1st Edition

Ontological Security in International Relations Self-Identity and the IR State

By Brent J. Steele Copyright 2008
    244 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    232 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    The central assertion of this book is that states pursue social actions to serve self-identity needs, even when these actions compromise their physical existence. Three forms of social action, sometimes referred to as ‘motives’ of state behaviour (moral, humanitarian, and honour-driven) are analyzed here through an ontological security approach.

    Brent J. Steele develops an account of social action which interprets these behaviours as fulfilling a nation-state's drive to secure self-identity through time. The anxiety which consumes all social agents motivates them to secure their sense of being, and thus he posits that transformational possibilities exist in the ‘Self’ of a nation-state. The volume consequently both challenges and complements realist, liberal, constructivist and post-structural accounts to international politics.

    Using ontological security to interpret three cases - British neutrality during the American Civil War (1861-1865), Belgium’s decision to fight Germany in 1914, and NATO’s (1999) Kosovo intervention - the book concludes by discussing the importance for self-interrogation in both the study and practice of international relations.

    Ontological Security in International Relations will be of particular interest to students and researchers of international politics, international ethics, international relations and security studies.

    1. Introduction: Interpreting State Motives

    2. Morality and the Ontological State in IR theory

    3. Ontological Security and Social Action

    4. The Power of Self-Identity: The Emancipation Proclamation and British Neutrality during the American Civil War

    5. ‘Death Before Dishonor’: Belgian Self-Identity, Honor, and World War I

    6. Shadows of a Shameful Past: Kosovo and the NATO States

    7. The Future of Ontological Security? Confronting Identity Threats through Reflexive Capabilities


    Brent J. Steele is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Kansas, USA.

    Ontological Security in International Relations inspires a number of ideas, and as such, there are a number of potential future applications for Steele's ontological security approach. What Sjoberg has illustrated with regards to feminism may be equally applicable to other IR theories. For instance, Steele has a number of interesting insights regarding hegemony, suggesting that the ontological security research program might have ramifications for such approaches as hegemonic stability theory. The issue of self-interrogation and the case of the Zero Dark Thirty controversy also needs further attention. To flesh some of these (and other) ideas and applications out, there is no doubt that Steele's book is worthy of further attention.

    Luke M. Herrington, E-IR