The Changing Security Perception in 21st Century



In this article, in the globalizing world, the change in security perception depending on the events will be explained. Especially with the security perception formed during the Cold War and the September 11 Attack that followed, this perception reached a dangerous level. Various international organizations have been established to minimize the danger and take precautions and NATO  the UN and OSCE are at the top of these organizations. By talking about all this, this article will cover the factors of changing security perception.

Keywords : national security, Cold War Period, threaten, international organizations, security perception


    There may be changes in the meanings of the concepts according to time and conditions and the perception of security can be seen in these changing concepts. Security is one of the fundamental concepts of the international relations discipline. Therefore, one of the leading issues in the international platform is security and this change in security perception may pose some threats. As a result of the literature review of this article; The changing security perception after the Cold War and the organizations created against security threats will be mentioned. It is seen that the basic concept of all references is “national security”. The security threats that occurred during and after the Cold War were never over. These security threats should not be viewed solely as military. In this article, military threats and social threats will be discussed. Also, security perception helps in determining foreign policy. The changing foreign policy after the Cold War and the effect of the national security perception obtained as a result of research on foreign policy will be discussed.

As a result, of information obtained as a result of the literature review; It is concluded that the Cold War created a new security perception in the world and this perception caused many changes at the same time, many security problems arise, from military threats to social threats. It was seen that perceptions also changed with the developing and changing world. It has been observed that the security problems that may arise are given great importance and international organizations come first in taking importance against this problem. These common ideas will be examined from a broad perspective in this article.

This article will consist of three parts. In the first part, an overview of security perception will be given. National security and national interests will be mentioned.  In the second part, the perception of security during and after the Cold War, as well as the changing security perception after the September 11 Attack, which completely changed the security perception, will be discussed. In the last section, the organizations established as the measures taken for this changing security perception will be mentioned: UN, BM, and OSCE. After this article, we will learn what security is, how this perception changed after the Cold War and September 11, and the security measures taken together with the established organizations.


While examining the historical relations of the states with each other, international relations gave birth to the concept of security from conflict situations between states.

In order to understand the change in security perception over time, it is necessary to know what this concept means. As important as sheltering a person, security is important according to its purpose. The security perception that develops towards the need of countries to protect and maintain their existence is causally related to the purpose. In addition, security is a problem in a nation’s relations with other states. The definition of security depends somewhat on how states think about security and threats. For this reason, the types and definitions of the concept of security became clear after a long time and thus, we can say that the definition of the concept of security has never reached a precise definition.

Depending on the purpose, different security types interact with each other and one security issue can affect another. For example, the economic security of one country affects the military security of another country. For the reason mentioned; It would be beneficial to work together on economic security, military security, political security, environmental security, and all other types of security. (WAEWER,2008,p:152)

Since this article will focus on social security and national security types, it is necessary to know these security definitions. The most important of these securities and the one related to our subject is national security and we need to talk about it deeply to understand the perception of security. Firstly, individual security, important throughout history; especially with the process of living in a community of people, the concept of “social security” emerged. Social security has become an important concept for the future of a nation. Depending on the events, social integration is especially important for a state, so social security is indispensable for a state.

Secondly, the types of security are national security. National security is the key concept for all types of security. Foreign policy is used for gain and this gain is called national interest.  The issue of national interest is an exceptionally large topic, but we can say that the national interest directly affects the security of the state.  The concept of national security emerged after the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, when sovereign national states began to be the main actors in international relations. National security can be considered as the provision of security against each other’s military threats by states in an effort to expand their territories. Until the end of the Cold War, the concept of national security manifested itself in different ways. The concept of national security does not have a universal definition, and it constantly renews itself and expands its scope in the economic-political process. (BAHARÇİÇEK&İNAN,2013, p:108).

As a small footnote, we can say that; Ensuring national security is especially important for a country and military power comes to mind first in ensuring national security. However, there are powers other than military power and we can cite economic power and political power as examples. All of these powers are geared toward protecting national security.

