Book Review: Writing Security: United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity David Campbell

In ‘Writing Security: United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity’, David Campbell discusses the role of identity in the understanding of contemporary world politics, in particular that of state’s security. According to Campbell, the experiences of the United States’ foreign policy from past events and even today help show us how the role of identity is crucial in security studies and politics. He used the American experiences during the Cold War as his main case study.

Campbell’s main argument in the book challenges the traditional conception of security, in particular from the realists and neorealists traditions that are shaped by the distribution of relative power and anarchic world structure, arguing that the theory is limited. Instead he focuses on the role of identity and language of discourse at the focal point. He argues different states possess different identities, which then leads to a difference in interests, moving away from the realists’ assumption that all states have the same selfish attributes. (1998:24) The role of identity and the understanding of it are crucial in contemporary political studies in particular in perceiving threats from the external (i.e. the notion of ‘Us vs. Them’). The NSc-68 for instance, identifies the Soviets as possessing ‘threatening’ values, as opposed to the ‘good’ American values. (1998: 78). For Campbell, the interpretation of threats by the political actors is crucial.

The main strength of this book is that it provides readers with an informative outlook of security study from the constructivist point of view. Campbell’s usage of a wide range of official data and transcripts (e.g. NSC-68) strengthens his argument on the role of ‘discourse’ especially how security is constructed and developed as a form of identity. This is helpful to understand political security far away from the realm of the realists and neorealists understandings. Similarly, his concise arguments in the book provide an easy understanding on the main tenets of constructivism provides a refreshing idea of security, far from the realm of traditional security studies. However, upon further reading, I can’t help but to notice that his arguments overestimated the role of identity and discourse especially when viewing security issues as a social construction. If threats are socially constructed, then how does one identify it and find a solution for it? He did not provide a solutions/suggestion how one can overcome security issues. Nevertheless, the book is an interesting read and undoubtedly useful.

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