Human security is the evolving hypothesis that identifies and addresses the pervasive and intersectional challenges to the survival, means of support, and well-being of the populace through providing freedom from want and freedom from fear. To this end, the concept of the human security approach dictates a need for a comprehensive, people-focused, situationally specific, and oriented towards preventative responses to better strengthen the ability to protect and enable all people within the global community (U.N. 1994).
Additionally, human security calls for recognizing vulnerabilities globally that dispute the conventional perception that military security is the only means of addressing threats. Instead, focusing on the basic human condition over national interests would provide a longer-lasting and more stable security environment. Numerous sociological elements comprise human security, covering various social science research fields such as human rights, strategic studies, international relations, and development studies. These elements are economic and political security, food and health security, personal and community security, and environmental security. All play a vital role in defining threats and vulnerabilities to human security.
The following article briefly analyzes the human security paradigm and discusses the various security elements that influence and impact the global population’s stability and well-being. The article first examines the natural components related to food, health, and the environment, the effect humans have on these elements, and conversely, their impact on humans in the preservation or destruction of their survival, livelihood, and daily lives. Second, the research discusses human constructs and imagined social identities regarding internal and external political security and economic security. Finally, the project closes with the social identity theories that drive personal and community security.
These are the foundations of political security and most impacted by all the other elements of the human security paradigm. Through the concepts discussed in the following analysis, decision-makers at all levels of government can better strive to improve the global human security state and limit the need for escalation, necessitating military intervention to preserve people’s freedom from want and freedom from fear. The article intends to demonstrate how the global community can better ensure human security to hopefully avoid a military option becoming necessary for preserving the security of a nation-state or the international community. Finally, the article will discuss military security throughout, however, not in any great detail. This subtopic will briefly analyze how nation-states have in the past, are presently, and can in the future use their defense and security forces to support and strengthen the other security elements necessary for human security.
The food, health, and environmental security elements of human security are debatably the most influential components and the most difficult to address comprehensively. Yet, food, health, and environmental conditions often are the catalysts that can sway politics and economies and create or mitigate civil disorder within people’s daily lives and communities. Unfortunately, there are many natural factors that humankind cannot control within these elements that foster an inherent apprehension or unease. These conditions disrupt human security’s freedom from fear and the freedom from want to a lesser degree. Famines, droughts, and plagues can be instigated and otherwise influenced by human interaction but are not always foreseeable or readily abated. This unpredictability and instability can be highly disruptive and frightening, especially in regions with no adequate infrastructure to prevent, protect, mitigate, respond, or recover from such events.
Food security was one of the first subgroups within human security to be identified as contributing to instability. Experts broadly accepted this component as a significant factor in determining the current state of security in a region and the speed at which an area would recover post-conflict (Richardson and Nunes 2015); two perfect examples are Somalia and Syria. The Somali Civil War, which began in 1991, was triggered by a political destabilization; however, the famine that most severely impacted the agricultural zone allowed warlords to exploit the food shortage to vie for control and manipulate the populace.
Thus, availability and access to food became a huge determining factor in restoring stability and security to specific areas of the country. Much of that had to do with ensuring distribution was controlled by benevolent, or at least neutral, parties and not oppressive warlords or unscrupulous criminal entities. Unlike Somalia in 1991, Syria’s unrest started oppositely; the food shortages spurned the political turmoil that digressed into a civil war. Rural communities, especially the agricultural base, were particularly hard hit by the drought-induced famine and the inadequate government response only exacerbated the growing unrest. People began flooding into the urban areas, and food supply was not recovering even with international aid, and the people began to revolt against the Assad regime. As the fighting intensified, controlling the food supply, either increasing or diminishing availability, became incorporated into military strategy by Assad’s forces and the Free Syrian Army. The Syrian people suffered because of it (Eng and Martinez 2014). Hungry people become desperate, making them both more volatile and manipulatable, and food shortages can wipe out a community in a very brief period.
Environmental challenges are another factor of human security that arguably cannot be influenced by people with any speed or efficacy. Natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, and tsunamis can devastate huge areas and take months, if not years, to fully recover, depending on the size and scale of the event. Humans equally impact the environment through agricultural and industrial practices that can significantly disrupt a population’s survivability, livelihood, and daily life (Elliot 2015). Overuse of resources such as fishing, farming, logging, the deliberate and unintentional introduction of foreign flora and fauna, pollution, and human habitation can negatively impact the ecosystem, leading to instability and insecurity. Suppose an individual or community cannot control the environment in which they reside or are dependent for shelter, sustenance, or income. In that case, they too can become increasingly desperate or despondent, increasing the likelihood of conflict.
