Making of a Megatrend: Episode 4 – Universal Securitization

One of the more complex themes in The Prologue: The Alternative Energy Megatrend in the Age of Great Power Competition is the notion of universal securitization. The notion of universal securitization tries to grasp the 21st century’s increasingly interconnected globalized world in transition. This interconnectedness includes ever-multiplying actors with the ability to wield power through securitization, from the UN’s initiatives to address environmental degradation to the new capabilities of states like Germany to determine the economic security policies of the entire EU. At the same time, this interconnectedness implies that securitizing a single issue is impossible without creating spill-over into other issues, sectors, and processes.

Since the Cold War, security has evolved from the narrow sense of security of the state and its resources to a broader sense that goes beyond the need for survival of nations and society as territorially distinguished groups. Broader security comprises fields such as the environment, the economy, global health, cyber, biosecurity, demographic pressure and immigration, transnational crime, water and food security, and human rights. Energy touches on most, if not all, of the broader security fields. In a universally securitized world, it is possible to replace traditional defense with terms like the economy, health, and the environment, making security an all-inclusive matter.

Securitization theory involves a multi-faceted analysis of so-called securitization actors (those that decide or influence what gets securitized), objects (what gets securitized), and audiences (those that need to be convinced that something needs to be securitized). I will not attempt a full academic discussion of securitization theory here – for that I refer you to Part I, Chapter 1 of The Prologue and the many experts referenced therein.

What does universal securitization have to do with alternative energy? One of the overarching premises of The Prologue is that the trajectory of the alternative energy megatrend foreshadows the future global security landscape. 

Because the presence of renewables in the energy mix is currently limited, the direct security repercussions of alternative energy technologies and resources are narrow. The contention of The Prologue, however, is that having emerged as a 21st century socio-political, techno-economic, and ideological megatrend, alternative energy creates security resonances that have their own security trajectory. Furthermore, assessing the evolution of alternative energy developments provides a useful frame of reference for assessing the growing complexities of 21st century security considerations.                       

Alternative energy developments also have intrinsic direct security implications. Alternative energy itself is not simply an object that can be securitized but is also a potential source of threats that requires securitization. Making alternative energy the subject of security analysis entails mitigating the immediate security concerns arising from the introduction of alternative energy technologies, securing the resulting energy system from harm and interference, and preventing adverse effects on the ability to produce and distribute renewable energy. Although not currently part of national security agendas, the megatrend has a security imprint that is immediately felt in sectors such as geopolitics, energy, defense, the environment, and the global economy.

The Prologue is premised on the understanding that the alternative energy megatrend’s security impact creates its own socio-political framework that is more than the sum of the security threats that emanate from it. The trajectory of the megatrend illustrates the increasingly complex terrain that policymakers must navigate to cope with expanding security threats, proving the utility of the framework of universal securitization as a strategic tool with tangible applications.

The analysis of the megatrend demonstrates how security complexities will be significantly affected by the current world system. The last hegemonic cycle ended after the Cold War. Since then, the world has been in transition and 21st century hegemons have been unable to establish a clear-cut dominance. The previous hegemons are facing competition from new powers, the inertia of institutional rigidity, the erosion of their own economic and production base, and the rising cost of global rule enforcement.

Specifically, the link between security and the ability to control geography through military and diplomatic means has become more fragile. As a response to this insecurity caused by the disappearing safety net of the previous world system, actors will increasingly focus on controlling resources, technologies, markets, and institutions while undermining the ability of adversaries to do so. This is already evident in areas such as rare-earth elements and the strategic competition over 5G. While the notion of universal securitization is useful, broadening the concept of security too far risks making the term meaningless, potentially obstructing the ability to formulate actual policy and distinguish vital risks from non-threatening occurrences. Therefore, simply embracing universal securitization is not enough; it will overwhelm policymakers, leaving the system unworkable. In today’s multi-centric world, dealing with and prevailing in the new Great Power Competition requires avoiding the inertia and temptation to do everything, everywhere, all the time. It is essential that policymakers avoid these temptations. How? Stay tuned for a discussion of dynamic prioritization in Episode 5.