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Human Security: A New Approach to National Security

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Traditionally, national security is taken to mean security of the state. It factors in external threats, with the state as the center of power; to be protected with military might. It aims to maintain law and order throughout the state, with an interest in economic and geopolitical growth and, the sanctity of ideological values.

Most countries in the world take this approach to national security. They strengthen their militaries to deter and defend from external threats to the territory. The US, China, India, Russia and, Pakistan, some of the largest armies in the world, are examples of states that depend on military power to deter threats to their territories.

However, this approach to security fails to include non-traditional threats; like natural disasters, diseases and famine etc. Where it does focus on protecting the state, it fails to protect the people from non-traditional threats that hinder peace and development.

After multiple conflicts throughout the world in the 1990s, Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General at the time, expressed that the concept of security was evolving into a more people-centric one. “The requirements of security today have come to embrace the protection of communities and individuals from internal violence”, he said. Therefore, the concept of Human Security emerged in the 90s as a new approach to security.

Human security is a people-centric approach to security. The objective is to empower people as a means of security. It challenges conventional security by arguing that the subject of security should be the individual rather than the state. It conceptualizes that the most efficient path to tackling the issue of global security is to ensure “freedom from want, freedom from fear and the freedom to live with dignity”.

Where traditional security is state-centric; it protects the territory from external threats through military power, human security is people centric- it protects the citizens from traditional as well as non-traditional threats by empowering them. It wouldn’t necessarily replace or supersede national security. They are mutually supportive. Human security is a more evolved approach to national security. It asserts that the security of the state isn’t an end in itself, security of its people must also be ensured. Human rights violations concealed for the sake of national security is actually counteractive since these violations would provoke more aggression and, in turn, internal conflict.

Traditionally, governments value economic growth and development interests. However, economic growth doesn’t necessarily equate human growth. Developed states have also failed to protect their citizens from non-traditional threats.

An example would be the poor performance of the US in reducing human suffering during hurricane Katrina in 2005, while in comparison, Cuba was able to respond to hurricane Ike much more quickly and efficiently, despite being an underdeveloped state. Therefore, military might and economic growth do not necessarily equate protection of the people.

A distinction must be drawn here, between human development and human security. While human development is about widening people’s economic choices, human security is about people being able to exercise these choices safely. It seeks to bridge the gap between development and security. It looks at the causes of conflict and means of overcoming these causes to prevent it. The traditional approach often fails to factor in these underlying causes.

Critics of human security have said that its vagueness undermines its effectiveness. Alternatively, others have argued that the concept of human security should be broadened to encompass military security and development.

An example of a state with human security as a factor of its security, development and, foreign policies is Canada. The government has expressed on multiple occasions that they value human rights above everything else. This was proven true by their resettling around 25,000 refugees between2015-16. Canada also ranks #7 on the World Happiness Index (World Economic Forum) in 2018. Despite being ranked 20th in the world in terms of military strength, according to Business Insider, Canada has managed to minimize traditional and non-traditional threats to their security. While their security policy is not completely human-centric, they focus on protecting and empowering individuals more than most states.

Human security can provide a clear objective for humanitarian work. Its preventative nature encourages contingency planning. It addresses interacting threats in multiple domains simultaneously and therefore, stimulates holistic threat assessment and planning.

Pakistan faces multiple external and internal threats to its citizens despite our military capability. Many of these threats can be traced back to a lack of human security. Natural disasters, famine, illiteracy, poverty and epidemics are among the numerous non-traditional threats. Insurgency and sectarian violence are also internal security threats. Our standard response for most threats has been to use military power.

However, when states are externally aggressive and internally repressive, or too weak to govern effectively, the security of people is threatened. It is only very recently, that lawmakers and establishment have begun looking at the underlying causes for conflict in the region and are starting to address them.

Balochistan especially, is a terrain that needs to be navigated with the utmost care when it comes to internal conflict and non-traditional threats. The population has been marginalized for so long that conflict here has very deep roots. The interest of the state continues to overshadow that of the people.

The inclusion of a people-centered security approach may help alleviate some of the causes for conflict here eventually. It places emphasis the complex and often-ignored linkages between human dignity, human rights, poverty and development.

The threat of interstate war has not vanished, and the potential consequences of such a war would take a devastating toll on civilians. Traditional methods of war and conflict are increasingly becoming obsolete. Enemies look for unorthodox ways to cause harm. A security policy based only on military power is insufficient to guarantee people’s security. Therefore, solutions must be devised with a strong focus on welfare of the individual rather than only on the security of the state. Human security empowers societies to rethink the fundamental purposes of governance, inside countries and globally, and to act with the best effect.

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is a Mass Communication graduate from NUST. She enjoys creative writing, reading and, photography in her free time.

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