Constructing National Security: U.S. Relations With India and China

Jarrod HayesA guest post from Jarrod Hayes on his forthcoming book. Jarrod is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the Georgia Institute of Technology. In 2003 he received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder in astrophysics and political science. He completed his Ph.D. in Politics and International Relations at the University of Southern California in 2009. Prior to joining the Georgia Tech faculty, he was the ConocoPhillips Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Oklahoma. His areas of scholarly and teaching interest focus on the role of social orders in shaping international security practice. His scholarship appears in the European Journal of International Relations, German Studies Review, International Organization, and International Studies Quarterly.

Srdjan originally approached me about doing this guest post six months ago. So my thanks to Srdjan and the gang for their patience and for giving me an opportunity to discuss my forthcoming book Constructing National Security: U.S. Relations With India and China, set to come out with Cambridge University Press in September (available on Amazon for a discount). What I would like to do is discuss a bit of the background of the book project before addressing the substance of the book and conclude with some of the implications and questions raised by the work.

The book initially started as a project on the democratic peace. When I was in graduate school, I was captivated in my very first semester (Introduction to IR theory with Robert English) by the law-like regularity of the phenomenon—loads of papers and books demonstrate that democracies do not fight each other (see among others my 2012 article in the European Journal of International Relations, also Harald Müller and Jonas Wolff’s ‘Many Data, Little Explanation’ in Democratic Wars: Looking at the Dark Side of Democratic Peace and Ungerer’s 2012 review in International Studies Review). In part owing to how the subject has been investigated (more on that below), academics have lost perspective on the significance of the phenomenon. Security seems to be everywhere, and applied to almost everything. The initial impetus for the highway system in the United States was national security. President Dwight Eisenhower’s avowed purpose for building the massive transit network was to facilitate the movement of U.S. military forces in the event of a land invasion. Two years later security was used to justify education policy in the form of the 1958 National Defense Education Act. The list goes on. Almost any topic one might think of has probably been included under the rubric of security. The democratic peace, however, points to a notable exception. As reams of evidence indicate, democracies have been consistently unwilling to label their peers as security threats. The puzzle is obvious: how is it that democracies have avoided constructing each other as threats while so many other subjects have been labeled as such.

US Army Books

The significance of the democratic peace is self-evident in my opinion. As I read more of the democratic peace (DP) literature, however, I became increasingly dissatisfied with the collective effort to identify the forces that generate the phenomenon. Methodologically, regression-based studies dominate the field. While these studies have been invaluable in establishing the claim that the democratic peace phenomenon exists, by their very nature they are able to demonstrate only correlation, not causation. Not surprisingly, what effort these studies do make towards understanding and explaining the democratic peace focuses on causes — norms and institutions — that could be quantified, sometimes through tenuous proxies. Yet, because the quantitative nature of the studies does not enable access to causal forces, the mechanisms behind the democratic peace remain shrouded in shadow. Perhaps surprisingly given my educational background, I was particularly dissatisfied with the theories and causal assumptions that underlie them in the literature (for the sake of brevity and focus, I will not go into this critique in depth, but interested readers can find it in my 2012 article in the European Journal of International Relations). My dissatisfaction with the literature, specifically with its tendency to brush by the big questions of how the democratic peace is possible, led me to begin pursuing my own theory of the democratic peace.  The book is the result, although it has since grown into an effort to understand how identity shapes security outcomes in democracies.

The framework I propose in the book draws on a range of influences. It started with a dissatisfaction with the predominant approaches in the DP literature and an intuition that the democratic peace is social and political in nature (as opposed to mechanical and asocially rational). This led to thinking about the democratic peace in social terms, and specifically how identity dynamics within states (that is, within society) contribute to the outcome that democracies do not fight each other. This latter element, a concern with how identity dynamics within states influence international behaviour, can be traced to Ted Hopf’s work establishing societal constructivism as well as Cederman and Daase’s 2003 article on endogenising corporate identity. In thinking about the social nature of the democratic peace, the approach was also deeply influenced by Müller and Wolff’s argument (here and Chapter 3 here) that the democratic peace is fundamentally a dyadic dynamic. That is, it arises out of relationship between states, rather than as an emergent property of individual states (a monadic explanation). Securitisation theory also had a major impact, leading to a reconceptualisation of the question of the democratic peace away from war to the necessary precursor to war: security. The question went from why don’t democracies fight to how do external states come (or not) to be constructed as existential threats?  Securitisation theory also provided a basis for empirically examining the role of identity in security, by looking at how security speech acts are constructed as well as grounding the book in the political relationship between political leaders and publics. The literature on social identity theory also informs the book’s theoretical framework, specifically scholarship on social categorisation theory – the process by which individuals come to be seen as group members and the social psychological effect of grouping.

