One significant point I took away from “Living in a World Risk Society” is that risk is at once the greatest divider of world nations and the greatest potential mediator of their conflicts. As Beck points out, international risks “create contexts for action between camps, parties and quarrelling nations, which ignore and oppose one another,” but global risks “activate and connect actors across borders, who otherwise do not want to have anything to do with one another” – in other words, the risks world actors pose toward each other generate defensive action and conflict, but a risk leveled more or less equally at everyone in the world would force them together.
The first and best illustration of this hypothesis I could think of was the alternate-universe Cold War scenario in the graphic novel masterwork Watchmen. For those unfamiliar (spoilers ahead), in Watchmen, a billionaire super-genius hatches a plan to avert the impending nuclear apocalypse between the United States and the Soviet Union by creating a massive “alien creature” and destructively teleporting it into the heart of New York City, killing millions in the shockwave and forcing the nations of the world to stop fighting each other and unite against a fictional, but very convincing, “alien threat.” It’s outlandish, but I thought it nicely exemplified what Beck calls “Enforced cosmopolitanization” – the unification of otherwise unwilling actors against the risks leveled jointly at all of them. In this way, Beck is right to suggest that risk is a kind of “communicative logic,” or universal language, with the response to its presence varying based on variables like its origin or its degree of severity.
Beck mainly discusses risk in the context of factors beyond our control, such as natural disasters, public health mishaps or unpredictable attacks by foreign actors, but the Watchmen example leads me to consideration of how risk could be weaponized or used as a political tool. In many ways, nations regularly control and manufacture risks to their own benefit. Yes, there is irony in that the attempt to mitigate risks almost always leads to the creation of new risks, but it’s worth discussing the kinds of advantages that one might gain from the successful direction of risk.