Human Security on the National Level – A shift from foreign to domestic policy

10 Oct

Security and insecurity are two very subjective concepts. What may feel unsafe for one person may very well be a normal circumstance for another. Personally, being raised in a safe neighborhood in Rotterdam – the Netherlands, I was never confronted with any real danger. So to be honest, feeling safe and secure is something I grew up with. I know that, sadly, not everyone has the luxury of having a safe home and presence of basic needs. Even though it seems logical, for you and me, to think of security as being directed towards human beings, for centuries security on the international level revolved around states instead of people. The common assumption was that having secure borders was sufficient for people to feel safe. We all know now that, unfortunately, this is not always the case. To deal with the concept of security of citizens, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) released a Human Development Report (HDR) in 1994 that introduced a new concept of security: human security. This concept refers to the security of people rather than security of territories, with development rather than with arms. On Wednesday, 2 October 2013, a panel discussion on applying the human security approach at the national level was co-hosted by the Human Security Network and the Permanent Mission of Japan, in partnership with the Human Security Unit.

The concept of human security can mean different things to different people. A survey done in 20120 on human security in Benin by panelist Mr. Janvier Alofa (lead drafter of the National Human Development Report in Benin) resulted in different perspectives of human security and different perspectives on threats. Mr. Alofa explained that human security consists of seven interconnected components: economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community and political. A lack of security in any of these components can pose a threat to someone’s safety. In the case of Benin, if we look at the personal component, human security is endangered by trafficking in children, taxi accidents, organized crime and acts of violence (rape and domestic violence). Examples of the effects of the lack of human security can be found in ‘Lessons from the field – Applying the  Human Security Approach through the UN Trust Fund for Human Security’ released by the Human Security Unit. In the case of Lesotho, were an estimated 80 per cent of the population depends on the agriculture for their livelihoods, we can see that the adverse effects of climate change (environmental insecurity) on agriculture have hindered Lesotho’s development process. Health insecurity is evident in Peru. In Apurímac and Ayacucho in the Andrean region close to half of the populations lives in extreme poverty. As a result of this, rates of infant and maternal mortality, chronic malnutrition and illiteracy are very high.

Because human security consists of seven different components, as explained by Mr. Alofa, it encompasses all essential elements of society. The other two panelists, Dr. Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh (leader of the Specialization on Human Security at the Masters of Public Affairs at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris) and Dr. Oscar A. Gómez (Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Postdoctoral Fellow at the Doshisha University’s Graduate School of Global Studies), agree with this view and believe that human security is relevant to each framework because (national) security, development and human rights are all interlinked.

The three panelists underlined the importance of the concept of human security for the security of both states and their people. Dr. Tadjbakhsh noted the degree to which state security depends on the security of their populations. As a consequence of this focus shift from state security to human security, the policy focus of security is shifting from foreign to domestic policy. This shift, in my opinion, represents an important step towards the protection of basic human rights. If a state believes that its security depends directly on the security of its people, that state will likely put more effort into fulfilling its obligations to its domestic constituents. Dr. Gómez emphasized the fact that the state remains primarily responsible for human security. To provide this human security the state should learn from national experiences: historical processes should be analyzed and comparisons should be made to build knowledge about a wide range of security concerns. In this instance, both objective and subjective components of insecurity should be addressed and mismatches of threat perception should be identified.

I found the information provided during the panel discussion very interesting and possibly groundbreaking. The shift from state security/foreign policy to human security/domestic policy and the view that the state security depends on the safety of its people seems a big step forward in promoting the protection of people within a state. The difficulty, I believe, will be in the actual implementation of human security within the policies of states. States will have to alter their concept of security; and indicators to monitor and follow up on human security violations will need to be developed. Only if this is done successfully can the concept make a real difference and can everyone experience the security they deserve.

Marianne Rijke, Disarmament Fellow


One Response to “Human Security on the National Level – A shift from foreign to domestic policy”

  1. Dr. Mahmoud Zinelabdin - Sudan October 13, 2013 at 5:00 am #

    You have really touched the most important element for sustainable security at national and international levels, what made security intervention ineffective was incomprehensive approches for peace and security, many surveys in verious countries highlighted the importance of human security as a solution to all human problems. Human security networks have more to do to mobilize the international community to set up impementation modalities and to mobilize national political will. I hope you explore the role of regional integrated bodies in promoting Human security concept as a frame for peace and security . Finally, how can human security be linked to issues like MDG and conflict resolution.

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