Hands Vote Democracy

All these pieces come together to inform a theory of the impact of democratic identity on security practice. How is it possible for external states to be constructed as existential threats, and what role does identity play in that process? The argument of the book is that democratic identity is an important and central factor shaping the construction of threat. Stable democracies require the presence of a democratic social identity shared across the public. This is a group identity, specifying the nature of social reality within democracy.  The norms that inform democratic identity are agreed to include non-violent conflict resolution, rule of law, compromise, and transparency. These norms inform democratic identity, which, in conjunction with the democratic political structure to which they are tied, generate a framework for defining the self and the other and expectations of political behaviour. They also function as a critical linkage in the imagined political community that recreates democracy every day. The basic ordering principles as I have listed here are at least in part generated from the bottom up. If a large enough group within the democracy actively chooses to abide by a different set of norms, e.g. to use physical violence to achieve political interests, the democracy fails. Action can make the actor, and the practice of democracy makes the democratic actor. Because of this active participation in the ideology of democracy – as opposed to passive reception of more hierarchical social orders – I expect democratic identity to play an important part in threat perception and construction by the public. Public participation in the democratic system also contains elements of habit and practice, which reinforce the role of democratic identity.

Democracy as identity has both social and corporate identity elements. Corporately, democratic identity is about whom is considered part of the democratic community entity. Socially, democratic identity informs role and behavioural expectations. Thus, there are questions both of whom ‘we’ are and what ‘we’ are expected to do. Both elements inform interests. The social identity approach indicates that the placement of self and other has important ramifications for the self’s interests in any interaction because the roles that the self and other take on are commensurate with their social identities.

social identity

Democracy, as a social identity, distinguishes between members of the self and the other. If a state is to be democratic, then democratic identity must be a significant factor in the imagined community that binds the society under the state together.  Policies involving negotiation and reconciliation – democratic political behaviour – are justified by appealing to democratic norms and social identity. Leaders emphasise that the external state warrants these approaches (as determined by social identity) as a trustworthy member of the democratic community (as determined by corporate identity), that these behaviours are expected in return, and that the situation can be approached without significant concerns over violence. Policies involving aggression and violence – nondemocratic political behaviour – are justified by demonstrating that the target state is beyond reason or trust, that their behaviour could result in violence against the home state (an existential threat). Political leaders achieve this aim by emphasising the undemocratic identity (again a question of corporate identity) and the external state’s unwillingness to reliably operate by democratic norms (an element of social identity). The securitised state poses an existential threat because it is dissimilar from the democratic self, defined in part by the exclusion of violence from conflict resolution amongst the ingroup. Thus, democratic social identity plays two roles: first, it reduces uncertainty about future action by, second, prescribing behavioural boundaries.  Contestation over shared democracy is contestation over democratic ‘actorness.’  The story is very much about how the lines of ‘democracy’ as a class of actor are drawn (corporate identity) and the ways in which democracy shapes expectations of behaviour of the self and other (social identity).

The securitisation dynamic is not unique to democracies. What is unique to democracies is the primary audience. In their selectorate model of war, Bueno de Mesquita and his coauthors point out that leaders of democracies must deal with larger support coalitions than leaders of authoritarian states. Thus, owing to the structural nature of democracy, securitising actors in democracies must deal with a large, varied audience. In a democracy, the public plays a critical role in security policy. It is inherent to the nature of democratic governance: leaders are accountable to the public for their policy decisions. I recognise there is probably some skepticism on this point. Securitisation theory, after all, is a theory of how issues are removed from normal political processes. I would make a couple quick points. First, not all securitisations are successful (e.g. climate change in the United States, the subject of a paper I currently have under review), which suggests that we have to distinguish securitisation attempts from securitisation success, and that democratic policy makers are constrained (and enabled) by the social structures they operate within. Second, as the case study in the book of Nixon’s policy making shows, democratic policy makers are aware of these constraints. And third, even when policy makers do try to act without accountability (e.g. Tony Blair in Britain) they pay a political price.


