Ontological Security in International Relations: Self-Identity and the IR State (Hardback) book cover

Ontological Security in International Relations

Self-Identity and the IR State

By Brent J. Steele

© 2008 – Routledge

218 pages | 1 B/W Illus.

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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.


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

Table of Contents

1. Introduction 2. Identity, Morality, and Social Action 3. The Possibilities of a Self 4. The Power of Self-Identity: British Neutrality and the American Civil War 5. 'Death Before Dishonor': Belgian Self-Identity, Honor, and World War I 6. Haunted by the Past: Shame and NATO’s Kosovo Operation 7. The Future of Ontological Security in International Relations

About the Author

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

About the Series

New International Relations

The field of international relations has changed dramatically in recent years. This series covers the major issues that have emerged and reflects the latest academic thinking in this particularly dynamic arena.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Freedom & Security / General