Foreign Policy Blogs

The Rise of “Human” Security


“Human Security Is The Primary Purpose Of Organizing A State In The Beginning.”
— Surin Pitsuwan, ASEAN

In the wake of the Arab Spring, and in light of the ongoing global economic disorder, world leaders would be well advised to examine their understanding of national security. Recent events paint a picture of national leaders who are wildly out of touch and hopelessly behind the principal national challenge of the 21st century – human security.

The Rise of “Human" Security

(Source: Newsweek)

In 2011, the world witnessed the sudden and total political implosion of a handful of states that up until recently were firmly in the hands of their autocratic rulers. There was much debate about how the warning signs and red flags were missed. Clearly, N. African leaders were out of touch and not able to sense the social fissures and stress points that indicated popular rage.

Though one of the core lessons of the Arab revolts is that super angry citizens now have virtual meeting grounds to vent, meet, organize and to act, the most memorable lesson of the revolts is that governments must provide for the legitimate needs of their people or face ouster. Authorities must quickly learn that protecting their people from state on state conflict or homeland attacks (i.e. Freedom of Fear), must be balanced with the human requirement for the basics, or what social scientists call “Freedom of Want” (think shelter, food, clean water etc.). In most societies, this need is satisfied when people are productively employed in the economy and basic goods/services are made available through a combination of social programs and a healthy private sector. Mubarak, Gadaffi, and other modern day pharaohs simply failed to effectively work with the ‘whole of society’ to deliver on their respective “Freedom of Want” promises.

The Rise of “Human" Security

From Pharaoh to Prisoner (Source: Newsweek)

As we prepare to start a new year, basic food prices across the globe remain at historically high levels and although great strides have been made in the anti-poverty fight, the numbers are still staggering.

  • Approximately 9.2 million children under the age of 5 die each year, mostly from preventable diseases. That’s approximately 25,000 children each day.
  • 69 million children are out of school around the world, a figure equivalent to the entire primary school-aged population in Europe andNorth America.
  • Food prices have risen 83 percent since 2005, disproportionately affecting those in poverty who spend a higher percentage of their income on food.
  • Daily disasters. HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria—all treatable diseases—claim the lives of over 8,000 people every day in Africa due to lack of access to health care.
  • More than 800 million people go to bed hungry every day…300 million are children.

(Statistics are from the World Bank and the ONE Campaign)

To make matters worse, the global economic recovery continues to stall with very little sign that industrialized nations have a solid game plan to get the ball closer to the goal line. Sadly, even with this bleak economic reality, developing nations today account for the majority of arms purchases in the world, buying arms supplied mainly by the permanent UN Security Council members—the USA, UK, France, Russia, and China. Yes, I know what you’re thinking.

So while the international community and mainstream media focus their collective attention on containing the nuclear genie, nations that can least provide human security for their people purchase conventional weapons from the countries that claim to want world peace and social development.  Perhaps all should heed a warning from Thomas Jefferson who once said, “When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. When the government fears the people, there is liberty”.

Presidents and Prime Ministers — Fear And Respect Your People!



Oliver Barrett

Oliver Leighton-Barrett is a multi-lingual researcher and a decorated retired military officer specializing in the inter-play between fragile states and national security matters. A former U.S. Marine, and Naval aviator, Oliver is a veteran of several notable U.S. military operations, to include: Operation Restore Hope (Somalia); and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan and Philippines). His functional areas of focus include: U.S. Diplomacy; U.S. Defense; and Climate Change. His geographic areas of focus include: Latin America and the Caribbean and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).