WORDS in Motion TOWARD A GLOBAL LEXICON
DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS Copyright © 2009 Duke University Press
All right reserved. ISBN: 978-0-8223-4536-7
Segurança/Security in Brazil and the United States
Motility is as integral to words, then, as it is to human being. For words also travel and constitute a record of journeys made.... Each-the human and the word-possesses a career, describes a history, travels a measure of existence, does more than is knowingly intended and signifies more than they can know. -Michael Dillon, The Politics of Security
There are few words in our modern political lexicon as parasitic as "security." Most commonly preceded by the word "national" (meaning, in fact, the state), this traveling signifier has attached itself to nearly every scale of human activity, from the individual to the international, even to outer space; from comestible (food security), natural (environmental security), financial (security/securities), and territorial (homeland security) to virtual (cyber security); to forms of community, from Social Security to collective security, which is the principle behind the United Nations. The power of the word and its associations is such that even those critical of the emphasis on national security have taken to using the word, joining it, for example, to "human" and "ecological" as a way to say that people and nature, too, are in need of special protection. But this strategy of renaming ultimately fails because it assumes that replacing the modifier will transform the object merely by shifting the scale at which security is applied. The effort to make secure objects other than the state cannot succeed without examining "security" itself-what the word means and what it does.
Here I explore some of the meanings, movements, and practices associated with one of the most powerful words of our time between and within two countries: the United States and Brazil. To understand what makes "security" move with such abandon, the word will first be laid bare to show that it travels with an inseparable shadow, "insecurity," a word that may do more to explain its better-known modifier, national security, than is generally recognized. The weight of national security as an unimpeachable reason of state makes the extraction of the shadow word, "insecurity," both difficult and necessary. This is an act of salvage, restoring to the foreground a shadow that most often impels the movement of its better-known traveling companion. I then follow the word and its shadow as they move from the United States to Brazil and conclude with an exploration of the lateral movement of national security within each country, both outward and inward.
Michael Dillon argues for a "radical ambivalence" embedded in the meaning of "security." He notes that the highest state of security is defined in negative terms, as an absence of insecurity. In other words, the expression of security always brings with it insecurity, contained in its very meaning. Dillon reminds us that this simultaneously doubled articulation comes from the Latin origins of the word-"sine cura," in its root form, or more familiarly, "securitas" (freedom from doubt or without concern)-which is the common root of the English "security," the French "sécurité," and the Portuguese "seguridade." The doubled meaning of security, with the negative conditions of doubt and concern incorporated from the beginning, provides a direct link to the ambivalence of the word today. The duality of meaning embedded in "security" is not, as Dillon points out, a dialectical struggle, leading to the emergence of one meaning over the other (and not an equal struggle, either). Rather, both are always simultaneously present, locked in a clumsy pas de deux, each circling the other, taking turns to lead and to follow. This describes a "conflict of unequal opposites which are rooted and routed together." Fear and threat, danger and uncertainty are embedded in-and are byproducts of-the process of securing the object of (in)security. "Security" is, in that sense, not a noun but a verb; not a steady state or stable condition of being safe, but a continuous process of securing safety. What we now call "national security," a desired outcome, is produced by the securing, the fixing or grounding, of the sources of national (in)security.
A number of implications flow from this-in particular, the absence of limits once the process of securing is under way. It has long been recognized in international relations that new insecurities are automatically generated by the reflexivity of security work in a world filled with nation-states, the so-called security dilemma. This is the process whereby securing one nation leads to another's insecurity and so on in an endless spiral. The security dilemma also arises from the realization that, with every new threat that is identified and secured, uncertainty persists about the extent of danger that has been contained. This leads to what might be called an "excess" of insecurity, because the process of securing can never be known to be complete. Notwithstanding the official anxiety that such a process generates, this excess of insecurity produces its own form of perversity: The most advanced national-security apparatus eventually takes pride in -and is defined by-the ability to identify more sources of insecurity than its competitors, even if in the process it makes that state more insecure than any other state. Such a process is reinforced in the nuclear age when, due to the global reach of missiles and the intergenerational effects of harmful radiation, familiar distinctions of political space break down. A fetishizing of insecurity forms the basis of security, turning the object on its head, making nuclear weapons-alleged to be the ultimate means of securing the state-the simultaneous source of its ultimate insecurity. The insecurity of security takes these relations to their extreme contradiction -that is, the security of insecurity.
