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Anxious Leviathan: The Powerful Vulnerability of Strong States

Markiewicz, Tadek (2022) Anxious Leviathan: The Powerful Vulnerability of Strong States. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.92898) (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:92898)

Language: English

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Why do strong countries implement narratives of vulnerability in their wartime public communication? This dissertation solves the puzzling practice of powerful actors pursuing identifications we commonly associate with weakness and political failure. It is the first systematic study analyzing vulnerability narratives as a practice of statecraft and warcraft. I compare the politics of vulnerability of Israel and the UK during two conflicts: Israel's 2014 Operation Protective Edge (OPE) and the UK's participation in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. I combine the analysis of states' wartime public communication with in-depth interviews with 32 British and 38 Israeli officials.

Using identity as an analytical starting point to theorise about the states' behaviour, I expose the rationale behind actors' vulnerability narratives. I show that both conflicts were a source of ontological insecurity and that actors presented themselves as insecure to avoid negative evaluations of fighting against the underdog. In the case of strong actors, vulnerability narratives have two functions. One, they reduce anxiety about the actor's identity. Warfare against a weaker opponent erodes positive self-perceptions of the powerful state. By self-identifying as vulnerable, the country's action gains a principled meaning which supports its ontological security. Second, vulnerability narratives provide the state with a special agency. By presenting itself as vulnerable, the state securitises a weaker opponent to justify offensive action.

The dissertation contributes to socio-psychological studies of conflict by showing that vulnerability is a conflict-supportive identification not only for the collectives but also for the states. Validating previous experimental research conducted on an individual and group level, it provides empirical data that vulnerability self-identifications may also be a source of legitimacy on the state level. It is an innovative study of how states introduce vulnerability self-identifications to the collective. Israel and the UK have based their communication on a multiplicity of in/outgroup vulnerability narratives. This finding broadens socio-psychological scholarship on vulnerability by showing that states' try to evoke vulnerability self-perceptions not only by referring to the in-group's but also outgroup's standing.

The dissertation contributes to the ontological security studies. It lays out a new research avenue for the study of the resilience of identity. This approach recognizes that states adapt their autobiographies to their evolving behaviour and ideational needs. Furthermore, that the state's identity can be protected from criticisms of its actions. Applying the sociology of trust, I show that vulnerability narratives may be used as a trust-inducing mechanism. This allows us to read anew the political role of vulnerability where - contrary to the traditional approach - vulnerability may be a bulwark of ontological security. While it is broadly recognized that ontological security is a key source of political agency, major studies focus on routines and inhibiting functions the identity has over the behaviour of states. The recognition of the resilience of Israel's and the UK's identity - in a time of controversial armed conflicts with much weaker opponents - allows us to decouple states' routines from states' agency by accounting for the ability to sustain their sense of self and adapt to change. The dissertation sheds new light on what constitutes a crisis of ontological security. While in the literature, states' behaviour was foremost studied from the perspective of external challenges to their identity, in both case studies it was the actions of states themselves that challenged their ontological security. The dissertation investigates the researcher's interpretation of the state's anxiety with the country's officials themselves. So far, no inquiries have employed interviews to study the role ontological security plays in state actions. Little attention has been also paid to the ways of establishing that a country is dealing with anxiety. Generally, such claims are based on discourse and historical analysis. By investigating how country officials pursued the safe identity of the state, this dissertation offers granular evidence of the ways through which actors seek ontological security. Furthermore, while the literature explains why conflicts may be supportive of ontological security, it abstracts from systematically analysing how states may support the safety of their identity while pursuing military confrontation. The study exposes the use of vulnerability narratives as such practice.

Lastly, the dissertation contributes to the scholarship that links ontological security with securitisation by showing that securitisations can be used to protect identity from negative evaluations of state actions.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Cunliffe, Philip
Thesis advisor: Bode, Ingvild
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.92898
Uncontrolled keywords: vulnerability, ontological security, Israel, United Kingdom, identity, international relations, securitisation
Subjects: J Political Science
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Politics and International Relations
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 27 Jan 2022 15:10 UTC
Last Modified: 28 Jan 2022 09:49 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Markiewicz, Tadek.

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