Getting back to the theory in the book, regardless of democracy size, the audience is very large, with a wide variety of assessments regarding the national interest. In this case, democratic securitisers are forced to construct the security claim using language that appeals to a diverse audience and taps into existing threat construction frameworks. Securitisers rarely, if ever, have the time to construct a threat assessment framework from the ground up. Instead, they rely on existing frameworks that serve as assessment platforms by which people evaluate who can be trusted, who cannot, and what types of behaviours and reactions to expect from a given counter-party under particular conditions. Because securitisers in democracies face large audiences, they are forced to appeal to basic ties that bind the imagined community together. Consequently, in cases of national security the dominant political identity (democratic) of the public and the attendant set of norms provide some of the most potent bases for grounding a securitising move with respect to external states. This is a different dynamic than in authoritarian states, where we would expect the primary audience to be concentrated in the policymaking elite. In democracies, we would expect contestation over securitising moves to occur within the elite, but the primary audience (and adjudicator) of this contestation is the public. The role of the public as securitisation audience is one of the critically defining elements of democracy over other types of governance.

To sum up the argument, democratic identity plays a critical role in facilitating as well as constraining security in democracies. In the book, the theory is applied in four case study chapters centred on ‘focal points’ in U.S. relations with India and China. These focal points allow for some constraint on the temporal element of security as well as enable a partial solution to the ‘dog that didn’t bark’ problem that bedevils IR in general and the DP in specific. Space precludes a discussion of the cases, so I would like to turn briefly to some of the implications of what I have outlined here. One point that immediately stands out is, how do people know that other states/societies are democracies? I don’t have a good answer to this question and do not address it in the book, but more to the point I don’t think IR generally has a good answer to how social facts about the international system are established and replicated.

A second implication of the work is that we might understand social structures like identity as establishing a social space within which political actors operate. This space simultaneously makes some securitising moves difficult, perhaps to the point of practical impossibility, while enabling others. Understanding security in terms of a security space would lead scholars away from notions of predicting the next war and toward understanding the configurations of social and political structures that confront securitising actors and how they operate within these structures. I explore this concept of the security space at some length in the book. Finally, there is the relationship between domestic orders and international orders. In effect, the argument I make is that domestic orders (democracy) have an important impact on international orders. I touch on this in the book, although at less length than I should have on reflection (an oversight I am addressing in part in a working paper). I think IR overlooks the linkage between domestic and international orders far more than it should. If I am right, that the democratic peace (an international order) arises from social structures within democracies (domestic order), then this book might be an important piece in moving toward a more holistic understanding of political orders more generally. One can think through the multitude of theoretical implications (i.e. is realism really so timeless?). In practical terms, a linkage between domestic and international orders presents some sobering scenarios in a future where China – should it remain authoritarian with weak rule of law – becomes a global power.  What will the international order look like in that case?

 Constructing National SEcurity

My final substantive word must be to discuss the cover. In my book-publishing naivety, I did not think to inquire with Cambridge about putting in an explanation of the cover until it was too late in the production process. So, a comment here will have to suffice. The cover art is from a World War II poster produced by United China Relief (now the ABMAC Foundation) as part of an alliance of non-governmental groups (the National War Fund) raising money for the war.  The original wording (including emphasis) read:

We Salute the CHINESE REPUBLIC On Her Birthday OCTOBER 10th.  China – the First of our Allies to fight Japan, China – in spite of war, struggling victoriously toward Democracy as we did 150 years ago. HELP HER TO FIGHT BRAVELY ON.

While the image is a striking one, it is the message that really struck me as I was searching for something to put on the cover. Specifically, it was the direct appeal to shared democratic identity as the basis of aid that resonated I thought with the themes of the book.

Thanks for reading!  Of course the argumentation in the book is far more nuanced and rich (I hope) than that I have provided here. Such is always the case trying to condense more than 90 thousand words into a blog post. Thus, I hope this post intrigues rather than frustrates, and I am happy to engage in further discussion, either in the comments section or via email. Of course, I am always willing to give a talk on the book. Finally, I would like to thank all the people who helped me along the way in this project. A full recounting here would be inappropriate, so I hope readers will take a look at the preface of the book to see a full reckoning.

14 thoughts on “Constructing National Security: U.S. Relations With India and China

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  3. Interesting post. Difficult to squeeze a bk into a blog post, I’m sure.

