Canada and Norway have promoted 'human security' as a theme of foreign policy. It is associated with the humanitarian, pre-eminently progressive, values of the 1990s and is useful as a distinctive mark of the foreign policies and strategies of smaller powers. It enables them to exert disproportionate influence on the events of the day in international regimes inside and outside the UN. 'Embedded humanitarianism' has become an established perspective of policy agendas. It is necessary to explore the relationship between 'human security' and 'human development' as interdependent processes. One key is the category of personal vulnerability, whether caused by war, natural disasters or poverty. The essence of human security should be to reduce vulnerability by developing norms regarding institutions as well as programmes to prohibit weapons, promote human rights and protect the weakest. 'Vulnerability' may prove a useful starting point for developing 'human security' as a policy concept. Further clarification is needed to establish whether it is a vision or an instrument of foreign policy.