Human security – a retrospective


This paper is not a comprehensive critique of the concept of human security, for which the reader should look to some of the authors cited here and those whom they cite. Rather, it is based on remarks prepared as a discussant at a human security workshop held at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia on 8 June 2010.

The concept of human security has come of age. Many writers are today examining how far the concept has come, where from, and in which directions it should now be heading.

Like an artist whose work is about to undergo its first major retrospective, this shows how entirely mainstream this framework has become today. It is embraced by many across the entire political spectrum, as well as by activists from civil society organizations.

Human security certainly has traction. After all, who could possibly oppose the notions of ‘freedom from fear and freedom from want for everybody? This formulation, originally attributed to Franklin D. Roosevelt, is the one embedded in the 1994 United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Human Development Report, authored by the Pakistani economist Mahbub Ul-Haq, that many see as one of the drivers of this agenda.

But maybe the growing popularity of, resonance with, and attempts to implement human security are not based on the reasons that most appear to suppose they are. Maybe it is not simply an inherent good that should be applied across the board of international relations as quickly as possible. In the words of the Canadian academic and policy advisor Andrew Mack, ‘Human Security’s importance lies less in its explanatory powers than as a signifier of shared political and moral values.”

If so, we should be alert to some of the unexpected consequences of this characteristic, particularly if the concept itself is found to be wanting.

Human Security – A Retrospective, Global Change, Peace & Security, Vol. 22, No. 3, pp.385-390, October 2010

Recession: impact on security and cohesion

No sooner had the economic crisis emerged than officials and security agencies started worrying about its implications for social stability. This tells us more about their crisis of confidence than inherent tendencies. The recession will not necessarily lead to social problems. Politicians should engage the public in debating it.

Read the full paper as a PDF here.

Durodié, B. (2009). Recession: Impact on Security and Cohesion. (RSIS Commentaries, No. 048). RSIS Commentaries. Singapore: Nanyang Technological University.

Suicide Bombers vs Sexual Abusers: A Battle of Depravity or Western Fixations?

Abstract: In this paper, originally presented as a talk to “The Barbarisation of Warfare” conference, held at the University of Wolverhampton on 27–28 June 2005, I indicate that if warfare is perceived as barbaric today – possibly more so than in the past – then this has more to do with our subjective confusion as to the purpose and direction of contemporary society, as well as the conflicts produced by it, than by any objective index of barbarism. While all sides in recent conflicts appear to have behaved in a degenerate or degrading manner to one another, it is worth noting that much of this perception stems from a Western inability to comprehend suicide as sacrifice, due to the demise of purpose and commitment, as well as a refusal to confront the corrosion and corruption of Western culture, and in particular the confusion and conflation of the public–private divide, driven from the top of society down. Unfortunately, a well-meaning but moralistic focus on acts of barbarism has encouraged a less than critical mindset to develop, which seeks affirmation in particular events, irrespective of evidence. This approach also fails to build a robust and effective political challenge to those who have argued for Western intervention in the affairs of other states. Indeed, these two outlooks can often exist side-by-side, thereby revealing their inner bankruptcy.

Suicide Bombers v Sexual Abusers: A Battle of Depravity or Western Fixations? Security Journal, Vol.20, No.3, pp.146-157, July 2007

Fear and Terror in a Post-Political Age

Abstract: Despite an investigation lasting almost a year there is still no clarity as to why the perpetrators of the London bombings of 2005 acted as they did. Many commentators projected their own views into the vacuum left by the terrorists. These ideas, ranging from revenge for British foreign policy to the logical outcome of social exclusion, may shape security and community-related policies adversely. This article suggests that the bombers reflected a wider sense of disgruntlement in contemporary culture, one that is largely home grown and inculcated. Exploring the recent development of this politics of alienation, and a concomitant search for identity and meaning, it is proposed that the biggest danger is to live in a society with no clear sense of direction or purpose.

Fear and Terror in a Post-Political Age, Government and Opposition, Vol.42, No.3, pp.427-450, July 2007

Public Panic and Morale: Second World War Civilian Responses Re‐examined in the Light of the Current Anti‐terrorist Campaign

Abstract: Following September 11 in the US and July 7 in the UK, the threat to civilians from terrorist attack has become real yet considerable disagreement exists about how people might respond. The effect of aerial bombing on the public’s morale during the Second World War and the incidence of psychiatric casualties have been explored to provide reference points for the current terrorist threat. Systematic study of restricted government investigations and intelligence reports into the effect of air‐raids on major British towns and contemporary medical publications have shown that panic was a rare phenomenon and arose in defined circumstances. Morale fluctuated according to the intensity of attacks, preparedness and popular perceptions of how successfully the war was being conducted. Resilience was in part a function of the active involvement of the public in its own defence but also reflected the inability of German bombers to deliver a concentrated attack over a wide area. Most civilians, by their very numbers, were likely to survive. Inappropriate or excessive precautionary measures may serve to weaken society’s natural bonds and, in turn, create anxious and avoidant behaviour. Weapons that tap into contemporary health fears have the greatest psychological impact. Efforts by government to engage the public not only build trust but may also make an effective contribution to the campaign against terrorism.

