Human Security in World Affairs: Problems and Opportunities (2nd edition)

Human Security in World Affairs: Problems and Opportunities (2nd edition)

Alexander Lautensach and Sabina Lautensach, Eds.

Paul Bellamy, Malcolm Brown, Klaus Bosselmann, Chris Buse, Kevin P. Clements, Donald Cole, Thomas Ditzler, Richard Gehrmann, Kathryn A. Gwiazdon, Patricia Hastings, Ronnie Hawkins, Anna Hayes, Christopher LaMonica, Samantha Maesel, Jeffrey Morton, Margot Parkes, Richard Plate, Donald Spady, Hennie Strydom, Cherry Tsoi, Franke Wilmer, and John Wilson

BCcampus & University of Northern British Columbia

Victoria, BC, Canada



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Human Security in World Affairs: Problems and Opportunities (2nd edition) is published jointly by BCcampus Open Education and the University of Northern British Columbia.

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The attached style guide was used in the copy editing of this book: Style Sheet for Human Security in World Affairs, 2nd ed [Word file].


List of Figures

Figure 3.1 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Figure 8.1 Schematic representation of interactions between political leadership, political responsibility and new concepts of citizenship and their contributions towards hybrid systems of governance with higher levels of accountability, legitimacy and effectiveness.
Figure 9.1 Map of Mumbai.
Figure 9.2 Carbon dioxide emissions per capita vs. GDP per capita, 2016.
Figure 9.3 Top 100 companies ‘killing the planet.’
Figure 9.4 The worldwide distribution of GHG emissions reflects the global corporate hegemony.
Figure 9.5 Personal choices to reduce your contribution to climate change.
Figure 10.1 Curve model for growth of a population.
Figure 10.2 Population dynamics in fisheries.
Figure 10.3 Reinforcing feedback.
Figure 10.4 Exponential growth.
Figure 15.1 Paulo Freire (1977).
Figure 16.1 Human security and environmental.
Figure 17.1 The relationships between environmental, social, cultural and economic change in producing health impacts of resource development.
Figure 17.2 Changes in industrial land use across Northern British Columbia.
Figure 17.3 Emerging fields of environmental public health practice linking the health of humans, animals and ecosystems.


List of Tables

Table 1.1 Three pairs of scenarios represent the scope of possible futures for human security.
Table 3.1 Contradictions within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Table 6.1 Documents that codify International Humanitarian Law.
Table 7.1 Identified stateless persons, 2005-2017.
Table 7.2 Hosting countries of refugees, 2017.
Table 7.3 Major origin countries of refugees, 2017.
Table 7.4 Number of refugees and peoples of concern, 2000 – 2017.
Table 9.1 Comparison of global warming by 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius (° C).
Table 9.2 Estimated economic losses due to the impact of climate change in Mumbai.
Table 14.1 Internal vs. external focus on reasons for developmental woes.
Table 17.1 Examples of integrative imperatives to be addressed in health security research and practice.
Table 21.1 Comparison of obstacles and solutions towards effective human security regimes at the global and national/regional levels.
Table 21.2 Major risks to watch for each pillar of human security as discussed in this book.



Preface to the Second Edition

Dear Reader,

Welcome to this second edition of our textbook on human security!

This book, first published in 2013 by Caesarpress, is an experiment in several respects. To our knowledge, it is still the first and only academic textbook that addresses the subject in its full transdisciplinary range. After consultation with the authors it was decided to make this second edition an openly licensed publication, to ensure equitable access and wide distribution. As the chapters address a diverse range of disciplines and topics, it would have been counterproductive to oblige readers to purchase the entire volume if their interest focuses only on a subset of chapters. Every chapter will still be subject to periodical updating by its author(s), which ensures that up-to-date coverage will continue.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, interest in human security concerns has expanded, and we trust that this book can address the diverse questions that readers might have – for example: How can this global experience (the first of its kind) be best used to develop better cooperation and coordination regimes among the international community? What are the chances of another pandemic soon? How can developing and developed countries find the best ways to recover from the environmental, health-related, economic and political impacts of COVID-19? What kinds and extents of security can we realistically aim for at this stage? Who are ‘we’ in terms of individuals, communities, regions, countries and allied groups of countries – and how can we conduct and maintain adequate negotiations on the subject?

Readers will find that the chapters in this book go a long way towards pointing them in productive directions, by providing information and arguments but also by stimulating further questions and productive discussion. If there is one factor that the future of human security most depends on, it is the continuation and expansion of informed, open discussions. Some of the challenges the Anthropocene is posing are likely to severely put into question the security of populations and humanity as a whole, if not in terms of bare survival then certainly as far as the quality of our survival is concerned. Without timely, intense and informed discussions that include all concerned parties in an equitable manner, our chances look to be slim indeed. We hope that this book will contribute in the best ways that an academic text can.

On behalf of the chapter authors, and everybody else who contributed to this project, we welcome you once again!

Enjoy the reading, and be safe,
Alexander K. Lautensach & Sabina W. Lautensach (Editors)
10 June 2020

Preface to the First Edition of Human Security

Two decades after human security emerged in the literature and began to inform the political agenda of countries, the people who engage with the topic still tend to be experts with diverse academic backgrounds who share a concern about the well-being of human individuals. They gravitated towards the field autodidactically, exploring relevant aspects and communicating about them with like-minded colleagues. Their diverse disciplinary perspectives range from human ecology to political theory, from cognitive psychology to clinical medicine, from cultural anthropology to international law – to name just a few of the fields represented in this text. In the absence of sufficient venues for cross-disciplinary communication that diversity of backgrounds and plurality of discourses often hinders cooperation among human security analysts and slows their progress in addressing important challenges collaboratively. The various unidisciplinary approaches to human security have also left some important fields under-represented.

Surveying the rapidly expanding literature on human security we are impressed by the abundance of contributions while at the same time feeling apprehensive about how little of that wealth of insights has actually contributed towards improving human security in the real world. We suspect that one reason for the shortfall may lie in theoretical misconceptions about reconciling the concepts of security, development, growth, and sustainability. Again what adds to the problem is that most authors do not address all four of those concepts together, that indeed the four concepts are ‘owned’ by different fields of specialisation. Another observation that led us towards the concept of this textbook is that to our knowledge no textbook exists that is designed as a resource for teaching about human security in the didactic style of an effective learning aid.

We hope that this book will change all that. At this juncture in history humanity faces new challenges, unprecedented in kind and in magnitude, that jeopardise its security and possibly its continued existence. Earth’s policy makers as well as all its citizens need to make informed, responsible decisions that determine the fate of many generations. The more informed those decisions are, the more effective and sustainable the resulting policies can be, and the more secure our collective future can become. Responsible decision-making means that the interests of all affected parties and individuals are taken into account equitably and to the best of our abilities. Irresponsible decisions tend to be contested, misinterpreted, or ignored which ultimately contributes little to people’s security.

Education systems around the globe are beginning to grapple with the challenge of empowering young people to make those decisions. Even at the university level, an increasing number and diversity of interdisciplinary programs are changing the profile of graduates from unidisciplinary specialist to multitalented, flexible, concerned generalists – people who share the necessary knowledge, skills and dispositions to make the appropriate kind of difference. This text is designed to help students become that sort of graduate, through the following objectives.

  • Provide students with a transdisciplinary overview of human security issues. Each chapter in this text is written by a different author or team but focuses on common issues in human security. Some chapters introduce the student to an aspect of human security through the lens of a single discipline. Other chapters summarise diverse viewpoints and distil from them analytical conclusions that rely on a plurality of disciplines. As a result, the student develops a broad familiarity with the most pressing challenges to human security through a kaleidoscope of perspectives and ways of knowing.
  • Introduce students to diverse conceptual models and analytical approaches about human security. Through the wide diversity of subject disciplines represented in the different chapters the student becomes familiar with, and learns to compare, different ways of thinking about security and different ways of communicating about it. The overall message for the student is twofold: Analysing security challenges productively requires in-depth familiarity with the investigative approaches of more than a single discipline; and producing effective solutions relies on the synergistic application of multiple disciplines that are integrated in a pragmatic and eclectic fashion.
  • Inform students about major sources of human insecurity, both in the present and as part of probable futures. Comprehensive models of human security indicate that sources of insecurity are located in the sociopolitical, economic, ecological, and health-related aspects of human existence. Students will learn to apply those diverse lenses to some of today’s most pressing security concerns, including global poverty, international crime, epidemics and pandemics, peak oil, violent conflict, scarcity of food and fresh water, climate change, and ecosystem deterioration. Established trends will be extrapolated and combined to synthesise probable visions of the future, given the understanding that change is a certainty.At the same time the many unsustainable and unsafe policies and practices that have led to the status quo make directed reforms imperative. Underlying those manifestations of crisis and counterproductive policies the student will recognise the real cause for the security crisis: Homo sapiens – our numbers, our behaviour, our thinking, and our values and beliefs.
  • Examine the tension and complementation between the local and global dimensions of human security issues. Human security focuses on the concerns of the individual human being and of the communities they live in. At the same time, many security challenges as well as workable solutions extend from the local to the global dimensions while their manifestations may vary among those dimensions. With the help of case studies and scenarios students will learn to examine human security issues along that continum and across several orders of magnitude. At the heart of this learning process lies the principle of inclusivity, stating that fair decisions must take into account the interests of all affected parties, both those alive and those yet to be born.
  • Promote creative thinking about strategies to address security challenges. The transdisciplinary approaches explicated in this text provide the student with the cognitive instrumentarium and the multiplicity of lenses to practice their skills of creative thinking and critical analysis and to apply them to search for causations, strategies, obstacles and solutions. Students will realise that the answer to a problem greatly depends on how the problem is framed and what language it is discussed in. Every piece of discourse contains implicit ideological elements – beliefs, values, ideals, etc. Students who learn to identify, analyse and evaluate such content will be much better prepared for complex decision-making tasks.Yet not all such alternative discourses are equally useful or meritorious; truly creative thinking must include metacognition – thinking about what modes of thinking can lead to us to the most desirable goals in the most productive ways. That reflective process must also extend into ethics to allow the student to distinguish which values, beliefs and ideals are conducive towards promoting human security and which are counterproductive. Only through such metaethical analysis can we transcend the paralysis of moral relativism.
  • Encourage the development of dispositions towards caring about human security and becoming actively involved in its promotion. Among the reasons why we believe this book will make a difference is that many of its chapters encourage the student to develop a personal disposition towards security issues, to take sides, and to become actively involved in solutions. We take seriously the educator’s duty to discuss competing values, attitudes, beliefs and ideals, and to encourage moral reasoning. Without giving the student opportunities to become familiar with and to discuss the moral dimension of academic knowledge it would be disingenuous to expect graduates to make the “right” decisions.

The Need for a Textbook on Human Security

We believe this to be the first book about human security that is specifically designed to be used for teaching. In other words, we endeavoured to structure it according to pedagogical priorities rather than reproduce the format of the standard academic monograph. In the light of the topicality of security issues worldwide we cnsider such a textbook to be long overdue. We also aimed to avoid representing an exclusively North American or European perspective as those already abound in the literature; the chapter authors of this text contribute perspectives from diverse cultures and geographical locations.

We perceive a very presssing need to address the implications of global ecological overshoot for human security. As we explain in the introductory chapter, those implications are largely neglected in the literature on human security, even though environmental security is now well represented. With respect to higher education, the potential benefits of this emphasis seem invaluable in terms of contributing to a transition towards sustainable practices.

Our third reason why we enageged in this project is that the boundaries between global terrorism and counter-terrorism are blurring. Given the might of the global military industrial complexes, it seems uncertain to what extent the threat of violent conflict originates with actual terrrorist groups or so-called rogue nations, and to what extent such threats are confabulated, staged, or exaggerated through the power wielded by influential groups with a vested interest in perpetuating violent countermeasures. When the cold war ended those groups must have regarded the prospect of a peace dividend with some concern and doubtlessly engaged in efforts to promote their distinct interests. No corporation worth its stock would have done otherwise. Yet this probable backstage circumstance highlights a grave threat to human security that is also borne out by some of the scenario studies described in the introduction: the co-opting of security policies and security assessments by corporate actors. This reinforces our preceding argument that traditional security thinking is becoming less and less adequate to address the challenges at hand.

Fourth, and perhaps not unconnected with the developments mentioned above, we observe an increasing number of governments with explicitly neoliberal agenda in developed countries (CAN, UK, NZ), some even with absolute majorities. To us this points to the possibility that the citizenry is increasingly goverened by people who listen to corporations more than they listen to the concerns of average individuals. Recent political developments in Canada at the time of writing clearly support that proposition. This lack of representation is accompanied in many places by increasing taxation or increasing deficits to finance corporate bailouts and incessant wars. The public seems ill prepared to oppose those counterproductive policies or even to recognise the underlying problems. In the absence of strong and independent media, education about human security seems to offer the only effective possibility for addressing those problems in the long term.

We would like to acknowledge the invaluable editorial help of Mr Joel Baerg without whom the manuscript might have languished for an inestimably longer time. We also thank everyone of our authors for their patience, their magnanimous acceptance of numerous editorial requests, and for the quality of their work. The University of Northern British Columbia supported the project with a publication grant for which we are grateful. Last but not least, we thank Ms Katherine Otte of Common Ground Publishers for her kind support and flexibility.

About the Organisation of the Chapters

(For an update on the second edition chapter layout, see This Textbook.)

Each chapter begins with a summary, the equivalent of the abstract of a journal article. It is followed by a list of learning outcomes & big ideas which inform the reader of the chapter’s objectives and suggest to the instructor possible criteria for assessment. The body text of each chapter is organised into numbered subsections to make it easy for the reader to locate specific topics.

At the end of each chapter a list of summary points allows for brief recapitulation and review and connects with the learning outcomes & big ideas specified at the beginning. A list of extension activities & further research follows for the benefit of students and instructors. They provide opportunities and guidance for pursuing important ideas beyond the confines of the chapters. Lastly, after a glossary of terms and definitions a list of further reading specifies which sources the authors of the chapters consider most beneficial for the reader. The bibliographic references from the chapters were pooled into a cumulative list at the end of the book.

Each chapter has undergone a thorough process of peer review and editing. Nevertheless, as editors we take full responsibility for any errors that may remain.

To the best of our knowledge this is the world’s first textbook of human security. We hope that students and instructors will find its use as gratifying as we found its conception.

Best wishes,
Sabina Lautensach & Alexander Lautensach
June 2012



Even though we had the first edition to build upon, this second edition turned out a steep learning experience for authors and editors alike. Partly that had resulted from numerous new developments in human security worldwide, but mostly it had to do with the new format of the book. Publishing online sure is different from publishing the old way! Nevertheless, or perhaps consequently, we enjoyed the process tremendously — thanks to the support of everybody involved.

We are greatly indebted to the chapter authors; their diligence and patience in the face of unexpected delays and extra requirements was much appreciated.

The publishing expert from BCcampus, Ms Lauri Aesoph, contributed invaluable support to the process, for which we are extremely grateful. Without her help this project would likely not have gotten off the ground in the first place.

We also wish to express our heartfelt gratitude to the two editorial assistants, Ms Sara Enns and Ms Walsham Tenshak, without whose expert academic proficiency a timely publication of this text would not have been possible.

We are also grateful to the University of Northern British Columbia and to BCcampus for their joint support as co-publishers of this textbook. We thank UNBC’s Centre for Teaching, Learning & Technology for supporting the editing with a publication grant, and to Mr Grant Potter for his frequent good advice and encouragement.

In our view, this project has come to exemplify synergy; the total exceeding the sum of its parts – not just in terms of chapter contents but primarily in its awesome team of human collaborators.

Alexander Lautensach & Sabina Lautensach



Alexander Lautensach and Sabina Lautensach

This introduction contains portions of writings published in the following works: Austrian Journal of South-East Asian Studies (2010) 3(2): 194-210; Australasian Journal of Human Security (2006) 2(3): 5-14; Sustainability (2012) 4(5): 1059-1073; Routledge Handbook of Global Environmental Politics, P.G. Harris (ed.) (2012). Further inspiration came from editorials in the Journal of Human Security.

Learning Outcomes & Big Ideas

  • Explain what human security can mean to different people and cultures, based on the history of the concept and an overview of the literature.
  • Apply comprehensive models of human security (such as the four-pillars model) to specific problems in human security and identify particular sources of insecurity.
  • Explain how the Anthropocene is changing interpretations of human security both in theory and in practice.
  • Differentiate between those goals of human security that depend on environmental security and those that do not.
  • Learn to develop a vision and a reasoned perspective on future possibilities for human security.
  • Become aware of the general range of possible futures for human security and evaluate new information in that context; make educated predictions about possible futures in the light of new information.


This second edition of our textbook of human security marks the 25th anniversary of the official emergence of human security as a guiding concept in world affairs. In contrast, international relations as a discipline is just over a century old, while the concern for human security has probably moved humanity since the dawn of sapience. From the beginning of modern statehood (i.e. 1648) as a guiding concept in sociopolitical affairs, security has been largely discussed within the context of state security. One ongoing challenge for advocates of human security, then, is to extract human security from under the conceptual umbrella of international relations, both within the academy and in public discourse. That has been a prominent goal behind both editions of this textbook. A second major goal arises from the tumultuous changes of 2019/20 that manifested as a worldwide protest movement in favour of making human security more sustainable, and in the first global pandemic that marks humanity’s transition to a sustainable future. This introduction sets the stage for the chapter topics as we briefly survey the history of the human security concept, which will be followed by a discussion of its current challenges and its future. Brief summaries of the chapter topics will be connected into that discussion.

Chapter Overview

1.1       Ontology of the Human Security Concept – Cross-cutting Themes

1.2       Current Challenges – New Questions

1.3       The Future of Human Security

1.4       This Textbook

Resources and References

Key Points

Extension Activities & Further Research

List of Terms

Suggested Reading


1.1 Ontology of the Human Security Concept – Cross-cutting Themes

In a rapidly changing world, a quarter century signifies a long time for the development of an idea. During that time human security has morphed into what we regard as a guiding narrative throughout the world. In the early 1990s it became increasingly clear that the end of the cold war would not be accompanied by an end to armed conflict but that instead the nature of violent conflict was changing, away from the traditional interstate wars of the past four centuries towards conflicts within states, fuelled by ethnic, religious or ideological divisions. States no longer seemed to be the only entities whose security mattered. Regions, communities, families and individuals can only feel secure if they have reason to believe that their continued functioning is not going to be threatened at every turn, and the state seemed no longer capable to guarantee that. Moreover, governments increasingly recognised that the security of the state largely depends on the security of its regions, communities, families and individuals, albeit not nearly all of the latter in an equitable fashion; and that financial income by itself constitutes an inadequate measure of that security.Those characteristics, as well as the close association between human security and some of the Sustainable Development Goals, were summarized in a keynote speech by Achim Steiner for the UNDP.

Although those notions came across as unconventional at the time, they were evidenced by the sporadic examples of states failing to fulfil their obligations as security guarantors, to the point where they threatened the security of their own citizens. The most appalling cases cumulated in genocide as exemplified by the Holocaust, the Cambodian killing fields, Rwanda, Syria and a sad long list of others throughout history, dating back long before we had a word for it. At the other end of the spectrum of state power lay examples of states that lost the capacity to assure their citizens’ security, as seen in today’s Somalia, Iraq, Myanmar and another sad long list. In between we see everyday examples of police brutality, government corruption, media censorship and unscrupulous resource grabbing. It became clear that a primary requirement for the security of human beings was not merely the absence of war but the absence of structural, cultural and personal violence (Galtung, 1969), and that the discipline of international relations as a field of endeavour cannot by itself deliver on those challenges. This was of course not a new idea; but somehow the transition out of the Cold War seemed the right time to express it in the form of a new model of security.

The idea of human security emerged centuries ago in the writings of Hobbes, Locke, Hume, and Rousseau which provided a raison d’être for the modern state as its prime guarantor. Thus, since the birth of the nation state with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 human security has been implicitly regarded as the primary reason for having a state in the first place (Pitsuwan, 2007). In 1968 Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson (1969, p. 43) proposed “… that the peace and security of people take priority over the sovereignty of states…” Historical developments, as alluded to above, also favoured that paradigm shift. Besides the collapse of the Soviet empire, globalization in its many manifestations turned people’s attention away from state security and from military threats and defences, towards a more cosmopolitan people-centered perspective, backed by the UN.

Human security as a concept began to gain recognition when it was publicized as the topic of the UN’s Human Development Report in 1994 (UNDP, 1994). Since then it has attracted increasing attention among theorists, policymakers, and, to a limited extent (as in Canada during the 1990s), voters. The UNDP’s Human Security Framework (Jolly & Ray, 2006) and a report for the UN Centre for Regional Development (Mani, 2002) summarise the influence of human security on UN policy. This influence took three forms: the idea that the primacy of citizens’ human rights not only obliges the state to protect them but that sometimes they be protected from state authority; the notion that the destitute situation of many people around the world necessitates decisive development efforts on the part of states (Thakur, 2010); and the realization that human security is too important and too complex an obligation to be left to national governments in isolation without the support of civil society.

In 2003 the UN Commission on Human Security, chaired by Sadako Ogata and Amartya Sen, reported that the world needed “a new security framework that centers directly on people” and that focuses on “shielding people from acute threats and empowering people to take charge of their own lives” (Commission on Human Security, 2003, p. iv). This goal of individual empowerment seems rather a long way removed from the traditional priorities of state security.

The Human Security Network, founded in 1998, at the time of writing includes twelve developed and developing countries worldwide (plus one observer), who contributed to the UNDP’s human security framework. Their relative emphases vary between the human rights focus (e.g. Norway, and the establishment of the International Criminal Court in The Hague) and the development focus (e.g. Switzerland, and formerly Japan). In recent years the Network has somewhat receded out of the public spotlight but its member countries continue to emphasise human security priorities on the international stage.

What seemed new about the concept was its shifted perspective, from the state as the subject and object of security policy to the human individual as the centre of security considerations – from state security to human security (Hampson et al., 2002; Tadjbakhsh & Chenoy, 2006). And since human beings, unlike states, are capable of sensations and emotions, human security was recognised as partly contingent on those particular states of mind that we tend to associate with human well-being. The UN’s various definitions since 1994 revolve around the three principles of  (a) freedom from fear, (b) freedom from want and (c) freedom to live in dignity (United Nations Human Security Unit, 2016; Annan, 2005). A working definition of human security, based on those principles and credited to David Hastings (2011), would be the attainment of physical, mental, and spiritual peace/security of individuals and communities at home and in the world – in a balanced local/global context. The subjective aspect embodied in the three principles dates back to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms (details in Chapter 2).

Those three principles are rooted in basic human needs, expressed, for example, in the Abraham Maslow’s (1943) taxonomy and Martha Nussbaum’s ten central capabilities (2011, pp. 33-34). They depend on variables that extend beyond what has traditionally been regarded as the political arena. This extension and broadening also marks the direction in which the human security concept has developed. Besides the absence of violent threats, some analysts began to include among the conditions for human security a relative safety from economic destitution, from acute infectious disease, minimum complements of safe fresh water, adequate nutrition, and protection from environmental degradation and disasters.

To address those concerns, a useful interpretation of human security must encompass the various dimensions or directions from which threats can emerge, as mentioned above. To address that requirement, the four pillars model of human securitywas proposed (Lautensach 2006). The first pillar consists of the traditional area of military/strategic security of the state and its rule of law; the second is economic security, particularly as it is now conceptualised through heterodox models of sustainable circular or zero-growth economies; the third is public health as described by epidemiology and the determinants of community health and health care priorities; the fourth pillar is environmental security, primarily determined by the complex interactions between human populations and the source and sink functions of their host ecosystems. The four pillars adequately address diverse sources of threats, covering the same ground as the seven dimensions of the 1994 Human Development Report (UNDP, 1994) (economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community, and political security). Those pillars or dimensions interact with each other in a complex network of relationships that sometimes lead to unexpected and sudden effects.

Others were less prepared to extend human security into such ‘soft threats’ and preferred a more ‘narrow’ or ‘lean’ form of the concept. Critics from the Copenhagen School expressed the concern that the concept was running the danger of leaving nothing out, of labelling all human problems security issues; that such securitisation would be of little help for addressing practical challenges because the concept’s heterogeneity would prevent people from developing suitably coherent descriptive models that could inform effective policy priorities. In response, proponents of extended interpretations point to the fact that many more deaths occur annually from so-called ‘soft’ threats than from any threats to national security or armed violence; the fact that most of those deaths would have been preventable translates into an obligation. The 2020 pandemic offered further support for an inclusive model that integrates health, economics, politics and the environment.

Even before the pandemic, the dispute was swayed towards the inclusive view by two developments. First, the realisation dawned that since the mid-20th century the planet had been undergoing drastic changes that were increasingly recognised as pervasive, accelerating and partly irreversible; it was expressed in new conceptual models under names of ‘Great Acceleration’ (Steffen et al., 2015), ‘Safe Operating Space for Humanity’ (Rockström et al., 2009) and the new imperatives of Anthropocene era (Burtynsky et al., 2018). Those new circumstances are affecting the security of states as well as all those other pillars and dimensions. Secondly, the UN involved itself in successive global initiatives aimed at ensuring the sustainability of human security across all its pillars or dimensions. This began with the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015) and continued with their Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs; 2015-2030) (United Nations, 2015). The latter have gained recognition as a well-known example of the wide and ‘people-centred’ interpretation of human security informing a program for global development and sustainability that includes the empowerment of non-state actors, bypassing the securitisation debate.The 17 SDGs and their targets are summarised in the UN's  2015) Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The connections between the UN’s model of sustainable development and their interpretation of human security are expressed in the United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security. A high-level meeting on 19 February 2019 reiterated that commitment with Officials Stress Relevance of Human Security in SDG Era.

A further direction into which the human security concept was extended was the future. With the advent of the MDGs, and to a much greater extent with the SDGs, it became acceptable to officially express concern with the future well-being of people’s children, and, from middle age onward, with the well-being of their children, and so on. This long-term intergenerational concern has gradually come to inform the agenda of human security initiatives, as indicated by the emergence of sustainability in some form or other as a cornerstone of long-term human security (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987). More often than not, concern for human security is now synonymous with concern for sustainable human security (Lautensach, 2020).

No security provision can be effective unless it is sustainable. In fact, as we will argue below, many practices and policies contribute to people’s insecurity for the very reason that they cannot be sustained. Much of the heat in debates about sustainability comes from differences in definitions of sustainability and of sustainable development. The most widely popularized definition originated from a 1987 report of the UN’s World Commission on Environment and Development, the so-called Brundtland report (WCED, 1987, p. 24): Sustainable development is development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Unfortunately it gives no specifics on what those present needs might be, where to draw the line between needs and wants, how to comply with physical limits to growth (Meadows et al., 2004), nor how to address the implied intergenerational conflict. Because of those shortcomings, definitions based more explicitly on the ecological context seem preferable. Wackernagel and Rees (1996, p. 55) defined sustainability as “living off the income generated by the remaining natural capital stocks.” These definitions refer to ecological sustainability; other forms of sustainability that have been recognized in the literature include economic, cultural and social sustainability (Lautensach & Lautensach, 2012; Raworth, 2017). Elsewhere, one of us (Lautensach, 2020, p. 2) defined sustainability as “living within limits set by global geophysical processes, by ecological support structures and their capacities, by social groups and interactions, and by the basic needs of all living organisms, including Homo sapiens.” Regardless which definition one favours, it seems clear that sustainability cannot be omitted from any plan for long-term security as a necessary (though not sufficient) requirement. The SDGs and the Agenda 2030 (UN, 2015) represent clear evidence that sustainability, development and human security are part and parcel of the UN’s agenda. The waves of public protests in 2019/20 against irresponsible climate policies indicate growing popular demand for more proactive and forward-thinking governance.

The extended models strengthen the human security concept as they cover comprehensively the interdependent sources of insecurity that were traditionally considered under the purview of different academic specialties and were (and still are) studied largely in isolation from each other. The strength of the comprehensive approach lies in its capacity to detect and characterize synergistic effects and interactions among multiple causes. Moreover, the comprehensive approach allowed analysts to develop methods for assessing and verifying diverse aspects of human security as exemplified by the human security index (Hastings, 2011).

Notwithstanding those analytical strengths, human security represents an intellectual construct, informed by various idiosyncratic notions of well-being, and only in a small part is it informed by objective truths.As Thompson (1997, p. 146) noted, “people tend to feel secure not when all these risks have been eliminated (for that is impossible) but when they perceive them to be satisfactorily coped with.” But that normative aspect can also be regarded as another strength, namely that the value priorities informing its diverse components are shared widely, priorities that focus on the continued security and well-being of human individuals (Thakur, 2010). It seems indisputable that our decisions and actions are influenced to a great extent by our values, aspirations, ideals, attitudes, and unquestioned assumptions—all of which are culturally contingent.“All action is goal-directed and all goals value-selected” (Madsden, 1996, p. 80). This is equally true for people referred to as idealists as it is for so-called ‘realists.’ People care about human security because they identify with its underlying values and ideals—human welfare, human rights and dignity, justice, non-violence, and the abhorrence of suffering (Kaldor & Beebe, 2010). This reconceptualization as a set of moral norms is evident in several key policy documents of the United Nations. More detailed discussions of the epistemological basis of human security, its ethics and its intercultural interpretations are given in Chapter 2 and Chapter 4.

1.2 Current Challenges – New Questions

Inclusive interpretations of human security and related multidimensional models have attracted some criticism.We exempt from our discussion at this time all objections and criticisms that were made on the basis of hidden agenda. For example, the cacophony of critics that emerged after the Club of Rome published their first Limits to Growth in 1972 seemed to have been largely motivated by non-academic interests, as judging by the fact that not one of their objections has passed the test of time. We already addressed the charge of securitisation above. Like all complex theoretical models its application requires more data than are usually available; often this makes it difficult to assess specific problem situations and to design appropriate countermeasures. Moreover, the priorities and time frames of the different pillars sometimes differ or even clash. Viewed through the lens of sustainability, some of the SDGs contradict each other (see Chapter 3) and the UN’s blindness to ecological overshoot renders their aspirations unrealistic. While those difficulties are obviously real they can be interpreted as directions for further refinement of the concept, rather than providing grounds for its abandonment. The present state of the world displays a huge variety of threats to people’s security, only a small subset of which could be, and was, addressed through traditional security thinking and associated policies. This messy situation alone justifies giving new ideas a chance, and the extent of international support which the human security concept has received indicates an emerging general consensus along that line.

Admittedly, not all interpretations of human security are equally useful; some create more problems than they can solve. Development agencies operating under national, super-national or non-governmental umbrellas often interpret human security in biased ways that suit their missions–economic, libertarian, humanistic, and environmental – with varying degrees of success. The majority of the MDGs were not achieved by their target year of 2015, and so far the SDGs have met with mixed results as well (United Nations, 2019). Some of that shortfall probably results from a narrow interpretation of human security that relegates sustainability to a mere afterthought (as, for example, in McIntosh & Hunter, 2010) and interprets environmental degradation as a kind of natural disaster—a dangerous misconception as we will show below.

Another problem arises directly from the UN’s framing of human security as freedom from fear and from want (Annan, 2005). With the choices for satisfying wants waning, the alternative of selecting and prioritising among them becomes more urgent. Principles of security are thus paraphrased in negative terms as freedom from a condition that is evidently undesirable. Elsewhere (Lautensach, 2006; Lautensach & Lautensach, 2010) we suggested that such negative definitions are less helpful than they sound. Aside from the logical difficulties with negative definitions, ‘freedom,’ ‘fear’ and ‘want’ are not only highly subjective and emotive concepts, they tend to vary much over time; the extent to which individuals will experience those sensations depends on differential metabolic states, emotional states, situational and associative contexts, and especially cultural backgrounds. An absence of wants or needs can also be caused by an absence of self-confidence, a negative self-image or a defeatist self-concept. Nor is it possible to reduce those wants and needs to minimum requirements for survival. The SDGs have clarified those issues to some extent but they also raised new questions, as will be discussed in Chapter 3.

A more practical objection to those popular interpretations of human security states that the focus on freedoms blinds the observer to the problem of limits or of scale. In any given quasi-closed system (such as an island, a desert oasis, or a planet) the extent to which the human inhabitants’ needs and wants can possibly be satisfied depends on the population size (Royal Society, 2012). Other variables, such as individual affluence, life style, and technological sophistication also apply, but only temporarily. For example, the same freedom from water shortage for a region in sub-Saharan Africa can be achieved without much effort for a population of a few thousand while remaining utterly unachievable, or at least unsustainable, if that population ever measured in the millions—as they do now.

The advent of the Anthropocene  has profoundly and irreversibly changed our understanding of human security (Chapter 3) (Burtynsky et al., 2018). Anthropocene is the proposed name for a new era marked by profound environmental change caused by a single species – Homo sapiens. Essentially those changes amount to Earth having become a different planet – Eaarth, as Bill McKibben (2010) called it. Global anthropogenic change concerning climate (see Chapter 9), resources (Chapter 10), and biodiversity (Chapter 11 and Chapter 12) presents new threats, unprecedented in their extents if not their nature.The melting of Himalayan glaciers was still accelerating in June 2019 (Inside climate News 23 June). Imagine the implications for the human security of the millions who live in the valleys of the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra and other rivers fed by those glaciers. The Union of Concerned World Scientists have issued regular warnings since 1979, pointing to the further increases in human and ruminant populations, in meat production, in world GDP, in tree cover loss, in fossil fuel consumption, in air passengers, and in CO2 emissions; especially disturbing are the current signs of impact: climate change and warming, ocean acidification, extreme weather, sea level rise, burning of forests and melting of ice caps (Ripple et al., 2017).

In specific contexts (such as a pandemic), it is necessary to prioritise among those threats and identify major sources of insecurity in a community, or region, or increasingly even globally. Combining an attention to threats with the need for sustainability, Alkire (2002, p. 2) defined the objective of human security as “to safeguard the vital core of all human lives from critical pervasive threats, and to do so without impeding long-term human flourishing.” In the light of the Anthropocene, some regard ‘flourishing’ to no longer be a realistic choice of words, considering that our survival seems to be at stake. What used to be regarded as proactive agenda for preventive policies is increasingly developing into a rearguard battle with natural forces bent on rectifying our global ecological overshoot. For example, returning to the issue of water security (a topic that will be discussed further in Chapter 10), such source analysis would focus on possible causes of water shortage, on the systemic requirements for water security, the limits of the local system, and the current dynamics and trends in the region in order to arrive at long-term effective and sustainable policies. Almost always it turns out that population size governs the problem; every problem seems manageable while it is low and no remedy seems very helpful once it is too high (Ryerson, 2010).

The Anthropocene brings to our attention the prime importance of environmental security, defined as security from “critical adverse effects caused directly or indirectly by environmental change” (Barnett, 2007, p. 5). Heterodox economists, human ecologists and most indigenous cultures worldwide have long understood that all human enterprise takes place and depends on ecological support structuresEcological support structures include ecosystems, the structural relationships within and among them, biomass, biogeochemical cycles and other homeostatic mechanisms (Wackernagel & Rees, 1996, p. 35). See discussions in Chapter 3, Chapter 9 and Chapter 12. with limited capacities for supplying resources and for recycling wastes. In that we are no different from other animals. What distinguished our species and its immediate ancestors during the past million years or so was a proclivity for expanding our habitat, for colonising diverse environments by adapting to them and by modifying them to our needs (Rees, 2004; see Chapter 3 for a time line).

As noted by numerous authors (e.g. in Heinberg & Lerch, 2010, and in Chapter 3), that proclivity is now for the first time no longer working in our favour. By modifying almost every ecosystem on the planet, by extracting and processing resources in ever more complex ways, and by harnessing diverse energy sources to great effect we succeeded in propagating far beyond the numbers of other medium sized omnivorous mammals. Even by the 1980s our species appropriated over 40% of the total biomass annually produced on Earth (Vitousek et al., 1986); three decades later that amount has increased further (Bar-On et al., 2018). As humans introduce competitor species, modify ecosystems, deplete habitats, and modify landscapes and climates, our environmental impact has driven hundreds of thousands of species into extinction. Our limited skills at managing ecosystems could not prevent the ‘trophic downgrading’ of many systems into less complex stable states with fewer species (Estes et al., 2011). Biologists are now referring to the ‘sixth extinction,’ a massive loss of species that resembles past cataclysms in the Earth’s history but is proceeding much faster, at five to 74 species per day and still accelerating (Kolbert, 2014). The tragedy in this development lies not just in the irreversible loss of life forms that took millions of years to evolve; because we are part of the web-like communities of species, subject to dependencies from which no species can be exempt, the loss of biodiversityThe biodiversity of a region (or planet) consists of the number of species in its biotic communities and the diversity of genetic variants within each species. threatens our very own security (see Chapter 12).

To paraphrase the words of Ursula LeGuinn, the relationship of humanity to the Earth resembles that of an infant to its mother, simultaneous utterly dependent and utterly exploitative. This notion seems as self-evident as it remains controversial; it does not sit well with people who would rather believe that populations and economies can grow unencumbered by physical limits. That belief, referred to as cornucopianism (Ehrlich & Holdren, 1971), still dominates the rhetoric of election campaigns, neoclassical economic models, and even humanistic programs for development aid. Rhetoric and unscientific beliefs aside, all living organisms depend on the services of their host ecosystems and are susceptible to their limitations. It was for this simple reason that Norman Myers (1993) referred to environmental security as the “ultimate security.”

Overshoot directly threatens human security through biological control mechanisms. In the case of the human species the major control mechanisms are epidemics, malnutrition, and violent conflict. To varying extents those threats will be triggered by essential resources becoming scarce and eventually disappearing (Homer-Dixon, 1999; Meadows et al., 2004), and by the deterioration of key ecosystems (McMichael et al., 2003; Dobkowski & Walliman, 2002; Steffen et al., 2004). The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have been caused by the latter plus the trade in wildlife. If the event is serious enough, the prospect of secondary effects, such as the erosion of the rule of law and of civil society (Myers, 1993), economic failures, and more widespread armed conflict over diminishing resources (Homer-Dixon, 1999; Mach et al., 2019), contributes further urgency. Historical precedents of the collapse of regional cultures, and of the survival of others, illustrate the validity of that model (Diamond, 2005). Those consequences are certain to compromise human security across a broad range of aspects, extending over all four pillars of sociopolitical, health-related, economic, and environmental security.

To summarise numerous reports and analyses—the Anthropocene is teaching human security analysts four basic messages:

  1. Challenges to human security increasingly tend to cross borders and affect regional groups of countries or even most of the globe. Major issues, discussed in various chapters of this text, include mass migration, intercultural conflict, lack of global governance, pollution and other new health hazards, resource depletion, economic instability and crimes against humanity. Success for small countries in drawing international attention to their problems depends on making enough noise and on their luck of being heard (e.g. Poland).
  2. Most of the sources of insecurity are raised to critical status as a result of high population numbers and their impacts on the environment; the chances of success with most strategic solutions depend on how they address those impacts and the underlying population issues.
  3. Among the four pillars it is environmental security that often supports the other three; likewise, environmental insecurity tends to jeopardise economic, socio-political and health security. More than in past centuries, in the Anthropocene it is often environmental causes that are ultimately responsible for the displacement of populations, for the lack of resources to meet their basic needs, for the deaths and suffering caused by natural disasters and for the destabilization of social order. (See Chapter 9 for an illustrative case example.)
  4. Those overarching environmental causes are part of a complex cluster of global environmental change processes that is itself largely caused by human activities (= anthropogenic) and that exceeded the capacity of the biosphere for resource production and waste recycling. Those transgressions are summarized as ‘ecological overshoot’ (Catton, 1980; McMichael, 2001; Meadows et al., 2004). As discussed by various chapter authors, overshoot can be modelled as excessive environmental impact according to the I=PAT relationshipThis relationship connects the environmental impact I of a population of size P with a per capita consumption (‘affluence’) A and a per capita technological, cultural, institutional impact P. (Grossman, 2012), the transgression of global environmental boundaries (Rockström et al., 2009), and also of sociopolitical boundaries (Raworth, 2017), or as our collective ecological footprint exceeding the biosphere’s biocapacity (Wackernagel & Rees, 1996; Chambers et al,. 2000). The latter amounted to 170% in 2019.The Global Footprint Network publishes a wealth of statistics and data on footprints and on the ecological overshoot of countries and humanity on the whole: (accessed 3 August 2019)

There are, of course, numerous challenges to human security and sources of insecurity that are only indirectly connected to the global environmental changes of the Anthropocene, although they equal them in novelty. Those challenges include threats to cybersecurity and AI, nuclear armaments and wastes, the failure of governments in many places, the failure of entire states, the rise of corporate hegemonies and hypercapitalism, ongoing violations of human rights in many jurisdictions, and more. Particular attention is beginning to be paid to the culturally sanctioned ritual mutilation of children, often under religious pretences. Most of those challenges are also addressed in this textbook.

Considering all those issues in the context of the Anthropocene, one cannot help wondering what the future holds in store for human security, and to what extents those challenges might prove manageable. We encourage readers to keep the following general considerations in mind as you read through the chapters, and apply what you learn to construct your own reasoned opinion about which futures turn out most likely. A synthesis is offered in Chapter 21.

1.3 The Future of Human Security

In the light of the daunting challenges posed by the Anthropocene, some analysts openly question humanity’s chances of surviving the 21st century at all (McKibben, 2010). Some allow that humanity is likely to survive in some form but only after passing some rigorous challenges and trials by mid-century, including a reduction of its population size. Those challenges will require rigorous reforms towards mitigation and adaptation (Pelling, 2010; Bendell, 2011). Others prefer to ignore the entire problem and pretend that business as usual is likely to continue, with our greatest challenges amounting to no more than what we have encountered so far. We suggest that the information presented in the foregoing introduction on the whole supports the former views.

Let us begin with the prospect of survival. The spectrum of possible combinations of different population sizes, consumption levels, and technological impacts illustrates the multiplicity of choices by which a society determines its mode of survival. The spectrum of choices was aptly described by Potter (1988) as five distinct modes of human survival:

  1. Mere survival: As it occurs in a gatherer-hunter culture; this mode has proven sustainability for low population densities.
  2. Miserable survival: Lower in quality than mere survival; epidemics, scarcities, great susceptibility to the aggravated consequences of ‘natural’ disasters;
  3. Idealistic survival: Surviving without the most nasty of biological control mechanisms; this requires deliberate and universal fertility control or a constant supply of extraterrestrial resources.
  4. Irresponsible survival: The opposite of idealistic, without collective regard for the ecological requirements; only the most powerful survive acceptably, the vast majority miserably or not at all.
  5. Acceptable survival: Everybody surviving with an acceptable modicum of comfort, according to models suggested by Lester Brown (2003) and others; this requires enforced equity and moderate population size.

Potter intended those modes to describe the survival of humanity at the global level but the modes apply to regional populations as well. In the Anthropocene those modes become a function of population size, with miserable survival becoming the most likely mode for an overly large population and acceptable survival remaining an option only for relatively small populations, as in OECD countries (Royal Society, 2012). Each mode is characterised by a corresponding state of public health (Butler, 2016; McMichael, 2001). Given the central importance of human well-being and of principles of justice in popular formulations of human security, sustainable human security on a global scale would manifest as the acceptable survival of humanity.

In order to build on those rather sweeping projections, analysts have devised models that allow the characterisation and forecasting of more specific scenarios. They make it possible to identify specific threats or sources of insecurity which provides targets for proactive mitigation. As all forecasting begins with the status quo and current trends, the quantitation of human security and well-being provides the essential basis. Up until the 1990s the quantitative measurement of human well-being rested almost entirely on outdated economic models, particularly on the dynamics of GDP. From 1990 a series of Human Development Reports, commissioned by the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) arose from the sentiment that economics alone gives inadequate pictures of human security and well-being, nor can it suggest an adequate range of goals for development. To account for the human element and the UNDP’s central dictum “people are the real wealth of a nation” (UNDP, 2011), the UNDP’s Human Development Index (HDI) combines statistics on life expectancy, literacy, education, and standards of living at the national level and below (UNDP, 2019). It is commonly used to classify a country as ‘developed’ or ‘developing’. A high HDI is still biased towards high national consumption and is therefore only sustainable if the country’s footprint does not exceed its biocapacity (WWF, 2012).

The Human Security Index (HSI) combines indicators of economics, education, social welfare, and some environmental considerations, reflecting the still popular ‘triple bottom line’ approach. It attempts to quantify a person’s security in a more culture-neutral way than does the HDI by maintaining a balance along the dimensions of global-local, individual-society, regional biases, diverse metrics and definitions of human security, and the diversity of human communities (Hastings 2011). It can be used as a criterion to assess the performance of local government.Most informative in that respect are plots of the HIS against the GDP of countries, as shown e.g. in Hastings (2011). Especially interesting are the outliers. The greatest weakness of both HDI and HSI is their disregard for regional overshoot and ecological footprints. In addition, the HDI reflects conventional assumptions about ‘progress’ and ‘development’ and underlying value priorities that remain largely unquestioned in the associated literature.

The first global assessment of status quo global environmental security was the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (UNEP-MAB, 2005), followed by the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).The IPBES provides a 2019 update with Nature's Dangerous Decline 'Unprecedented'; Species Extinction Rates 'Accelerating'. The assessment took into account changes in biodiversity, desertification trends, population pressures, deterioration of watersheds and environmental determinants of public health (sometimes misleadingly referred to as ‘environmental health’). Unlike other assessments, this one acknowledged overshoot —it was entitled Living Beyond Our Means—even though it fell short of discussing the hard implications. In contrast, the regular SDG Assessment Reports (e.g. UN, 2019) have largely avoided the topic of environmental security.

Questions about the future have now moved to the forefront of human security agenda. The reasons are that global and local change is accelerating, the ever greater numbers of affected people tend to amplify even crises that used to be classified as minor, and tipping points in global environmental changes may be close at hand or even behind us. Out of those concerns, various methodologies have been developed to proceed from a picture of the status quo towards the projection of probable future scenarios. Beginning in the 1970s, pioneering work in that direction was done by Dennis Meadows and coworkers from the Club of Rome (updated in Meadows et al., 2004). More recent projects include the quantitative International Futures forecasting system, which incorporates statistics on demography, economics, energy, agriculture, human capital (education and health), the sociopolitical situation (domestic and international), as well as physical capital (including infrastructure, environment and technology) (Hughes et al., 2012). Other systems include additional significant variables such as environmental trends and human impact, and they variously balance quantitative with qualitative approaches. What these forecasting methodologies have in common is an assessment of the status quo as their starting base; the analysis and modeling of trends; and they recognise as four major factors for change intergovernmental organisations, transnational corporations, civil society (acting through NGOs and spiritual communities), and public awareness of the need for change and the spread of new values. Confounding those forecasting efforts are three factors – ignorance, surprise, and volition (Raskin et al., 2002). This refers to the inevitable fact that information is always incomplete, the turbulent and unpredictable behaviour of complex systems and emergent phenomena (discussed further in Chapter 10), and the consequences of human choice (discussed in Chapter 11).

One scenario study that excels in its broad scope of possible futures and its insightful survey of relevant variables coined the concept of the Great Transition (Raskin, 2016). It recognises as driving forces demographics, economics, social issues, culture, technology, environment, and governance. Table 1.1, adapted from that source, summarises its six scenarios and their major characteristics. The six scenarios are classified into three groups that differ in their underlying premises and values. The ‘Conventional Worlds’ pair of scenarios is based on the assumption of continuity in the current global ‘business as usual’ approach. The ‘barbarisation’ pair of scenarios represents an antithesis: they assume that the current social, economic and environmental problems are indicative of overshoot and that they render social decline inevitable. The ‘Great Transitions’ pair rounds off the range of possibilities by again recognising overshoot but assuming that a resolution through fundamental social transformation will be achieved in time to prevent barbarisation.

Table 1.1 Three pairs of scenarios represent the scope of possible futures for human security. The variation between pairs shows differences in major historical trends. Variation within pairs describes the extents of centrally coordinated intervention (Data source: Raskin, 2016).
Conventional Worlds Market Forces Continuing economic growth & development for brief time Market optimism; hidden & enlightened hands; laissez-faire
Policy Reform Adjustment through enlightened governance Controlled economies; environmental stewardship attempted
Barbarisation Breakdown Ecological & economic collapse, anarchy; Overshoot causes a population/resource catastrophe;
Fortress World Sustainable dictatorships, anarchic hinterlands, global apartheid; gross inequities Social chaos; tragedy of the commons; atomistic and unconscionable traits dominate social behaviour.
Great Transitions Eco-communalism Bioregional self-governance & stewardship Pastoral self-sufficiency; rejection of large-scale industrialism; low population density;
New Sustainability Paradigm Global governance, sustainable living by consensus Sustainability through progressive global social evolution

Within each pair, the scenarios differ by the extent in which governance succeeds in imposing order and coordination on what would otherwise deteriorate into a more disordered, anarchic situation. In conventional worlds that involves the regulation and management of market forces by traditional power structures. In barbarisation the order manifests as a global police state or regime that perpetuates extreme inequity and imposes violent sanctions on any local transgressions. In Great Transitions the order takes the form of a transformed global civilisation that coordinates the activities of what would otherwise remain a random conglomerate of regional sustainable societies. This latter pair of scenarios represents the attempt to combine liberatory, humanistic, and ecological goals into post-industrial models of sustainable living. In terms of human security it represents the most desirable and plausible of futures, given that the negation of overshoot in Conventional Worlds renders that pair unrealistic. According to the World Scientists’ Warning (Ripple et al., 2017) this would require the timely transition to renewable energy sources, eliminating pollutants, protection and restoration of ecosystems, sustainable plant based food production, zero-growth economic goals and a timely reduction of population. Plans for sustainable global food security (Willett et al., 2019) and health security (Butler, 2016; Chen et al., 2004) have been published.

The emphasis on long-term sustainability in the Great Transformation indicates an important point. The majority of current development schemes and political assessments in the mainstream adhere to the conventional development paradigm and thus favour Conventional Worlds scenarios, tacitly assuming continuity and denying the imperatives of overshoot. This includes the SDGs as well as most of the assessment methodologies and reviews on human security (e.g. McIntosh & Hunter, 2010). It renders them unjustifiably optimistic (both environmentally and socially), and utopian. In contrast to that overwhelming majority espousing the ‘conventional development paradigm’, most of the authors of this text recommend ‘Great Transitions’ type of solutions.

The reason why the conventional development paradigm with its Conventional Worlds type projections cannot realistically inform sustainable solutions lies in ecological overshoot. Its ramifications will extend beyond the energy sector and result in shortages of food (Schanbacher, 2010; Brown, 2003; Willett et al., 2019) and numerous other consumer goods and services. ‘Peak everything’ (Heinberg, 2007) will lower the standards of living, economic activity, and hence public expenditures. Human labour will be cheap, human welfare dear. With global trade diminishing, regional trade will pick up. In the absence of compensation through global trade, regional overshoot will finally show its effects. Paralleling the case of fossil fuel, the demand for potable fresh water also increases while its availability declines. ‘Problem areas’ will become sealed off from their neighbouring countries and the inhabitants left to their own devices.For example, India is already building a wall along its border with Bangladesh; North Africa is becoming Europe’s ‘buffer zone’; the US are fortifying and sealing their border with Mexico; Israel’s wall is already complete. Russia’s ‘Great Firewall’ constrains cyber traffic. Other reincarnations of the ‘Great Wall’ approach will doubtlessly appear. Countries rich in resources and low in population (such as Canada) will dominate and countries with well-developed infrastructures can be expected to get along reasonably well. The rest will not be so fortunate. Large countries are likely to fragment. Climate change will be the unpredictable wild card; it has been identified as an important, and increasingly powerful, determinant for armed conflict (Mach et al., 2019). All this suggests that Conventional Worlds scenarios are neither probable nor desirable, whether they be interpreted as brief and risky transition solutions or as a cornucopian utopia. Realistically, the remaining choices will lead to scenarios of the ‘barbarisation’ and ‘Great Transitions’ type.

In the light of continuous economic decline, whatever technological advances might be achieved in the next decades will be diluted, perhaps drowned, in a teeming ocean of humanity, most of it struggling to merely survive with some modicum of dignity. The imperative, then, will be not to make human lives more convenient or pleasurable but to follow the principles of distributive justice and to combat suffering by facilitating the speedy attrition of the global human population as much as seems ethically justifiable.The prospect of limited survival coupled with partial collapse of traditional institutions and orders has been advocated by Jem Bendell (2018), including a program for ‘Deep Adaptation’ to cope with it. When we consider the cumulative harm caused by overpopulation we end up with quite a different assessment of our probable future compared to the majority of development reports. If even the more conservative estimates of future population growth become reality, the challenges to human security will be daunting indeed—and that is without considering climate change!

What, then, are the remaining options? The most effective and morally desirable strategies to meet those challenges and to maximise human security will aim towards Great Transitions type scenarios. This follows, on the one hand, from the lack of feasibility and of sustainability in ‘Conventional Worlds’ scenarios as argued above. On the other hand, barbarisation scenarios appear to include inordinate amounts of suffering and injustice that warrant all-out efforts to avoid them. Moreover, entrenched injustice renders any system of governance socially unsustainable. Nevertheless, many possible futures involve a succession of several of the six scenarios.

To conclude – in order to achieve a maximum likelihood of being sustainable, the eventual end stage of such successions should nevertheless be of the Great Transitions type. It is to achieve the four goals of peace, freedom, material well-being, and a healthy environment (Raskin et al., 2002) through the means of efficiency, restraint, adaptation and structural reform (Lautensach, 2010). Specific directions and strategies by which that development could be achieved are discussed in several chapters. What the Concerned World Scientists should also have said in their warnings is this: The longer we wait, the less attention can be paid to human rights in the transition. In 2018, an analysis (O’Neill et al., 2018) of 145 countries indicated that not a single one met the criteria of living within the sustainable limits of Raworth’s Donut Model (Raworth, 2017).

Chapter 3 deals with the overriding urgency to promote environmental security and offers some explanations based on the evolutionary history of the human species. Environmental themes are continued from Chapter 9 to Chapter 12. The origins of human behaviour towards ‘nature’ are covered in Chapter 11, leading into a haunting collection of ‘letters from the front’ in humanity’s ‘war against nature’. Chapter 5 addresses the threat of interhuman warfare and other forms of violent conflict. The protection of individuals in conflict situations through international humanitarian law is discussed in Chapter 6. In Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 that line of reasoning is extended into threats to individual security during peacetime through national and transnational crime, displacement, terrorism, and human trafficking. The special challenges to human security emanating from failed states are addressed in Chapter 7. Globalisation in its manifold manifestations and interpretations can promote as well as endanger human security; those possibilities are examined in Chapter 8 and Chapter 14. The complex challenges associated with human rights violations are discussed in Chapter 15.

Although most of those chapters analyse problems and challenges as well as offer possible solutions, the last section of this text focuses more directly on solutions. Chapter 14 addresses how human rights violations can be addressed and prevented, with a particular view on the situation in Africa. The complex issue of governance for sustainability is addressed first at the national level in Chapter 16, and in Chapter 20 at the global level. Health security and the particular challenges concerning its equitable achievement is the focus of Chapter 17. Possibilities for achieving human security at the global level are the focus of the last chapters in the book; Chapter 18 addresses the reduction of armed conflict, and in Chapter 19 strategies for peace building are discussed.

As with all revolutionary movements, major obstacles towards a sustainable and secure world emerge not so much from embattled traditional elites but from the inertia of the multitudes of the “unaware, unconcerned and unconvinced” (Raskin et al., 2002, p. 19). Communities make policy decisions according to Thompson’s (1997) four modes of social solidarity (individualist, hierarchical, egalitarian and fatalistic). Inertia hinders the development of consensus along those four lines. Another obvious obstacle is presented by ideologies – counterproductive beliefs, ideals, priorities among values, and attitudes. For example, the dominant conventional development paradigm (CDP), the “tacit ideology of influential international institutions, politicians and thinkers” (Raskin et al., 2002, p. 29) is informed by cornucopian delusions and a relentless insistence on a narrow modernist interpretation of progress (Lautensach, 2010). Other counterproductive ideologies (e.g. human-nature separation, anthropocentrism) are discussed in several chapters, particularly Chapter 11. Additional variation is contributed by cultural diversity (Lautensach, 2020). All those factors determine the extent to which individuals and groups are capable of adaptive learning for the sake of their survival.

How can those obstacles be addressed? As we announced in the preface, recognising and explicating ideological content in public discourse is one of the major goals of this textbook. The literature on human security does not always measure up to that requirement. It abounds with expertly written reviews and analyses of the subject, as exemplified by the works listed below under “General Reading,” works that contrast favourably against more popularised books about development and ‘progress’ that sometimes include attempts at greenwashing or brownlashing. Yet even the casual reader will notice that some of that literature still appears hampered by a unidisciplinary focus and ideological blinkers; a ubiquitous example, now thankfully declining in frequency, are economic analyses that focus exclusively on GDP, externalise ecological costs, discount future costs, and rest on implicit beliefs in endless growth (see Chapter 12 for a critique). Some of the literature discussing ‘sustainable development’ still suffers from similar unfounded beliefs and thus focuses on ‘Conventional Worlds’ type scenarios. Well known examples include the literature surrounding the SDGs and UNESCO’s Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014), continued under SDG #4. In contrast, contributions such as Richard Heinberg’s and David Lerch’s Post-Carbon Reader (2010) explicitly avoid that fallacy. They also address educational imperatives arising from the various challenges to human security, imperatives amounting to empower learners to become survivors.

Also relatively recently, the human security literature expanded to include ethics as a topic of discussion, mainly in the form of specifying particular implications arising from humanitarian forms of utilitarianism. The field would benefit from a further expansion to transcend Western-Eurocentric ethical paradigms and to counteract the historical marginalisation of dissident cultural views such as holistic, land based environmental ethics, as well as lifeboat ethics as Garrett Hardin (1980) advocated. One ethical limitation of human security is that by virtue of its own conceptual focus it cannot transcend anthropocentrism. In Chapter 11, Ronnie Hawkins explicates the historical roots of the conventional ethics underlying human security discourse, and she explores the boundaries and benefits associated with a move towards a more holistic ethic that values nature for itself

1.4 This Textbook

One overarching means by which those obstacles towards sustainable human security can be addressed is education. Without that conviction we would not have embarked in this project of a textbook. Even beyond sustainability and the Great Transition, education can address specific challenges in human security, such as cultural safety. For example, “Preparing to be offended” can pre-empt many intercultural conflicts, and contribute towards their resolution, in today’s climate of mass migration (Lautensach & Lautensach, 2011; 2015). An undereducated electorate lacking in civic knowledge and skills are less able to cater towards their own human security or participate in the state’s efforts. Numerous other learning outcomes promoted in the chapters of this book speak for themselves.

This book differs from other university texts in its unabashed but reasoned advocacy for certain values and ideals. Like many others we see no advantage in moral fence sitting in the Anthropocene; McKibben’s Eaarth (2010) demands more of us. The fact that the discussion of ethics has only just begun in the human security field also contributed to our decision to connect the text’s pedagogical mission with a commitment against moral relativism. Most educationists now agree that leaving the learner in a moral vacuum by representing all values as equally valid is both deceitful and counterproductive. Deception lies in the misrepresentation of academic discourse as potentially value neutral; all discourse is value laden and thus includes bias. Pretending to be value neutral is also counterproductive because it makes it more difficult for the learner to become skilled at moral reasoning, resolving dilemmas, and justifying moral decisions. The field of human security has long been controlled from behind a curtain by an ill-defined, implicit and poorly grounded ethic, accompanied by assorted ideological baggage, that only now are being exposed to the light of day (Lautensach, 2020). We hope that there, too, this book can make a positive contribution.

Each chapter begins with a list of Learning Outcomes & Big Ideas which inform the reader of the chapter’s objectives and suggest to the instructor possible criteria for assessment. It is followed by a Summary, the equivalent of the abstract of a journal article. The body text of each chapter is organised into numbered subsections under Chapter Overview to make it easy for the reader to locate specific topics.

At the end of each chapter are Resources and References where a list of Key Points allows for brief recapitulation and review and connects with the Learning Outcomes & Big Ideas specified at the beginning. A list of Extension Activities & Further Research follows for the benefit of students and instructors. They provide opportunities and guidance for pursuing important ideas beyond the confines of the chapters. Lastly, after the List of Terms (all terms and definitions have been gathered in the Glossary of Terms and Definitions at the end of the book) is a list of Suggested Reading that specifies which sources the authors of the chapters consider most beneficial for the reader. Finally, References for each chapter are listed  at the chapter’s end, rendering the chapters more suitable for independent and eclectic reading; some chapters also include a Bibliography.

Each chapter has undergone a thorough process of peer review and editing. Nevertheless, as editors we take full responsibility for any errors that may remain. To the best of our knowledge this is still the world’s first textbook of human security. We hope that students and instructors will find its use as gratifying as we found its conception.

Lastly, the choice of an open access, Creative Commons licence was made to maximise the accessibility of this book to learners, educators and the general public. The chapter themes cover an extremely wide range of conventional academic disciplines. A student of one or even several of those disciplines could hardly be expected to purchase the entire book in hardcopy. The same goes for researchers and educators. Moreover, we preferred to signal our preference for the most equitable option in terms of public access, and for the most sustainable, i.e. paperless, form.

Resources and References


Key Points

  • Human security differs in principle from state-centered security in its subjective, people-centred focus on welfare, justice, dignity and rights.
  • Human security can be quantified with a variety of metrics and indices, and differentiated into pillars or dimensions that focus on the key aspects of politics, sociality, economics, health and environment.
  • Over its quarter century history as a concept, human security has undergone significant changes and developments. Two dominant change were the increasing focus on sources of insecurity and on environmental security.
  • Those changes were influenced by new ideas, new value priorities, historical changes in global power relationships, and lately, global environmental changes marking the Anthropocene.
  • In response to the fundamental changes to the global ecology, climate, population dynamics, resource availability and population health, the UN has embarked on an ambitious program described by the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030. Considerations of sustainable human security informed those goals, albeit with suboptimal results.
  • Ongoing global changes give rise to concerns about the mode of human survival and which associated scenarios it might lead to in terms of political power relationships and modes of human security.


Extension Activities & Further Research

  1. Write your own future history of the world by combining some of Raskin et al’s (2002) six scenarios into a sequence of eras. For each era, describe the status of human security in its various dimensions or pillars – in your community, in your country and globally. You could do this in the form of a table.
  2. Identify the chapter(s) in this text where you can learn more about the particular challenges to human security that concern you the most.
  3. As you read through the rest of this book, ask yourself with each chapter: Which of Potter’s modes of survival are being described by the author(s)? Which ones are being advertised as desirable or probable for the future?
  4. As you read through the rest of this book, ask yourself with each chapter: Which of Raskin’s scenarios are being described by the author(s)? Which ones are being advertised as probable for the future?
  5. The past decade has seen a worrisome increase in mass killings of unsuspecting civilians in places like schools and shopping centres, especially in the US. Do you think that this phenomenon is somehow connected to the Anthropocene? Or is it more likely that there is no connection? How might you find out?
  6. Describe how you perceive the future prospects for human security and the bigger geopolitical picture as they arise from the following likely developments:
    1. Increasing desperation to keep economies afloat (i.e. growing)
    2. Disappearance of coastal territories and even countries (especially islands) to sea level rise
    3. Disappearance of the boreal forest in extensive forest fires
    4. In the absence of effective central governance, building of resilience by local communities

List of Terms

See Glossary for full list of terms and definitions.

Suggested Reading

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Chua, A. (2003). World on fire: How exporting free-market democracy breeds ethnic hatred and global instability. Anchor Books.

Crisp, N. (2010). Turning the world upside down: The search for global health in the 21st century. CRC Press.

Diamond, J. (2005). Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed. Viking Press.

Hampson, F. O., Daudelin, J., Hay, J. B., Reid, H., & Marting, T. (2002). Madness in the multitude: Human security and world disorder. Oxford University Press.

Heinberg, R, & Lerch, D. (Eds.). (2010). The post carbon reader: Managing the 21st century’s sustainability. Watershed Media.

Hubert, D. (2011). Human security: Global politics and the human costs of war. Routledge.

Kaldor, M. H., & Beebe, S. D. (2010). The ultimate weapon is no weapon: How human security answers the failure of force and the limitations of pacifism. PublicAffairs.

McKibben, B. (2010). Eaarth: Making a life on a tough new planet. Times Books.

O’Brien, K., St. Clair, A. L., & Kristoffersen, B. (Eds.). (2010). Climate change, ethics and human security. Cambridge University Press.

Pelling, M. (2010). Adaptation to climate change: From resilience to transformation. Routledge.

Raskin, P. (2016). Journey to Earthland: The great transition to planetary civilization. Tellus Institute.

Raworth, K. (2017). A doughnut for the Anthropocene: Humanity’s compass in the 21st century. The Lancet Planetary Health, 1(2), E48–E49.

Tadjbakhsh, S., & Chenoy, A. M. (2006). Human security: Concepts and implications. Routledge.


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Chen, L. C., Leaning, J., & Narasimhan, V. (Eds.). (2004). Global health challenges for human security. Harvard University Press.

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Human Security Foundation Documents and Related Resources

Thomas Ditzler, Patricia Hastings and Sabina Lautensach

Learning Outcomes & Big Ideas

  • Learners will be able to explain the origins and early development of the human security concept, including key international conferences and their outcomes.
  • Learners will be able to identify at least two principles of human security that make it distinct from more traditional concepts of security.
  • Learners will also be able to access key informational sites to obtain historical documents, specialized information and reports on evolving events and issues.


The selection of foundation documents for human security is a daunting task; selected resources must be clear, cogent, and illuminate the core elements and overarching principles of an especially broad and complex concept. In addition, sources must provide information of sufficient heuristic value as to inform policy and foster development and evaluation of programmes and responses. To provide continuity, the list should include not only historically significant international treaties and agreements, but recurrent and periodic resources that address evolving circumstances.

In pursuit of these requirements, we have divided this effort into three general sections. First, we shall provide an overview of the origins of the human security concept, citing a few key events and related documents; second, we shall present an annotated list of significant human security foundation documents and related resources. In some instances we shall also include commentary on respective documents’ development, and any special political, contextual or situational issues that would contribute to understanding the documents’ intent. Third, we shall list key recurring resource documents and special publications that have demonstrated their utility as monitors of contemporaneous human security issues. These are often annual, occasional, or near real-time reports produced by agencies and programmes of the United Nations, national governments, universities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), or other human rights/human security related organizations.