Once "national security" is driven by its shadow, "national insecurity," it expands effortlessly into all domains of life, making any object and person a potential threat. If danger and threat are everywhere and can come from anywhere, insecurity has no obvious or material origin. Recognition that insecurity connotes ever present danger prevents us from falling back on familiar distinctions between a safe "home" and a dangerous "abroad." As has been pointed out, it is not just that foreign policy is necessary to secure the home. Rather, we may need foreign policy to know where is home. As David Campbell puts it, "The boundaries of a state's identity are secured by the representation of danger integral to foreign policy" Since insecurity respects no limits, the process of national security making fixates on the need for firm and stable boundaries between us and them. As a result, the most insidious threat for national-security agents is the idea of the internal enemy-seditious fifth columnists or subversives passing for loyal citizens. Such imagined insecurities tend to gravitate to the marginal and illegible elements of the national body, especially those distanced by race, class, geography, origin, faith, language, or belief. Lack of hard evidence of disloyalty becomes proof that the enemy is even more dangerous than imagined, reinvigorating the search for sources of insecurity.
It is often assumed that the United States invented what we now think of as the regime of national security in the wake of the Second World War: symbolically, with the renaming of the War Department as the Department of Defense, and practically, with the passing of the National Security Act of 26 July 1947, which created the National Security Council, the Pentagon, and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). None of these institutions was completely new, of course, but their formal institutionalization through an act of Congress helped to establish a new legal basis through which any discussion of national defense would be recast as a problem of national security.
But it was not the naming and institutionalization of these departments and organizations that made for the ubiquity of national security, nor was it simply the presence of a global military threat from the Soviet Union. Although Harry Truman was a fervent cold warrior, deeply suspicious of the Soviet Union, during his administration efforts were made to create an international system to control nuclear weapons (the Brodie Plan), military spending dropped substantially, and most of the personnel in the armed forces were demobilized. George Kennan's famous "Long Telegram," and its subsequent publication in Foreign Affairs under the pseudonym X, argued for the need for containment but was not a particularly hostile piece. It was more concerned with noting contradictions in the Soviet system and suggesting that the United States could win the Cold War by waiting it out.
In any event, historians of the Cold War are now more likely to see the end of the First World War, rather than the end of the Second World War, as the beginning of the antagonism between the Soviet and American empires in the making, especially in its symbolic component, the alleged struggle between communism and capitalism. A greater surprise, perhaps, is that the National Security Act of 1947 said nothing about the Soviet Union or communism and its putative threat. In fact, the act was a belated congressional response to the debacle at Pearl Harbor, to establish the means by which better intelligence would be available to prevent such attacks from happening again. In this context, the CIA's job was merely to "correlate, evaluate, and disseminate" intelligence and "other functions and duties related to intelligence affecting the national security as the National Security Council might from time to time direct."
Before the Soviet Union could become the prime source of postwar insecurity, popular memories of the alliance between the United States and the U.S.S.R. (Uncle Sam and Uncle Joe, respectively) during the Second World War had to be overcome. The transformation of the U.S.S.R. from military ally to threat to source of insecurity required the ideological foregrounding of communism as a total, insidious, and also seductive alternative to all things American. Anxiety about the ideological power of communism reached an early peak during the Korean War when a number of American prisoners of war refused to be repatriated to the United States. As Ron Robin points out, the easiest way for U.S. elites to understand how American citizens could be seduced by communism was to assume that the Reds had mastered the art of brainwashing. At this point, insecurity took on a whole new meaning, because the primary focus of threat-by the same token, the weakest link-was the unreliable citizen. If national defense was about defending the homeland, that project alone was inadequate to overcome this form of insecurity. And so national security entered to secure the loyalty of the individual faced with dangers beyond the imposition of military force.
