Rethinking the Security Concept to Include Socioeconomic Factors

By Khler, Horst | Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly, April 15, 2005 | Go to article overview
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Rethinking the Security Concept to Include Socioeconomic Factors


Khler, Horst, Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly


In Goethe's famous play "Faust" there is a scene - the walk on Easter morning - in which a burgher declares how interesting it is to chat about war "when off in Turkey, far away, the people clash and fight with one another". To regard the world from such a comfortable distance - today that is no longer possible. Thanks to television and the Internet, news of disasters anywhere - not only natural disasters but also wars and terrorism - is beamed right into our living-rooms. We are kept fully informed. But we may also be directly affected. The tsunamis that wreaked such havoc on 26 December were a grim reminder that natural disasters can have a global impact.

One thing we have to recognize: there is no way we can opt out of globalization. What we need to do - and this is highlighted by the Indian Ocean disaster, the interdependencies in the economy and the environment and by international terrorism as well - is put much greater effort into managing the globalization process.

Today our planet is home to some 6 billion people. That makes it a pretty cramped place, one likely to get more cramped still, for by 2050 the world population may be anything up to 9 billion. What chance is there that these vast numbers of people can live together in peace if more than half of them have to get by on less than 2 US dollars a day to live on? The crisis is not just looming ahead, it is already here. In my view an effective response to this crisis cannot consist merely of efforts to limit its impact, notably its impact on security. Unless we tackle global poverty, long-term security will remain elusive. A strategy for development is by far the best form of conflict prevention! So it should surely give us food for thought that global spending on arms now stands at over 900 billion US dollars, more than ten times the development aid provided by the OECD countries!

Security and economic development are linked. That is almost a platitude. Without security there can be no sustained economic development. Experience teaches that the reverse is also true: persistent and widespread poverty can also undermine the stability of a whole country. Similarly, if large sections of society have no access to their country's natural wealth or political processes, stability is also at grave risk. There are plenty of cases in point, in Africa particularly, but also in Asia and Latin America.

The consequences of economic hardship or failing states are also felt here in Europe. Just think of the many people from Africa especially who daily attempt in often unseaworthy boats to reach Europe's southern shores. This poses enormous problems - on the social, economic and also security front - above all for the countries on Europe's southern flank. In the long run the only way we can come to grips with this situation is through sustained efforts to help the countries of origin develop their economies and improve governance. In the long term that will cost less than building Fortress Europe. But if we do not manage to reduce poverty in Africa, if yet more countries become failed states, we are likely in future to see far more immigrants and "boat people". And the problems will then be of an entirely different magnitude. We simply cannot afford to waste any more time!

Today the classic concept of security no longer suffices. We need to rethink it to include also socio-economic and cultural factors. In this context the UN uses the term "human security". Security in this sense is understood to mean protection of people's basic freedoms but also protection against different kinds of threat. It encompasses also the creation of appropriate structures to protect people's physical integrity and dignity as well as their ability to make a living. To quote the Commission directly: "Human security connects different types of freedoms - freedom from want, freedom from fear and freedom to take action on one's own behalf.

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