Talking Threats : The Social Construction of National Security in Russia and the United States

Abstract: Why are some issues seen as threats? This dissertation attempts to explain the dynamics of threat construction by national decision-makers. The theoretical ambition is twofold: first, the dissertation aims at improving the research on threat construction by suggesting a broad approach that analyzes this process in a structured manner. Second, the dissertation also contributes to the more mainstream International Relations security research agenda, which often under-problematizes this issue. The point of departure is that the link between a condition (e.g. structure) and threat framing (e.g. agency) is not to be taken for granted, and that threat construction is subjective and varies among actors.  This assertion is supported by the findings of the dissertation’s component parts. Essay I finds that US security doctrines such as the Truman and Bush doctrines are not routine responses to external threats but rather the natural continuation of a political and societal discourse in which certain norms and identities interact. Essay II finds that a condition that could lay the foundation for a threat construction does not necessarily evoke such a reaction, such as the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Russia. Essay III demonstrates the opposite situation; that a securitization can take place although the contextual conditions do not necessarily point toward such a move, such as US President Clinton’s declaration that AIDS is a threat to the national security of the United States. Essay IV proposes a framework that incorporates explanatory factors from the international, the domestic, and the individual levels of analysis. Such a framework allows for a more refined analysis which better captures the contingent relationships between factors. Taken together, the findings of this dissertation indicate that the correlations between conditions and threat constructions are intricate, and that the explanation of a securitization lies in the interaction of certain social and cognitive processes.