Biopolitics in the Borderlands: The Securitization of Development in the Global Liberal World Order

U.S. government officials were in Lubumbashi the week of July 14, 2015, to introduce USAID/DRC’s new five-year country strategy to provincial government authorities in Katanga. Here, Katanga Governor Moise Katumbi (second from right) greets Richard Kimball (right), deputy director of USAID/DRC’s Democracy, Human Rights and Governance office, at the governorate. Photo by Kaukab Jhumra Smith/USAID.

This piece originally appeared in the Intercollegiate Issue 2017 of the Yale Review of International Studies. This piece was written by Samuel Singler, who graduated from Queen Mary University of London in 2017.


Following the end of the Cold War, the discourses and practices of international development and security have become increasingly intertwined. This paper explains why, and with what consequences, international development has become securitized in the post-Cold War era. The merging of security and development reflects the attempted operationalization of a global liberal governmentality, and the consequent security-development nexus has largely failed to promote peace and development in the Global South. Rather, it has served to undermine calls for social progress while institutionalizing a status quo characterized by severe global inequalities and violent conflict among impoverished peoples across the globe.

The processes by which development has been securitized are both discursive and institutional, and are illuminated by utilizing insights from the field of critical security studies. However, in order to explain why a wide variety of actors have sought to securitize development and why such moves have been successful, it is necessary to move beyond these insights to uncover the conditions of possibility and rationality behind the merging of security and development. This paper utilizes a Foucauldian analytics of governmentality to explain the merger and to conceptualize contemporary development policy as a biopolitical technique of security. It subsequently employs this framework in a case study of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, allowing for the empirical substantiation of its central claim, namely that the contemporary security-development nexus achieves neither security nor development. These findings represent a serious challenge to the dominant framing of development as a security issue, suggesting the desirability of reconceptualizing development in desecuritized terms.


God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? … Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

– Friedrich Nietzsche (1974: 181 §125)

We live in an age of uncertainty. God has long since died, and in his absence the meaning of existence and political action has been sought in the secular ‘-isms’ of the modern era. Nationalism, having resulted in the destructive World Wars of the early twentieth century, thereafter gave way to the Cold War standoff between liberal capitalism in the West and communism in the East. This standoff heavily influenced Western approaches to global politics, providing a relatively unambiguous framework for comprehending international security and identifying threats thereto. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and thus the bipolar world order, however, the security agendas of prominent Western actors such as the US, UK and EU lost their clarity and fixity. In this “new world order” (Bush: 1991), the sudden absence of a potential large-scale interstate military confrontation allowed for intensified global connectivity. As capital, people, and information became increasingly mobile, so too did security threats become conceptualized as transnational and diffuse. No longer could instability, conflict, and disease in the developing world be dismissed as local issues beyond the scope of the Western security agenda. In this context of radical uncertainty stemming from the perceived diffusion and intensification of global threats, combined with the lack of an overarching meaning for political action, Western international development policy became defined as a security issue, that is, securitized.

This paper examines why, and with what consequences, there has been a merging of security and development in the post-Cold War era. It argues that contemporary development and humanitarian aid policies reflect the operationalization of a global liberal governmentality. Beyond its structural characteristics, globalization allows for a reconceptualization of the globe, and the populations which inhabit it, as governable according to a liberal rationality of government. With no recourse to a fundamental source of values and meaning to inform political action, liberal governance takes as its object the promotion of life itself (Rabinow, 1991: 17). In this regime of global liberal governance, development aid constitutes a “technique of security” which takes the “population as both the object and subject of these mechanisms of security” and thus seeks to promote species life by way of monitoring, regulation, and correctional intervention at the level of the population (Foucault, 2007: 11). This liberal governmentality informs the securitization of development, which in turn legitimizes and depoliticizes the attempt at transforming and governing far-away populations by representing development as a matter of urgency and necessity, and development policy as a mere technical issue to be tackled by experts of the field, devoid of any need for political deliberation or contestation. Sustained criticisms against contemporary development policies and continued instability in places such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) suggest that the social, political, and ethical outcomes of the merging of security and development are highly questionable. This project therefore constitutes a critical inquiry into the liberal governmentality, highlighting the consequences of combining contemporary security and development policy.

Part I reviews existing literature on the post-Cold War security agenda, in order to argue that rather than being based solely on objective realities, or arising directly from structural transformations, security threats are always socially constructed. Insights from the field of critical security studies provide a framework for critically examining the securitization of development. A review of primary sources, including policy papers and security strategies, supported by secondary academic literature on the topic, demonstrates the merging of security and development in the post-Cold War era.

Having highlighted the processes by which development has become securitized in Part I, Part II discusses the imperatives and facilitating conditions driving the merging of security and development. As approaches within critical security studies are better equipped to illuminate the “how” rather than the “why” of securitization, a Foucauldian framework of liberal governmentality is drawn on to conceptualize contemporary development policy as a biopolitical technique of security. Development practice is one of the concrete outcomes of the operationalization of this liberal governmentality through globalization, to be understood as the new predominant grid of intelligibility informing and influencing security strategies in the US, UK and EU.

Part 3 then presents a case study of Western developmental interventions in the DRC in the post-Cold War era, to demonstrate how development practice on the ground reflects a liberal governmentality. A critical examination of the sustained failure of development policies and continued instability in the DRC highlights the very serious shortcomings of securitized development practice. Although a single case study was chosen due to limitations of space, the findings of this paper should not be dismissed as lacking of wider relevance. As “in the study of human affairs, there appears to exist only context-dependent knowledge,” a single case study can “clarify the deeper causes behind a given problem and its consequences” despite the lack of a comparative dimension to the analysis (Flyvberg, 2006: 221, 226). Indeed, “one should not wish to divest existence of its rich ambiguity” by way of overzealous quantification and generalization (Nietzsche, 1974: 335 §373 – original emphasis). The DRC represents an extreme case due to the persistence of instability despite extensive international stabilization and development efforts since the mid-1990s, allowing for a particularly fruitful examination of why dominant approaches to development in the DRC have remained largely unchanged despite their serious shortcomings. As Foucault asserted in his interrogation of the continued operation of the prison system despite its perennial failure, “perhaps one should reverse the problem and ask oneself what is served by the failure of the prison; what is the use of these different phenomena that are continually being criticized” (1991a: 272). This paper undertakes to ask these questions with regards to the securitization of development.

Security in a Globalized World

The concept of peace is easy to grasp; that of international security is more complex, for a pattern of contradictions has arisen here as well … progress also brings new risks for stability.

– Boutros Boutros-Ghali (1992: 202)

With the sudden collapse of the Cold War military standoff between East and West, the globe became void of the overarching intellectual framework previously informing the theory and practice of international security. Although the absence of a bipolar world order now seemed to give way to an increasingly interconnected and collaborative global society, the globalized nature of security threats also caused concerns. Indeed, the apparent paradox of globalization has been a simultaneous proliferation of both opportunities to realize global prosperity, and, on the other hand, uncertainty and risks now beyond the control of any single nation state (Beck, 2009: 160).

This section reviews the literature regarding the transformation of the security agenda in the post-Cold War era. Following an overview of mainstream literature and policy statements which point to the ambiguity of threats in a global era, it argues that the concepts of “security” and “threat” must be problematized in order to uncover how certain issues become included on the security agenda over others. Insights from the discipline of critical security studies illuminate the socially constructed nature of security, highlighting the discursive and institutional processes of securitization. This framework is subsequently applied in an examination of policy statements and institutional developments, supported by other secondary academic accounts, to demonstrate the securitization of development in the post-Cold War era.

