POLI 360 - UN Commission on Human Security: Final Report
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UN Commission on Human Security: Final Report
Globalization has brought new opportunities but also new challenges.
Traditional concepts of security focused on the state's ability to counter external
threats. The international community needs a paradigm shift in the concept of
security: from an emphasis on state security to human security.
Definition: “to protect the vital core of all human lives in ways that enhance human
freedoms and human fulfilment”
The state in the current international system remains the fundamental purveyor of
security; however, it often fails to meet its security obligations. “The idea is for
people to be secure, not just for territories within borders to be secure” (6).
Human security encompasses the following:
−human rights and freedoms
−protection from both critical (severe) and pervasive (widespread) threats
−human development (access to education/healthcare; preventing poverty)
−empowerment of the individual
−global alliance of institutional policies that link individuals to the state – and
the state to the global world
−creation of political, social, environmental, economic, military and cultural
systems that guarantee people's survival, livelihood and dignity
History of colonialism introduced experiences where the threat to the individual's
security came from the state itself. These led to notions of security that emphasized
the individual citizen and society as a whole, rather than the state. This is why
movements such as women's rights were so intimately linked with the
decolonization struggle in Africa.
Human security does not replace state security. These two aspects are mutually
dependent. State security is a necessary condition for human security, but it is not
a sufficient condition.
Human Security and State Security
Human security complements state security by:
1) Focusing on the individual
2) Expanding range of possible threats (to include pollution, migration, disease
and poverty, etc.)
3) Expanding range of relevant actors (institutions, NGOs, civil society, etc.)
4) Not just protecting people, but empowering people to be able to protect
−reversion to narrower understanding of state security and of unilateralism
due to spread of terrorism and WMD
−undermining of the credibility and legitimacy of multilateral
−violation of human rights and humanitarian law
−the leveraging of human security as bargaining chips for state security (North
Korea is directly cited as an example)
Human Security's Distinctive Breadth
−protection from violence and warfare
−from deprivation: impoverishment, pollution, ill health, illiteracy, other
One interesting observation: “in post-conflict situations, if countries focus too much
on consolidating political stability they may be destabilized by economic retreats”,
or other factors (7).
Example: collapse of Soviet Union resulted in per capita incomes in Tajikistan to fall
Human Security and Human Rights
Both are concerned with achieving basic freedoms. “But they look out on shared
goals with different scopes” (10). Human development is optimistic, focusing on
expanding opportunities; human security focuses on risks that may threaten those
Amartya Sen proposes considering human security as a subset of human rights,
which gives descriptive concept demands to ethical considerations. This viewpoint
also lends human security the force and weight of moral obligations, which can be
used as justifications for actions taken on behalf of moral security.