How Migration, Loss of Cultural Autonomy and Political Sovereignity can Impact Societal Security

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Migration is a right deportation is a crime


National conflicts in former Yugoslavia, Transylvania and the former Soviet Union have triggered re-definition of the traditional concept of security. If before security was viewed from the military point of view, now it gets more complicated. Today’s threats are not just military but also social. They concern questions of identity and internal balance of a state.

The newly emerged states after the collapse of the Soviet Union chose to pursue the European Union. Its increased integration within the EU led to “decoupling of state and nation” (Waever et al 1993, p. 23) and posed a threat to national constituencies. This desire to pursue a post-sovereign nation-state was due to internationalization process (as well as Europeanization). As higher international institutions take power over the domestic affairs, people feel threatened by this and cannot ask for help their government. Thus, if decoupling is not possible, new conflicts emerge (e.g. as it happened in Yugoslavia). In this sense, weak states are usually not prepared to deal with differences in culture and identity.

Societal insecurities happen when a society questions its own survival. The loss of political sovereignty, the loss of cultural autonomy (e.g. Euroscepticism in regards to EU integration) and migration are the main threats to the national identity. In contrast to the national security, societal security does not depend on the territory. A specific attention is drawn to the problems of migration, minorities and multiculturalism. This resembles the ideas of Huntington in the “Clash of Civilizations?” (See Huntington 1993).

For example, migration has impact on common identity and culture. It has an ability to alter the composition of the population linguistically, ethnically, culturally and religiously. Meanwhile the cultural diversity is welcomed to some extent, until it penetrates norms and traditions. However, migration is a question of numbers. That is why the recent migration crisis sparked tensions among the countries, accepting the refugees. It has the possibility to prevent the society “to reproduce itself in the old way” (Buzan 1991). In the age of the human rights and tolerance, the questions of race, religion and culture are becoming quite tricky.

Migration itself in the recent years has been becoming easier. Transportation and travel is not a matter of concern anymore. Determined young people are ready for anything in search of a better life. If in the last centuries there were migrating Europeans, now the flow usually comes from the South-Eastern side, from less developed countries to developed ones. It is impossible to avoid the clashes of civilizations, especially considering the numbers.

In the UK, for instance, the Arabs, who came to the country long time ago, are now not only following their traditions and preserving their culture, but also gaining more power at the political level. In Latvia there is an issue with the Russian-speaking population, who are trying to preserve their language and culture. Similar situation is in Pakistan, which shares different kind of cultures and identities. Many more countries are trying to deal with their minorities, and now there is unprecedented influx of refugees, fleeing the countries from the conflicts. Inevitably, this should be taken into consideration when talking about security. It is also clear that this societal element is interconnected with other types of security, particularly with military and political.

Some people view migration as a threat; others try to be more optimistic about it. Some states try to defend themselves by controlling migration flows and constructing legal and physical barriers; others are welcoming migrants and offering them entitlements. At any case, this societal security approach gave the beginning to a new branch of security, called “the identity security” (qtd in Buzan, Hansen 2009, p. 213). This security primarily focuses on the cases where the state and its societies do not align, for example the cases of minorities facing their governments.

Interestingly enough, as far back as 1987 a clear rivalry between the West and other periphery societies was noted in academia. What the West does is it constructs the image of others as underdeveloped, uncivilized, authoritative, poor, so this impacts the status of the country and the attitude towards it. Of course, the advancement of the West influenced the weaker opponents, expanding concepts, ideas and Western styles. It has an ability to threaten local customs and identities. In contrast, Islam is thought capable of expanding as another form of collective culture (See Buzan 1991).  

Not only development played the role in this Western-based representation, but also the historic events of the XX century. Back then, the West became the main writer of the history, using West-centered approach. For example, the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact condemns actions of the Soviet Union and Germany. Yet, another agreement is rarely discussed, – the Munich Agreement of 1938, signed by France and the United Kingdom, permitting Germany to annex Czechoslovakia. Having more resources to transmit information, the West could draw attention to certain facts. Even now the Western capabilities are far greater than the rest to expand its culture, political ideas and identity. Not surprisingly, other countries might not like it.

Now there is an obvious confrontation between the West and Russia (similarly as with Islam). It is also the case that the negative image is being constructed by the West in order to reach its political objective. Likewise, Russia answers with the similar pattern, targeting the West instead. Here one can see a societal element in it and how it is linked to the national security. After the Cold War, it was Buzan who suggested that another kind of the Cold War was possible: he called it “a Societal Cold War”. Now, 26 years after, it sounds quite true.

Today’s conflicts are more about cultural, identity, and civilizational clashes. This is why it is important to recognize importance of cultures and identities (and languages! As they lead right to the heart of understanding another culture | linguistic remark) and strive to achieve a balance between them. Once it is there, well…


Buzan, B. (1991). “New Patterns of Global Security in the Twenty-First Century”, International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), 63:3, 431-451.

Buzan, B., Hansen, L. (2009). The Evolution of International Security Studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Huntington, S. “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs, 72:3, pp. 22-49.

Waever, O., Buzan, B., Kelstrup, M., & Lemaitre, P. (1993). Identity, Migration and the New Security Agenda in Europe. Lonon: Pinter.


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Alexandra Goman
Specialist in global security and nuclear disarmament. Excited about international relations, curious about cognitive, psycho- & neuro-linguistics. A complete traveller.
  • amit gupta

    eloquent. nice read.
    You mentioned “…migration is a question of numbers. That is why the recent migration crisis sparked tensions among the countries”.
    Do you believe that immigration can help uplift countries which rank poor in riches (healthcare,life-exp, PCI, etc)? 🙂