Challenges and opportunities for defining and measuring human security

Non-refereed Journal Article

Owen, Taylor (2004) Challenges and opportunities for defining and measuring human security , Disarmament Forum 315–24.

As a concept that challenges the very core of the traditional security paradigm, human security has attracted strong critique. Prevalent among these many and often well-reasoned challenges are those that address its ambiguity. With the objectives of the security infrastructure widening well beyond the preservation of state integrity, critics rightly ask, what is and is not a security threat?

Addressing this concern directly must be a principle objective of human security proponents. Laissez-faire attitudes will undoubtedly lead to unclear policy directives and allow the dominant realist security paradigm to further dismiss the threats that fall outside of its narrow mandate. Here I will address three interrelated issues, the history and definition of human security, the measurement of human security, and the relationship between components of human security, such as human rights, and the broader concept. First, who has tried to define human security and what have they included as relevant threats? Within this section I will suggest that a hybrid definition, one that includes a broad range of threats but establishes a threshold of severity, is the most appropriate. Second, I will address the feasibility of empirically measuring human security. While not detailing a methodology here, I will argue that monitoring and empirically measuring are both possible and indeed critical to the normative future of human security. Third, I will use human rights abuses as an example of how a threshold-based definition sets criteria for the inclusion of some, but not all, threats in any different component of human security.

Download full text


Taylor Owen

Taylor Owen

PhD student in Geography at University of Oxford