Human Security and East Asia: In the Beginning

By Evans, Paul M. | Journal of East Asian Studies, May-August 2004 | Go to article overview

Human Security and East Asia: In the Beginning

Evans, Paul M., Journal of East Asian Studies

Security is the absence of anxiety upon which the fulfilled life depends.


In the pantheon of new security concepts debated in East Asia in the past decade, human security is perhaps the most controversial. It is based on the idea that the individual or community must be at least one of the referent points in answering the eternal questions of security for whom, from what, and by what means.

Asian reactions to human security have been divided and fluid in the past decade, initially somewhere between cool and hostile and recently more positive in civil society, academic, and governmental circles. The conventional wisdom is that East Asia is resistant to concepts of security that, in normative terms, have the potential to erode traditional conceptions of sovereignty and, in policy terms, demand a new allocation of resources to manage an array of nontraditional security challenges well beyond military threats to territorial integrity. Especially in Northeast Asia, a neighborhood where the Cold War is unended, where memories of history and historical legacies are unresolved, where there are divided states, where defense spending is high, and where there is little experience with regional institutions or cooperative security, human security appears to many as an alien and even dangerous transplant.

The case for skepticism is reinforced by the illiberal thrust of U.S. foreign policy in the era of George W. Bush, especially since September 11. The antiterrorism agenda has produced an unprecedented level of state-to-state cooperation, seen in the constructive interactions of the United States and China and the other major powers. Indeed, some see the prospect for a renewed Concert of Powers emerging in response to the North Korean nuclear issue. But U.S. opposition to the major international initiatives to promote human security, especially the antipersonnel landmine campaign and the International Criminal Court, and the diminution of support for human rights in East Asia are sobering for human security advocates.

I focus here on how ideas about human security are being interpreted and addressed by governments and wider policy communities in Asia, especially in Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia, two regions that I define together as East Asia. (1) The basic argument is that after facing initial opposition, human security is now finding a place in regional discussion and some policy areas. While the preference is for the broader approach to human security that looks at multiple new threats to human well-being, there has been a subtle shift toward acceptance--or at least serious debate--concerning the narrower understanding of human security related to protection of individuals in situations of violent conflict. The most important embodiment of this logic is the idea of the responsibility to protect. At this point, individual states and regional institutions remain hesitant to embrace human security, but the concept is affecting state practice and playing a catalytic role in changing the normative framework related to state obligations and the principles of sovereignty and noninterference.

I present the argument mindful that human security has a precarious perch in the theory and practice of international relations not only within East Asia but also globally. It operates on the margins rather than in the mainstream except in a handful of countries such as Canada and Norway. The concept has been widely criticized as analytically problematic, morally risky, unsustainable, counterproductive, and "so vague that it verges on the meaningless." (2) In the academic world, human security has a growing number of adherents. A 2003 survey of Canadian academics listed more than 145 at thirty-three universities who self-identified as having a research or teaching interest in human security. (3) Yet even a cursory skim of titles and subjects in mainstream security journals in North America and Europe indicates that the phrase still is used rarely.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Human Security and East Asia: In the Beginning


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.