Securitizing the Threat of Climate Change: The Meaning of "Climate Change" to Different Audiences within the U.S. National Security Enterprise




David, William Ezio

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National Security is the primary concern of every government and the list of potential security menaces is long and diverse, perhaps limited only by the imagination of those entrusted with the security of the state. Based on varying interpretations of the social contract, state leaders make decisions and implement policies that affect people, institutions, societies, other states, and relationships of all kinds. When that state is the United States, the implications of threat identification and the resulting security responses can be costly and far reaching. Borrowing conceptually from the Copenhagen School's securitization theory, this project describes the discursive complexity of threat meanings held by audiences within the US national security enterprise following securitizing moves by President Obama. Specifically, I question what the threat of climate change means to the executive branch, Congress, and national security experts, how those meanings are constructed, and to what end. Using frame analysis, I examine 213 official texts from the period May 1, 2010 to September 1, 2013 to discern diagnostic, prognostic, motivational and cognitive frames and interactional framing regarding the climate change threat. I further inform my analysis with personal insights from a thirty year career in the enterprise and theoretical insights from Stephen Walt's balance of threat theory, John Kingdon's three streams model of public policy formation, social identity theory, and Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildavsky's cultural theory of risk. Ultimately, I find that each audience creates and draws from one or more climate change meanings to acknowledge or refute the threat in ways that serve its own ends. This project contributes to our understanding of the US response to climate change, helps to describe the under theorized role of audiences in securitization theory, and identifies new avenues of inquiry related to threat identification and climate change.



Social research, Public policy, Political Science, Climate change, Frame analysis, National security enterprise, President Obama, Securitization theory, U.S. national security