Public Panic and Morale: World War Two Civilian Responses Re-Examined in the Light of the Current Anti-Terrorist Campaign, (with Jones, E., Woolven, R. and Wessely S.), Journal of Risk Research (Impact Factor 1.027 ISI 2015), Vol.9, No.1, pp.57-73, January 2006

Risk and the social construction of ‘Gulf War Syndrome’

Abstract: Fifteen years since the events that are held by some to have caused it, Gulf War Syndrome continues to exercise the mind and energies of numerous researchers across the world, as well as those who purport to be its victims and their advocates in the media, law and politics. But it may be that the search for a scientific or medical solution to this issue was misguided in the first place, for Gulf War Syndrome, if there is such an entity, appears to have much in common with other ‘illnesses of modernity’, whose roots are more socially and culturally driven than what doctors would conventionally consider to be diseases. The reasons for this are complex, but derive from our contemporary proclivity to understand humanity as being frail and vulnerable in an age marked by an exaggerated perception of risk and a growing use of the ‘politics of fear’. It is the breakdown of social solidarities across the twentieth century that has facilitated this process.Unfortunately, as this paper explores, our inability to understand the social origins of self-hood and illness, combined with a growing cynicism towards all sources of authority, whether political, scientific, medical or corporate, has produced a powerful demand for blame and retribution deriving from a resolute few who continue to oppose all of the evidence raised against them.Sadly, this analysis suggests that Gulf War Syndrome is likely to prove only one of numerous such instances that are likely to emerge over the coming years.

Risk and the Social Construction of ‘Gulf War Syndrome’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B (Impact Factor 5.847 ISI 2015), Vol.361, No.1468, pp.689-695, April 2006

Terrorism and Community Resilience – A UK Perspective

This paper argues that policy-makers and emergency planners must learn from the literature examining human behaviour in disasters. The relevant research shows that professionals should incorporate community responses to particular crises within their actions, rather than seeking to supplant these because they consider them ill-informed or less productive.

Emergencies offer society a means to reaffirm human bonds that have been corroded over recent times. Actions to enhance the benefits of spontaneous association, as well as to develop a sense of purpose and trust across society are, at such times, just as important as effective technical responses.

Read on [pdf format]

Terrorism and Community Resilience – A UK Perspective
Chatham House Briefing Paper, ISP/NSC Briefing Paper 05/01, July 2005, pp.4-5

Civilian Morale During the Second World War: Responses to Air Raids Re-examined

Abstract: The impact of air raids on civilian morale during the Second World War has been the subject of much dispute. Official histories concluded that the mental health of the nation may have improved, while panic was a rare phenomenon. Revisionist historians argued that psychiatric casualties were significantly higher than these accounts suggested because cases went unreported, while others were treated as organic disorders. Using contemporary assessments and medical literature, we sought to re-evaluate the psychological effect of bombing. There is little evidence to suggest that admissions for formal mental illness increased appreciably, although a question remains about the incidence of functional somatic disorders, such as non-ulcer dyspepsia and effort syndrome. The fact that civilians had little to gain from hospitalization in part explained why dire predictions of mass air-raid neurosis failed to materialize. In the event, civilians proved more resilient than planners had predicted, largely because they had underestimated their adaptability and resourcefulness, and because the lengthy conflict had involved so many in constructive participant roles.

Civilian Morale during World War Two: Responses to Air-Raids Re-Examined, (with Jones, E., Woolven, R. and Wessely S.), Social History of Medicine, Vol.17, No.3, pp.463-479, December 2004

Animal-Rights Terrorism and the Demise of Political Debate

Winning over the many may be difficult but remains essential for defeating the few.

This summer, the United Kingdom Home Office launched a crackdown on animal-rights protestors who intimidate or harass people associated directly, or indirectly, with experiments on animals. The move followed action against the construction of an £18 million biomedical research
facility at South Parks Road in Oxford.

This had led the main contractor, Walter Lily & Co Ltd, like the concrete suppliers RMC before them, to pull out of the project to replace and update the university’s animal-testing facilities.

Both companies are subsidiaries of Montpellier plc, whose executive cars had been damaged with paint. The parent company’s investors had also received spoof letters purporting to come from the senior management team, and advising them to withdraw their interests in the company or risk being identified on a website run by activists. Why anyone would think that a company would threaten its own shareholders is not evident, but this led to a 20 per cent drop in the share price as some investors bailed out.

Read the full article (pdf format)

First published in World Defence Systems Vol.7, No.2, Autumn 2004, pp.202-203

Review: Cellular Phones, Public Fears, and A Culture of Precaution

Risk analysis today falls broadly into two opposite, methodological camps. Those who appeal to scientific evidence to explain or critique what they consider to be exaggerated public fears, and those who focus on sociological data to highlight people’s perceptions and hence seek to justify a more precautionary outlook. While most recognize that risk contains both a material element and a perceptual element, there is rarely a meeting of ways in their methods of analysis.

This is where Adam Burgess’ contribution to the debate is to be warmly welcomed. Rather than falsely comparing the statistical risk of one activity with another, as many in the scientific camp are prone to doing, Burgess, a lecturer in sociology at the University of Bath has produced an explicitly sociological analysis. But rather than taking people’s perceptions at face value he seeks to explain how these perceptions came to be constructed in the first place, thereby, challenging these and critiquing precaution.

Read the full review (pdf)

Cellular Phones, Public Fears, and a Culture of Precaution, Risk Analysis,
Vol.24, No.4, August 2004, pp.1066-1068