Health is another area that human interaction can positively and negatively influence and is an uncontrollable force of nature undermining human security. Availability and access to quality medical care are critical focal points to health security. They can go a long way in preventing, protecting, mitigating, responding, and recovering to health-related security risks (Lisk, Sehovic, and Sekalala 2015). Food and the environment play a significant role in determining people’s health. Still, even something as basic as hygiene, medical knowledge can go a long way in lessening the health effects of food and the environment. Effective, sustainable programs can generally improve good nutrition and clean water and air; however, diseases are often a severe disruptive element that there is sometimes no remedy for, as made apparent with past Ebola outbreaks and the current COVID-19 pandemic. Fear of illness or death at the hands of a disease inevitably creates a sense of panic and paranoia in a community that will often lead to distrust, conflict, and erosion of human security.
Political and economic security are most frequently associated with nation-state security and lead to military security intervention. International studies circles traditionally viewed these as the foundation to personal and community security. Political and economic factors additionally play a role in how other nation-states, international government organizations (IGOs), and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) approach populations. These efforts are directed explicitly at groups struggling with other human security components such as food, health, and personal and community (Paris 2001). Examples of this range from sanctions, travel and trade restrictions, and severing diplomatic ties to aid and relief packages, security assistance, and trade agreements. These political and economic security mechanisms can serve as a pendulum in determining the increase or decrease of human security within a region or nation-state.
Political security should be viewed twofold with regards to human security: external politics and internal politics. How nation-states interact with others in the global community can influence stability and security internally just as much as how a nation-state governs its population. The “inside and out” view somewhat contradicts conventional thinking about political security, which focuses more internally. Still, in the case of Libya under Muammar Gaddafi’s regime and the Kim Dynasty in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea), both internal and external politics have influenced human security. Internal political security focuses on government repression, violations of human rights, and militarization, all of which authoritarian and totalitarian regimes like those mentioned earlier often demonstrate (Hassan 2015).
On the other hand, democracies and bureaucratic autocracies tend to provide environments for greater human security. Still, they are primarily dependent on the strength of the institutions and the transparency/accountability of the governing body (Piccone 2017). Other contributing factors include industrialization or development levels of a nation-state in the weakness and instability of political security. There is not always a correlation between the democratic strength and overall human security of a state like that found in the Islamic Republic of Iran (Piccone n.d.).
External political security is much more complicated and often intertwined with community security discussed later in this paper and a nation-state’s economic security. The extent to which a nation-state engages in multilateralism and regional security issues will determine the level of political security and how much human security it will have (Kaldor 2011). Diplomatic and military relations, particularly with neighboring states, should be considered integral to political security. Diplomacy also instills public trust in government that is part of the previously discussed internal politics (Schiavone 2019). Disputed territories and border regions like the Kashmir province and Crimea have decreased human security. The political element often does not allow for stability, confidence, or shelter of that region’s populace or the nation-state involved. Finally, external political relations can determine how quickly or aggressively other nation-states respond to humanitarian or political security issues and whether military intervention is necessary or not (Reveron and Mahoney-Norris 2011).
Economic security is probably one of the most complicated human security elements to address because of the number of variables that can impact the economy of a nation-state. Individual and national poverty is the key focus of the economic element of human security. However, economics often is directly tied to a person or state’s livelihood, dignity, and survivability because of its impact on other elements like food, health, and environment (Tang 2015). Proper nutrition, access, and availability of quality healthcare and unpolluted resources like water and natural food supplies are all impacted by poverty rates within a community. Still, vice versa, changes to food, health, and environmental security can negatively impact economic security. Employment availability and reliability, particularly in rural areas, also play a role in the financial security of a community or nation-state. The Syrian Arab Spring example from the previous section demonstrates how these conditions can digress into sources of conflict, especially when there is a lack of good governance (Eng and Martinez 2014).
Personal and community security are the most basic and commonly thought of elements of the human security approach. The prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery of threats and all-hazard events to the individual and their community, whatever the size, are often of immediate concern, particularly in conflict areas. Social identity is a crucial component within personal and community security and ties closely to the mechanics of the political security environment. When there are ethnocentric or sub-national identity differences and disparities, in-group/out-group conflicts arise or intensify. These conflicts have been more frequently manifesting as ideological radicalization and violent extremism (van Deventer and van Broekhoven 2014).
