Contribution to the Debate on the Concept of Threat and Risk

  • Jan Eichler


The first (theoretical) section of the essay commences with a more general outline of the concept of threat and risk in English and in French. It then recalls the 1930s when fascism became a threat to the whole of Europe, and it draws a comparison between the conduct of Yugoslavia of that time and Czechoslovakia. This is followed by an analysis of the threat-risk relationship during the Cold War and afer. Doctrinal documents of NATO member states perceive threat as a prime cause of danger to the state with the use of military instruments, and risk as something that exists further removed from the borders which cannot directly endanger the security of the state but which could turn into a threat in the event of long-term under-rating or neglect.
The essay appreciates the terminology analysis issued by ÚZSI in 1999 under the title Risk and Threat as Key Conceptual Perceptions. It further includes an analysis of the relationship between threat and risk in the context of the Kosovo crisis and the Joint Strength operation.
In the subsequent section the essay assesses the threat-risk connection in light of the new framework of security studies; it uses the concept of a reference object, the factor of security policy, securisation and desecurisation. This makes it possible to give a better explanation of the significance of the concept of threat and risk for practical politics. Agents of security policy adopt major decisions by which they are able to critically influence the future life of all who form the reference object. That is why they should not, so to speak, hide behind the objective nature of risks, which have emerged simultaneously with a specific threat. On the contrary, they would do well to proclaim loud and clear why and to what extent they regarded a specific phenomenon as a threat. They should also say which risks they wanted to avoid since they feared that they would be unjustifiable, and which, on the contrary, they accepted because they considered them less dangerous.
The second part of the essay outlines the most serious threats and risks in the countries of the Euro-Atlantic region. These are military, political, economic and ecological. The concluding summary of the essay emphasises that a threat exists regardless of the will of the person or object that is threatened, and that it confronts them with the need to take a decision on how to act. The risk, on the other hand, applies to the decision-making and action of those who are threatened by something.

Author Biography

Jan Eichler