‘Human security’ vital for social development

Early last month, Copenhagen hosted the World Summit for Social Development to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. Leaders from about 120 nations, including Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, attended the meeting along with representatives of nongovernmental organizations and experts in related fields.

Although other international conferences involving the United Nations have been staged–the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the world conference on human rights in 1993 and the world population conference in Cairo in 1994–the Copenhagen summit was epoch-making in the sense that it was the first in the history of the world body and its predecessor, the League of Nations, to consider the issue of social development.

The holding of the U.N. social summit shows the concern that nations around the world harbor regarding the safety of the individual. Japan is now tackling this problem in reconstructing the area centering on Kobe following the devastating Great Hanshin Earthquake in January.

The Yomiuri Shimbun’s March 12 issue carried an article in which Murayama stressed in a speech in Copenhagen the need to extend more official development assistance for social development purposes. Murayama was quoted as saying that he would give priority to the well-being of individuals in carrying out social development plans.

The main topics at the Copenhagen summit were poverty, unemployment and social inequality, problems that can be described as “explosive to society” and a threat to the security of other nations. Unless people are freed from this threat and their safety is guaranteed, permanent peace cannot be achieved. Since this has been a common perception among nations, the U.N. Development Program used the unusual term “human security” in its 1994 report on social development. The term became the main theme of the Copenhagen summit.

Human security means that we should attach importance to people’s lives and respect their dignity. This is a global concept covering not only developing countries but industrialized nations as well.

When the United Nations was established, the concept of security comprised two factors: national security and public security. Nations were aware that without those two factors it would be impossible to achieve permanent peace.

But during the Cold War, the term “security” was restricted to mean national security. The term, in effect, meant preventing international conflicts, taking policies that would make international borders secure, and building up military power for defense purposes.

We are now living in an age when international movements of people and goods are becoming freer, the service and capital markets are being liberalized, and information and telecommunications networks are expanding at an extraordinary pace. Nations are becoming more dependent on one another.

At the same time, developing nations are still grappling with problems stemming from poverty and unemployment. Such problems are spreading beyond their borders and creating a “cold peace.” This is far from the affluent and peaceful world that people had expected with the end of the Cold War.

If this situation continues, personal security cannot be guaranteed, no matter how much a nation strengthens its military power and enhances its national security. This is the reason why emphasis should be shifted from national security to “human security.”

This concept should be introduced in regards to the reconstruction of the earthquake-devastated areas around Kobe and on Awaji Island and in working out antidisaster and crisis management measures.

Experts have pointed out that comprehensive measures, not regional or tentative steps, should be drafted, by taking all possibilities into account, including destruction of political and economic functions in the metropolitan area and damage to nuclear power plants. To devise a comprehensive plan, we must change our traditional mind-set and formulate new ideas on the basis of the “human security” concept.

The goal of reconstruction of earthquake-stricken areas, as well as the antidisaster and crisis management plans, is to protect life and property.

By discussing the many issues on the basis of this premise, the central and local governments, residents and volunteers should come up with some fruitful results.

The post-Cold War world seems as chaotic as ever. Yet, the new concept of “human security” that emerged at the U.N. social summit may become the key that will encourage developing and industrialized nations to cooperate and work out a future together.