New World Order, New Global Threats?

The dismantling of a bipolar world order coincided with rapid technological advancements, together acting as the structural drivers of the spatial, temporal, and cognitive transformations commonly grouped together under the heading of “globalization.” Although perceived as promising a new age of global peace and prosperity (Friedman, 2000), increased interconnectedness also resulted in increased interdependence. In other words, as globalization intensified transnational flows of capital, populations, and information, Western security actors conceptualized global threats and risks as being beyond the control of any single nation state, and it thus became recognized by the Commission on Global Governance that “there is no alternative to working together and using collective power to create a better world” (1995: 2).

In this context, traditional analytical frameworks regarding international security — focusing on identifying and minimizing the threat of large-scale interstate warfare, and allowing for relatively autonomous national security assessments by each independent state — became increasingly outdated. Of course, more traditional security frameworks continued to assert some influence (e.g. Barnett, 2004). The traditional calculus of military threat identification in an age of globalization gave rise to policy prescriptions advocating the establishment of a transnational security apparatus, which could be used to tackle the threats posed by the “non-integrating gap” composed of illiberal states disconnected from the liberal world system (Barnett, 2006: 151). Despite the continuity of state-centric security paradigms, however, the security agenda was to undergo a veritable transformation as well.

Not only had the nature of warfare arguably shifted away from interstate military violence towards more complex network wars including both state and non-state actors (Kaldor, 2012), but new schools of thought within the field of international security studies began to broaden its remit considerably. Beyond the military sector, security experts now argued that international security studies should include assessments of political, economic, social, and environmental threats as well (e.g. Buzan, 1991). From this perspective, however, threats to security were still perceived as objective realities emanating from the structural transformations of globalization, despite these threats now constituting “challenges to statehood itself, rather than challenges from interstate rivalry” (Mabee, 2009: 3).

The problem was therefore to efficiently identify and eliminate security threats, ostensibly defined by some objective criteria, as reflected in high-level policy statements such as the European Security Strategy of the European Union (EU), which asserts that “[i]n an era of globalization, distant threats may be as much a concern as those that are near at hand” (EU, 2003: 6). Not only was the geographical scope of security threats conceptualized to encompass the world at large, but they were also seen as increasingly diffuse and perpetual. In other words, the maximization of national security now required action on a global scale and became increasingly open-ended, due to the impossibility of tackling all threats for good, as indeed the proliferation of global threats constituted the unavoidable “dark side” of globalization (Collins, 2012: 315). The National Security Strategy of the United Kingdom simultaneously described the contemporary era as both “an age of unparalleled opportunity” as well as “an age of uncertainty,” in which “openness brings great opportunities, but also vulnerabilities … we are continually facing new and unforeseen threats to our security” (Cabinet Office, 2010: 3-4).  President George W. Bush reflected this characterization of security threats as perennial in a globalized world in his address to the United States just nine days after the terror attacks of September 11th, 2001:

This war will not be like the war in Iraq a decade ago, with a decisive liberation of territory and a swift conclusion … Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen … Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. (Bush, 2001)

Of course, the global ‘war on terror’ continues to inform US national security strategy today (White House, 2015: 9-10).

In addition to these conceptual transformations regarding national security, in the post-Cold War era, the nation state was no longer to be the sole referent object of international security, which now aimed to maximize “human security” as well. Influential actors such as the United Nations Commission on Human Security argued for a further expansion of the security agenda to include “human rights, good governance, access to education and health care, and ensuring that each individual has opportunities and choices to fulfil his or her own potential” (cited in Chandler, 2007: 367). The new security agenda, then, was not simply concerned with military threats and national security, but rather with “the pursuit of freedom from threat” very broadly defined (Buzan, 1991: 18). In this context, public and private actors now deliberately sought to include particular issues on the security agenda, due to the ability of security discourse to galvanize the newfound “compulsion to intervene” in a “world of emergencies” (Calhoun, 2004: 374, 379).

However, broadening the international security agenda to include non-military threats and a focus on non-state referent objects also raises pertinent questions regarding the criteria by which threats are identified. If almost anything, anywhere in the world, might now constitute a threat to an individual, a nation state, or the world at large, on what basis are some issues included on the security agenda while others are not? Furthermore, how exactly is a particular issue securitized, and what are the consequences of such a framing?

Problematizing Security

With the expansion of the security agenda, a major problem for security studies became “deciding where to stop, since the concept of security otherwise becomes a synonym for everything that is politically good or desirable” (Wæver, 1995: 47). In order for the concept of security, as well as the discipline of security studies, to retain their coherence and distinctiveness from other concepts and disciplines, security has become conceptualized as a particular “problematique, a specific field of practice” (Ibid.: 50 – original emphasis). In other words, rather than referring to some “objective, or purely material conditions” by which certain issues are or become threatening, the “security status” of any object is always intersubjectively constructed, and to treat any issue as belonging to the security agenda implies the subsequent operationalization of a particular framework for action in order to minimize the threat (Balzacq et al., 2014: 3-4). Illuminating the process by which issues become securitized is then the object of critical security studies. Furthermore, the discipline acquires a more overtly political and normative dimension, as “the crucial question is no longer ‘more or less security?’ but whether or not an issue should be treated as a security issue” (Abrahamsen, 2005: 57).

The Copenhagen School of critical security studies made pioneering work in this regard, seeing the process of securitization as primarily discursive (Buzan et al., 1998). In this view, securitization constitutes a “speech act” through which an issue is discursively framed in the language of security and threats, and therefore “security is not of interest as a sign that refers to something more real; the utterance itself is the act” (Wæver, 1995: 55 – original emphasis). The language of security represents issues as existential threats to a referent object, often the nation state. This language of urgency seeks to elevate issues beyond the realm of everyday political deliberation by legitimizing emergency action to ameliorate the situation. Of course, not all issues discursively framed in the language of threat or crisis are successfully securitized, as indeed security is an intersubjective construct, and must be accepted by the intended audience. The success of a securitization therefore depends on the perceived legitimacy of the securitizing actor as well as the referent object, and each actor’s capacity to effectively securitize issues will always be shaped by power relations between competing securitizing actors, and between the securitizing actor and the intended audience. This approach powerfully demonstrates the purposive character of security by rendering securitization as “a decision to rupture a situation with certain calculable consequences for others” (Huysmans, 2011: 373 – emphasis added).

While the approach of the Copenhagen School provides an informative theoretical framework from which to conceptualize the process of securitization, its focus on the discursive remains problematic. Concentrating only on existential framings by high-level political actors used to legitimize action beyond the realm of everyday politics, the Copenhagen School overlooks more diffuse and mundane processes by which issues are moved onto the security agenda. The Paris School of critical security studies has sought to address these shortcomings by stressing that not all securitizations depend on political spectacle or call for exceptional measures. Long-term legal and technological developments, as well as struggles between professional agencies, also incrementally shape the ways in which security is conceptualized and operationalized (Huysmans, 2006: 63). Successfully claiming “expertise” in the field of security allows particular practitioners or agencies to produce relatively unchallenged knowledge claims concerning the security status of particular issues, and therefore to “construct problems in a way that enables them to use their traditional ‘solutions’” (Bigo, 2001: 121-122 – original emphasis). Rather than having to frame issues in existential terms in order to legitimize exceptional measures, security professionals shape the security agenda by determining the very boundaries of the field itself, often more aptly described as a long-term, incremental “management of unease” rather than a politics of exceptionalism and emergency (Bigo, 2002: 75).

