Security traditionally refers to the condition of being protected from danger and loss. Traditionally, security only referred to military security and involved securing the nation or state from external and internal threats. It was believed that in strong states, internal security concerns are minimal and the main security concerns were external. Hence, security strategy was often focused on external threats and more specifically on external military threats (Sachs, 2003). This military security of a nation is completely different from societal security.
While security in the traditional sense refers to the security of a nation, societal security refers to securing the identities of the societies existing within the nation. The society that people belong to is completely different from their national identity. The nation is based on fixed territory has a formal membership. On the other hand, “society is about identity, the self-conception of communities and of individuals identifying themselves as members of a community” (Buzan et al).
Societal security lies between individual and national security (www. ocietalsecurity. com). Individual security is concerned with feeling of assurance regarding the present and the future. National security on the other hand is about defending the borders of a nation from external threat. Societal security is about defending the identity of the social group to which an individual perceives himself as belonging to. A group of individuals, sharing something in common form a society. There can be hundreds of different societies within a nation. The societal identities can be based on a wide number of factors.
People can identify themselves as belonging to a particular religion, region or ethnic group. Also the same person can have more than one social identity. For example, person may be identified as both a Scot, English and as a European. However, one of these identities is bound to be predominant, depending on the situation the individual finds himself in. In England, the person may identify himself as being a Scot, however in North America, the same person may identify himself as English. Thus membership to the societal groups is not as formal as national membership.
Unlike national security, where the main threat is through military aggression, in societal security, the main threat to the society’s identity is from cultural and political forces. Buzan et al list three main threats to societal security. These threats are from migration, horizontal competition and vertical competition. Migration results in the predominant societal group in a region being diluted. This can lead to insecurity regarding the survival of the group identity. Horizontal competition is the threat to the culture from adjoining cultures.
Vertical competition occurs when political forces attempt to integrate a societal group into a wider or narrower identity. Each one of the threats to societal security mentioned above can prompt the threatened societal group to attempt to protect its identity from such external threats. As mentioned earlier, many societal groups can exist within a state. Each of these societal groups has their own identities. Individuals belonging to these groups feel threatened when they perceive their identity being threatened by an outside force.
Faced with such a threat, the societal groups may protest in an attempt to protect their identities. This can lead to intra-state conflict. Understanding the concept of societal security helps understand the dynamics of intra-state conflict. While international and interregional conflicts are related to securing the state or regional borders, intra-state conflict is about securing the social identity of a group. Intra-state conflicts occur when a societal group feels that its identity is threatened by some external forces. Thus conflicts in such scenario are an attempt to protect the societal identity of the group.