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