    Mousseau’s ‘social market roots of the DP’ argument, discussed by N. Lees in a recent article (and in a blog post of mine about the article [link below]) also emphasizes connections betw domestic and intl conditions, but in Mousseau’s argument the key thing is not identity but the relative (at least up until 20 or 30 yrs ago) economic prosperity enjoyed by largish chunks of the pop. in ‘social market democracies’, which in turn is seen as supporting an inclination toward non-belligerent dispute res. Doesn’t necessarily contradict yr approach; just takes a different tack.

    But I don’t think there has yet been enough discussion of the relation betw DP, on one hand, and the overall decline in armed conflict, on the other — as I suggest in the post.


    • Hey LFC, thanks for the thoughts! I was getting worried at the radio silence. I’ll address Mousseau/Lees first. I think you are right that his approach does not contradict mine. The market-generated norms Mousseau discusses are almost entirely coincident with democratic governance, so it is tough to distinguish effects, and they could be mutually reinforcing. But in my reading Mousseau shares a weakness that a lot of the DP lit has, which is that he is monadic in his approach (e.g. market generated norms cause general peacefulness by some states), but the lit shows democracies aren’t more peaceful as a general rule. He gets around this, as you point out in your post, by recognizing that democracies abandon their values when it is deemed necessary, but he doesn’t really provide a political/social basis for how that is possible, so I think there is something a bit squirrelly there.

      I would like to emphasize that the approach in the book isn’t hegemonic. By that I mean, I am not saying that identity alone ‘explains’ the DP. I do advance an argument that it is pretty important, but it is not determinative. In trying to think about security in more holistic terms, I came up with the concept of the security space as a way of starting to account for the political, social, economic, and material factors that enable or constrain constructions of security. Which leads me to my final point. As you suggest in your post, scholars really need to think about security practices/constructions in less fragmented ways. There is almost certainly a connection between the DP and the general decline in conflict, and that needs to be explored. I agree and disagree with your point about the DP perhaps having run its course. I agree that, narrowly conceived, changes on the ground (general reduction in war) may mean that narrowly focused DP scholarship will increasingly have less to say about broader dynamics of security. But if scholars link the underlying element of the DP (the social/economic/political order) into those broader dynamics, then there are still a lot of contributions to be made.

      I found your comment on the relationship between environment and security particularly intriguing both because I agree with you and because I have a revised paper under review that deals with the issue of climate change and security by looking at how different (democratic) political systems use security to address the problem. Which, to my mind, is an extension of DP research, but one that doesn’t see the DP narrowly construed. I guess one of the things I hope people take away from the book is that, by looking at security instead of war, I am trying to integrate the DP into a broader, more holistic understanding of security.


      • Thanks for the response. The idea of the security space is interesting and I agree with the aim of fitting the DP into a broader picture/understanding of security. This post and exchange, in addition to informing me about the book and its publication date, have also made it more likely that I will actually read the book. 🙂

        I think you had a guest post a while back at Duck of M. previewing/discussing aspects of the U.S./India portion, which I have a particular interest in anyway — so that’s another reason for me to read the book.


  4. Hmm — perhaps Disorder’s comments program is not doing emoticons these days — anyway, I had a smiley face after “actually read the book.”


  5. Hi Jarrod,

    Welcome to TDOT and thanks for the post. I have a question for you, which is basically the question that Srdjan’s work raises: what is the relation between the perception of whiteness and the perception of democraticness? Is this something which comes up in the India case study? Is it translated as a ‘developing democracy’?


    • Thanks Meera! It is interesting that you bring up Srdjan’s (brilliant) work. I’ve given that some thought myself. I didn’t see any evidence of race based identities operating in the cases. There could be a range things going on there. First, the race element might operate in more subtle ways (i.e. who does the U.S. share intelligence with…the U.K., Canada, etc). Second, the democraticization of non-Anglosphere states took place at (roughly) the same time that there were significant shifts in the role of racial identities within the social orders of the Anglosphere. So I find it interesting to think about what would have happened if there was a democracy like India in the early 20th century or late 19th. My guess is that there would be an effort to redefine the corporate element of democratic identity. But whether that would have been successful, or if the presence of a non-Anglosphere democracy would have driven a faster shift in the role of racial identity, I don’t know. Third, there might have been a shift in language such that racial terms have morphed into terms of governance (which would obviously require a more genealogical approach to detect).