In addition, national security elements are closely related to the elements that constitute national power. We can express how safe societies are against other societies in direct proportion to power. According to Joseph Frankel, the concept of power – in human relations – is “the capacity to make an impact on the behaviors of others, and political power is not an effect on any substance, nature or person, but on the thoughts and behaviors of others” (FRANKEL, 1988,p: 112)

The process of change in national security perception

The concept of security in 1919-1950; was under the influence of international law, organizations, and social theories shaped by principles such as democracy and disarmament. However, after World War II, security perception had partially changed. By the 1970s, security studies became an academic discipline at the international relations level and the security of the state is seen as the guarantee of the physical existence of the individual. In the 1970-the 1980s, the “alternative security ideas” developed within the security studies acting with the understanding of mutual dependence. After 1990, the threat was no longer a fundamentally military threat to the state. Now, threats to the environment and people have started to create a security problem. It is exceedingly difficult to distinguish these periods from each other and to determine the importance of security approaches that came to the fore during the period.(BAHARÇİÇEK & İNAN,2013, p.112)


The Cold War, which took place between 1947 and 1991, is the military, political and economic tension between the two superpowers, the US and the USSR. Every development during this period formed the basis of the order to be built in the future. . The change in international politics with World War I and World War II has been the main reference for the security of states. However, the uncertain environment that occurred during and after the Cold War led to its insecurity. Most of all, developments in the military field of the two superpowers threatened other countries. In other words, the arms race made countries feel insecure in the international arena. Security issues were constantly addressed in relation to military power during the Cold War, and elements related to military power became one of the basic policies of states in this process. Also, a large number of people, mostly civilians, died in conflicts where the superpowers used force illegally. In addition to all this, during the Cold War balance of power shaped international security.

“The highly militarized and highly polarized ideological confrontation between the superpowers dominated the international security agenda during the Cold War era. In this period, due to the intensive rivalry and confrontation between the two blocs and the danger of nuclear war, political-military issues were dominant in the international security agenda”. (Buzan, 1991: 433).

In 1991, the Soviet Union dissolved. The US and USSR, the leading roles of the bipolar system, were no longer the leading roles. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many newly independent states were established. Thus, with the end of the Cold War, many new problems have arisen in the changing Europe and world geography. In such a complex period of dynamics, the necessity of rethinking, discussing, and restructuring security has emerged, and defining the new order that emerged after the Cold War was exceedingly difficult. In the nearly two decades since the end of the Cold War, the changes in the definition and perceptions of security played a major role in determining the dynamics and structure of the period.

Ethnic-national security issues were put on the general security agenda. The combination of weakening political structures and individual insecurity in society has made securitization comparatively easy in terms of social / identity. This happened in the 1990s when the press and others began to view the world in ethnic categories. Towards the end of the 1990s, as a product of its political effects, ethnonationalism gradually lost its political hegemonic power in the world. (WAEWER,2008 p.171)

Among other factors, the terrorist attacks on the USA on September 11, 2001, have revealed religious conflicts and terrorism has become a great threat to the world. Following the terrorist incidents that took place on September 11, organized crime networks, global terrorism, drug, human, and arms trafficking, religious and ethnic conflicts, increasing weapons of mass destruction, threats to security, and especially international security threats have expanded. Thus, the perception of security has changed with the participation of all factors in the international system. However, this change is not a good way, it is threatening to humanity. And also, after the September 11 attacks, the issue of “combating terrorism” has been placed on the agenda of international relations.