Despite these critiques and further insights, however, the Paris School does not seek to completely undermine the Copenhagen School nor entirely reject its theses on the importance of discourse and exceptionalism in the process of securitization. Rather, the diffuse and mundane incremental developments shaping the professional field of security often provide the basis for successful discursive securitizations. For instance, international migration became very visibly securitized in the highly contentious political debates surrounding the “migrant crisis” in Europe beginning in 2015 (Sherwell & Squires, 2015). However, the success of discursive securitizing moves, which closely conformed to Copenhagen School predictions of a language of existential threat used to legitimize emergency action such as closing internal borders of the EU, in fact largely depended on diffuse institutional, bureaucratic, and technological developments shaped by security professionals from the early 1990s onwards (Huysmans, 2006: 68-72).

Normative dilemmas arise from the inherent characteristics of the discourse and practice of security. Based on the identification and elimination of threats to a referent object, securitizing a particular issue often involves representing particular groups or populations as dangerous. This representation serves to construct the image of a coherent “enemy” against which otherwise unacceptable actions, such as violence and exclusion, can be legitimately taken (Bigo, 2002: 81). Such representations rely on generalizations potentially based on ethically dubious identificatory characteristics such as ethnicity to construct the enemy as a coherent group, and the imagery of existential threat can be subsequently used to avert the need for political debate as to how and why exactly particular individuals or groups are categorized as dangerous (Huysmans, 2006: 48).  Parallel to constructing a coherent image of an enemy, securitization reifies a particular conception of political community by determining its limits and concealing the multitude of interest groups and cultural practices therein. Security concerns becoming central to political action limits the spaces for contestation and democratic deliberation within the political community, along with the possibilities for constructive engagement with those deemed “dangerous” (Huysmans, 2004). Indeed, when “the concept of ‘fear’ and ‘enemy’ constitute the ‘energetic principle’ of politics, a democratic political system is impossible, whether the fear is produced from within or without” (Neumann, 1953: 935). Furthermore, as security involves the operationalization of a particular framework for thought and action by security experts, successful securitizations may prove self-perpetuating. Once issues are moved onto the security agenda, they are open to evaluation and intervention primarily by security experts, who are inherently inclined to approach issues from a security perspective. In cyclical nature, “people see the world as a threatening place, and, because they do, the world turns out, indeed, to be a threatening place” (Coelho, 2006: 125). In other words, desecuritizing issues that have successfully been securitized can be extremely difficult.

These combined insights into the socially constructed character of security, and both the discursive and institutional processes of securitization, provide a framework for examining the post-Cold War securitization of development. They suggest the need to analyze both high-level policy discourse and institutional transformations in the fields of security and development. The potential normative dilemmas of the securitization of development arise from the generalization, depoliticization, and exclusion which characterize the discourse and practice of security.

The Dangers of Underdevelopment

In addition to their conceptualization of the global nature of threats, outlined above, Western security strategies’ inclusion of poverty and instability within the developing world on the security agenda signals an important transformation. In line with the Copenhagen School perspective on securitization, security strategies of the EU and other entities now describe underdevelopment as dangerous, ostensibly giving rise to “key threats,” including organized crime, terrorism, international conflict, and migratory movements (EU, 2003: 2-4). Security and development are thus intimately interlinked, as Western governments “acknowledge that without development and poverty reduction there will be no sustainable peace and security, and that without peace and security there can be no sustainable development” (EU, 2014: 25). The UK national security strategy also asserts that because underdevelopment gives rise to instability, it is necessary to “tackle the causes of instability overseas in order to prevent risks from manifesting themselves in the UK,” and therefore the strategy recognizes the importance of “development professionals … involved in deploying our world-class development programme to help improve security” (Cabinet Office, 2010: 9-10).  Thus, the provision of development aid is based on “the security-development nexus” (Hoebeke et al., 2007: 3), and donor security concerns have often trumped recipients’ humanitarian needs as a determinant of foreign aid provision of both the US and the EU, particularly after the 9/11 terror attacks (Brown, 2005: 188). The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) adopting Resolution 1308 warning of the risks of a global HIV/AIDS epidemic (UNSC, 2000) indicates the extent to which high-level policy discourse has accepted perceptions of underdevelopment as a security threat. The UNSC thereby signaled that “security is no longer confined to defending sovereignty, territorial integrity, and international law” but now also includes tackling underdevelopment, seen as a source of instability and disease across the globe (Elbe, 2005: 406).

In addition to such discursive developments, institutional developments also attest to the securitization of development, confirming Paris School predictions regarding the role of professionals in shaping the security agenda. The fields of security and development “are now increasingly overlapping in terms of the actors and agencies engaged and the policy prescriptions advocated” (Chandler, 2007: 362). National governments and security agencies have promoted the convergence of these fields by stressing the importance of development professionals for Western security strategies, and by strengthening interdepartmental coordination and collaboration, as is the case with the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), Department for International Development (DFID) and Ministry of Defence (MOD) coming together to implement the UK National Security Strategy (FCO, 2015). National development departments and intergovernmental agencies have also adopted the language of security and stressed their own roles in tackling security threats. For instance, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Strategic Plan 2014-2017 highlights the proliferation of global risks and asserts the potential of its operations to minimize them (UNDP, 2013: 3-4). Similarly, DFID appeals to UK national security concerns to justify its attempts to “reduce poverty in fragile states [and] deliver world class humanitarian assistance” (DFID, 2012: 2).

Importantly, however, these institutional developments are not limited to governmental departments and agencies. Indeed, a crucial aspect of the securitization of development in the post-Cold War era has been the inclusion of a wide array of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) within the security-development nexus. Prolific NGOs such as Médecins Sans Frontières, Oxfam, Save the Children, and many others have had to “[learn] to work with military establishments in new ways” due to their perceived “security responsibilities” given the role of development practice in addressing the threats of underdevelopment (Duffield, 2002: 1062). Certainly, state actors have partially driven the inclusion of non-state actors in the operationalization of securitized development policies, as reflected in the near doubling of direct governmental funding to developmental NGOs between 1989 and 2005 (Williams & Young, 2012: 10). However, NGOs themselves have also eagerly embraced their new position within public-private networks of aid provision, in which they speak the language of security and become increasingly involved with military actors, as such expertise now constitutes a central source of their legitimacy. Given the increasing interlinkages and overlaps between military and development actors, both public and private, the political neutrality of NGOs has been compromised, and “from the perspective of many local populations, they have become indistinguishable from occupying forces or the allies of intrusive governments” (Duffield, 2006: 31).

Insights from the Copenhagen and Paris Schools have provided the analytical tools to demonstrate the merging of security and development via an examination of both discursive and institutional developments in the post-Cold War era. However, they cannot provide an account of the rationality informing attempts by both public and private actors to securitize development, or explain why these attempts have been largely successful. Although these analytical frameworks recognize the role of “facilitating conditions” in determining the success of securitizing moves, this concept ultimately remains underdeveloped (McDonald, 2008: 571-572). Furthermore, while it is possible to conceptualize securitizing moves by particular agencies and actors in terms of economic incentives, or as attempts to gain legitimacy provided by “expert” status in the security-development nexus, such explanations raise the question of why these incentives have proliferated in the post-Cold War era. It therefore becomes imperative to examine the changes in the underlying grid of intelligibility informing political thought and action following the end of the Cold War, in order to explain why narratives of global threat and the securitization of international development have been so widely accepted.


Global Liberal Governmentality

It has been said that arguing against globalization is like arguing against the law of gravity.

– Kofi Annan (2000)

Following the triumph of Western liberal capitalism over the communist East, “globalization” soon became the buzzword of the turn of the century. Policymakers and scholars of politics attempted to grasp the political realities of the post-Cold War era, in which the acceleration of technological developments seemed to have resulted in an unforeseen level of global interconnectedness and transnational circulation. However, the proliferation of competing accounts of the nature of contemporary global politics soon undermined the conceptual coherence of the term “globalization,” which “encompasses all kinds of things; it’s used very widely and vaguely” (Hardt, 2004).

This section dispels such ambiguity and conceptual incoherence. Following a critical examination of popular accounts of globalization, and the limitations thereof, this section puts forth an alternative account of globalization as constituting a new grid of intelligibility for political thought and action. It argues that globalization allows for the operationalization of a liberal rationality of government on a transnational scale by rendering the globe and its populations in their entirety as governable. In the absence of serious alternatives to the liberal capitalist form of government (Fukuyama, 2006), ‘global governance’ has become seen as possible, and indeed desirable. Drawing on the analytics of governmentality developed by Michel Foucault (1991b), this section demonstrates how — rather than resulting in coercive global domination — attempts to govern the globe are informed by a liberal governmentality, characterized by the conduct of conduct – “conduire des conduites” (Foucault, 1994: 237). Within this regime of global liberal governance, international development constitutes a “technology of security” which operates on the populations of the underdeveloped world (Duffield, 2007: 15). This framework captures the dynamics which allowed for the merging of security and development policy, and the rationality underpinning the concrete operationalization thereof.


Making Sense of Globalization

The profound structural transformation brought about by the collapse of bipolarity coincided with technological developments in production, transport, and communication. Intensified transnational flows of goods and services, populations, and information challenged the traditional theoretical frameworks of International Relations, as their insistence on the individual nation state as the central unit of analysis in international politics (e.g. Waltz, 1979) seemed increasingly atavistic in a globalized era.

The irrelevance of traditional analytical frameworks was not, of course, universally accepted. Although some hardline realist commentators insisted on the unchanged status of the nation state and its power vis-à-vis non-state actors (Waltz, 1999), most traditionalist analyses recognized at least some measure of change within the world system, while maintaining that these changes did not undermine their theoretical frameworks as such. In response to assertions of declining state power in the context of a proliferation of influential non-state actors on the international scene and the increasing porosity of interstate borders (Rosenau, 1995), realists extended their frameworks for analyzing political power. For instance, some theorists included notions of “soft power” and credibility to explain non-coercive influence in global politics (Keohane & Nye, 1998: 86), and some also recognized the role of context-specific social dynamics in shaping the successful translation of power resources into desired outcomes (Baldwin, 1979). Despite this added level of sophistication, however, realist analyses of power “remain fundamentally state-centered and faithful in the primacy of realist states’ interests,” and are therefore “of limited help as soon as it comes to accounting for situations in which actors that lack material bargaining capabilities can be successful” (Holzscheiter, 2005: 729). The realist focus on states and material power conceptualized in zero-sum terms appears problematic in the context of non-state actors enjoying significant successes in shaping the international political agenda despite very limited material resources, as was the case with e.g. the 1997 Ottawa Convention Banning Landmines and the 1986 UN Convention against Torture.

A Marxist political economy perspective informed an alternative, yet similarly traditionalist, popular framework for understanding globalization. These analyses stressed the neoliberal capitalist logic of globalization, which, from this perspective, represented a “spatio-temporal fix” to the problem of capital overaccumulation (Harvey, 2005). Globalization, then, was the result of attempts to both deepen existing exploitative capitalist relations within the West, and extend the geographical reach of the capitalist world system (Moore, 2001). This perspective moves beyond the state-centrism of realist frameworks by stressing the complementary role of non-state actors such as multinational corporations in spreading global capitalism and reorganizing production on a global scale. However, Marxist accounts of globalization fall short both empirically and theoretically. Contrary to predictions of the geographical spread of exploitative capitalist relations across the globe, in fact

the South has been increasingly isolated and excluded by the dominant networks of the conventional global informational economy. Many traditional primary products are no longer required or are too low-priced for commercial exploitation, investment is risky, the available workforce lacks appropriate skills and education, markets are extremely narrow, telecommunications inadequate, politics unpredictable, governments ineffective, and so on. (Duffield, 2001: 5)

Furthermore, in their conceptualization of globalization as a concrete manifestation of “imperial and class-based control,” material power and economic imperatives seem to constitute central explanatory categories in themselves, and Marxist accounts thus fail to theorize “how this control is effected” (Ferguson, 2014: 13 – original emphasis).

In an attempt to rectify the aforementioned shortcomings, scholars of “global governance” put forth an account of globalization which is “able to move beyond state-centric analyses to include a focus on the processes of governance, to highlight the power of nonstate actors, and to identify and theorize about the changing forms and institutionalization of political authority” (Sending & Neumann, 2006: 651-652). These accounts shifted focus away from states and relations of production toward the myriad actors involved in global governance and the extent to which these actors were able to gain authority in a particular issue-area. Explanatory power was thus located in measures of institutionalization, delegation between public and private actors, modalities of interaction between actors and governance frameworks, and the extent of control over decision-making processes (Koenig-Archibugi, 2002). Although these accounts correctly recognize the importance of non-state actors in contemporary governance arrangements, they remain wedded to a zero-sum conception of power, thus confining these analyses to debates over whether or not a relocation of power, authority, or legitimacy has resulted in the “eclipse of the state” (Evans, 1997). Furthermore, these debates overlook the fact that states often encourage or directly support the incorporation of non-state actors in governance arrangements. While such perspectives on global governance are therefore better equipped than traditionalist frameworks to examine the multifaceted outcomes of governance arrangements in a globalized world, they “fail in exploring both the power at work in the actual practices through which governance takes place, as well as the more specific content or logic of the relations between state and non-state actors” (Sending & Neumann, 2006: 654).

Grasping the logic of governance arrangements involving state and non-state actors on a global scale thus requires a genealogy of globalization in order to uncover how “the global [emerged] as a way of knowing and acting on and in the world” (Larner & Walters, 2004: 502). Notwithstanding the structural and technological developments characterizing the post-Cold War era, globalization, as an epistemological system, constitutes a regime of knowledge — “régime du savoir” — through which “knowledge circulates and functions” (Foucault, 1982: 781). In other words, discourse on globalization constitutes the dominant narrative through which to understand the world and act upon it. As is the case with all discourse, globalization as an interpretive grid is itself a manifestation of relations of power, where power is understood in productive terms:

What makes power hold good, what makes it accepted, is simply the fact that it doesn’t only weigh on us as a force that says no, but that it traverses and produces things, it induces pleasure, forms knowledge, produces discourse. It needs to be considered as a productive network which runs through the whole social body, much more than as a negative instance whose function is repression. (Foucault, 1991c: 61 – emphasis added)

Conceptualizing globalization as the dominant grid of intelligibility informing political thought and action highlights its contingency as the product of power relations and allows for a critical interrogation of the particular forms of knowledge and expertise it legitimizes, in this case the narrative of global threats which justifies the securitization of development.