      One of the points I make in the book though–as I mentioned in my response to LFC–is that we have to think holistically. I could get off into a tangent about methodology and epistemology, but I would do so with less sophistication than others and so with little value added. I will say that I think thinking of social phenomena in terms of ’causes’ can help clarify thinking in some ways, but profoundly muddles thinking in other ways. Coming back to my point, I think that racial identities do continue to function, so we need ongoing scholarship to figure out how, to what effect, and how race interfaces with other identities to produce patterns of thought and behavior/practice. For example, I talk briefly in the book about LBJ’s short tether policy re: food aid to India in the 1960s. The policy appears to be well intentioned (LBJ saw ag reform in India as part of his war on poverty), but may nonetheless have been shaped by racial identities in the U.S., with negative effects in the IR/FP realm (Gandhi was furious at the policy).


      • That bracketed superlative of yours made my blush, Jarrod. Without spending some quality time with your (brilliant!) book I can’t comment on this important issue, but I like how you’ve outlined some hypotheses on what might be going on. This is exactly what’s important in the study of race or racialized identities, not to mention that old probability theory dictum that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. I would also add that it might be incredibly tricky to derive even working ideas about what X stands for in Y’s understanding at any given time since items like X and Y, much like “democracy” and “race”, are complex structures (or processes, if you prefer) that interact with each other along political, economic, social etc. dimensions – all at once. And because the loop between domestic and international order is affected by such numerous interaction (or recognition, if you prefer) “opportunities,” our interpretations of outcomes like the democratic peace (or the racist peace, for that matter) will always be characterized by a level of indeterminacy. This is also why, I imagine, it makes much more sense to concentrate on “focal points” in interstate relation as opposed to try and weave a broader story about long-term historical processes involving the U.S. and India or the U.S. and China.

        One more thing: I know you’ve written about it in your 2012 piece, but I would love to hear more about your stance on causation in this particular analysis. I think I recall that you argued in favour of causal mechanisms (and particularly in favour of a broader conception of those), but I wonder if in this book you spend time differentiating among different conceptions of causation – efficient, emergent, conditions-of-possibility etc. – and/or if you explicitly link up the philosophy of causation to your theory of the democratic peace. I agree that causation-talk can and does ‘muddle our thinking’, but it is nevertheless critical since the alleged insufficiency of casual models is usually the number one area of criticism of interpretivist approaches like IR-constructivism. Thanks again for this guest post and for these responses!


  6. I don’t know why I don’t see a reply option to your comment Srdjan, so I’ll reply here.

    ” would also add that it might be incredibly tricky to derive even working ideas about what X stands for in Y’s understanding at any given time since items like X and Y, much like “democracy” and “race”, are complex structures (or processes, if you prefer) that interact with each other along political, economic, social etc. dimensions – all at once.”

    Absolutely could not agree more with this, and your whole post really.

    On causation, I’m no Patrick T. Jackson or Colin Wight or Jeffrey Checkel or Ted Hopf. Those guys operate at a whole other level. But I am pretty skeptical of the simplified model of causation that many political scientists and IR scholars use. As you know and the bio at the top indicates, I got my undergrad degree in astrophysics. So I have more experience than most IR scholars with the natural sciences and some pretty strong opinions about the parallels or lack thereof between the natural and social worlds, and whether models of inquiry in the physical sciences can be used in the social (not really). As an aside, I find it interesting that people I can think of with strong natural science backgrounds–Jeffrey Checkel, Rodney Bruce Hall–are constructivist/interpretivist in orientation. In fact, I don’t think most political scientists/IR people have much exposure to the natural sciences, so they have these ideal type notions of natural science-causation that aren’t accurate. And many of the neo-positivists as PTJ calls them can be incredibly hegemonic about their conceptions of causation and proper science. Which given that those conceptions don’t really represent how physical scientists think about causation, well…

    I like mechanisms. I cite Manicas’ 2006 Cambridge book, which I like a lot. I also like thinking about causation from a how-possible standpoint. But quite frankly, I think the way constructivist/interpretivists have and continue to wrestle with causation, from a wide array of perspectives is much more closely aligned to causation in the real world than the simplified models promulgated by many in the discipline. That is not to say that there isn’t room for those models, but we really have to exercise and encourage diversity. These departments that only hire one kind of scholar (from a causation, epitemology, etc. perspective) are doing themselves and every student that comes through their program a tremendous disservice. I fear I’ve digressed. If I was to summarize my position, I would say with respect to causation, we need to embrace complexity, and messiness, and bring to bear all the intellectual tools we can.


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