What is Human Security?

Human security is a relatively new concept, but one that is now widely used to describe the complex of interrelated threats associated with civil war, genocide, and the displacement of populations.

The distinction between human security and the more traditional concept of national security is an important one. While national security focuses on the defense of the state from external attack, human security is about protecting individuals and communities from any form of political violence.

Human security and national security should be – and often are – mutually reinforcing. But secure states do not automatically mean secure peoples. Protecting citizens from foreign attacks may be a necessary condition for the security of individuals, but it is not a sufficient one. Indeed, during the last 100 years far more people have been killed by their own governments than by foreign armies.

All proponents of human security agree that its primary goal is the protection of individuals. But consensus breaks down over exactly what threats individuals should be protected from. Proponents of the “narrow” concept of human security, which underpins the HSRP’s research, focus on violent threats to individuals, while recognizing that these threats are strongly associated with poverty, lack of state capacity, and various forms of socio-economic and political inequity.

Proponents of the “broad” concept of human security articulated in the UN Development Programme’s 1994 Human Development Report, and the Commission on Human Security’s 2003 report, Human Security Now, argue that the threat agenda should be broadened to include hunger, disease, and natural disasters, because these kill far more people than war, genocide, and terrorism combined.

Although still subject to lively debate within the research community, the two approaches to human security are complementary rather than contradictory.