Peace Theme : Human Security

Peace Theme : Human Security
By Paul Heinbecker

The components of human security are not new. Victimization and impunity are as old as time, infectious diseases as old as the plague. Crime, drugs and terrorism are age-old phenomena. What is new is globalization – the extent to which our fates have become intertwined with those of people who previously would have remained isolated from us. Also new is the fact that most wars are now intrastate. Ninety percent of the casualties are civilians, predominantly women and children.

The first current use of the term “human security” that I am aware of appeared in the 1993 and 1998 U.N. Human Development Reports, authored by the late Dr. Mahbub El-Haq. Over the past year or so, Canada has begun to conceptualize the operational content of human security. This article will illustrate what we have been doing.

Human Security: What Is It?

By our definition, human security:

– takes individual human beings and their communities, rather than states, as the measure of security;

– recognizes that the security of states is essential, but not sufficient, to ensure individual well-being;

– considers threats from both military and non-military sources (e.g. intrastate war, small arms proliferation, human rights violations, crime and drugs);

– regards the safety and well-being of individuals as integral to achieving global peace and security;

– complements, but does not substitute for, national security;

– brings new tools to the repertory of diplomacy – e.g. internet communications and non-traditional alliances between governments, NGOs and INGOs (such as the International Committee of the Red Cross).

The concept establishes a new standard for judging the success of international security policies: the ability to protect people, not just safeguard states. It may even require protecting people from their states. It considers both military and non-military threats to safety and well-being; and it points to human rights; democracy; and human development as key building blocks of security.

Is human security an alternative to state security? The short answer is no. States are not passé. Order requires rules, rules require authority, and authority is exercised on behalf of people by states. In fact, disintegrating states appear to be as dangerous to their own citizens as tyrannies.

The risk of inter-state conflict is not going to disappear soon. Just glance at the situation in South Asia, the Korean Peninsula, the South China Sea, Iraq, the Balkans, the Caucasus, and Central Africa ! Moreover, diplomacy is most effective when backed up by military capability. The network of treaties and international institutions is a necessary but not sufficient basis to ensure others’ and ultimately our own, security.

Why is Canada Promoting This?

The human security concept is relevant to Canadians. Sooner or later, directly or indirectly, others’ insecurity becomes our problem.

Canada is one of the most secure countries – and one of the world’s most open societies in terms of flows of goods, people, ideas, and capital. Its openness creates prosperity and vulnerabilities. Drug trafficking, organized crime, environmental pollution, terrorism, and contagious diseases are among the threats to human security, and Canadians expect protection from these threats, and from conflicts that pose indirect threats to Canadians’ values.

Poverty alleviation is important, as is reform of the international financial system. But human security is more than a question of money. Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, for example, are not among the poorest places on earth. Nor were conflicts there triggered by poverty, or even by economics. The greatest conflicts in this bloodiest of centuries have been waged between some of its richest people. This means that political approaches are also necessary.

To enhance security, we need to address both norm-building and practical problem-solving. The success of the Ottawa Treaty in banning anti-personnel mines was based on this two-pronged approach. The Treaty established a new humanitarian norm and also generated international cooperation to end the danger posed by landmines to individuals in war-ravaged areas. We are taking this approach in curtailing the export of small arms and light weapons. We would like to see a ban on trade in these military weapons to non-state entities – to keep these weapons out of the hands of drug gangs and twelve-year-old child soldiers.

Another political objective is to establish new human rights standards. There are many opportunities to advance this goal, including the forthcoming International Labour Organisation Convention on the most exploitative forms of child labor and the Optional Protocol to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child on recruitment into armed forces. Another political approach is to increase the capacity of the civilian police peacekeepers, and non-governmental organizations to rebuild security. We emphasize the roles of human rights monitors and civilian police in peace operations, the disarming, demobilizing, and reintegration of ex-combatants, and the protection of civilians in armed conflict, especially women and children.

A final aspect of the political agenda is to strengthen the capacity of societies to manage conflict without resorting to violence by training legislators, jurists, public servants, military officers, and journalists. These are goals of the Canadian Peace building Initiative.

This leads to the second reason for advancing the human security concept – that it appeals to long-standing Canadian values of tolerance, democracy, and respect for human rights. Canadians are moved by humanitarian impulse, not by calculations of real politik.

In Foreign Policy in the Fall of 1990, Joseph Nye defined “soft power” as getting other countries to want what you want. It is “co-optive power” in contrast to “command power.” Just as human security complements national security, soft power complements hard or military power. In Nye’s analysis, ideals matter, as does success. Nye quoted the European scholar Ralf Dahrendorf’s observation that it is relevant that millions of people around the world would like to live in the United States. Dahrendorf’s point is also true for Canada; millions more people would come if we could accommodate them.

Canadians cannot claim perfection, but we have built a society that benefits from diversity. For five of the last six years, the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) has put Canada at the top of its Human Development Index. It is this respect by others that underwrites our soft power. The human security agenda plays to our advantage. If we want to promote tolerance and reconciliation, it helps to be a democratic, bilingual, multicultural country. If we want to co-opt other governments to our norm-setting humanitarian agenda, it helps to have a solid record of multilateralism.

Where Does Human Security Go From Here?

We need to work with other countries and maximize each others’ resources. In this regard, we are currently testing a couple of strategies. The first is to establish close working partnerships with a few other countries that share our outlook. The first such partnership, with Norway, is given substance through the Lysoen Declaration for a Human Security Partnership, which Minister Axworthy and his Norwegian counterpart Knut Vollebaek signed. Norway and Canada share many of the same comparative advantages listed above, and many of the same values.