Discourse on globalization proliferated in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War in the context of Western liberal triumphalism and represents a liberal reconceptualization of global politics in the  absence of the threat of communism in the East (Abrahamsen, 2000: 15). Globalization arises from historically specific configurations of power characterized by the dominance Western liberal capitalist political model, and therefore seeks to render the globe governable according to a liberal rationality of government, or “governmentality”. An “analytics of governmentality” is required to grasp the liberal rationale that characterizes attempts at global governance, and which informs the merging of security and development (Dean, 2010). This framework will also avoid the pitfalls of a zero-sum conception of power common in popular conceptualizations of globalization and global governance, by allowing for an examination of how liberal power is often operationalized productively through the freedom of its subjects rather than merely coercively or restrictively. Furthermore, rather than accepting accounts of economic clout or material interest as sufficient explanatory categories as such, an analytics of governmentality allows for an interrogation of the concrete manifestations a liberal governmentality as reflected in dominant regimes of knowledge, the creation of particular subjectivities, the techniques and mechanisms through which government operates, and the formation of particular fields of visibility of what is to be governed (Deleuze, 1991), all of which contribute to the merging of security and development in the post-Cold War era.

Foucault, Governmentality, and Biopolitics

In his analyses of the operationalization of political power in modern liberal societies, Foucault sought to “criticize the working of institutions which appear to be both neutral and independent; to criticize them in such a manner that the political violence which has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked” (cited in Rabinow, 1991: 6). He had previously examined the historical development of sovereign power, based on the right of the sovereign “to take life or let live” (Foucault, 2004: 241) and disciplinary power, which “compares, differentiates, hierarchizes, homogenizes, excludes… [in other words] normalizes” in order to transform individuals into productive members of society by maximizing their “docility and utility” (Foucault, 1991a: 183, 218 – original emphasis). In modern liberal societies, however, political power no longer operates simply on the level of the individual, nor in a solely coercive or restrictive manner. Indeed, the new liberal form of power “presents itself as a critique of excessive disciplinary power” (Dean, 2010: 133). However, while liberalism operates through the freedom and rights of the individual, it simultaneously “contains the possibility of illiberal practices and rationalities of government,” as a liberal form of rule “constantly produces a division between those populations who are capable of exercising such capacities and those who are not… For the still to be improved populations, or those permanently unimprovable, liberalism necessarily produces forms of despotic rule” (Ibid.: 257 – original emphasis). Given the depoliticizing effects of the language of freedom and rights, which shifts responsibility onto individuals who are supposedly free to shape their own destinies, uncovering “on what type of assumptions, of familiar notions, of established, unexamined ways of thinking the accepted practices are based” becomes imperative (Foucault, 2002: 456).

With the development of fields of knowledge regarding the state and its resources — in a word, its “statistics” — it became possible to take the population as a whole as the object of government. Having exposed that while individual fates are inherently unknowable, certain phenomena can be probabilistically quantified at the level of the population, the new liberal power seeks to monitor, regulate, and intervene in the biological processes affecting the population as a whole. These include mortality rates, morbidity, reproduction rates, and aleatory elements such as accidents. Foucault refers to this newfound focus on the population and its biological processes as the object of government, in order to promote species life, as “biopolitics” (Foucault, 2008). Contrary to disciplinary power, which operates through coercive and isolating practices, biopolitics seeks to maximize species life by enabling, rather than restricting or limiting, the circulation of capital, people, and information (Elden, 2007: 30). The  problem of government is thus no longer to maximize capacity for direct control, but rather to find a balance between governing too little and governing too much, as either extreme may cause phenomena such as theft, disease, or economic productivity to move beyond “socially and economically acceptable limits and [the] average that will be considered as optimal for a given social functioning” (Foucault, 2007: 5).

Given the biopolitical imperative to maximize species life by refraining from governing too much for the aforementioned reasons, political power thus becomes operationalized through the freedom of the subject in an attempt to promote self-regulation of the population through the conduct of conduct. In other words, rather than operating in a directly coercive manner, a liberal governmentality seeks to “structure the possible field of action of others” while allowing political subjects the freedom to act within this constrained field of agency (Foucault, 1982: 790). The freedom of the subject is therefore “not in opposition to modern government, but is rather an essential technique, or product, of power” (Death, 2010: 238). In order to produce self-governing populations that are able to responsibly exercise their freedom within the limits prescribed by liberal democratic norms, the conduct of conduct operates via dominant regimes of knowledge, regulatory mechanisms, norms, and value systems “that not only constrain actors, but also constitute them” (Abrahamsen, 2004: 1459).

It is from this perspective that globalization, and the transformations of political power on a transnational scale, may be understood. Globalization allows for conceptualizing the remit of liberal governance as inclusive of the world and its populations in their entirety (Elden, 2005). This discursive structure expands the biopolitical rationale to encompass transnational circulation and population dynamics and therefore similarly expands the distinction between responsible liberal subjects and illiberal populations onto a global scale, in order to “govern all illiberal life on the basis that the species as a whole would be less endangered” (Evans, 2010: 418). The proliferation of influential non-state actors on the international arena, rather than representing a zero-sum loss of state power in favor of NGOs, reflects the operationalization of a liberal governmentality in which non-state actors, constituting “civil society,” shape and enact the conduct of conduct at a distance. Although some critics aptly recognize that techniques of liberal governmentality often fail in the context of the limited infrastructure, a weak economic base, and insufficient regulatory capacities of the state (Joseph, 2010), this argument does not necessarily undermine the utility of using the governmentality approach as an analytical framework to uncover the underlying rationality which informs these failed attempts at liberal governance in the developing world (Death, 2013). Rather than suggesting the successful and comprehensive incorporation of the developing world into a system of global liberal governance, this account of globalization as the expansion of a liberal will to govern uncovers the rationale informing the securitization of development, according to which development policy now constitutes a biopolitical technique of security in an attempt to govern the underdeveloped populations of the Global South. Certainly, securitized development policies have not always resulted in successful biopolitical governance, as indeed the attempted operationalization of a liberal governmentality via development policies has often produced questionable results in practice and raises difficult normative questions regarding the political and ethical dimensions of international inequality and underdevelopment.

International Development as Biopower

An analytics of governmentality allows us to critically interrogate the liberal rationality of government which has been globalized in the post-Cold War era, within which international development practice constitutes a relation of “biopower.” Aimed at the pacification and normalization of unstable regions across the globe, biopower operates on the populations of the developing world by “taking control of life and the biological processes of man-as-species […] ensuring they are not disciplined, but regularized” (Foucault, 2004: 246-247). Conceptualizing development policy as a biopolitical technique of security requires one to critically interrogate the regimes of knowledge, particular subjectivities, and the techniques and mechanisms that both constitute the global liberal governmentality and reflect its concrete operationalization (Deleuze, 1988).

Having examined the role of globalization as a new dominant grid of intelligibility, it becomes possible to interrogate a more particular post-Cold War “development discourse” within that broader regime of knowledge, which in turn has contributed to the reconceptualization of development as a technique of security. Within the dominant interpretive grid of globalization, development discourse has served to construct the Global South as a “particular kind of object of knowledge, and [has created] a structure of knowledge around that object, [on the basis of which] interventions are then organized” (Ferguson, 2014: xiv-xv). In order to render it knowable and actionable, the Global South is defined within development discourse in negative terms of “fear, absences, and hierarchies” (Abrahamsen, 2000: 17). In all of these aspects, the developing world is represented in contradistinction to the West: instability in the underdeveloped Global South poses a security threat to the stable West thereby generating “fear”; technical progress and economic prosperity found in the West is contrasted with their “absence” in the developing world; and, in teleological fashion, a “hierarchy” between the civilized Global North and the anachronistic Global South is thereby constructed. In other words, development discourse establishes a “formative contrast between borderland traits of barbarity, excess and irrationality, and metropolitan characteristics of civility, restraint and rationality” (Duffield, 2002: 1052 – original emphasis).