The necessary step, in other words, for the U.S.S.R. and communism to become an overwhelming source of insecurity was the weakening of the boundary between the United States and the rest of the world. Although there was no shortage of communists, anarchists, and other leftist radicals visibly present in the political life of the United States during the first half of the twentieth century, they were still American communists. The U.S.S.R. and communism became the prime source of insecurity when American communists were redefined as disloyal and unpatriotic, beholden now to the U.S.S.R. rather than to the United States. Immigrant Jews and ethnic minorities, regarded as non-normative and illegible presences in the body politic, had long been stereotyped as vectors of anti-American thought. The U.S. homeland became a threatening source of insecurity when American communists, who included large numbers of white Protestants, came to be considered a fifth column along with suspect minorities. The espionage trial of Alger Hiss, together with Senator Joseph McCarthy's allegations of a grand conspiracy and his list of "205 spies" in the State Department (1950), served to prove that Soviet communism had infiltrated the heartland. It was the totality of the communist threat-not just the U.S.S.R. as a military threat-that required an equally total response from the United States. Finding un-American communists and suspect foreigners at home was a necessary step in the remaking of the United States as a national-security state.
A comprehensive "national-security" orientation is most sharply captured in NSC-68, the long-secret and now infamous document of 1950 written largely by Paul Nitze, the Wall Street banker turned State Department analyst and policy planner. Although his hyperbolic document remained classified until 1975, its view of the world offered a totalizing vision both of the Soviet Union and its long-term plans and of the necessary response by the U.S. government across all domains of life. Its paranoid vision drew on support from a variety of sources, not the least of which was the work of the RAND Corporation, a think tank set up in 1946 in Santa Monica, California, with Air Force funds. The mathematician Albert Wohlstetter, his wife, Roberta, and other rand theoreticians such as Herman Kahn pioneered the use of game theory to model U.S.-Soviet relations and did much to create a strategic mindset that argued for the need to be prepared for the worst-case scenario at all times. This approach to strategic analysis, with its focus on surprise attacks (the strategic legacy of Pearl Harbor) and concomitant marginalization of arms control, frequently became a self-fulfilling prophecy in that it provoked the Soviet Union to react belligerently to U.S. actions. Given the limited understanding of the Soviet system available in U.S. policymaking and intelligence circles for decades, nsc-68, which was completed just as the Korean War broke out, appeared remarkably prescient and helped to reverse the decline in U.S. military budgets up to and in the present.
The domestic front was hardly immune to these developments. Perhaps as important as NSC-68, if not as famous, was another document co-written by Nitze, NSC-141 (1953), which offered the most expansive meaning of national security yet in circulation, especially in its focus on civil defense. In 1957, based on the growing fear of Soviet intentions and working with inflated estimates of its military strength, a high-level committee was created to consider internal or "civil" defense. H. Rowan Gaither, president of the Ford Foundation and chairman of the board of RAND, which he had helped set up, led the committee. According to Fred Kaplan, although the original mandate of the committee was to give advice on how to prepare the country for an attack from the Soviet Union, following effective lobbying by Wohlstetter and Nitze, the committee's brief expanded to include the consideration of a "second-strike" capability that would allow the United States to respond militarily to a Soviet attack, thereby guaranteeing that all-out nuclear war would take place and devastate the world. President Dwight Eisenhower, notoriously thrifty and a former general, might well have balked at the huge expense implied by this report were it not for Sputnik, which beeped its electronic message over the United States a month before the Gaither committee submitted its report in November 1957. The rest, as we know, is history. That Sputnik might have marked the zenith of Soviet global technological leadership would not be understood for nearly three decades.
In retrospect, it is all too easy to argue that the creation of a national-security state was inevitable. But to understand its emergence in the United States and its incorporation into state policy and institutions, the starting point is the transformation of national defense into national security through the articulation of insecurities that could take root in the unconscious as well as in political and material sources.
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