“If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it” . . . . . Lord Kelvin
RSS icon Home icon
  • Human Security as a concept

    Posted on November 2nd, 2009 editor0 No comments

    Many people consider that the first major modern published conceptual discussion on human security was contained in the 1994 Human Development Report (warning: link is to a .pdf), and extended by Commission on Human Security (2003) and others.

    Human security has been characterized as people- centric “safety from chronic threats such as hunger, disease and repression as well as protection from sudden and harmful disruptions in the patterns of daily life – whether in homes, in jobs, or in communities” (UNDP 1994), and postulated to include economic, food, health, environmental, political, community/social, and individual personal security from hostile actions by foreign or domestic antagonists, or by circumstances which can be managed by good governance (such as good preparation for, and response to, environmental or cultural threats- hazards- disasters). Simply stated, human security encompasses both “freedom from fear” and “freedom from want” (UNDP 1994) – which is considered borrowed from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms Speech.

    Human Security and national security are sometimes considered as complements when they are in harmonic balance. Actually, this Website considers national security to be a subset of Human Security, a detail which sometimes gets more attention than the larger requirement (and thus becomes the tail that [not wags, but actually] “eats” the dog). Whether national security should be reduced in focus (and funds redeployed for broader human security enhancements), or human security efforts be stepped up to balance an un-reduced national security focus is a political matter, one that is likely to change with time, place, and personalities. This Website does not editorialize in this regard, other than to hope that better balance, and progress in broader human security requirements, be made.

    Human security is considered to be multidimensional. It addresses people’s dignity and sense of self- worth as well as material and physical concerns of peace, harmony, safety, and [for want of a better word] basic comfort in their homes, communities, countries, and Planet Earth. It concerns people- centric protection from self- centred attempts at hegemony by individual, institutional/corporatist, pseudo- religious, or governmental self- interests.

    Some specialists consider that poverty and inequality are root impediments to human security.
    The 1994 HDR contained a draft “social world charter” (that the authors of the HDR hoped would be adopted by world leaders) in which it advocated for the United Nations to “become the principal custodian of our global human security” (UNDP 1994, p. 6).

    • However, one could argue that human security watchdog functions should not be delegated to a “single point of possible failure” but should be watched over by a diversity of stakeholders.
    • Thus, one might recommend instead that governments, civil society, individual advocates, and the United Nations might each watch, and hold accountable, everyone’s actions or inactions toward enhanced human security – and the results of such action/inaction.

    But is Human Security a new concept?

    No. As noted by Surin Pitsuwan, current Secretary-General of ASEAN and a member of the Commission on Human Security, the concept of human security is quite old, having been discussed by numerous of the great philosophers. In a keynote address (warning: link is direct to a .pdf) at a 2008 conference on Mainstreaming Human Security at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Khun Dr. Surin noted that “human security is the primary purpose of organizing a State in the beginning” and that theorists such as Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and Hume wrote about various aspects of human security.

    But, perhaps in some societies, the ascendancy of focus on national security has been for so long, and has been so intense, that the broader context of human security has atrophied. Or, as noted by Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh, Director, CERI Program for Peace and Human Security, Paris, perhaps “distorted as a notion for others and by others.”

    Perhaps, a challenge is:

    • When people wax forcefully about national security – are they making themselves accountable for what they may be doing for, or against, broader requirements for human security (when they try to co-opt attention away from such broader necessity by their narrower interest)?
    • - - - - - - -

      N.B. If you’re looking for our “definition” of human security, can we wait on this a bit? Consistent with the concept sketched (but hardly set in concrete) above, we believe that it’s worth getting on with the challenge of crafting a HSI. In the spirit [if not the exact words] of Lord Kelvin “If you can’t begin to measure it - how can you expect to improve it?” We believe that:

      • The process of seeking, selecting, culling, vetting, and crafting component indicators, and
      • Working with others, including those already embarked on characterizations of peace, incarceration, gender / diversity, corruption and governance, environment, and empowerment - we should all begin to move toward a better understanding
        • Of what’s now possible to characterize;
        • Of the character of societies - partly fostered through the HSI, its constituent data and indicators, and through the knowledge created by various groups working on their own aspects of characterizing human security; and
        • About our target of human security and its improvement.

      Comments are closed.