This distinction between the stable Western “metropolis” and the chaotic “borderlands” of the developing world, is, in effect, a distinction between those political subjects who are able to govern themselves and those who are not. This distinction legitimizes Western interventions within the Global South, aimed at the wholesale transformation of the populations of the “borderlands” into self-regulatory and stable entities, and thus reflects the liberal “will to govern the borderlands” (Ibid.: 1053 – original emphasis). Furthermore, conceptualizing underdevelopment and instability in the Global South in terms of societal breakdown and as the absence of technical knowledge required for economic management depoliticizes development as a matter of technical intervention by development professionals (Escobar, 1984: 388). Such representations of the Global South as a zone of chaos that threatens to spill over into the developed West and that can yet be pacified via technical interventions by experts, comprise the conditions of possibility for the securitization of development in the post-Cold War era, described in the previous section. The concrete aims of securitized development policies in the post-Cold War era reflect the biopolitical imperative of liberal governmentality, which constitutes the underlying rationality of this reconceptualization of development. The merging of security and development in an age of global liberal governance, then, has given rise to a “biopolitics in the borderlands.” Of course, development policies are not simply imposed by Western actors onto passive populations, as local actors often shape the outcome of international development efforts as well (Bayart, 2009). Indeed, a central aspect of liberal governmentality is its engagement with local actors to utilize their agency in developmental interventions (Constantinou & Opondo, 2016). However, the agency of local actors does not undermine the utility of the governmentality framework in uncovering the underlying rationale of Western securitized development policy and practice.

The biopolitical imperative of the liberal governmentality, that is, the goal of maximizing species life, arises from the lack of an overarching meaning of existence and political action in the postmodern and post-ideological phase of liberal politics. With the proverbial “death of God” as well as the demise of political projects put forth by the antagonistic nationalisms of the early twentieth century, and thereafter the ideological standoff of the Cold War, liberalism has “no goal, no answer to the question: why?” (Nietzsche, 2017: 15 §2). With no recourse to an overarching meaning of existence and political action, and no promise of a utopian future, in the era of global liberalism “[p]olitical actions no longer find their legitimacy in a vision of the future, but have been reduced to managing the ordinary present” (Laïdi, 1998: 7). In this context, the reconceptualization of the global security agenda has, as described in Part 1 of this paper, resulted in the perpetual management of insecurity in a world of inherently unknowable risks. Due to its reconceptualization as a biopolitical technique of security, the contemporary nature of international development policy and practice concretely mirrors the inability of liberal governance to aim at nothing more than the maximization of species life.

As detailed above, within the regime of biopolitics, techniques of security seek to produce self-governing populations by way of monitoring and regulation, as well as targeted interventions when required, in order to maximize species life by optimizing circulation while eliminating its dangerous elements. Thus, the security-development nexus now aims at stimulating the self-governance of the developing world, by promoting “sustainable development” and the “resilience” of underdeveloped populations in the Global South (Chandler, 2014; Curtis, 2001: 6-7), so that they may “bounce back better” in the case of conflict or disaster, without need for further external intervention (DFID, 2011: 9). Instances of instability arising from natural disasters and violent conflict have, in fact, been reconceptualized as “windows of opportunity” allowing for Western developmental actors to “enable transformational change” in order to build “resilience” (Oxfam, 2013: 11). Of course, as Foucault argued in his examination of governmentality (1991b: 102), rather than replacing earlier forms of sovereign and disciplinary power entirely, the regime of global liberal governance retains its capacity for coercive disciplinary action as well. This coercive capacity becomes momentarily visible in instances of “humanitarian intervention” discursively conceptualized as a “responsibility to protect” (ICISS, 2001), which not only justifies reactive violent intervention to pacify “dangerous” populations of the Global South, but also entails a preventative responsibility, in effect constituting a disciplinary technique “which relies upon a series of permanent coercions in order to train individuals to be docile” (Shinko, 2006: 175).

This combination of biopolitical development efforts with occasional disciplinary interventions has characterized securitized development policies and practices since the end of the Cold War. International development efforts, then, aim at the pacification and normalization of Global South by intervening at the level of the population in order to maximize species life and eliminate the dangers of underdevelopment which threaten to spread to the West. This reconceptualization of development as a biopolitical technique of security is significant in that it entails a shift of responsibility for development and well-being onto the underdeveloped populations themselves. Stressing the importance of “sustainable development,” “resilience,” and “local ownership” localizes and depoliticizes the underlying causes of global inequality (Ferguson, 2006: 51). Similarly, the language of ‘emergency’ and ‘disasters’ in the developing world not only legitimizes biopolitical or disciplinary interventions as necessary corrective actions, but also “naturalizes what are in fact products of human action” (Calhoun, 2004: 376). In other words, the role of the West in producing and reproducing global inequalities is obscured, thereby delegitimizing calls for redistribution or social progress. With the merging of security and development, “social progress is no longer on the agenda; in its place is the management of poverty and the institutionalization of the status quo” (Chandler, 2007: 373). In addition to these normative dilemmas, moreover, the outcomes of securitized development programs have frequently failed to produce even their own intended outcomes such as strengthened capacity of local populations for self-sustenance via “sustainable development,” and the cessation of violent combat in the Global South. Rather, the contemporary security-development nexus has often served to normalize violence and conflict in the developing world. Indeed, it seems the merging of security and development in the post-Cold War era has produced a situation where, on a global scale, “the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule” (Benjamin, 1992 [1940]: 248). To concretely demonstrate the biopolitical character of the security-development nexus, as well as its normative and empirical shortcomings, this study now turns to the case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Case Study: The Democratic Republic of the Congo

Take up the White Man’s burden –
The savage wars of peace –
Fill full the mouth of famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch Sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to naught.

– Rudyard Kipling (1940 [1899]: 323)

Given its considerable size, economic resources, geostrategically crucial location at the center of the African continent, and long history of violence with particularly intensified conflict following the end of Mobutu Sese Seko’s 32-year reign, the case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) involves multiple crucial concerns of the contemporary security-development nexus. Perceptions of the DRC’s untapped economic potential, combined with concerns over underdevelopment giving rise to threats such as transnational terrorism (Piazza, 2008), regardless of a lack of evidence thereof (UNSC, 2015: 4), have galvanized extensive, and heavily securitized, Western developmental interventions in the post-Cold War era. Despite widespread recognition of the sustained shortcomings of these interventions, even with regards to their own stated goals of reducing violent conflict and promoting sustainable development, dominant approaches to development in the DRC have undergone little transformation in the past two decades.

The DRC allows for the empirical substantiation of the claims made above, regarding the merging of security and development in the post-Cold War era. Western policy discourse and institutional developments surrounding intervention in the DRC confirm the securitization of development, and the concrete operationalization of securitized development policies reflects their biopolitical nature. The application of an analytics of governmentality, outlined in the previous section, illuminates the underlying rationality informing attempts at a ‘biopolitics in the borderlands’ and explains the continuities of development policies despite widely recognized shortcomings. Furthermore, applying this Foucauldian framework to the case of the DRC provides a critique of securitized development policies in an age of global liberal governance more broadly, by highlighting their limits and therefore the problems inherent to the reconceptualization of development policy as a biopolitical technique of security. The liberal rationality of government itself undermines any real attempt at problematizing or challenging global inequalities and therefore precludes the proper appreciation of the political nature of underdevelopment, which remains crucial to the attainment of social progress and the termination of violent conflict in the DRC.