In September, we met in New York with Norway and other countries to define an agenda on small arms, on protecting civilians in armed conflict, on strengthening humanitarian law, on preventing conflict, and on Peace building more generally. We also plan to work cooperatively with NGOs. The validity of a human security agenda and the credibility of a government-NGO coalition were boosted by the success of the Ottawa process to ban landmines and by the negotiation in Rome to create an International Criminal Court.


There is more to Canadian forgein policy than I Have mentioned here – from promoting hemispheric-wide free trade to revitalizing the Euro-Atlantic security partnership; from contributing to the reform of the international financial system to responding to the Asian and Russian meltdowns, from peacekeeping to peace making, to preserving the nuclear non-proliferation system. Canada’s human security agenda has become part of a comprehensive foreign policy.

Mr. Heinbecker is Assistant Deputy Minister in Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. This article is based on his address to a conference on “Global Reach: Influencing the World in Different Ways,” organized by the Canadian Institute for International Affairs.

Handling Human Security



Ministers and representatives of the Governments of Austria, Canada, Chile, Ireland, Jordan, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Switzerland, Thailand, and Norway met at Bergen and Lysoen, Norway on May 19-20, 1999 to address human security issues. South Africa participated as observer.

The first day was an open meeting. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), H.E. Mrs. Sadako Ogata delivered a keynote speech, emphasizing that refugees and internally displaced persons are a significant symptom of insecurity. From a refugee perspective there is an urgent need to address the issues of human security comprehensively, both during and after conflicts.

Mrs. Ogata asked how the international community lets conflicts simmer until both “hard” and “soft” means seem inadequate. She called for a more timely, yet gradual and stratified approach, based on the idea of a “ladder of options” to be implemented before crises precipitate. A range of “medium” alternatives, such as providing training and support, could apply to refugee situations and other situations of insecurity.

Mrs. Ogata also emphasized the need for programs in post-conflict situations. She pointed out that the UNHCR, together with the World Bank, the U.N., and donor governments, are exploring ways to improve funding arrangements during the transition from a humanitarian crisis to reconstruction and long-term development.

Safety is the hallmark of freedom from fear, while well-being is the target of freedom from want. Human security and human development are thus two sides of the same coin, mutually reinforcing and leading to a conducive environment for each other.

The international organizations created by states to build a just and peaceful world order, above all the United Nations, must promote sustainable development. Here are some of the ideas that emerged from the consultations .


International cooperation between like-minded countries within regions and within the United Nations, is essential. This should include international financial institutions.

The threats to human security differ in different regions of the world, as do the resources to address those threats. Accordingly, a flexible framework of cooperation is required.

Elements of an Agenda

The following challenges and responses were identified:

1. Anti-Personnel Landmines:

Rid the world of them by:

– promoting the Declaration of Maputo;

– promoting the universalization and ratification of the Convention;

– ensuring effective reporting in support of the Transparency Mechanism;

– promoting partnerships with non-governmental organizations;

– facilitating mine action responses to urgent humanitarian needs such as Kosovo as to enable the safe return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their homes.

2. Small Arms:

– Intensify efforts against the accumulation and uncontrolled spread of small arms by:

– focusing on both licit and illicit small arms and light weapons;

– welcoming the work of the U.N. Panel of Governmental Experts on Small Arms and supporting the decision of the U.N. General Assembly to convene an international conference on this problem, to be held no later than 2001;

3. Children in Armed Conflict:

Address the needs of children in armed conflict by:

– ensuring that aid programs address their needs and by supporting the relevant U.N. agencies, such as UNICEF and UNHCR, and the ICRC;

– following up commitments made by governments to the U.N. Secretary General’s Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict, as well as supporting the advocacy work of the Special Representative;

– promoting the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child and improving international standards by the adoption of an Optional Protocol on Involvement of Children in Armed conflict;

– encouraging enforcement of these standards by all armed forces or groups;

– developing partnerships with governments and civil society organizations to develop creative strategies;

– working toward eliminating this form of child labour;

– facilitating the reintegration in society of former child soldiers.

4. International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law:

Strengthen international humanitarian and human rights law by:

– ensuring that the 27th Red Cross Conference revitalizes commitment to humanitarian law and compliance with Geneva Conventions and protocols;

– monitoring the implementation of humanitarian and human rights law, including by using the International Fact-Finding Commission;

– promoting enforcement of the rules of International Humanitarian Law by all armed forces or groups;

– advancing discussions on standards within international law that apply in all situations at all times;

– encouraging human rights training for peacekeeping forces and related personnel;

– cooperating in the recruitment, training, and deployment of human rights experts for field operations;

– promoting human rights education.

5. Criminal Court:

Seek speedy implementation of the Rome Statute establishing an International Criminal Court;

6. Exploitation of Children:

Strengthen cooperation in the fight against sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography through the internet.

7. Safety of Workers:

Hold entities accountable for intentionally directing attacks against humanitarian workers in territory under their control.

8. Conflict Prevention:

Strengthen the capacity of the United Nations and regional organizations to develop cooperative strategies for conflict prevention.

9. Transnational Crime:

Develop an effective framework within the U.N. system to combat transnational organized crime, in particular through completing the negotiations of a Transnational Organized Crime Convention and its protocols by the Year 2000.

10. Resources for Development:

Fulfill the target at the Copenhagen Summit for donor countries to allocate 0.7 percent of their GNP to official development assistance (ODA).

The Lysoen Conference was hosted and chaired by the Norwegian Foreign Minister.