Sovereign safety

Journal article

Boy, Nina (2015) Sovereign safety, Security Dialogue 46 (6): 530–547.

Read the article here (Open Access)

This article traces the contours of an inconspicuous kind of state power in the form of sovereign safety. This power is articulated, more precisely, in a combination of four elements: the historical term of public credit, the liquid government bond, the risk-free asset of financial textbooks and the safe-haven function assumed by the bond market in times of uncertainty. All of these involve a peculiar translation from sovereign debt as the most risky asset to sovereign creditworthiness, circulating unsecured. If critical security studies has largely limited itself to a critique of the relatively recent sense of political state security, this article explores the relevance of a far older financial sense of ‘security’ and ‘securitization’ for contemporary studies of security. So far, the Foucault-inspired finance–security literature has emphasized the risk calculus as a principal mechanism in ‘securing circulation’. This article argues that sovereign safety constitutes an important overlooked factor in securing circulation in two ways: As the main form of collateral for financial transactions, its capacity to secure derives from being considered secure itself. As an epistemic variable, it constitutes the bedrock of modern finance theory. Moreover, rather than neatly complementary to the liberal security dispositif, sovereign safety can to some extent be said to represent the very object of the Foucaultian divesture of power.


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