Human Security

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Chapter 28

Human security
amitav acharya

Chap28.indd Spec:490

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• Introduction ·······································································································································492 • What is human security? ················································································································492 • Debates about human security······································································································494 • Dimensions of human security ······································································································496 • Promoting human security ·············································································································502 • Conclusion ··········································································································································504

Reader’s Guide
This chapter examines the origins of the concept of
human security, debates surrounding its definition
and scope, some of the threats to human security
in the world today, and international efforts to promote human security. It proceeds in four parts. The section, ‘What is human security?’, traces the origin
and evolution of the concept, and examines competing definitions offered by scholars and policy-makers. The next section reviews debates and controversies
about human security, especially over the analytic
and policy relevance of the notion, and the broad and

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narrow meanings of the concept (‘freedom from fear’
versus ‘freedom from want’). The third section examines some of the threats to human security today. While the concept of human security encompasses a
wide range of threats, due to lack of space, this section
will focus on the trends in armed conflicts as well as
the interrelationship between conflict and other nonviolent threats to human security, such as poverty, disease, and environmental degradation. The final section analyzes the international community’s efforts to promote human security and concludes by identifying the major challenges to promoting the notion of human

security today.

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492

amitav acharya

Introduction
The concept of human security represents a powerful, but
controversial, attempt by sections of the academic and
policy community to redefine and broaden the meaning of security. Traditionally, security meant protection of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states from
external military threats. This was the essence of the
concept of ‘national security’, which dominated security analysis and policy-making during the cold war period.
In the 1970s and 1980s, academic literature on security,
responding to the Middle East oil crisis and the growing awareness of worldwide environmental degradation, began to think of security in broader, non-military terms.
Yet, the state remained the object of security, or the entity that is to be protected. The concept of human security
challenges the state-centric notion of security by focusing
on the individual as the main referent object of security.

Human security is about security for the people, rather
than of states or governments. As such, it has generated
much debate. Critics wonder whether such an approach
would widen the boundaries of security studies too much,
and whether ‘securitizing’ the individual is the best way to address the challenges facing the international community from the forces of globalization. On the other side, advocates of human security find the concept to be

an important step forward in highlighting the dangers
to human safety and survival posed by poverty, disease,
environmental stress, human rights abuses, as well as
armed conflict. These disagreements notwithstanding, the
concept of human security captures a growing realization
that, in an era of rapid globalization, it must...
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