Historical Background: ‘The Heart of Darkness’

Following its independence from Belgium in 1960, a period of instability and constitutional crises ensued in the DRC, due to factional infighting, tensions between Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba and President Joseph Kasavubu, and secessionist struggles in the Katanga and South Kasai provinces (Van Reybrouck, 2014: 282). This phase of intensified instability ultimately culminated in a military coup led by Colonel Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, later Mobutu Sese Seko, in 1965, inaugurating a period of personalistic authoritarian rule lasting until 1997, when he was ousted by the foreign-backed Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Congo-Zaïre, AFDL), led by Laurent-Désiré Kabila in the context of the First Congo War (1996-1997) (Reyntjens, 1999). During the post-Mobutu period, Western involvement in the DRC has expanded significantly, and therefore this time period constitutes the focus of this case study.

The Rwandan genocide of 1994 is often characterized as the beginning of the post-Cold War era of violent conflict in the DRC. Vast inflows of immigrants fleeing the Rwandan Civil War destabilized ethnic relations in the North and South Kivu provinces, which thereafter also provided refuge for Rwandan Hutu militia forces fleeing prosecution by the Tutsi-dominated postwar government. Instability in the Kivu provinces added to existing national and international contempt towards Mobutu, resulting in full-scale war between his government forces and the AFDL, which was internationally backed by the governments of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Angola. The overthrow of Mobutu and the accession of Kabila to power hardly inaugurated an era of peace in the DRC. Although initially welcomed on the back of the unpopularity of the Mobutu regime, Kabila soon faced severe allegations of foreign dependence and control, particularly with regards to the sustained Rwandan military presence in the eastern provinces, and extensive linkages between Kabila’s regime and that of Rwanda’s de facto leader, Paul Kagame (Reyntjens, 1999: 245). Kabila’s attempts to absolve himself of such allegations culminated in his expulsion of Rwandan and Ugandan military actors from the country, quickly resulting in the Second Congo War (1998-2003), between Kabila’s government forces backed by the governments of Zimbabwe, Angola, Chad, Namibia and Sudan, and the Congolese Rally for Democracy (Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie, RCD) backed by the governments of Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi (Autesserre, 2010: 48).

Its significant regional impact stretching across the African continent has resulted in the Second Congo War being alternatively referred to as The Great African War, in addition to its generating extensive Western interest and involvement in an attempt to bring the war to an end. As Kabila’s forces brought rebel advances to a halt in mid-1999, a peace process was initiated with the involvement of an extensive array of international actors, including the US, UK, EU, UN, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and multiple African nations (Autesserre, 2010: 49). These negotiations resulted in the Lusaka ceasefire agreement of July 1999, and the establishment of a UN peacekeeping force, MONUC (United Nations Mission in the Congo – Mission de l’Organisation des Nations Unies au Congo). Despite the ceasefire and the arrival of MONUC forces in early 2001, however, violent conflict continued to rage on between 1999 and 2003, with the eastern provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu, Maniema, Katanga and Ituri most severely affected. Nevertheless, the assassination of President Kabila in 2001 eliminated the main obstacle to the signing of a peace agreement. With the accession of his son Joseph Kabila to the presidency, the Inter-Congolese Dialogues were initiated in April 2002, culminating in their Final Act of April 2003, which instituted a Transitional Government to carry out a plan to peacefully reunify the Congo and arrange democratic general elections, which took place in 2006 (Reyntjens, 2007: 311-315).

The DRC was thereafter described as having entered a “post-conflict phase,” reflecting perceptions of the imminence of peace, and MONUC was soon renamed to MONUSCO (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC – Mission de l’Organisation des Nations Unies en République démocratique du Congo), “with the ‘S’ in stabilization indicating that a return to ‘normalcy’ was envisaged down the line, even if this was not reflected by what was happening on the ground” (De Vries, 2015: 12). In fact, the “post-conflict phase” has seen some of the highest instances of violence and insecurity, particularly in the eastern provinces and among the most socioeconomically disadvantaged strata of the population (Hoffman et al., 2016). Moreover, levels of human development have seen little improvement, with extremely high child mortality (Kandala et al., 2014), severe restrictions on civil and political rights (UNSC, 2016), and little improvement in the country’s Human Development Index (HDI), in which the DRC currently ranks 176th of 188 countries (UNDP, 2015).

These issues have persisted despite extensive humanitarian and developmental interventions by Western actors over the past two decades. Furthermore, the character of these interventions has demonstrated remarkable continuity, even in the face of a recognition of their failures by the intervening actors themselves (UNSC, 2016; DFID, 2014). In order to explain the failures of these interventions, as well as this continuity in spite of their shortcomings, one must critically interrogate their underlying rationality.

Operationalizing a Liberal Governmentality in the DRC

The case of the DRC concretely substantiates the claims of the two previous sections, namely of the rationale behind the securitization of international development. The general reconceptualization of security in a globalized era, and the proliferation of development discourse as outlined above, contributed to representations of the DRC as a “borderlands” zone of chaos and therefore inherently violent (Autesserre, 2010: 42). This representation legitimized Western intervention given the threats of instability in the underdeveloped world (DFID, 2012; MSF, 2016), in turn giving rise to an astounding quantitative increase in funding for peacekeeping missions and development aid by both state and non-state actors since the mid-1990s onwards (Quick, 2015: 14, 19). Such discourse depoliticized and technicized the nature of development in the DRC, by representing ongoing violence as inherent to the Congolese, thereby preventing evidence of sustained conflict from undermining the “post-conflict” label of the DRC, as violence became seen as “normal” rather than representing a reversion to war (Autesserre, 2010: 79). Furthermore, this view allowed for conceptualizing violence as arising not from socioeconomic discontent or legitimate political concerns, but rather a lack of governance capacity or technical expertise (USAID, 2014: 2; DFID, 2014: 5). Therefore, both the complexity of local political and ethnic conflicts, as well as the role of the West in producing and reproducing global inequalities contributing to the sustained underdevelopment of the DRC, have been obscured by what some critical commentators have characterized as “naïve liberalism” (Booth & Golooba-Mutebi, 2014: 11).

The nature of Western interventions, to which the dominant understandings of underdevelopment in the DRC gave rise, reflects the liberal rationale underpinning the reconceptualization of the globe as a governable entity, in which international development therefore constitutes a biopolitical technique of security. True to the biopolitical imperatives of a liberal governmentality, these interventions aim to optimize species life by promoting the self-reliance and self-governance of local populations (DFID, 2012; USAID, 2014). The achievement of these goals is seen as a technical problem, to be solved by strengthening local governance capacity and technical expertise through the actions of governmental development agencies and NGOs (Bonard et al., 2010: 6), while humanitarian organizations focus on the provision of basic needs until local actors have become self-reliant (ICRC, 2009). The main indicators of developmental success, then, are those which point to increased self-sufficiency and strengthened governance capacity of the central state, with a particular focus on elections (DFID, 2014: 7; UNSC, 2016: 17).  Furthermore, the focus on self-sufficiency, arising from a liberal governmentality operating through the conduct of conduct, has resulted in extensive efforts at “empowering” local populations by promoting local ownership and participation in developmental projects (Oxfam, 2013: 8; Constantinou & Opondo, 2016: 308), and the establishment of public-private partnerships in the provision of public goods on a local level, such as education (Titeca & De Herdt, 2011).

