When is a Threat Threatening? The Social Construction of National Security

Project Leader Roxanna Sjöstedt, PhD Candidate

Project Period

2005 - 2010

Project Description

When is a threat threatening? Why do some issues take precedence over others in terms of being harmful to one’s security? At all levels of society, from the individual to the national, there are a number of issues that could be viewed as threatening, yet the process of threat construction often appears to take place on a rather basis. In terms of elite decision-making the empirical record demonstrates that although the world presents decision-makers with a number complex, and possibly threatening, situations, only some of these issues generate socially constructed problem formulations. The threat constructions by decision-makers have great implications on the overall national – and sometimes even international – security context. A prioritization of an issue results in changes of policy, redistribution of resources, and a downgrading of other issues on the agenda. It is therefore of both theoretical and empirical relevance to analyze threat construction.

The aim of this dissertation is to explain what causes political decision-makers to construct an issue as a threat to national security at a particular point of time. An analytical framework consisting of norms and identities at the international and the domestic levels as well as the internalization processes of the individual decision-makers, is applied to four empirical settings. By analyzing the cases of HIV/AIDS and terrorism in the security contexts of Russia and the United States, this dissertation seeks to demonstrate how the factors interact and make a securitizing move possible.


“Exploring the Construction of Threat: The Securitization of HIV/AIDS in Russia” (2008) Security Dialogue 39(1): 5-27 forthcoming.

Main Financial Support

Department of Peace and Conflict Research (Faculty of the Social Sciences), Uppsala University