Should HIV/AIDS Be Securitized? The Ethical Dilemmas of Linking HIV/AIDS and Security


  • Author's note: This article was first presented at the 44th Annual Convention of the International Studies Association, Portland, Oregon, February 2003. The author would like to thank members of the Africa Research Group at the London School of Economics, members of the Security Research Group at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, members of the Africa Research Group at King's College, London, participants in the Twenty-First Century Trust Conference on Disease and Security, as well as Andrew Price-Smith, Robert Ostergard Jr., Alex de Waal, Christopher Coker, Louiza Odysseos, and three anonymous reviewers for their valuable feedback on previous versions of this article.


Should the global AIDS pandemic be framed as an international security issue? Drawing on securitization theory, this article argues that there is a complex normative dilemma at the heart of recent attempts to formulate the global response to HIV/AIDS in the language of international security. Although “securitizing” the AIDS pandemic could bolster international AIDS initiatives by raising awareness and resources, the language of security simultaneously pushes responses to the disease away from civil society toward military and intelligence organizations with the power to override the civil liberties of persons living with HIV/AIDS. The security framework, moreover, brings into play a “threat-defense” logic that could undermine international efforts to address the pandemic because it makes such efforts a function of narrow national interest rather than of altruism, because it allows states to prioritize AIDS funding for their elites and armed forces who play a crucial role in maintaining security, and because portraying the illness as an overwhelming “threat” works against ongoing efforts to normalize social perceptions regarding HIV/AIDS. These overlooked dangers give rise to a profound ethical dilemma as to whether or not the global AIDS pandemic should be portrayed as a security issue. The article concludes that securitization theory cannot resolve this complex dilemma, but that raising awareness of its presence does allow policy makers, activists, and scholars to begin drawing the links between HIV/AIDS and security in ways that at least minimize some of these dangers.