general, this means that the research focuses on issues such as identity, cultural representations, everyday life; it focuses on discourses as a technology that produces, legitimises and secures power. In particular, the ‘security gap’ is understood as a discursive mechanism, and our overall interest lies in grasping its complex working.

There are two workshops planned in 2013 that bring together scholars who work on related issues. One of the workshops will focus on the nature of contemporary ‘security elites’, in other words, discursively produced forms of authority in relation to the ‘security gap’. The other workshop seeks to stimulate new knowledge about the ‘security gap’ and the ‘politics of time’, as it is inherent in contemporary notions of ‘security’ and ‘risk’.

Contact: Dr Sabine Selchow, s.u.selchow [at]

The contemporary security gap is inextricably linked to notions of geography. Perceptions of space and place underlie security narratives and security practices. The notion of national security, for example, is all about the concept of territory and borders. At the same time, an understanding of the security gap significantly changes the old geographies and produces new ways of seeing the world in spatial terms.

Recent decades have witnessed a dramatic increase in urbanisation – for the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. Rapid urbanisation is often attributed to globalisation – the pull of new industrial jobs in cities as well as losses of livelihood from economic liberalisation. But another factor is contemporary conflict; cities have been swelled by people forced to leave their homes in war. Kabul, for example, has increased from less than a million in 1979 to 3.45 million to-day (Central Statistics Office Afghanistan 1981; USAID 2009). This dramatic growth in cities has changed their nature in fundamental ways, particularly assumptions about the cosmopolitan or multi-cultural character of cities. Cities can be studied as prime examples of the reconfiguration of social, political and human geographies through the contemporary security gap. Above and beyond, they are particularly interesting hot spots of contemporary insecurity dynamics on the one side, as well as cauldrons of creativity and innovation, on the other (e.g. Landry 2008).

This component of our research programme explores two questions:

1. Is the growth and changing composition of cities a consequence and/ or cause of insecurity?

In answering this question we will focus on two issues. One is the way in which population displacement during conflict has led to the growth of cities and to ethnic or religious or tribal cleavages within cities. The other is the way in which the city may produce insecurity as a consequence of factors like unemployment, crime, or the spread of reinvented traditions or exclusivist ideologies.

2. What are the security strategies employed by city administrations or local communities?

We are interested in systematically mapping and assessing urban strategies that are applied in order to close the security gap. Obvious examples of these strategies are the erection of walls, as seen in Jerusalem or Belfast; the establishment of security zones, as seen in Baghdad; surveillance measures through CCTV cameras in London; or the compartmentalisation of cities into ‘cages’, which Plöger (2007) describes for the Peruvian capital Lima. A less obvious example are the ‘cultural engineering’ strategies that were applied in the Colombian cities of Bogota and Medellin in the 1990s (e.g. Gutierrez Sanin et al 2009); the strategy of the Mayor of Medellin, Sergio Fajardo, was to assemble a set of extraordinarily designed public buildings in some of the most critically insecure places in his city.

Finally, in so-called unregulated areas, local communities may turn to informal mechanisms. ‘Protection’ by criminal gangs or tribal leaders is one option. Others may be based on neighbourhood solidarity. This component will make us of relevant indicators in the data base and focus on in-depth empirical analysis of three case studies: Kabul, Basra, London.