A Yemeni child receives treatment for malnutrition at a hospital in the city of Taez on November 21. Photo: AFP
A Yemeni child receives treatment for malnutrition at a hospital in the city of Taez on November 21. Photo: AFP

The concept of “human security” provides a broader framework than the idea of “human rights” to understand and assess a state’s contribution to international peace and security. While notions of human rights are particularistic and specific to a state’s belief system and practice, human security can have universal relevance and acceptance.

Individualistic notions of human rights with a priority on civil and political rights (as emphasized by the developed countries of the West) have failed to address the socio-economic predicaments of developing countries during humanitarian crises.

For instance, a militaristic turn in US-led Operation Restore Hope in Somalia led to a perception among many Somalis that the mission was a form of imperialism and occupation. The American and other Western troops soon withdrew, indicating their inability and unwillingness to study the socio-economic conditions of the East African country. This led to the United Nations operation becoming primarily a developing countries’ mission.

The concept of human security was articulated by Pakistani scholar Mahbub ul Haq in 1994 when he drew attention to the concept in the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Human Development Report.

The concept of human security required a shift of focus from the physical security of a state to socio-economic security and development of its citizens along with their personal, civil and physical security. This also implied separation of security from the territoriality of a state by shifting the focus from national citizens to the people of the world at large, as the emphasis is on human beings and not on a state’s own citizens.

Peaceful world

It is pertinent that a state’s foreign policy must incorporate the changed understanding of security in its relationship with other states. Citizens of a particular state can realize freedom from fear and from want through security and development only within a peaceful world mediated through a peaceful region.

Though human security became a part of academic discourse in the 1990s, the ideas were not entirely new.

Compared to the human rights perspective, the human security perspective provides a larger framework to evaluate the contributions of different countries towards humanitarian causes for a number of reasons.

First, the international regime of human rights is riddled with controversies, as the developed states prioritized civil and political rights over social and economic rights and the developing countries preferred the opposite. Human security requires all the rights to be protected equally to ensure a secure and healthy human existence.

The concept of human security underlines the symbiotic relationship between the two sets of rights. By prioritizing one set of rights over the other, states jettison the concept of rights altogether.

Second, human rights are considered claims and rights of individuals against their state, but these do not intend to correct the inegalitarian international structure that leads to many cases of human insecurity. Nevertheless, human security necessitates an egalitarian world order to enable each state to provide security for its own people.

Third, the human rights regime’s preoccupation with enforcement of the rights of individuals may call for international intervention taking an intense form bent on regime change even at the expense of minimum human security. On the contrary, the human-security perspective places emphasis on the socio-economic and security factors of the people during peacekeeping operations.

It was clear that the US/NATO played proactive roles in some instances such as Kosovo and Iraq either by pointing to disagreements or delays in decision making within the UN framework or by showing the inefficacy of peaceful measures against authoritarian regimes and thus bypassed the authorization of the UN Security Council.

In other cases such as  Libya and Syria, the US and its allies threw their weight behind UN Security Council resolutions that implicitly promoted the US/NATO’s active role in strengthening anti-regime forces, helped them push the agenda of democracy and assigned them militaristic roles without exhausting all the peaceful options. However, apparently, the militaristic approach toward intervention has very often led to militaristic shifts in humanitarian missions and state-building exercises.

The human-security perspective provides the broadest framework to analyze and understand a country’s contribution to international peace and security

Fourth, the human rights perspective cannot address global problems like climate change, environmental pollution and terrorism, which compromise the rights of individuals as well. On the other hand, the human-security perspective takes all these global problems into account for the secure and sustainable lives of individuals.

Therefore, the human-security perspective provides the broadest framework to analyze and understand a country’s contribution to international peace and security. It locates the problem of human insecurity in structural inequalities between the developed and developing countries, in the negligence of the developing and under-developed countries’ security concerns during peacekeeping operations and in global problems like environmental pollution and climate change.

From a human security perspective, the preservation of territorial integrity and the strengthening of state institutions remain priorities for the security of individuals. On the other side, the human rights perspective asks for enforcement of individual rights in failed states but remains reticent on a prior strengthening of the state institutions so that they do not fail.

However, the concept of human security rejects an obsession with territorial and military security and assumes that the foreign policy of a country should also seriously strive to attain other important goals for improvement in the quality of life of citizens.

The people of a country not only have the right to freedom from fear, they are also entitled to freedom from want. While the conventional notion of security emphasizes the former, human security respects both. Freedom from fear and freedom from want are interrelated because it is only in a relatively peaceful environment that people can achieve developmental objectives and, conversely, people deprived of basic needs and minimum benefits of development would be constantly involved in fighting for scant resources.

Citizens of a particular country can live a peaceful life with dignity only when the surrounding region and the world at large become safer without serious conflicts, the socio-economic concerns of the third world countries are addressed and an egalitarian international order is established.

The state institutions of developing countries need to be strengthened and they must be properly represented in international organizations to ensure the security of their citizens. There are also many global problems such as terrorism, environmental pollution and climate change that require the attention of the developed and developing world alike, and a human security perspective can address them.

Sustainable solutions to humanitarian crises of the kind currently seen in Yemen and Syria can be found if they are looked at from a human security perspective.

Dr Manoj Kumar Mishra has a PhD in international relations from the
Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad, India. Currently, he is working as a lecturer at the Department of Political Science, SVM
Autonomous College, Odisha, India.