Human Security and Development: Conceptual Critiques and Policy Implications

Led by J. Peter Burgess
Dec 2005 - Jun 2007
Uttam Kumar Sinha, IDSA, J. Peter Burgess and Åshild Kolås, PRIO
Project period:  December 2005 – June 2007

In the post-Cold War era, traditional military-political interstate security concerns have increasingly been replaced by non-traditional intrastate, transnational and global concerns such as the depletion of non-renewable resources, population pressure, pollution, environmental degradation, poverty and social inequality, epidemics such as HIV/AIDS, transnational crime, terrorism and civil strife. Some of these non-traditional issues have found their way into the security agendas of states. The concept of human security captures this trend, and encourages a leap of consciousness in security thinking. However, there is as yet little consensus on the policy relevance of the concept, especially in the ‘human security-development nexus’, which defines the linkages between socio-economic development and human security. This project examines critiques of the concept of human security, and suggests policy implications of these critiques. Norway and Canada are among the countries that have adopted human security as a part of their new foreign policy premise. According to critics from Asian countries, the concept has been overly driven by the West. The approach of this project is to identify differences in how human security challenges are viewed from the different perspectives of South Asia, Northern Europe and North America, and to ground the concept in Indian realities.

Based on a comprehensive analysis of conceptual critiques, the project examines how a vision of human security might be made policy relevant in the Indian context. The challenges faced by policymakers are daunting, and however it is defined, human security is an extremely complex and elusive goal. How can the goal of human security be converted into useful strategic policy instruments for governments? Finally, with the different perspectives in mind, is it possible to agree on universal standards and norms for human security at the international level, and what might these encompass?

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