Today we are joined by William Clapton is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations at UNSW Sydney. He is the author of Risk and Hierarchy in International Society: Liberal Interventionism in the Post-Cold Era (Palgrave, 2014) and has published articles in International Relations; International Politics; and the Australian Journal of International Affairs. His upcoming book, Risk, Security, and Immigration Under the Trump Administration: Keeping Undesirables Out is due for release in late 2021.
So how is risk understood within the security study subfield, and within international relations, when we talk about risk, what does that mean?
Generally, we an say that the literature on risk in international relations kind of dates back to around about the late 1990s, it really starts to take off around about the time of the 2001 September 11 attacks.
And that’s really for the reason that near terrorism becomes identified as one of these major risks that are now occupying Western attention and animating Western security, discourse and practice. And
within the field, a lot of work latched on initially to the work of Rick Beck,
a German sociologist who published a book in the 1980s, in German, and then in 1992, in English called simply “risk society”.
And you know, there’s a lot to unpack in that book. But the long story short was that Beck argued that we were in the process of the emergence of a kind of new form of late modernity or late modernization, which was centered around risks and the emergence again, of what he would call risk societies.
And so he talked about the globalization of this risk society, the globalization of risks,
and tried to unpack the political consequences,
in part of this turn towards risk and this turn towards a risk society.
he talked about environmental risks, like climate change, or acid rain,
and Europe, etc. And then after 911,
and the kind of coming to the attention of security studies goals of his work,
he himself also started publishing work on economic and financial risks and terrorist risks as well.
Yeah, that’s very interesting. Thanks for tha Will.
I think the concept of the broadening and deepening of risk issues analysis is quite logical and helpful.
And I’m continually surprised when people look at
me strangely when I talk about gender and
Black Lives Matter.
And the environment is really important security and risk considerations that the companies and organizations need to be considering when they when they do their enterprise risk management, yearly risk management plans, but what sort of strategic practices are commonly associated with risk management?
Generally, the focus initially was on intervention and was on various forms of the use of military force.
So again, the war in Iraq was a big one. Other people focused on the war in
Kosovo as a
response to the risks associated with ethnic cleansing and
human rights abuses perpetrated by Serbian forces in
a kind of an early case study of a risk based approach to security. But again,
a lot of the discussion has
revolved around the sorts of practices we’ve seen in the context of the war on terror,
and also the invasion of Iraq. So that’s run the kind of continuum, if you will, from everything around military force to foreign aid and development practices, to more localized practices like the US Patriot Act,
and like criminal illogical, and
criminal approaches to managing the terrorist risk,
and also surveillance practices and techniques that have been implemented by Western societies,
and others, of course, over the last 20 years or so to deal with the risk of terrorism.
So there’s a whole range again, of International Military,
legal, political, economic, and
local practices and technological practices as well, because the development of AI technologies and algorithms that can not only provide immediate real
time information about a person’s background and where their passport is valid, or whatever, but also things like the EU’s implementation of deception detection software,
and artificial intelligence programs and algorithms kind of, again, points to the kind of technological aspects of risk management and some of the technological practices and technologies that have been implemented. But again, there’s a very wide variety of different practices that have been associated by scholars with attempts at risk management.
You’ve spoken about the invasion of Iraq
a couple of times I first worked in
Iraq for about one year after the invasion was back
and forth between whether it was called an invasion or a liberation. But thankfully, history books a little bit clearer on that these days.
And you’ve spoken a lot about Iraq and
pre emptive self defense
in much of your writing and your interviews. But what do you think some of the most important lessons are that we can draw today from this, you know, really, hugely important event that today seems like what was so long ago?
Yeah, it’s a really good question. The big lesson for me around Iraq was really related to something that Beck called the boomerang effect, which is that attempts at risk management would necessarily entail an agenda
and produce their own risks.
So it was the kind of risk associated with trying to deal with other risks.
Iraq, we saw that in a couple of instances, with respect to a couple of different things. But for me, the big one was the risks that the invasion of Iraq posed to, you know, the supposedly liberal international order and
rules based international order that the United States constructed and
as has supposedly led since the end of the Second World War.
a very quick aside, anyone who reads and is familiar with Australian foreign policy, or reads anything published by the Australian Government on its foreign policy notes that you’ll probably see the term rules based international order mentioned well,
at least 20 times per
page, because there’s so keen on talking about this us liberals based international order and its importance to Australian National Security. But the interesting thing was the invasion of Iraq represented again, even then in
I think, probably, it’s fair to say certainly even more
a fairly unambiguous violation of this specific norms and
rules that supposedly make up that rules based international order. The two really important ones being the norm or the rule of non intervention in sovereign affairs of other states.