Of course, these interventions have produced some noteworthy achievements. The value of the international peace achieved by Inter-Congolese Dialogues cannot be discounted, and the arrangement of democratic elections in 2006 constituted an important step towards a more open political system with stronger links of accountability between the governors and the governed (Autesserre, 2012: 203-204). Furthermore, MONUSCO has cooperated with national and local security actors to address some of the shortcomings of existing documentation and alert systems in security governance (Hoffman et al., 2016: 9), and community-level engagement has improved social relations between ethnic groups (Vinck & Pham, 2014: 34). Nevertheless, while such developments are indeed positive, they are extremely limited when considered in proportion to the extent of Western developmental interventions in the DRC, and overall levels of conflict and insecurity remain high while levels of human development and well-being have seen little improvement over the past two decades, as highlighted in the previous section. The persistence of these issues underscores the fundamental drawbacks of biopolitical interventions informed by a liberal governmentality.

The Limits of Biopolitics

Focusing on the promotion of depoliticized and technical interventions aimed at the production of self-governing populations in the Global South overlooks in effect the role of complex local and global political and social dynamics in the production and reproduction of inequality, underdevelopment, and violent conflict. Treating violent conflict and the persistence of underdevelopment in the DRC as a technical issue arising from a “governance crisis” or from limited participation by the local population (DFID, 2014: 5-6), entails a shift of responsibility onto the Congolese population. No longer is underdevelopment in the DRC even partially explained with reference to international inequality and the structural weakness of the African continent in global economic relations, or the failures of Western interventions with reference to their misguided goals or poor implementation. Rather, it is the “sloth and heathen folly” of the local populations, to borrow Rudyard Kipling’s phrase from the epigraph to this section, which precludes the establishment of liberal democratic government and the attainment of peace and human development.

The need to critically reflect upon the developmental agenda is therefore averted, accounting for its remarkable continuity in spite of repeated recognitions of its failures. Focus remains on strengthening the governance capacity of the central state despite widespread evidence and local perceptions of state actors actually contributing to local violence and insecurity (Marriage, 2010: 373). Similarly, explanations of the economic imperatives of mineral extraction driving conflict remain influential (Jackson, 2002), even as only 8 percent of violent conflict can be attributed to contestation over access to mineral resources, and in spite of evidence showing that attempts to curb illicit mineral mining have resulted in the further undermining of rural livelihoods (Autesserre, 2012: 211). These simplistic narratives depoliticize and technicize the complex issue of underdevelopment in the DRC, as humanitarian actors quite explicitly claim to “not aim to address root causes [of emergencies]” despite the inherently political character of the conflicts in which they have become involved (MSF, 2016: 2). In addition to the failures of Western developmental interventions according to their own criteria of success, moreover, a global biopolitics is morally dubious even with regards to the values of the Western liberal societies which seek to promote it.

Promoting the “resilience” of the Congolese population simultaneously undermines any serious effort at social progress. The pacification of the underdeveloped world, and thus the elimination of the supposed security threat to which instability therein gives rise, can be achieved by promoting self-sufficiency understood as “sustainable development.” On the other hand, concrete social progress would inevitably give rise to political contestation and potential antagonism, as it would require at least some measure of redistribution on a global scale (Ferguson, 2014: 64-65). The fundamental problem with Western biopolitical interventions in the “borderlands,” then, is that, contrary to liberal values of the equality and freedom of each individual to choose their social destiny, contemporary securitized development policies in fact both rely on and reinforce a differentiation between the value of life in the West and in the Global South. This differential valuation of life is materialized in the field, where, for example, any risk to Western nationals often results in the immediate suspension of the provision of aid, regardless of the effects of such action on the local populations (Fassin, 2007; ICRC, 2016). In order to secure the sustained freedom and social security of Western populations, the populations of the Global South are condemned to mere existence as such, without any grounds for contesting the global disparities between their quality of life and that found in the West. The contemporary security-development nexus does not aim to allow the Congolese population to achieve their fullest potential. It promotes neither global equality and freedom from material constraints, nor the freedom of the individual to choose their social destiny rather than passively accepting one that is predetermined. Contemporary securitized development policies constitute an effort to manage the potential dangers of underdevelopment, instead of seeking to rectify its underlying causes. The depoliticization and technicization inherent in the biopolitical imperative of a global liberal governmentality naturalizes and legitimizes global inequalities, and has resulted in the normalization of violence in the DRC. Ultimately, attempts at a “biopolitics in the borderlands” have not only failed to promote peace and prosperity among the Congolese people, but have also undermined the humanitarian commitment to the universal and equal value of human lives as such.


‘And that,’ put in the Director sententiously, ‘that is the secret of happiness and virtue – liking what you’ve got to do. All conditioning aims at that: making people like their unescapable social destiny … Besides, we have our stability to think of. We don’t want to change. Every change is a menace to stability.’

– Aldous Huxley (2007 [1932]: 12, 198)

The tragic irony of the merging of security and development, then, is that in its purported quest of securing the West while providing a “better life” for those in need (Oxfam, 2013: 14), in fact the security-development nexus achieves neither security nor development. Contemporary narratives of global risk give rise to an ever-proliferating array of perceived security threats, based as they are on the biopolitical attempt to make knowable and actionable species life itself. As “species life, however, is not a datum … [but] an undecidable,” this endeavor can never reach its goal, and will thus only serve to promote deeper insecurity, in cyclical nature (Dillon, 2004: 82). Simultaneously, visions of empowerment and egalitarian development in the Global South are undermined by the very attempt to achieve such goals via biopolitical interventions, which privilege pacification and stability over any real attempt at social progress, and consequently focus their efforts on the symptoms rather than the ultimate causes of underdevelopment and suffering experienced among impoverished and marginalized peoples across the globe.

This paper has demonstrated the post-Cold War securitization of development, with reference to both discursive and institutional developments which conform to expectations in the field of critical security studies regarding successful processes of securitization. The merging of security and development reflects the dominance of globalization as a new grid of intelligibility through which to know and act upon the world, which in turn has allowed for an attempt at operationalizing a liberal governmentality on a global scale. Within this regime of global liberal governance, securitized development policies constitute a biopolitical technique of security, aimed at promoting self-governance among the peoples of the underdeveloped world via monitoring, regulation, and intervention at the level of the population. These development policies have fallen short with regards to their own criteria of success, namely pacification of the Global South and its economic development. Their shortcomings are exemplified in the continuity of instability in the DRC, and in its lack of progress with regards to indicators of economic growth, as well as human development and well-being. Furthermore, this paper critiqued the goals and practices of the security-development nexus on a normative basis, by demonstrating the way in which they undermine commitments to social progress, and serve to institutionalize a status quo marked by severe global inequalities and violent conflict in places such as the DRC.

These findings present a serious challenge to the commonly accepted framing of international development as a security issue, suggesting that an alternative conceptualization of development is required. While there may be multiple avenues for pursuing this reconceptualization, for instance by framing development as an issue of economic redistribution or human rights rather than international security, any such attempts must retain a critical reflexivity regarding their underlying rationale and frames of intelligibility if the humanitarian ideals regarding the universally equal value of human life, and the commitment to do no harm, are to be upheld.



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