The terrorist attacks on the US on September 11, 2001, among other factors, created the image of religious conflict. This situation is interpreted as against religion. However, this discourse is wrong. Also, religious reference objects are often used for nationalist and ethnic politics. A massive migration occurred shortly after this attack. And this wave of immigration has been called securitization around the concept of power/terror. The policy of exception has turned into more of a policy of unrest. Preventing dangerous groups is the main purpose of policies. (WAEWER,2008,p.172-173)


During and after the Cold War, the ever-changing security perception in the context of the events started to become dangerous. Precautions had to be taken against security threats reaching dangerous levels in the international arena. Various treaties signed for security, the United Nations, NATO, and various organizations were aimed at preventing these threats. We can talk about the United Nations for the first of these. We can say that the purpose of the UN, which was established in 1945, is to ensure and protect national security and peace. It is also among its aims to provide economic, social, and cultural cooperation. However, ‘’The disappointment after the founding of the United Nations became higher. Rival blocs arose swiftly in the late 1940s, less than four years after the signing of the UN Charter. As a result, the new UN soon became another forum for factional struggle and not a vehicle to transcend it. The fundamental opposition of the United States and the Soviet Union, and the right to veto Security Council resolutions, made the UN irrelevant to important decisions. In other words, it could not prevent the Soviet expansionism to which the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and thus lost its potential role to play as a security community.’’ (ULUSOY, p.7)

‘’The structure of the international system based on power relations is observed in the Security Council within the UN. Unfair representation and the problems that arose in the decision-making mechanism, as a result, began to shake the Council’s legitimacy. For this reason, reform demands, and discussions have increased for the Security Council since the 1990s. Various reform proposals or related reports were prepared with the initiative of the UN General Assembly.’’(GÜDEK GÖLÇEK,2019, p.475)

Another organization, NATO, is a military alliance and it was established by 12 countries within the framework of the North Atlantic Treaty. Developing weapon technology posed a great threat to security. Therefore, NATO’s effectiveness is especially important. It should also be known that; NATO has promised the US to defend the democratic West against Soviet expansion. So, we can say that it was founded against the Soviet Union. Today, its measures against Russia, which remained from the Soviets, continue.

On the other hand, the security concerns of Western Europeans have been settled in NATO. Western Europeans’ collective security issues were not included in European integration. Because NATO was a perfect choice back then, with the strong presence and determination of the United States. The building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the occupation of Hungary in 1956, the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, and the Czech crisis in 1968 showed that the West had no alternative but NATO for its own security and defense. Throughout the Cold War, NATO ensured the freedom of its members and managed to prevent the war in Europe. It became responsible for the defense and security of the transatlantic world. In this process,  it completed one of the factors in its success by not neglecting to offer cooperation to the Soviet bloc. Also, most importantly,  NATO played an indispensable role in bringing the East-West confrontation to a peaceful end. (ULUSOY,p.11)

In addition, Europe faced a security threat. In Europe, which was still feeling the effects of the Cold War, took some precautions. One of them was OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe). It played important role in European security issues. However, it did not have a military force to intervene like NATO. (ULUSOY,p.18)

According to Ulusoy; ‘’In view of all these, it can be argued at least from a theoretical standpoint that creating its own collective security mechanism with an autonomous military posture would be the optimal solution for the EU. This is particularly important given the increasing economic rivalry between the USA and the EU in international economic affairs that might turn out to be a political rivalry one day. The long experience of the fearful years of this entrapment/abandonment dilemma can be an incentive for the EU countries to work further to be self-sufficient in all walks of life including military and defense issues’’. (ULUSOY, p: 19)

Summarize from this article; In our world where a continuous and rapid change is experienced, societies and states are changing like all structures. We have learned that sometimes this change can be dangerous for national security. It is obvious how dangerous armament can be, especially with the technology developed during the Cold War. States are obliged to take security under control in order to maintain general security and public order by means of their laws. Dangers and risks may threaten not only a city or a country but all states. With the September 11 terrorist attacks, the change in security perceptions has reached a turning point. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it was concluded that terrorists in the world could create danger anywhere and anytime. There are various organizations to produce solutions to security problems that may occur in the world such as NATO and the UN as an example. At the same time, we can say that Europe is taking its own measures such as OSCE. The main purpose of these organizations is to protect world peace and prevent harm.



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About Author:


Melisa Akçay is a graduate of Hacettepe University, Department of International Relations. Her areas of interest includes Foreign Policy, International Law, Security and Immigration.


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