Personal security relates to the basic needs of individual people and is the human security component most affected by and has the most negligible influence on the rest of the other elements. Freedom from want and fear is the most difficult to obtain without all other human security mechanisms combined to create a stable and secure environment where individuals can preserve their livelihood, daily life, dignity, and survival. Due to how vulnerable personal security is to negative influence and manipulation, human security generally focuses only on addressing physical violence and abuse, other criminal acts towards life and property, accidents, and neglect of the individual (Gasper and Gomez 2015). As a result, decision-makers can more easily address crime and violence. Still, inadequate government response, particularly in communities that feel marginalized or discriminated against, can lead to a feeling of anxiety and uncertainty when it comes to personal security (Anderson 2014).
Community security is just the broader scale of the same factors impacting personal security and is more dependent on the social identity constructs and relations between sub-national groups. In-group/out-group dynamics drive much of how people feel about their community’s security and their confidence in the stability and preservation of their freedom from want and freedom from fear. Disparities, inequities, and prejudice, real or imagined, between in- and out-groups can lead to degradation in political and economic security and almost invariably lead to conflict, as has been demonstrated by increased confrontational civil disturbances and homegrown violent extremism. Internal political security additionally determines community security where the government itself or a majority population oppresses a segment of the populace to the extent where external parties – nation-states, IGOs, and NGOs – feel obligated to respond under the principle of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) (Caballero-Anthony 2015; Straub 2013).
The Balkan conflicts and Libya are the most commonly thought of cases in which multinational forces interceded on behalf of an oppressed population to restore community security through mass atrocity response operations (MARO). Finally, state versus state aggressions and rivalries also come under the umbrella of external political security; however, they tend to fall more closely into the realm of community security. A commonly held definition of a state is politically autonomous areas unified by a common ethnicity, culture, and language. This national identity often puts it into conflict with other states over territory and resources, particularly with those sharing common borders.
The human security paradigm comprises various sociological elements that encompass a myriad of social science disciplines ranging from human rights to international and strategic studies. Human security consists of seven primary subcategories interconnected in depicting global vulnerabilities and threats to people’s ability to preserve and safeguard their survival, livelihood, dignity, and daily life. The evolving hypothesis addressing the human security paradigm challenges nation-states, IGOs, and NGOs to find alternatives to military intervention to solve national and human security issues. By delving into these alternative perspectives on what other factors and variables devolve into regional or international conflicts, instability, and suffering, the global community can provide more far-reaching and long-term security solutions free from want and free from fear.
Food, health, and environmental security can have dramatic and immediate impacts on human security and can often significantly influence other security elements such as economy, politics, and community. People can affect these security components for better or worse; however, there are still many instances driven by forces of nature such as weather, seismic events, or disease. Fear is the most significant source of instability and insecurity related to food, health, and the environment. Still, uncertain freedom from want is also a determining factor in these elements of human security.
Internal and external political security and economic security largely revolve around human constructs and imagined social identities to be more easily influenced by public involvement but are also impacted by uncontrollable acts of nature tied to those found in food, health, and environmental security. Thus, governance, human rights, and militarization are the primary driving factors in political security. Still, interactions and relationships with neighbors and the global community over various security issues also significantly determine political security conditions. Finally, poverty is the primary factor in economic security and dictates or conversely determines other security elements like food, health, and the environment.
Finally, when considering human security factors, personal and community security is the most readily identifiable and pervasive element. The clash of cultures has been notably prevalent since the Arab Spring uprisings. The subsequent instability and insecurity across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) pushed over a million migrants and refugees into Europe but has been a human constant since civilization began. Religious, cultural, ethnic, and language divergence between the migrants and host nation populaces resulted in increased crimes against persons, ethnocentric and nationalist violence, and terrorism. Through the prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery from personal and community security threats, to better address the other elements of human security providing freedom from want and freedom from fear.
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Ben Varlese is a former U.S. Army Mountain Infantry Platoon Sergeant and served in domestic and overseas roles from 2001-2018, including, from 2003-2005, as a sniper section leader. Besides his military service, Ben worked on the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq’s protective security detail in various roles, and since 2018, he has also provided security consulting services for public and private sectors, including tactical training, physical and information security, executive protection, protective intelligence, risk management, insider threat mitigation, and anti-terrorism. He earned a B.A. and an M.A. in Intelligence Studies from American Military University, a graduate certificate in Cyber Security from Colorado State University and is currently in his second year of AMU’s Doctorate of Global Security program.
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