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Britain at war: Securitization, identity, and the war in Iraq

Jarrod Hayes
Georgia Institute of Technology
Jarrod Hayes
Georgia Institute of Technology
Open Panel

Abstract

Some in the literature on the Democratic Peace, particularly John Owen, have suggested that the underlying mechanisms of the democratic peace function both with other democracies and with non-democracies. Unfortunately, the mechanisms of the democratic peace remain ambiguous. Constructivist work on the democratic peace, and security in general, has made significant headway in exploring the mechanisms that drive the phenomenon, but significant gaps remain. In particular, while constructivist scholars have shed considerable light on the construction of security within the mind of leaders, little work has been done on how democratic leaders convey those constructions to the public. The paper seeks to address this lacuna. Using the Copenhagen School’s securitization framework, this paper focuses on the role of identity in how democratic political leaders construct security threats. The paper also seeks to link the construction of threat in the mind of policy maker with the construction of threat in the public. To do so, a case study is made of the buildup to British involvement in Iraq. The conclusions are significant. The paper finds that at the personal level, Tony Blair relied on identity as a critical marker indicating potential threat. In turn, Blair used the language of identity in his efforts to securitize Iraq to the public. While there are some indications that he was successful, there are also indications that the democratic identity of Britons also served to block support of unilateral action. For the public, the role of identity is complex, and while the public democratic identity is clearly powerful, it operates in nuanced ways.