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Shahar Hameiri and Lee Jones, Governing Borderless Threats: Non-Traditional Security and the Politics of State Transformation. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015)  pp. 276+x.

Reviewed by  Simon Dalby (CIGI Chair in the Political Economy of Climate Change, Balsillie School of International Affairs, Wilfrid Laurier University)

Numerous matters of international concern cross national boundaries and now present common threats to more than one state. Diseases, criminal activity, environmental destruction, climate change, global financial crises, and other phenomena challenge states in ways that require, indeed sometimes even encourage, cooperation. These are not traditional security problems of the kind where actions of one state either deliberately, or inadvertently, cause harm to another state. Borderless threats are of concern here and hence the emphasis on ‘non-traditional security’ in the subtitle of this volume.

The premise for the series of case studies that make up the volume is that, while security scholars have spent considerable time discussing how issues are made into security threats, in the processes of ‘securitization’, little attention has been paid to how these issues, once ‘securitized’, are dealt with and how the threats are managed. This absence in the security literature is worthy of scholarly attention and that is what these authors provide. More specifically, this volume focuses on ‘security governance’, a theme often neglected in scholarly work on new security issues.

The first part of the book reviews a number of contemporary scholarly approaches to security, and investigates the limitations of each. Security governance seems to lack a theoretical framework that deals with the emergence of new institutional mechanisms. Clearly states are being changed. New roles and procedures are being developed as they struggle to cope with novel challenges. Social science theories need to be more robust to explain how it is that ‘state transformation’ works. They will, so the authors suggest at some length, need to include discussions of political economy in particular to understand state responses, not least because there are powerful economic interests involved in various ways in new security issues.

Working through the theoretical discussions leads the authors to introduce their ‘state transformation’ approach. This approach includes focusing on both new institutions, as well as on attempts to ‘re-scale’ governance so that domestic issues are treated as matters needing international coordination. State transformation also involves various sub-national agencies and institutions which, taken together, generate modes of governance rather different from traditional assumptions of a unitary central state as the key security actor. The rest of the book applies the ‘state transformation’ perspective to three case studies.

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Severe haze affecting Ampang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in August 2005 photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

First, the authors turn their attention to the recurring annual problem of ‘haze’ pollution caused by land and forest burning in Indonesia. The smog, generated as the smoke drifts across Singapore and Malaysia, causes health and economic problems in both of these states as well as in parts of Indonesia. Attempts to deal with the problem include regional arrangements for fire fighting, but, as the authors make clear, the illegal land clearing, that is what these fires are used for, is entrenched in the local political economies of Indonesia. Regional institutions are fiercely resisted by those hoping to gain access to cleared land for palm oil plantations and other uses. This makes local conditions difficult to overcome for regional efforts.

The second case study concerns the H5N1 influenza virus and the various attempts by multiple agencies to constrain its spread in South East Asia. Indonesia had the highest number of human deaths and was a key locus of concern in the campaigns to limit influenza’s spread. International efforts to monitor and control the spread of the virus linked local and national health governance to larger concerns with animal husbandry and chicken farming in particular. Attempts to control the spread of the disease from infected farm animals led to interventions by veterinary officials, but as the comparison with Thailand in the case study suggests, with effects that were constrained by the powerful commercial interests involved in poultry production. Noteworthy is a different reaction among sectors that were concerned that health restrictions would close their markets and were trying to export products, and those only interested in domestic markets and hence less worried about regional scale governance.

Third is the case of money laundering and the various international efforts to constrain the movement of funds that might be used by terrorist organizations. In the aftermath of 9/11 and the American war on terror, numerous attempts have been made to track the international flows of cash and to stifle terrorist organizations by cutting off access to their funds. This is especially tricky with states, such as Vanuatu, where international financial services are part of the domestic growth strategy, and Myanmar, where regional separatist groups and minority peoples have clandestine financial arrangements across various borders connected to both weapons trading and drug production. The task of the Financial Action Task Force is made especially complicated in these circumstances where simple assumptions of sovereign governments, interested in financial transparency, run up against vested interests of those actors who thrive in situations where governance is at best a murky business.

All three case studies suggest that assumptions that governments have common interests in dealing with non-traditional threats are far too simple. The complicated realities of political economy and conflicting economic interests cut across attempts to govern smoke, disease, and money laundering. Local governance within states has to be involved, as well as national and international arrangements. However, the attempts to re-scale governance frequently run into resistance when immediate financial interests are involved.

This is all made more complex when businesses try to use  governance arrangements to enhance their position in the national political economy, as was the case in Thailand, where large-scale poultry producers were able to gain advantage over the small producers who were less well-equipped to accommodate the novel procedures to reduce the prevalence of flu virus in their livestock. Endemic corruption does not help either, in particular in the attempts to deal with the Indonesian fires.

The authors draw a few important lessons from this detailed examination of attempts to implement security governance of non-traditional threats. National level bureaucracies are not necessarily the agents best able to operate in specific places. They conclude that, given the complexity of these issues, international interventions need to use tactical alliances with local actors. Attempts to deal with such things as disease vectors require sensitivity to local and national politics; work within those constraints is not easy on such things as health programs, but to be successful this is necessary. Without local involvement in crucial places national agreements are not the answer to transnational difficulties. Therefore, development agencies and donors need to be sensitive to this, if their efforts are to be successful.

This volume’s great strength is in the detailed case studies that look in depth at the practical arrangements. The conclusions are hence much more convincing because of the documentation that supports them. All the case studies lean heavily on the South East Asian experience and this does raise questions as to how generalizable the findings are. The implication in the conclusion is that they are applicable elsewhere and that non-traditional threats are complicated wherever they appear.

Nothing in this volume suggests that international efforts at security governance are going to be easy in the future; everything in it indicates that they will be increasingly necessary as globalization and environmental change accelerate in coming decades.