And the second one being, you know, the requirement of security council authorization to to undertake major invasions or major in military action against other countries.
And it’s it’s important not to forget that the invasion of Iraq was not un sanctioned did not receive the sanction of the Security
and was therefore an illegal act under international law.
So one big lesson, again, is the risks that risk management itself can
produce. But the other big lesson for me
in terms of the risks that these attempts at risk management can
produce and specifically here the invasion of Iraq is that when you’re acting on the basis of what I call ifs, buts and maybes, when you’re providing representations of something that you’re not sure exists of a danger or hazard that you don’t know is real, but you think it might be you really do
run the risk of legitimating really serious consequential in some instances, devastating actions, like the invasion of Iraq itself on the basis of really flimsy justifications and
so this is one of the reason why many of the security practices, particularly when we talk about the employment of military force remain so
controversial, both within the academic discipline but also, of course, within wider society, because you’re essentially legitimating the use of force on the basis of fairly flimsy cases for action.
And Iraq was certainly a fairly flimsy case,
in terms of the United States and its allies claims of Iraqi possession of weapons of mass destruction.
I remember being in
Iraq, and running training
and facilitating workshops for Iraqi government employees, and we were discussing the rule of law,
torture, and handling of prisoners, evidence, etc.
And invariably, every session, every workshop, I’d run, within seconds, someone would put their hand up
and say,every grab, you know, they wouldn’t even ask a question, they would just say, every grab and
so at the same time
I was I was lecturing and providing workshop
and, you know, bringing ideas about how people should be treated and how prisoners should be treated. The Iraqis were rightly saying,
and justifiably saying that this is how you and your country
and your allies are treating prisoners that makes things very challenging.
At the same time, as you said, you know, the rules based order versus concepts like unlawful combatants, you know, which are deliberately created to muddy the water and confuse the legality of what is generally aquatic, generally,
a black and white concept. You know,
I think it’s a
bit of a shame, but the violation of rules based international order by countries that espouse the rule of law and
a, you know, advocate for democracy,
and they argue for the centrality of international law and the UN
Security Council, of course, damages their credibility when they sort of act in
a in a different way.
Do you see similar events unfolding today in early 2021?
Focusing on the moment I
can think of didn’t really have credibility to begin with.
and we’re going to espouse by administration’s the Trump administration in this case that didn’t necessarily have high levels of credibility to begin with,
I mean, people will differ in their opinions of the Trump administration and its effects for the United States reputation and its credibility, but one would,
I think, fairly argue, or at least could now’s a good faith argument that, you know,
Trump has damaged us credibility in the US his reputation with many of his actions, his words,
and his policy announcements, nothing off the top of my head. But certainly there are being really very contentious policy initiatives pursued by the Trump administration more recently,
and also by the Obama administration, as well.
So the one example that is now coming into mind is, you know, Obama’s use of drones, the very heavy
use of drones under the Obama administration, which kind of was an exercise in risk management in two different but linked ways.
And the first was, of course, to manage the risk of terrorism through via extra
judicial and targeted assassinations of terrorist suspects.
And again, there’s a whole other discussion that is been had and needs to be had there around how terrorist targets
are identified, how risk is assessed,
and the legality, the ethics and the morality of assassinating people, whether or not they’re merely suspected of engaging in terrorist activities.
And even if you have directly got evidence of them engaging in terrorist activities, simply killing them, rather than than trying them through established criminal institutions and processes is, again, another discussion. But Obama’s use of drone strikes was also an exercise in risk management in the sense that, you know, it was employed specifically to protect us personnel and to mitigate the risk of us combat deaths in Afghanistan,
in Iraq and
in other areas where the Obama administration used drones
and targeted terrorists for drone strikes and assassinations. But I guess, you know, the other issue here is, is the third kind of risk that I would be remiss if I didn’t mention,
and this is not really a risk management consideration, but it is the risk that is produced by these drone strikes,
and that is to the people on the ground, because we know from what we’ve seen, these drone strikes
are the many stories that have come out over the years about, you know, weddings, being targeted funerals been targeted, civilian casualties, been a result of drone strikes, that there is, you know,
a fairly significant or at least not insignificant risk of collateral damage as part of these strikes.
And certainly, from my perspective, that sort of action, whether or not you regarded as indiscriminate killing and whether or not you find that to be
a proportional use of force in
response to a given risk or threat. That sort of action damages the credibility of the United States.
mean, again, we could talk about Trump stuff.
And the other day,
I was referring to the travel ban and the war on the border with Mexico, both contentious policies inside and outside of the United States. But again, they were kind of contentious from the get go, but certainly when you think about things that have directly damaged us credibility, you would look
at an invasion of Iraq or also,
a little bit
more recently, Obama’s use of drones.