Graduate School of International Studies
The gravest threats facing most people in the world these days are not related to the danger of war, whether interstate or civil, but rather are linked to famine (hunger), pestilence (diseases and pandemics), disasters (both natural and manmade), and extreme poverty. These threats are also interrelated, with considerable spillover between them. The global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and growing awareness of the challenges to mankind from the natural environment, as well as from mankind to the biosphere, have demonstrated that the old, state-centric models of security are insufficient to address the contemporary threat environment.
Those states among the most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic have included many of the militarily mighty and nuclear armed. So military expenditure and capabilities, while potentially providing national security through defense or deterrence with regard to threats posed by other states, have no bearing upon the provision of security from non-traditional security (NTS) threats. At the same time, with regard to systemic security, these states are among the greatest contributors to climate change, thereby undermining environmental security considerations. Thus, security is increasingly an essentially contested concept in terms of referent object, the scope of issues covered, and with regard to policy prescription for actors. New thinking on security has come to the fore, with input from academics, and from practitioners in international organizations (IOs) and middle-power states.
In policy terms, the quest for security is the attempt to secure freedom from existential threat for a referent object, whether state, international system, individual, or biosphere. Each of these referent objects faces an expanding multitude of threats, no longer limited to that of violent conflict. Conceptualizations of security in the academic and policy communities need, therefore, to embrace a comprehensive understanding of security.
Human security, a multi-disciplinary paradigm for understanding global vulnerabilities at the level of individual human beings, focuses on providing vulnerable individuals and groups with safe havens, free from fear, and free from want. Thus, there is a close relationship between human security envisioned as the protection of persons, and human development as the provision of basic human needs. Meanwhile, environmental security is a policy area in which all the classes of political actor interact; both affected by and able to affect significant elements of the paradigm. It is of growing importance in absolute terms (the biosphere is increasingly endangered by human activity), relative terms (when compared with other security conceptualizations), and academic terms.
National insecurity can divert resources from human development, distort budgetary allocations, leaving little for human- centered development, and exacerbate both distributive injustice and environmental degradation. Human insecurity can lead to the generation of refugees, separatists, insurgents, or terrorists, increasing national insecurity. Environmental degradation can also pose national security challenges through the intervening variables of human insecurity and climate refugees. Health crises impact the socio-economically most vulnerable populations, serving as a health insecurity multiplier. At the same time, COVID-19, and government responses to it, have served as a poverty multiplier.
Researchers have uncovered a link between pollution and the severity of the impact of COVID-19. Furthermore, concerns are emerging over the huge amount of non-biodegradable waste being produced, used, and discarded, in terms of masks and PPE. Finally, the poor are most vulnerable to the consequences of environmental degradation, poverty often precludes sustainable development practices, and natural disasters are exacerbated by environmental degradation. Thus, vicious cycles of insecurity exist beyond the reach of state-centric security models and policymaking.
In order to break these vicious cycles of insecurity spillover, resilient communities must be constructed from the bottom up in harmony with local values and nature, rather than the top down and imposed through national security and development policy platforms, which focus on the domination of nature. Such an approach also requires a focus on international cooperation rather than nationally going it alone.