This is not purely a reference chapter but one that introduces the various institutions that picked up on human security early and contributed to its growth from. The contributions listed here give a realistic record of the growth of the human security field. They illustrate the power relationships between those least secure and the political institutions in charge of protecting them; and by explicating those relationships they help establish the basis for empowerment. In keeping with the special purpose of this chapter its format differs from the rest; authors, publishers and URLs are specified in footnotes and not in the book’s bibliography. While web addresses tend to outdate relatively quickly, the respective institutions tend to maintain those documents in their archives for much longer.

Chapter Overview

2.1 Origins and Development of the Human Security Concept

2.2 General Foundation Documents for Human Security

2.2.1 The Charter of the United Nations and the United Nations Website

2.2.2 The Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949, with Protocols Additional of 1977 and 2005

2.2.3 Protocols Additional (1 and 2) to the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949

2.2.4 Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949, and Relating to the Adoption of an Additional Distinctive Emblem (Protocol III), December 8, 2005

2.2.5 Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

2.2.6 Manual on the Rights and Duties of Medical Personnel in Armed Conflicts

2.2.7 The Commission on Human Security

2.2.8 Human Security of Children

2.2.9 A Conceptual Framework for Human Security

2.2.10 The United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

2.2.11 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)

2.2.12 The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

2.2.13 International Labour Organization (ILO)

2.2.14 World Food Programme (WFP)

2.2.15 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

2.2.16 World Health Report – World Health Organization (WHO)

2.2.17 The Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN)

2.2.18 The Multilaterals Project – The Fletcher School, Tufts University

2.2.19 Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement UN Office For The Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

2.2.20 Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response                             

2.3 Key Recurring Resource Documents, Publications and Websites

2.3.1 The Human Security Report Project (HSRP)

2.3.2 The Mini-Atlas of Human Security

2.3.3 Landmines and Land Rights in Conflict Affected Contexts

2.3.4 Disaster in Asia: The Case for Legal Preparedness

2.3.5 Making an Impact: Guidelines on Designing and Implementing Outreach Programmes for Transitional Justice

2.3.6 What’s New – The UN Trust Fund for Human Security

Resources and References

Questions for Discussion

Extension Activities & Further Research

List of Terms

Suggested Reading

2.1 Origins and Development of the Human Security Concept

As the concept of human security emerged in the 1990s, advocates quickly recognized the need to shape a definition that could adequately define the central organizing principles of the concept and provide a common language. Following is a brief overview of some of the more frequently cited events and documents.


The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) issued the first Human Development Report (HDR); many have since followed. The independent report was commissioned by the UN Development Programme with the note that “its editorial autonomy is guaranteed by a special resolution of the General Assembly (A/RES/57/264), which recognizes the Human Development Report as an independent intellectual exercise.” The report was based on the premise that “people are the real wealth of nations.” Copies of all reports are available from, United Nations Development Programme, 20 Years of Global Human Development Reports, 1990-2011.

UNDP Human Development Report [PDF]. This iteration of the HDR focused specifically on the development of the human security framework; it is considered a milestone in the evolution of human security. It declares unambiguously that the proper focus for security is the individual, not the state; a clear reprise of the 1990 report. This chapter addresses human security exclusively, noting that human security ultimately emerges from the context of sustainable development. The report also presented “A World Social Charter” that described the political and social values necessary to create a truly “global civil society.”


UN World Summit for Social Development (Copenhagen). This report describes the summit at which the construct of human security was disaggregated into in seven core areas:

  1. Economic security
  2. Food security
  3. Health security
  4. Environmental security
  5. Personal security
  6. Community security
  7. Political security.

The impetus for the development of the core areas arose, in part, from the criticism that human security was vague and overbroad. The website has three sections:

  1. World Summit for Social Development Agreements: The Copenhagen Declaration, the ten commitments, and the Programme of Action
  2. World Summit for Social Development Documents: All official texts of the Summit
  3. World Summit for Social Development Statements: An archive of all 370 statements made at the Summit


The intent of the UNDP’s 1994 Human Development Report was further illuminated in 2002 in Keizo Takemi‘s presentation, “Evolution of the Human Security Concept, Health and Human Security: Moving from Concept to Action,” delivered at the Fourth Intellectual Dialogue on Building Asia’s Tomorrow. At the time, Keizo served as Chairman, Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence and Member of the House of Councillors in the Japanese Diet. In 2006 he was named by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to serve as a member of the High Level Panel on UN System-Wide Coherence in Areas of Development, Humanitarian Assistance, and Environment. Keizo is currently a research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, a senior fellow at the Japan Center for International Exchange, and concurrently a professor at the Tokai University’s Research Institute of Science and Technology Noda, 2002).


In 2003, Sabina Alkire published “Conceptual Framework for Human Security”, in which the author proposed, “The objective of human security is to safeguard the vital core of all human lives from critical pervasive threats, in a way that is consistent with long-term human fulfillment” (pp. 15-40). Alkire’s paper clarifies key terms, traces the historical background and evolving interpretation of human security and examines the interactions between human security and other policy frameworks.


In May 2006, Richard Jolly and Deepayan Basu Ray published “The Human Security Framework and National Human Development Reports: A Review of Experiences and Current Debates.” The authors provided clear support for shifting the focus of security from state boundaries and preservation of strategic national interests maintained by protected military resources, to protection of individuals and communities across a range of threats.

See Suggested Readings for Section 2.1.

2.2 General Foundation Documents for Human Security

One might profitably argue the value of a more comprehensive list, but our intent is to cite sources providing the most concise overview of critical themes and cross-cutting issues. The authors note that a recent internet search of the term human security yielded no fewer than 45,700,000 results! It is hoped the following resources will provide sufficient initial information as to impel astute readers to develop a more personal list as part of their respective continuing inquiries into the evolving role of human security in world affairs.

Due to the high degree of inter-relatedness of human security concerns, selected parts of many foundation documents may often fit in a number of the ‘Seven Human Security Categories’ cited in the 1995 Copenhagen World Summit, and in the interest of simplicity and brevity we reference only the general themes. Also note that in addition to treaties and other binding instruments, certain international human rights/human security instruments may be characterized as either conventions or declarations. Conventions are legally binding instruments under international law; declarations are not legally binding, but as a practical matter often have referential or moral authority that may create de facto political force.

2.2.1 The Charter of the United Nations and the United Nations Website

The UN Charter was signed on the 26 June 1945, in San Francisco, at the conclusion of the United Nations Conference on International Organization, and came into force on 24 October 1945. Not surprisingly, this is the first source for many in search of foundation documents in human security. Here one finds an easy to navigate source of all relevant information about the UN, from historic data on origin, development, structure and organization, to the UN’s relationship with member states, and current initiatives.

The United Nations website offers access to a large collection of foundational documents, programmes and publications. Information is organized under general content areas including Peace and Security, Development, Human Rights, Humanitarian Affairs and International Law. Beginning in the selected area one may easily pursue specific issues. The site also serves as the official source for evolving situations or issues in which the UN has an ongoing interest, and provides access to the recurrent documents and reports of many of the UN’s programmes and organizations.Retrieved from: on 31 August 2011

2.2.2 The Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949, with Protocols Additional of 1977 and 2005

From their origins in the aftermath of the horrific Battle of Solferino, Italy in 1859 to the present, the International Red Cross Movement and the Geneva Conventions illuminate the best efforts of the international community to protect those affected by armed conflict. These four Conventions and three Additional Protocols represent the body of international law that protects non-combatants in areas of armed conflict. Specifically, these include wounded, sick and shipwrecked soldiers who are who are no longer participating in the hostilities (hors de combat), civilians, health and aid workers, clergy and prisoners of war. The cogency and brevity of the conventions surprises many and, in their entirety, the compilation of all four conventions occupies only five-eighths of an inch of shelf space (ICRC, 2014).

2.2.3 Protocols Additional (1 and 2) to the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949

These instrument describes two protocols: the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949, Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), and the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 Relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Conflicts (Protocol II) Protocol. In both instances the Protocols Additional reaffirm the existing Geneva Conventions, but add additional provisions to accommodate changes in warfare since the end of World War II (ICRC, 1977/96).

2.2.4 Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949, and Relating to the Adoption of an Additional Distinctive Emblem (Protocol III), December 8, 2005

This instrument concerns the addition of third “distinctive emblem” to represent the presence of the International Red Cross/ Red Crescent. The text notes that ”Since the nineteenth century the Red Cross and Red Crescent emblems have been used as universal symbols of assistance for armed conflict victims. With the adoption of an additional emblem – the red crystal – a new chapter in their long history has just been written.” Document provides an overview of origin and development of the Red Cross Distinctive Emblem.

2.2.5 Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has a unique international mandate to promote and protect human rights as a part of the UN’s commitment to the universal ideal of human dignity. Specific site content includes a brief history of the Office’s, mandate, mission statement, and structure. Of particular interest are the tabs concerning access to the media center, publications and library, and links to related organizations (UN, 2020).

2.2.6 Manual on the Rights and Duties of Medical Personnel in Armed Conflicts

As the title indicates, the focus of the effort here is to illuminate those parts of the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocols that pertain specifically to health care in circumstances of armed conflict. Each of the three chapters states the relevant articles of the conventions, accompanied by references to concordant Convention articles and explanatory text (Baccino-Astrada, 1982).

2.2.7 The Commission on Human Security

The home page of the Commission was established under the United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security (UNTFHS) in 1999 in response to challenges identified at the United Nations Millennium Summit, noted elsewhere. During the Summit, Secretary General Kofi Annan called upon the world community to advance the twin goals of “freedom from want” and “freedom from fear.” Here, Annan referred to US President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s State of the Union Address of January 6, 1941, now informally known as the “Four Freedoms Speech.” In his address Roosevelt proposed four fundamental freedoms that people “everywhere in the world” should enjoy: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. The first two Freedoms represent values protected by the U.S. Constitution, but the second two endorsed, in forceful terms, a right to economic security and a human rights view of foreign policy. Roosevelt’s address is believed by many to have created the plinth on which the moral imperatives of the human security paradigm rest. According to their website, “Since 1999, the UNTFHS has committed over USD 350 million to projects in over 70 countries(OCHA, n.d.).

In 2016, the UNTFHS published the Human Security Handbook [PDF], which reaffirms and updates the concept on the basis of three freedoms, extending from Annan’s two: the freedom from want, freedom from fear, and freedom to live in dignity (p. 4). Strategies for human security are people-centred, comprehensive, context-specific, prevention-oriented, and promote protection and empowerment (p. 7).

2.2.8 Human Security of Children

Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (2000): Machel 10-Year Strategic Review [PDF] (2007) constitutes part two of a follow up to the Landmark Impact of Armed Conflict on Children [PDF] (1996). UNICEF provides the following description of the Machel study:

For those not familiar with the original study, this 236 page text is an essential document on the subject of war and children. Released in 2009, it touches, in-depth, on each guiding principle and sector related to reconstruction and stabilization as well as offering a wealth of data and reference.

In describing the text and its’ source material UNICEF notes that:

The 1996 Machel Study challenged the world to recognize that ‘war affects every right of the child.’ This follow-up report analyses the progress – and challenges – of the subsequent decade. More than 40 UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and academic institutions – along with children from nearly 100 countries – contributed to this review, which was co-convened by the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict and UNICEF.For additional information on child rights and violent conflicts, visit the website of The Child Rights Information Network (CRIN) at: (accessed 18 July 2019)

2.2.9 A Conceptual Framework for Human Security

Alkire offers a general working definition of human security that incorporates an examination of it in context. The paper provides a clear compendium of central organizing concepts that are critical to understanding the large and diverse spectrum of issues engaged by the Human Security concept (Alkire, 2003).

2.2.10 The United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Convention was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10 December 1984 (resolution 39/46) and it is an international human rights instrument comprising three parts. Part 1 defines torture, specifies obligations of states to establish jurisdiction to prevent torture, and, in its instance, to pursue legal action. Part 2 concerns the responsibility of states to report and monitor torture allegations and empowers the Committee Against Torture to investigate allegations. Part 3 governs mechanisms for ratification, entry into force, and amendment of the Convention (UN 1997).

2.2.11 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)

The full text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted and proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 217 A (III) on the 10 December 1948. The UDHR document comprises a preamble and 30 Articles that recognize the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights notes it is the culmination of the combined efforts of, “representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations. It sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected.” To ensure the greatest dissemination of the document, the UN website informs readers that, at present, there are 379 different translations of the UDHR available in HTML and/or PDF format (UN 1948).

2.2.12 The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

The Covenant is a part of the International Bill of Human Rights, along with the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). It is a multilateral treaty that was adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1966 and came into force in March 1976. In general the Covenant speaks to the obligation of the signatories to respect individual civil and political rights including the right to life, electoral rights, the rights to due process and a fair trial, and freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly (UNOHCR, 1966).

2.2.13 International Labour Organization (ILO)

In describing mission and intent, the International Labour Organization website notes that it is:

the international organization responsible for drawing up and overseeing international labour standards. It is the only ‘tripartite’ United Nations agency that brings together representatives of governments, employers and workers to jointly shape policies and programmes promoting Decent Work for all. This unique arrangement gives the ILO an edge in incorporating ‘real world’ knowledge about employment and work.

The ILO website home page displays eight general topic headings:

  1. About the ILO
  2. Topics
  3. Regions
  4. Meetings and Events
  5. Programmes and Projects
  6. Publications
  7. Labor Standards
  8. Statistics and Data Bases.

As with other specialized agencies of the UN, the ILO website also provides timely information about evolving issues, key resources, and commentary on policy initiatives (ILO, 2020).

2.2.14 World Food Programme (WFP)

The World Food Programme (WFP) is the food-aid arm of the United Nations system. Given the tragic persistence of food insecurity, many human security advocates and researchers find this to be among the most frequently accessed websites. WFP notes that food aid is one of the many instruments that can help to promote food security, which is defined as access of all people at all times to the food needed for an active and healthy life. The website explains that policies governing the use of World Food Programme food aid must be oriented towards the objective of eradicating hunger and poverty; they note that: “The ultimate objective of food aid should be the elimination of the need for food aid,” (an especially good functional description of sustainability). Targeted interventions are needed to help to improve the lives of the poorest people—people who, either permanently or during crisis periods, are unable to produce enough food or do not have the resources to otherwise obtain the food that they and their households require for active and healthy lives.

Consistent with its mandate, which also reflects the principle of universality, the WFP website notes they will continue to:

The core policies and strategies that govern WFP activities are to provide food aid:

2.2.15 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

This organization’s website addresses virtually all aspects of food security. General search categories include World Food Situation, Food Security, Hunger and Food Safety (FAO, 2020).

2.2.16 World Health Report – World Health Organization (WHO)

Generally regarded as the “best first source” for general health information, this document has a broad array of topics and data, divided into sections on the WHO itself, health topics, health security, data and statistics, media center, publications, countries, programmes, projects and related resources. The most recent report online dates to 2013. (WHO, 2020).

2.2.17 The Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN)

IRIN is a humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). In December 2010, IRIN released “How to sound knowledgeable in Cancun: Selected articles on the humanitarian implementation of climate change.” This collection of articles addresses funding, changing technology, adaptation and mitigation, forecasting, and cost-benefit analysis concerning the humanitarian implications of climate change. The authors note that Haiti, the monsoon flooding in Pakistan, and the danger of WMD technology in the background of many volatile geopolitical areas are reminders of the importance of disaster management within the reconstruction and stabilization framework (IRIN, 2019).

2.2.18 The Multilaterals Project – The Fletcher School, Tufts University

The Multilaterals Project began in 1992 and the effort was originally intended to make environmental agreements more accessible to the general public. The scope of the effort has expanded to now include the texts of international multilateral conventions and other instruments; treaties concerned with human rights, commerce, and trade; laws of war and arms control; biodiversity; cultural protection; and other areas.

2.2.19 Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement – UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)The Guiding Principles are presented at: Additional resources are available at (accessed 18 July 2019)

It is a sad truth that whatever the specific number of displaced persons is at any moment, that number is invariably measured in multiples of tens of millions. In his introductory comments for this OCHA produced resource, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egland referred to Secretary General Kofi Annan’s observation that, “internal displacement is the great tragedy of our times. Internally displaced people are among the most vulnerable of the human family.” It is not an overstatement to say that this document should be considered an essential reference for any student of human security. The narrative style and organizational structure of the work is striking similar to the Geneva Conventions and brings gratifying clarity and utility to an extraordinarily complex issue.

2.2.20 Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response

This book, commonly called the Sphere Handbook, is by The Sphere Project. The website describes the Project as a “voluntary initiative that brings a wide range of humanitarian agencies [PDF] together around a common aim – to improve the quality of humanitarian assistance and the accountability of humanitarian actors to their constituents, donors and affected populations.” The Sphere Handbook “is one of the most widely known and internationally recognized sets of common principles and universal minimum standards for the delivery of quality humanitarian response.” Established in 1997, the Sphere Project is not a membership organization. Governed by a Board composed of representatives of global networks of humanitarian agencies, the Sphere Project network today is a vibrant community of humanitarian response practitioners. The handbook itself addresses humanitarian standards for virtually all sectors of humanitarian response including hygiene; nutrition and food aid; shelter, settlement and non-food items; and health services. The book also has several very helpful appendices that provide protocol forms for health services assessment, health surveillance forms, and related topics (Sphere, 2018).

See Suggested Readings for Section 2.2.20

2.3 Key Recurring Resource Documents, Publications and Websites

2.3.1 The Human Security Report Project (HSRP)

The Human Security Report Project is an independent research centre is affiliated with Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Vancouver, B.C. Canada. The HSRP tracks global and regional trends in organized violence, their causes, and consequences. The Project publishes research findings and analyses in the Human Security Report, Human Security Brief series and in the Mini-Atlas of Human Security. The website is clear and well organized and the project notes that materials are available in hard copy, but are also available online.Available at: (18 July 2019)

2.3.2 The Mini-Atlas of Human SecurityAvailable at: (18/07/19)

The Mini-Atlas is a product of the HSRP mentioned above, but we make special note of it because it is a particularly useful and informative resource for monitoring events. The atlas is described as an “illustrated guide to global and regional trends in human insecurity, the Mini-Atlas provides a succinct introduction to today’s most pressing security challenges. It maps political violence, the links between poverty and conflict, assaults on human rights—including the use of child soldiers—and the causes of war and peace.”

2.3.3 Landmines and Land Rights in Conflict Affected ContextsAvailable at: (18/07/19)

Published by the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian De-mining, this publication addresses the impact of land rights issues in de-mining campaigns related to the return of displaced populations and the restoration of the agricultural sector.

2.3.4 Disaster in Asia: The Case for Legal Preparedness Available at: The two associated reports are at and

This advocacy report is published by the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and highlights how better national and sub-national legislation can help to significantly reduce the human suffering caused by the growing number of natural disasters. The text takes a rule-of-law approach broadened to include housing, land, and property rights in addition to judiciary reform and criminal confinement. The report serves as a useful working model that both describes and advocates for the potential power of law in shaping both national and regional approaches to disaster prevention, mitigation response, and recovery.

Associated reports

“World Disasters Report” and “Disaster Response and Contingency Planning Guide”

2.3.5 Making an Impact: Guidelines on Designing and Implementing Outreach Programmes for Transitional Justice Available at: (18 July 2019)

Author: Clara Ramirez–Barat. Publisher: International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ). The ICTJ states that it “works to redress and prevent the most severe violations of human rights by confronting legacies of mass abuse. ICTJ seeks holistic solutions to promote accountability and create just and peaceful societies.” In this paper author Ramirez-Barat presents a highly useful synopsis of the principles of transitional justice by describing the process in the form of the natural history of a successful initiative. The text seeks to provide strategies for outreach initiatives “for prosecutions, truth telling, and reparations programmes, and to provide practitioners with practical guidance in the design and implementation of outreach programmes for transitional justice measures.” She also provides practical guidance on the development of outreach programmes, and considers the tasks of working with diverse audiences. It has long been noted that successful transitional justice is a key issue in helping troubled peoples break the cycle of violence. This paper provides the language, concepts, and techniques to help readers become informed about the tasks of such initiatives by providing practical guidance in the design and implementation of outreach programmes.

2.3.6 What’s New – The UN Trust Fund for Human Security

This resource is regularly updated and reports on UN initiatives, regional programmes and events, and the UN’s Human Security Newsletter. News and activities about the UNTFHS, as well as associated resources are also offered.

Resources and References

Questions for Discussion

  1. What is human security and how is it different from traditional state (national) security?
  2. Critics note that the concept of human security, while laudable, is too broad to actually become operational. Do you agree? Discuss.
  3. What is the reason most treaties or instruments are developed?
  4. What is the basic goal of international humanitarian law?
  5. What are the characteristics of international humanitarian law, human rights law, and Geneva law that are distinct from each other?
  6. Over time, Geneva Law or the Law of War has changed to deal with changing technology and the circumstances surrounding war. What additions or changes would you make for current times? What changes would you predict in the next 50 years?
  7. Imagine a future 10 years hence, where there are no international instruments or treaties covering international humanitarian law, human rights law, and Geneva law. What 10 documents would you want to create to define international rules? Discuss a rank order with colleagues.
  8. What is the most persuasive motivation that would cause a country or region to ban certain methods of warfare (e.g. flame, chemical, nuclear, land mines, bombing, biologic, improvised explosives, psychological, rape, starvation, siege, other)?
  9. What should be basic humanitarian rights for civilians in conflict areas?
  10. How might social or culture issues affect the way in which one interprets international humanitarian law, human rights law and Geneva law?
  11. Article XIX of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights notes that:
    • Everyone shall have a right to hold opinions without interference.
    • Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

    The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:

    • For respect of the rights or reputations of others
    • For the protection of national security or public order, or public health or morals.

    This was written at a high level and does not necessarily embrace recent advances in electronic media (i.e. Internet).

    Should the Declaration of Human Rights specifically address the Internet and future changes? Is access to the internet a “right”? Should it be recognized as a “utility” such as electric power or water? Should governments restrict communicators from use of the Internet? Is it fair to look at the status quo from a previous time as the baseline? For example, in 1985 the Internet was a concept, but not in existence and people did “fine.”


Extension Activities & Further Research

  1. Concerning Food Security: What are some of the second and third order effects of bringing food into an area suffering from famine? Specifically, what are the potential impacts on local security, economy, farmer incentives, debt, possible diversion, etc.?
  2. Concerning Environmental Security: Some areas of the world are used to dispose of technological or other waste for the developed world. What can be done with international instruments to maximize safety and address local concerns about safety and sustainability issues?
  3. Regarding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:Article 6 states that “Everyone has the right to recognition as a person before the law.” How could local culture change this?
  4. An iconic photo of an execution during the Vietnam War was taken on February 1, 1968. It shows South Vietnamese National Police Chief General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong officer in Saigon during the Tet Offensive.; Eddie Adams won a 1969 Pulitzer Prize for this photograph Lém was captured and brought to General Loan, who then summarily executed him because, it was contended that, Lém commanded a Viet Cong death squad. On this day, 34 murdered South Vietnamese National Police officers and their families were found in a ditch. They had all been bound and shot, and Lém was captured near the site of the ditch. Some of the executed belonged to the family of General Nguyen’s deputy and close friend; six were General Nguyen’s godchildren. Given this situation: are summary executions justified? What is the status of the Geneva Conventions regarding wars of national liberation?
  5. Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that:
    • Everyone has the right to a nationality, and that
    • No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality

    In the last quarter of the 20th century many nations have come into existence and many currently have internal strife that may cause the trend of fragmentation to continue. How is the right to a nationality identity protected? Should nationality be determined by original, current, or choice? How might this affect dual nationality?

  6. Concerning the Convention Against Torture: How does one define torture? In its extreme forms it is easy to identify; try to focus on “threshold effects,” that is, the point at which one would begin to question specific techniques or circumstances.

List of Terms

See Glossary for full list of terms and definitions.

Suggested Reading

Section 2.1

Asara, V., Otero, I., Demaria, F., & Corbera, E. (2015). Socially sustainable degrowth as a social–ecological transformation: Repoliticizing sustainability. Sustainability Science, 10(3), 375–384. authors won the 2017 Springer survey for most influential (i.e. ‘most clicked’) paper in environmental science 2016. They present the conceptual origins of de-growth, systemic social and ecological limits, and the contribution of de-growth to the transformation.

Chugh, A. (2018, September 19). How to build a model for human security in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. World Economic Forum. Retrieved June 24, 2019, from

Durch, W., Larik, J., & Ponzio, R. (Eds.). (2018). Just security in an undergoverned world. Oxford University Press. relations focus but also includes climate change. Focus on global governance.

Shaw, D. M., & Rich, L. E. (Eds.). (2015). Intergenerational global health. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, 12(1), 1–4. justice over time and space.

Steffen, W., Richardson, K., Rockström, J., Cornell, S. E., Fetzer, I., Bennett, E. M., Biggs, R., Carpenter, S. R., de Vries, W., de Wit, C. A., Folke, C., Gerten, D., Heinke, J., Mace, G. M., Persson, L. M., Ramanathan, V., Reyers, B., & Sörlin, S. (2015). Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet. Science, 347(6223), 736–746. and strengthens the scientific underpinnings of the Planetary Boundaries framework, and denies any prescription about ‘how societies should develop.’

United Nations Office. Genocide prevention and the responsibility to protect. (n.d.). Retrieved June 24, 2019, from

Weekes, B., & Stauffacher, D. (2018, December 20). Digital human security 2020 – Human security in the age of AI: Securing and empowering individuals. ICT4Peace Foundation.

Woodbury, Z. (2019). Climate trauma: Toward a new taxonomy of trauma. Ecopsychology, 11(1), 1–8.

Back to Section 2.1

Section 2.2.20

Bosselmann, K. (2018). Global governance in the Anthropocene. In D. A. Dellasala & M. I. Goldstein (Eds.), Encyclopedia of the Anthropocene, 4, (pp. 265–269). Elsevier.

Costaniza, R., & Kubiszewski, I. (Eds.). (2014). Creating a sustainable and desirable future: Insights from 45 global thought leaders. World Scientific Publishing.

Gore, A. (2013). The future: Six drivers of global change. Random House.Economic globalisation, digital communication, shifts of economic/political/military power, economic growth, science revolutions, detachment from ecosystems. Detailed concept maps summarise the contents of the book for graphically inclined readers.

Raworth, K. (2017). Doughnut economics: Seven ways to think like a 21st-century economist. Chelsea Green Publishing.Environmental Change Institute, Oxford University. The seven ways are: 1. From GDP to the donut space; 2. Placing the economy within the biosphere; 3. From rational actors to social & adaptable individuals; 4. From a mechanical equilibrium to the dynamic complexity of systems; 5. From growth orientation to redistribution; 6. From growth to regenerative priorities; 7. From addiction to growth to addiction to holistic welfare.

United Nations. (2007, September 2013). United Nations declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples.

Back to Section 2.2.20


Barlow. M. (2016). Boiling point: Government neglect, corporate abuse, and Canada’s water crisis. ECW Press.

Centre for Global Health Research. (2014). Million death study (MDS). Retrieved July 18, 2019, from

Freedom House. (2018). Freedom in the world 2018. Retrieved March 3, 2019, from

Helliwell, J. F., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. (2019). World happiness report 2019. Sustainable Development Solutions Network. site summarises metric, policy, subjective/objective benefits, virtue ethics.

International Social Science Council and UNESCO. (2013). World social science report 2013: Changing global environments. OECD Publishing and UNESCO Publishing. 2016 Report can be downloaded from - executive summary at (accessed 18 July 2019)

Landrigan, P. J., Fuller, R., Acosta, N. J. R., Adeyi, O., Arnold, R., Basu, N., Baldé, A. B., Bertollini, R., Bose-O’Reilly, S., Boufford, J. I., Breysse, P. N., Chiles, T., Mahidol, C., Coll-Seck, A. M., Cropper, M. L., Fobil, J., Fuster, V., Greenstone, M., Haines, A., … Zhong, M. (2017). The Lancet Commission on pollution and health. The Lancet, 391(10119), 462–512.‘Pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and premature death in the world today. Diseases caused by pollution were responsible for an estimated 9 million premature deaths in 2015—16% of all deaths worldwide—three times more deaths than from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined and 15 times more than from all wars and other forms of violence. In the most severely affected countries, pollution-related disease is responsible for more than one death in four.’

Martin, M., & Owen, T. (Eds.). (2015). Routledge handbook of human security. Routledge.

Philbeck, T., Davis, N., & Larsen, A. E. (2018). Values, ethics and innovation: Rethinking technological development in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. World Economic Forum. Retrieved July 18, 2019, from

Sachs, J., Schmidt-Traub, G., Kroll, C., Lafortune, G., & Fuller, G. (2018). 2018 SDG index and dashboards report. country by country performance on the SDGs.

Social Progressive Imperative. (2018). 2018 Social Progress Index: Executive summary. Social Progress Index is an aggregate index of social and environmental indicators that capture three dimensions of social progress: Basic Human Needs, Foundations of Wellbeing, and Opportunity. The 2018 Social Progress Index includes data from 146 countries on 12 components and 51 indicators ( ). See for the world map and country profiles. (significance of global average index). More information is available through

United Nations. 2015. United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: 17 goals to transform our world.

United Nations Population Fund. (2019). State of the World Report 2019 – Unfinished business: The pursuit of rights and choices for all.

World Health Organization. (2018). World health statistics 2018: Monitoring health for the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).

World Economic Forum. (2019). The global risks report 2019.

View a current collection of publications on human security on the UN Trust Fund for Human Security website.

View a current collection of UN resolutions, debates and reports of the UN Secretary-General on human security online.


Alkire, S. (2003). Concepts of human security. In L. C. Chen, S. Fukuda-Parr, & E. Seidensticker (Eds.), Human insecurity in a global world (pp. 15–40). Harvard University Press.

Baccino-Astrada, A. (1982). Manual on the rights and duties of medical personnel in armed conflicts. League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Food and Agriculture Organization. (2020). Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Retrieved July 5, 2020, from

International Committee of the Red Cross. (2014). The Geneva Conventions and their commentaries. Retrieved July 5, 2020, from treaty database with full texts, commentaries, and State Parties (signatories).

International Committee of the Red Cross. (2017, June 1). The Additional Protocols at 40.

International Labour Organization. (2020). International Labour Organization.–en/index.htmOf special interest is the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182), found at

International Recovery Platform. (2019). International Recovery Platform.

Jolly, R., & Ray, D.B. (2006). National human development reports and the human security framework: A review of analysis and experience. NHDR Occasional Paper 5. United Nations Development Programme: National Human Development Report Unit.

Noda, P.J. (Ed.) (2002). Evolution of the human security concept, health and human security: Moving from concept to action. Tokyo, Japan: Center for International Exchange, pp. 42-51.

OCHA (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs). (n.d.) Congressional Record, 1941, 87 (I). The Commission on Human Security may be found on the UNTFHS webpage. (5 July 2020)

Sphere Association. (2018). The sphere handbook: Humanitarian charter and minimum standards in humanitarian response. Practical Action Publishing.

United Nations. (1948). Universal Declaration of Human Rights. the UN translation project of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights online.

UN. (1997). Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

UN. (2020). Website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. (1966). International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

UNOHCHR. (1966). International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

World Food Programme. (2020). World Food Programme.

World Health Organization. (2013). World health report 2013.


Why Human Security Needs Our Attention

Donald Spady and Alexander Lautensach

Learning Outcomes & Big Ideas

  • Outline the evolution of the human world-view and describe some of the consequences arising from that world view.
  • Outline what constitutes a healthy environment, an ecosystem, the concept of ecosystem services and the essential requirement for ecological integrity as a prerequisite for the health of all life and for human security in general.
  • Briefly discuss the role of energy in technological progress and cultural development, particularly the role of fossil fuels as the principal factor in recent human progress and in the genesis of today’s environmental crisis.
  • Discuss how human security will be affected by the environmental crisis and the crisis arising from declining energy stores.
  • Explain the connection between human security and sustainable development in the Anthropocene.
  • Analyse the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and explain which ones are designed to strengthen ecological integrity and which ones place additional demands on ecosystem services.


The central questions for this chapter are: ‘What role does the natural environment play in maintaining human security? What evidence exists that the natural environment is being damaged to such a degree that globally, human security is threatened?’ The authors present their perspective on human security as it relates to those questions. The roots of security threats, and of protective adaptations, are identified in the evolutionary history of the human species and in the transformations that we experienced along the way. Some of our former strengths are being turned into liabilities because of the ecological constraints imposed at this time by the biosphere. As a cardinal example of such a shift, we explore the beneficial role that fossil fuels have played in the recent rapid development of human society and also the existential problems to human society that their use has spawned. As a second example, we discuss how different human security aspirations, manifesting as the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, have begun to conflict with each other. Much of the information presented in this chapter is explored more fully elsewhere in the text, especially in Chapter 9, Chapter 10 and Chapter 11.

Chapter Overview

3.1 Introduction

3.2 What Do We Mean by ‘Human Security’?

3.3 How We Got to Where We Are Today

3.4 In What Ways Are Humans the Most Dangerous Species

3.5 So, How Did We Get into This Mess?

3.5.1 Fossil Fuels – A Faustian Bargain Fossil Fuels – The Good Fossil Fuels – The Bad Global Warming Air Pollution Chemical Pollution

3.6 Addressing the Challenges

3.7 Concluding Comment

Resources and References

Key Points

Extension Activities & Further Research

List of Terms

Suggested Reading


3.1 Introduction

Why should we gravitate towards a human security model rather than adhere to more traditional views of security? The answer lies in the comprehensive interactivity expressed in the four pillar model, as we will briefly review below. Environmental security plays a vital role in affecting numerous aspects of security at the levels of individuals, families, communities, regions, countries and the planet. To make that argument, this chapter provides some context for several issues discussed more completely in later chapters. A concept stressed in this chapter is that both healthy human existence and equitable and sustainable human security requires a healthy environment that can maintain ecological integrity and effective ecosystem functioning; consequently, any serious threat to non-human life ultimately poses a threat to humans. The non-biophysical factors such as economics, cultural beliefs and practices, lifestyles, philosophy, and religion, all of which play important roles in creating and maintaining human security, are addressed elsewhere in this book.

3.2 What Do We Mean by ‘Human Security’?

The security discussed in this chapter is characterized by living an everyday life within a stable society functioning within a stable environment. The security furnished by a healthy environment provides the primal backdrop to our lives and enables stable society. It is knowing that the air is clean, the water safe, that the sun will shine, the rain will fall, and the seasons cycle predictably. It is the reasonable expectation that if you plant a crop, or cast a net into the water, you will return a harvest. Most of this type of security depends upon the healthy functioning of the supporting components of our environment. When these environmental components are in jeopardy, so are we.

Obviously, other aspects of security also constitute part of our everyday lives. These include reasonable expectations of being able to sleep safely, be warm, grow food, live, be educated and employed, worship, vote and make decisions, dream and be resilient in the face of illness and tragedy. As well, it is the ability and freedom to visit, enjoy life, love, marry, and have children in the knowledge that they will grow and develop, play and learn, and anticipate their own future without undue anxiety. This chapter does not directly address these aspects of security, although it will become obvious that environmental circumstances can profoundly affect them.

A third aspect of security includes military and judicial security. It is the security that commonly comes to mind when we talk about security. We visualize it when we think of ‘Wars on Terror,’ of ‘Homeland Security,’ of multiple check-stops, surveillance cameras—on street posts and in our televisions and computers, of body scanners and of police on every corner and in the sky, of monitoring the internet and sustaining judicial systems geared to overpopulating jails. It is the security provided by standing armies with bloated budgets and also the security presumed by carrying personal firearms or living in gated communities. These types of security are often based on fear and their lack is often connected with greed, self-interest, demagoguery, intolerance and indifference.

These diverse aspects of security can be traced to the seminal work of Abraham Maslow (1943) who classified human needs and aspirations into physiological needs (directly required for survival), safety (health and well-being), love and belonging, social esteem and self-actualization. While some features of Maslow’s hierarchical model have been superseded, his basic idea of the diversity of needs remains uncontested. Humanity’s efforts to satisfy all those needs, and our hope that they will be fulfilled in the future, are fundamental to the ideal of security—as evident in former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s (2005, pp. 1-3) paraphrasing human security as “freedom from want and fear.” Our basic survival and safety depend most directly on the healthy functioning of our natural environment, while the needs for love, belonging, esteem and success depend on the functioning of societies. Although we cannot ignore these latter types of security, this chapter does not address them. Nevertheless, with humans being what they are, all of these types of ‘security’ determine our lives. As our populations increase, the societal priorities of these various forms of security change, and in modern society, the emphasis rarely is placed on the environment. One thing is becoming increasingly obvious: human security faces existential peril because the environment is failing, and the driver of this is human action. To understand why, we need some context regarding security and some history as to how we got here.

The inclusiveness of the concept is evident in the descriptive models of human security. The four pillar model (Lautensach, 2006) distinguishes four traditional areas of security (or sources of insecurity). These are: (a) the military – strategic security of the state; (b) economic security, particularly its conceptualization through unorthodox models of sustainable economies; (c) the health of populations as described by epidemiology and the complex determinants of population health, community health, and health care priorities; and (d) environmental security that is primarily determined by the complex interactions between human populations and the source, sink, and maintenance functions of their host ecosystems. This chapter addresses primarily the fourth pillar. These four pillars include diverse sources of threats and cover the same ground as the ‘seven dimensions’ of the 1994 Human Development Report (UNDP, 1994): economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community and political security. An important strength of this approach is its comprehensive exploration of the interdependence of the different sources of insecurity. These sources were traditionally considered under the purview of different academic specialties and were (and still are) usually studied in isolation from each other. The strength of the comprehensive approach lies in its versatility and its capacity to detect and characterize synergistic effects and multifactorial causation.

3.3 How We Got to Where We Are Today

Consider a very simple model of human development from the life of pre-humans, highly interactive with and dependent on the natural environment, to life today, in which people barely acknowledge the existence of the natural world, let alone consider it a requirement for their existence. It consists of six steps. The model presented here describes this shift. The steps are not discrete, they reflect stepping stones in human history, and may overlap or run in parallel.

Step 1. Earth: ~ 4.5 Billion years ago: An environment was formed that was capable of supporting simple life and letting it evolve. This began about 0.5-1 billion years after the formation of the Earth and continues to the present (Betts et al., 2018). During this time biogeochemical cycles developed that are essential to all life. These cycles ensure that the necessary chemicals and elements are available at the right time and place and amount for lifeforms to use, and that when they are no longer needed they are recycled, stored temporarily, or safely sequestered somewhere on Earth. They evolved for virtually every element used in life.

These cycles form part of what we call ecosystem services – the benefits people obtain from ecosystems. These include provisioning (food, water, timber), regulating (climate, floods, wastes, water quality), supporting (soil formation, photosynthesis, nutrient cycles) and cultural (recreation, spiritual, aesthetic) services (MEAB, 2005). This definition reflects an anthropocentric perspective, because the first three (regulating, supporting, and provisioning) services are required for all life, and, in a reciprocal manner, the rest of life also acts to maintain these services. On the other hand, cultural services relate only to humans.

Summarized simply, ecosystem services give us a stable climate, food and shelter. It is difficult to overemphasize the complexity and interdependence of the ecosystem processes, but, simply put, they keep the air safe to breathe, the water safe to drink, the soil capable of growing nutritious crops and the climate conducive to organized society. They maintain the stable chemical and physical composition of Earth and provide us with the resources we use for every material thing we create; nothing is unnecessary and nothing is wasted. All of these services, processes, and cycles interact with each other and respond in an integrated manner to environmental demands. Through the actions of these ecosystem services, Earth’s environment evolved from a primitive and toxic (to most life) environment to one sustaining life today.

Step 2. ~ 200,000 years ago: Pre-historic Homo sapiens emerges, living a life closely integrated with and generally subservient to the natural world.

Step 3. ~11,000 years ago: Human society begins to use basic technology, especially weapons and agricultural technology, and lives within local cultures. It slowly develops a perception of being superior to nature (White, 1967). This step gradually transitioned to Step 4.

Step 4. ~11,000 years ago to now. Earth’s climate stabilizes at a temperature enabling the development of agriculture and ultimately more advanced human societies. Civilizations are formed and humans live in increasingly complex cultures, with increasingly sophisticated philosophies, religious beliefs, political and economic systems, schools, sciences and technologies. Humans spread into all parts of the world, including under the oceans, to the poles and the mountaintops, and even into space and to the moon.

Step 5. The last 100-200 years of Step 4, but with changes so radical as to constitute its own period. It is characterized by the globalized human living in an environment characterized by high technology, aggressive and unsustainable global exploitation of resources, unrestrained consumption combined with indifferent disposition of waste, rapid global transport, and virtually instantaneous global communication. The underlying philosophy is based on human superiority and on economic theory ground on the unrestrained use of natural resources to promote economic growth, human ‘progress’ and excessive material consumption.

Step 6. Post-WW II to … ? This is a time of living with the consequences of . It is today and tomorrow and the foreseeable future. Life is happening in a rapidly changing, overpopulated, resource constrained, polluted, warming, and politically, economically, and environmentally unstable world. This time (from about the late 20th century on to today) is called the Anthropocene (Steffen et al., 2011), a geologic epoch characterized by the dominance of humankind as a global force in its own right. It is so named in recognition that human actions are affecting the fundamental life systems of the planet and a reflection of our awareness that humans can change and have changed the biological and physical properties of the Earth.

A striking feature of these steps is that the rate of change accelerates as the steps increase in number. Thus, to get to Step 1 took about one billion years; from Step 1 to the evolution of Homo sapiens (Step 2), almost another 3.8 billion years. To get from Step 2 to Step 3 took maybe 200,000 years, and from Step 3 to Step 4 less than 10,000 years. The transition from Step 4 to Step 5 lasted perhaps 250 years, i.e. lightning fast in comparison. We do not know how long Step 6 will last, but the progression from Step 1 to Step 6 depended on a favourable environment, and today that environment is changing. The general environmental balance that humankind has depended on for over 11,000 years is becoming more and more unstable. How long Step 6 lasts, and what Step 7 will look like, depends on how rapidly and effectively humans can act to stabilize our environment to a state compatible with maintaining human society.

In short, while humans evolved relatively late, they have rapidly progressed to become Earth’s most successful and perhaps most dangerous species.

3.4 In What Ways Are Humans the Most Dangerous Species

Reasons why humans have become so dangerous include human intelligence and adaptability, easy access to abundant fungible energy, an attitude of superiority over nature and hubris. These enabled humans to constantly develop increasingly complex technologies that empowered humans to do things much more easily and rapidly than they could do otherwise. More recently, access to abundant cheap energy enabled these technologies to progress and develop at a rate beyond our ability to recognize and acknowledge how human actions affect both humans and the non-human world. Our philosophy is more like ‘We can do it, so let’s do it.’ as opposed to ‘We can do it, but should we, and why’? As a result, humanity developed the perspective of being ‘above’ nature, more powerful than nature, a ‘belief’ that it was exempt from the limits of nature common to other life. This impression is epitomized in Genesis 1, p. 28 (NIV), “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’ This perspective of moral exceptionalism and anthropocentrism was elaborated later by philosophers and scientists such as Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes and Isaac Newton (White, 1967).

Frankly, in some aspects we are different from the rest of nature and we do have exceptional gifts which we have used to great effect, but often with little consideration as to the consequences of our actions. Dilworth (2010, p. 2), exploring our current ecological problems, wrote, “Our species is special in being the only species to have constantly developed technology ….and … it is just this technological innovativeness that is responsible for our present ecological predicament. In sum, we have simply been too smart for our own good. However, in this ‘success,’ humanity seems to have forgotten its roots, and in terms of human development and progress, humans seem to have forgotten that what was created in Step 1 — a healthy Earth capable of supporting life indefinitely — will always be a fundamental requirement for all human life and progress, and must retain primacy. Instead, humanity seems to want to demonstrate its ingenuity by maintaining its material progress with little regard to what it is doing to the Earth. How ‘smart’ is that?

As individuals we likely consider the human species as the most intelligent species, but with respect to reproduction, our behaviour does not appear to be intelligent. For example, in 1800, the global human population was about one billion in 1800, 1.6 billion in 1900, 6.1 billion in 2000, 7.6 billion in 2018 and will be 10 billion in 2055. (For more information, see Worldometer.) Thus, while it took about 200 millennia to get to a population of one billion, it has taken only 220 years to multiply that eight times more. However, while the size of the Earth has not changed, many of its features and functions have been changed by humans so as to meet the needs of the growing population. Thus the forests, prairies and waters that covered much of Earth have been transformed for human needs, particularly in industry and food production (Hooke et al., 2012; Jackson, 2010). Humanity’s impact is profound.

In 1997, Vitousek and coworkers estimated that “between one-third and one-half of the land surface of the Earth has been transformed by human action and that more atmospheric nitrogen is fixed by humanity than by all natural terrestrial resources combined, more than half of all accessible surface fresh water is put to use by humanity, and about one-quarter of the bird species on Earth have been driven to extinction” (Vitousek et al., 1997, p. 494). Other researchers agree (Erb et al., 2009; MEAB, 2005). Today, humans make up nearly 36% of the total biomass of all mammals. Domesticated mammals (cows, sheep, horses, etc) add another 60%; all the remaining mammals, the wild ones: the lions, elephants, bears, etc. form only 4% (Bar-On et al., 2018). Think about that! Of all the mammals, only four percent are not in the service of humans; all the rest are under human management, for our convenience, not necessarily our need.

Humans may dominate mammalian biomass but they are only 0.03% of the total biomass of the Earth (Bar-On et al., 2018). As of 2012, about 41% of Earth’s ice-free lands were being used for human infrastructure needs: e.g. farms, ranching, logging, industry, cities, suburbs (Barnosky et al., 2014) and there is virtually no part of the Earth that is free of human effects. Talk about the tail wagging the dog.

In 1972, Meadows and coworkers published The Limits to Growth, which explored the likely patterns of human population and resource consumption over the following 100 years or so. They concluded that if humanity did not soon constrain resource use, there would be a shortfall of resources sometime in this century. As well, the demands of a growing population would not be met, and pollution from resource extraction, industrial production, and material use would pose environmental problems. Although their predictions were harshly criticized, a 2004 update confirmed most of their conclusions while revising some of their timelines (Meadows et al., 2004). Since then, Turner (2008, 2014), Bardi (2011) and Jackson and Webster (2016) have also revisited the Meadows forecasts and found them generally, and unfortunately, ‘on target.’

To quantitate the human impact on Earth, William Rees and Mathis Wackernagel (1996) developed the Ecological Footprint, an estimate of how much of Earth’s biological capacity is required by a given human activity or population. Today, it is estimated that every year the world’s population uses the equivalent of 1.7 Earths to provide the services we need, the resources we use, and to absorb our waste. (For more information, see the Global Footprint Network.) That is living like the ‘average’ global citizen. But if you are reading this book, you are probably not the average citizen. You likely live in Canada, the USA or Australia, where the footprint is not 1.7 Earths, but five Earths. Perhaps you live in Brazil where you need only two Earths, or the UK, France or Switzerland (three Earths). Imagine that all your income comes from interest generated by a trust fund. Sometimes, you need a bit more, and so you borrow from the principal. But if you don’t pay it back the trust fund eventually runs out; then most often, you will have to go to work, or maybe go on welfare, but somehow your needs will be met. Earth is humanity’s trust fund and we have borrowed from it for millennia with apparent impunity. Where do we go when Earth can’t provide? Mars?

To characterize the manifestations of human impact, Johan Rockström and coworkers in 2009 identified nine ‘planetary boundaries’ or primary aspects of key Earth system processes that “define the safe operating space for humanity” (Rockström et al., 2009, p. 472). Three of these boundaries — climate change, global phosphorus and nitrogen cycles, and rate of biodiversity loss—have already been transgressed. Several others—ocean acidification (Feely et al., 2009), stratospheric ozone, freshwater use, and land use change—are close to breaching their limits. The two remaining — atmospheric aerosol loading and chemical pollution—have not yet been satisfactorily quantified because we lack reliable indices with which to measure their effects, but both are major causes of ill health and death in human and non-human life (Piqueras & Vizenor, 2016; Landrigan et al., 2017).

It is obvious that we are using more than Earth can sustainably provide or renew, and Earth’s life support systems are starting to fail. This is termed overshoot and reflects the time when the population’s demand on an ecosystem exceeds the ability of the ecosystem to respond. Wherever we look, we see threats to human security arising from overshoot. Step 6 is already characterized by serious global ecosystem instability (Romm, 2010). Something has to give.

The above paragraphs summarize a world whose life-supporting systems are deteriorating. Physical and biological limits ultimately govern human life and society and the current situation of breaching these limits and increasing the stresses on Earth’s physical and biological systems cannot last. Breaking the limits breaks the planet.

Human existence depends on an acknowledgement of its dependence on nature. Humans, now more than ever in human history, must live their lives with the active and aggressive acceptance of this dependence in all their actions, plans, aspirations, teachings and beliefs.

3.5 So, How Did We Get into This Mess?

To address that question, let us review the steps in our model. The primal step in creating human security was Step 1: creating an environment conducive to human existence. The key human step was learning to harness energy, particularly energy for food and warmth and later to develop and use various technologies, and to progress. Today’s globalized society is based on a philosophy of competition, economic growth, technological progress, credit, and consumption. It is complex, characterized by high levels of material consumption (or aspirations to such an economy), institutions such as governments, universities, banks, churches, militaries, effective health care, generally secure food supplies, rapid communication and transport. Much of today’s living is enabled by advanced technologies combined with abundant amounts of cheap, fungible, transportable, energy. In today’s globalized society with its complex institutions and scaled-up industries, energy remains our most critical resource, but we are particularly addicted to one form of it: fossil fuels. What is their story?

3.5.1 Fossil Fuels – A Faustian Bargain Fossil Fuels – The Good

For primitive humans, energy was what came from the sun. In this state, food was opportune, temporary, and unlikely to be stored, and humans lived a hunter-gatherer existence. Later on, fire was tamed and wood and biomass became early sources of energy. Over time, the development of agriculture enabled some semblance of food security. Fixed communities became more common and, while most people were hunters or farmers, merchants and priests and other forms of human occupation evolved. As technologies were developed and improved, and new lands found and exploited, humanity developed well organized societies and civilizations. Initially, their footprint was small and the Earth could easily meet their needs.

