Monday, December 22, 2014

Holger Nehring's "Politics of Security"

Holger Nehring is Professor of Contemporary European History at the University of Stirling in Scotland.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Politics of Security: British and West German Protest Movements and the Early Cold War, 1945-1970, and reported the following:
The test worked – and here is how. Let’s start with a large canvas and gradually zoom in to find the spot that marks p. 99. Politics of Security asks how we can understand the Cold War as a war in Europe, although no real battles were fought. This issue has puzzled me since I was a boy, growing up close to a Pershing II missile base in Mutlangen, Germany, in the 1980s, at the height of a series of contestations over peace and security.

Normally, wars are understood to be a suspension of politics or, in Clausewitz’s famous words, the ‘continuation of politics by other means’. The history of debates about nuclear weapons in Britain and West Germany from the height of the Cold War in the 1950s and 1960s to détente in the late 1960s suggests a different reading: the Cold War in Europe was fundamentally political and involved a debate about the very foundation of politics. In particular, the debates over the nuclear arms race mobilised different and historically specific notions of security that were embedded in historical experiences, memories and social communities. Activists tried to wrestle the fundamental plank of legitimacy from their governments: the control over the meanings of security.

By developing images and phantasies of a possible future nuclear war in light of experiences of the Second World War, activists made the abstract notion of the nuclear arms race comprehensible to broader audiences. The book demonstrates how these experiences came together and diverged again, how they were prompted and challenged by specific events; and it highlights both the broad similarities of British and West German activism and the differences in their specific meanings and resonance.

Page 99 is part of a chapter that analyses the ways in which discussions about nuclear weapons enabled different political and social communities, with their diverse experiences and memories, to discover common interests and concerns against the backdrop of specific political challenges. Activists drew on different pasts to imagine common political utopias. This particular section discusses the ways in which some West German and British Protestant Christians came to interpret the arms race as an issue of fundamental religious as well as political importance.

Defining security is a political act; definitions of security are not fixed; claims for security are – and should be – constantly contested.
Learn more about Politics of Security at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue