Academic journal article Parameters

Human Security: Relevance and Implications

Academic journal article Parameters

Human Security: Relevance and Implications

Article excerpt

Since the end of the Cold War, the phrase "human security" increasingly has surfaced in scholarly literature, in the conversations of policy professionals and policy advocates, and occasionally in the popular media. The phrase itself suggests a departure from the esoteric jargon of the Cold War, preoccupied with state-centric issues of thermonuclear holocaust, strategic alliances, compellance and deterrence. But despite its increasing usage, the new concept rarely is defined for the lay reader and seems to carry a slippery range of alternative definitions. For some, the association of "human security" with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) either commends its value or undermines its validity, regardless of the content. For others, the phrase connotes an exciting--or troubling--consensus on security themes by a putative global intelligentsia. Policymakers in several countries have gone so far as to embrace the concept as a foundation for their national foreign policy, while US policymakers are at best ambivalent or, more commonly, skeptical.

Can any concept still so undefined and contested really have much utility? Or more to the point, should US military professionals pay any attention to it? This article argues in the affirmative, acknowledging that it is a paradigm gaining in prominence and may be an important part of the conceptual environment in which US military professionals will act in the future. The use of the concept also might have sufficient utility for US policymakers to warrant a closer examination. The purpose of this article is to note the origin, meaning, and contemporary usage of the "human security" concept, and to suggest why US military professionals should not ignore it. The article also will explore several implications of the increasing global interest in the concept and will offer some cautions and concerns.


In 1992, the prestigious UK-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, a bastion of establishment thinking, announced a striking change in its area of concern. Like similar institutions, it traditionally had been preoccupied with the pursuit of "security." Its time-honored formula, reinforced by the concerns of the Cold War, had focused on the "influence of modern and nuclear weapons of warfare upon the problems of strategy, defence, disarmament, and international relations." However, the interest now shifted dramatically to "any major security issues, including without limitation those of a political, strategic, economic, social, or ecological nature." (1) The times, they were "a-changin'," and conceptions of "security" clearly were in flux.

In fact, the end of the Cold War unleashed a debate that had been growing for years, provoked by scholars and practitioners increasingly dissatisfied with traditional conceptions of security. (2) Earlier mainstream approaches had tended to limit study of the subject to "the threat, use, and control of military force" in the context of state-centered international competition? But by the late 1970s, some scholars had begun to contest the notion that the state should be the appropriate referent object and were arguing that conventional approaches failed to capture the reality of a proliferating cast of actors and agendas on the world scene which posed a variety of threats to citizens as well as regimes. (4) These views gained a considerable following through the 1980s, (5) and by the early 1990s, the new thinking had begun to take hold among policymakers in several countries.

An early milestone in the success of the new approaches occurred in 1993, when the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) published its annual Human Development Report which promulgated the formula "human security," (6) a phrase given even sharper definition in the following year's report. (7) Though it remained controversial and subject to varying definition, the "human security" paradigm subsequently became something of a benchmark for an emerging new model of "security," so it is appropriate to briefly review how this concept was framed in the 1994 UNDP publication. …

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