Civilizations, like the Roman, Greek, Mayan, Indian and Chinese civilizations, evolved, grew, and ultimately faded away. In all instances, available energy was a central factor in sustaining these civilizations. Some civilizations failed when resources became scarce, or there was local climate change such as drought, or a major catastrophe and a subsequent failure to adapt (Diamond, 2005; Tainter, 1990). For the civilization involved, this was a major disaster, but the effects were mainly local. This contrasts with today’s global environmental crisis where the whole Earth is affected by human action and everyone is, or soon will be, affected, by the consequences, no matter where they live or how they live. The difference has been caused by the global use of the fossil fuels (FF) coal, oil and natural gas, which are the non-renewable, decayed, and sequestered products of forests that grew millions of years ago.

Over the last 200 years human society has been increasingly defined by the use of these fossil fuels. The qualities of fossil fuels enabled the rapid expansion of the industrial revolution and most of the improvements in living standards that followed (Cottrell, 1955). Today, fossil fuels energize virtually all forms of transport; they drive our industries, fuel our power plants, drive our economy, and are used to make the tens of thousands of chemicals and products in daily use. Global food production, and population growth, has increased dramatically largely because of fossil fuels that enabled the creation of the fertilizers and pesticides needed to grow crops and the fuel to run farm machinery and deliver crops to market. These fuels enabled the development of a society encouraged to consume more and more, and to throw away, not repair. They have facilitated globalization and the outsourcing of manufacture to lands with cheap labor and marginal environmental protection. We are addicted to them. Fossil Fuels – The Bad

However, all is not good. The benefits of fossil fuels come with at least three nasty blowbacks: global warming, air pollution, and environmental pollution in general from (mainly) fossil fuel derived synthetic chemicals. Each poses serious threats to ecosystem health and integrity, to human health, and to human security. Global Warming

To grasp why global warming and fossil fuels are linked and pose such a significant problem, we need to know a bit about how the Earth keeps its temperature at a level suitable for humans. When burned, fossil fuels release carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere. This is a greenhouse gas, as are methane, ozone, nitrous oxide, water vapour and some fluorocarbons. Normally, these gases trap enough heat from the sun to maintain average global temperature at a level suitable for human life and progress. Before the industrial revolution, when fossil fuels were not used, atmospheric COwas maintained at an average concentration of around 280 ppm. But after fossil fuels began to be used, the release of CO2 was faster and greater than Earth could recycle and its concentration rose in the atmosphere and the oceans. Atmospheric CO2 levels are already nearing 410 ppm and are rising at ~20 ppm per decade. This excess of CO2 has led to more heat being trapped on Earth and thus today’s mean global temperature is about +1.0°C above preindustrial levels, and it continues to rise at about 0.2°C per decade. This rate of temperature increase is 10 to 20 times faster than rates documented during post ice-age recovery warming and has never been experienced by humans. By about 2040, global mean temperature will be +1.5°C above preindustrial levels. If we continue to burn fossil fuels at current rates, by 2100 global temperatures could be +4°C above preindustrial levels (Anderson & Bows, 2011; New et al., 2011; Bowerman et al., 2011; Betts et al., 2011). Human societies cannot tolerate four degrees and even today, when the temperature is only +1°C, the consequences of global climate change are obvious, far-reaching, uncertain, unprecedented, seemingly becoming more rapid, and for all intents and purposes, permanent; +1.5°C is yet to come (IPCC SR1.5, 2018). Chapter 9 focuses on climate change in greater detail.

What can be done to correct this situation? In the first edition of this book, this chapter discussed the issue of peak oil, a situation where fossil fuel production peaked and then rapidly declined to near zero. While still possible, the more urgent situation is that we must rapidly stop burning fossil fuels, even though supplies remain. But, since fossil fuels play such a huge role in human society, it seems sensible to ask the questions: (1) “Is global warming that big a problem?” and (2) “What will we do if we can’t use fossil fuels for energy?”

For question 1 the answer is yes. Anthropogenic global warming is an existential threat to human society and possibly the human species; it is the first such threat in human history. It also poses a threat to other forms of life and to the functioning, but not the existence, of Earth. Its effects include ocean acidification (AMAP, 2013) and warming, sea level rise (Jevrejeva et al., 2018), loss of insect life (Lister & Garcia, 2018), loss of sea life (WWF, 2016; McCauley et al., 2015), diminished mammal diversity (Davis et al., 2018), ocean dead zones (Breitburg et al., 2017), and water and food insecurity (Flörke et al., 2018; Ritchie et al., 2018; Turral et al., 2011; Betts et al., 2018).

Each of these consequences affect how humans live, how they grow food, work, and maintain their health, and how their economies and societies function. A steady diet of these effects leads to, amongst other things, mental distress, societal unrest, and political instability (Smith & Vivekananda, 2007; Natalini et al., 2015; Bellemare, 2014; Lagi et al., 2011; USGCRP, 2016). While many of these are principal consequences of global warming, some are also due in part to other biophysical and societal factors acting together to lead to general insecurity. These effects are explored and detailed more completely in intermittent reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (e.g. IPCC, 2007; IPCC, 2012), the most recent being a report detailing the potential effects of a rise in mean global temperature of 1.5°C (IPCC SR1.5, 2018).

While the mechanisms of action are varied and complex, all of these effects are caused directly or indirectly by the use of fossil fuels. Five self-reinforcing human processes have been identified as causes of overshoot: economic growth, population growth, technological expansion, arms races, and growing income inequality (McMichael, 1993; Furkiss, 1974; Coates, 1991; Daly & Cobb Jr., 1994). These are explored more completely in later chapters of this book. However, it is clear that whatever causal mechanisms have been identified, we must stop burning fossil fuels. But this is hard to do.

Answering question 2—replacing fossil fuels—is much harder. In 2016 fossil fuels provided 86% of global energy consumption. The rest was provided by nuclear and hydropower (11.2%) and wind, solar and other renewables (2.8%) (World Energy Council, 2016.). Nuclear power is non-renewable energy and has significant waste management issues; the rest (hydroelectricity, solar [thermal and photovoltaic], wind, and tidal energy) are renewable; but their use leads to, likely eventually solvable, major problems of energy storage and integration into the electric grid system management. As well, most renewable energy sources are best used in static situations, such as power stations, and not in transportation. Unfortunately, these other energy sources are unlikely to replace fossil fuels quickly or completely (Heinberg & Mander, 2009; MacKay, 2009). Therefore, we must choose between continuing to use fossil fuels, (the Business As Usual or BAU approach), and thus likely face a 4°C world in about 80 years, or we must soon start a transition to a simpler, lower energy, less consumptive, lifestyle.

Yet for some reasons we dawdle, we continue with business as usual. Since the 1990’s, there have been conferences organized annually by the United Nation that specifically address issues relating to climate change. They are called the Conference of Parties (COP), the most recent one (COP24) was held in Katowice, Poland. Unfortunately, in the end, promises are made, targets set, but everything is aspirational and little happens. Numerous other climate conferences and commissions have suffered similar fates. There have also been scientific ‘warnings’ such as the Scientific Consensus on Maintaining Humanity’s Life Support Systems in the 21st Century (Barnosky et al., 2014) and the World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice (Ripple et al., 2017; [first warning UCS, 1992]); all to little apparent effect. This chapter does not explore the reasons for this inaction, save to say that strong economic and political forces appear to be acting against any effective global action to reduce emissions. This occurs even in the face of obvious global warming and environmental catastrophes such as drought, extreme flooding, unprecedentedly destructive forest fires, sea level rise, food and political insecurity, examples of which all happened in 2018 and all of which had global warming as an important factor in their genesis (Herring et al., 2018). It is possible that there will be some attempt to significantly reduce fossil fuel use, but the time frame is governed more by politics than by science.

Global warming is the poster child for what happens when a planetary boundary is exceeded; in this instance, the ecosystem process of thermoregulation is impaired. Two other planetary boundaries that are also closely related to fossil fuel use are air pollution and chemical pollution, each of which — independently — pose major problems for human and environmental health and security but not at quite the same level of danger. The degree to which they are transgressing their boundaries is unknown because we cannot measure the levels of pollution globally, but they seriously harm both humans and the environment, and threaten environmentally based human security. This chapter does not explore these issues in the depth they require. We discuss them briefly to raise awareness of their role in influencing human security. A closer look at the connections between ecological integrity and human health will be taken in Chapter 17. Air Pollution

Air pollution is defined as an excessive amount of ambient particulate matter. Biomass, used mainly in developing countries for heating and cooking, and fossil fuels, used globally for nearly everything, account for about 85% of airborne particulate pollution (Landrigan et al., 2017). In 2015, air pollution (ambient PM2.5) was the fifth-highest ranking global mortality risk factor (Cohen et al., 2017). In adults, air pollution can cause ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, lung cancer, and stroke. In children it can cause asthma and can affect a child’s normal development. There are other forms of air pollution as well; e.g. acid rain, which have a strong environmental effect, especially on aquatic organisms.

Coal-burning power plants are a major source of air pollution but they are being phased out in many parts of the world, because of the need to reduce CO2 emissions. Using fossil fuels for transport is also a significant source of air pollution. Regulatory initiatives have played a major role in reducing the health burden of air pollution, particularly from transportation. In the US, a recent study showed that improvement in air quality between 1990 and 2010 resulted in up to 38% fewer deaths than if air quality had remained unchanged (Zhang et al., 2018). Chemical Pollution

Chemical pollution lacks any standard measure to assess its effects, and the effects on humans and the environment are considerably harder to assess (Diamond et al., 2015). In part, this is because of: 1. difficulties in measuring exposure, 2. difficulties in measuring effects, 3. our ignorance of what to look for, 4. their presence in the environment in the form of unknown, unmanageable, and unmeasurable mixtures of chemicals,and 5. their overwhelming importance in society. Regardless of this high level of ignorance we do know that chemicals are a significant source of human illness and death (Prüss-Ustün et al., 2011; Grandjean & Bellanger, 2017). The environment is also clearly affected. A good example is the association of systemic pesticide use and the collapse of insect populations (van Lexmond et al., 2015; Malaj et al., 2014).

Chemical pollution independently poses very serious problems for humanity and clearly threatens environmental stability. Currently, there are over 140,000 chemicals on the global market (UNEP, 2013). Many come directly or indirectly from petroleum and are generically called petrochemicals; they account for 90% of total feedstock demand in chemical production today (OECD/IEA, 2018).

Chemicals include plastics, food additives, pesticides and fertilizers, household chemicals, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, construction materials, electronic products, shoes, clothes, nanoparticles and many others.

We depend on chemicals to maintain our lives, to clothe and feed us, to make us more attractive, to treat our illnesses, build our homes and run our businesses. However, as good as they are, their production, use and disposal has resulted in chemical pollution throughout the globe. Chemical waste is found in the deepest parts of the oceans (Jamiesonet al., 2017), in freshwater ecosystems (Malaj et al., 2014), and in polar regions (Letcher et al., 2010). Pollution is not an inevitable consequence of chemical use; some chemicals contaminate the environment but do not apparently harm it. In some cases, contamination may shift to pollution if and when we learn what to look for, or how to measure it. We do know that many of the synthetic chemicals released into the environment cannot be metabolized into simpler compounds because no metabolic pathways exist to break them down to safer end-products. Thus, they stay in the environment and can pollute it. They get into animals and plants and may affect their metabolism, their health, their ability to reproduce, to forage, and to live.

For example, relatively common chemicals called endocrine disruptors can affect the normal endocrine metabolism of many forms of life, including humans (Bergman et al., 2013; Gore et al., 2015; Trasande, 2019). The effects of these can manifest at any age but are particularly dangerous at the earliest stages of development of the organism. At that time even very small exposures to a chemical can have major long term adverse effects. Health issues associated with endocrine disruptors include neurodevelopmental delay, autism, cancer, adult diabetes, thyroid function, infertility, and feminization. These health issues lead to considerable economic costs. A recent study done in Europe suggested that the health costs due to inadvertent exposure to endocrine disruptors was approximately €163 billion (1.28% of the EU GDP) (Trasande et al., 2016; Grandjean & Bellanger, 2017). A similar study done in the US found even greater costs.

The effects documented in these studies usually relate to humans; we lack the knowledge or resources to more systematically explore how the natural world is affected. We do know that chemical pollution has resulted in loss of biodiversity, lowered bird and insect populations, and affected the ability of many organisms to thrive (Halden et al., 2017; EEA, 2012).

Plastics are another chemical family having both major positive and negative qualities. First made in the early 1900’s, their production became widespread in the late 1940’s and now their production exceeds most other man-made products. In 1950, global plastic production was ~2 million metric tonnes (Mt); in 2015, it was ~ 380Mt. At that time, about 8300 Mt of virgin plastic had been produced in total and about 6300 Mt of plastic waste had been generated, nine percent was recycled, 12% was incinerated (which often releases toxic materials) and 79% was in landfills. By 2050, it is estimated that about 12,000 Mt of plastic waste will be accumulating (Geyer et al., 2017).

A key aspect of plastics is that while their human use may be as short as a few seconds, their environmental existence lasts centuries. Plastics do not degrade at all or only very poorly. Often, they just break down into smaller particles which eventually make their way to oceans where they can be ingested by ocean life (Gallo et al., 2018). In the ocean, they can then affect the health of animals mechanically, by strangling them or by blocking their intestines. Plastics can degrade into smaller and smaller particles, called microplastics, which can enter the cells of organisms and act as vectors for chemicals that have become attached to the plastic. Hence, they transfer their toxicity to an organism. The problem of plastic pollution is so massive that it is predicted that by 2050 there will be more plastic bits in the ocean than there are fish. Recently, microparticles of plastic have been found in human faeces.

3.6 Addressing the Challenges

Throughout the first five steps outlined above, humanity’s struggle for security showed little evidence of any globally collective consciousness. The first major concerted efforts at the international level were made by the League of Nations, established in 1920 and succeeded by the United Nations from 1945. They focused on the socio-political pillar and only gradually included some economic and health-related aspects of human security. Environmental security was not addressed by any international initiative until the UN’s eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which represented a token step in that direction (UNEP-MAB, 2005). In 2015 they were replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs; Figure 3.1) (UN, 2015) which placed environmental security on the conceptual map of the international community. Their achievement is planned for 2030.

UN Sustainable Development Goals. Long description available.
Figure 3.1 United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. [Long Description]

The 17 SDGs represent the most significant global collaborative initiative towards a sustainable future, and the first that takes into account some of the ecological context. They span diverse areas addressing the four pillars and focus on many significant sources of insecurity. However, they collide with the fundamental problem of ecological overshoot. This is illustrated in Table 3.1.

In the right column, the SDGs are classified as achievable, partly achievable, or unachievable: those SDGs that depend on natural resources are now unachievable; those that depend primarily on social justice are achievable; three SDGs depend on both and are therefore partly achievable. The respective numbers of the SDGs are specified.

The centre column lists the eight MDGs with their respective numbers where they correspond with the focus areas of the SDGs. They are again classified as achievable (aligned to the left side), unachievable (aligned right), or partly achievable (centered). Only one MDG, number 7 Ensure Environmental Sustainability, falls into the latter category. Some achievement on number seven was possible through the equitable allocation of social and economic capital; but its dependence on planetary resources prevented any substantial progress. By their target date of 2015 most of the MDGs’ targets had not been achieved.

Table 3.1a Contradictions within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Focus areas of the SDGs as related to the MDGs (2000–2015)
Focus Achievable Partly achievable Unachievable
Poverty Dignity (#1) Poverty (#1)
Food security Hunger (#1)
Health security Disease, malnutrition (#4, 5, 6)
Education Access (#2)
Gender equality Justice (#3)
Water Planetary resources (#7)
Energy Planetary resources (#7)
Economic growth, employment Planetary resources (#7)
Infrastructure, industry Planetary resources (#7)
Inequality Justice (#3)
Cities Planetary resources (#7)
Consumption, production Planetary resources (#7)
Climate change Planetary resources (#7)
Oceans Planetary resources (#7)
Terrestrial ecosystems Planetary resources (#7)
Societies Justice (#3)
Global partnerships Partnership (#8)
Table 3.1b Contradictions within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Focus areas of the SDGs (2015–2030)
Focus Achievable Partly achievable Unachievable
Poverty No poverty (#1)
Food security Zero hunger (#2)
Health security Good health (#3)
Education Quality education (#4)
Gender equality Gender equality (#5)
Water Clean water, sanitation (#6)
Energy Affordable, clean energy (#7)
Economic growth, employment Decent work, economic growth (#8)
Infrastructure, industry Industry, innovation, infrastructure (#9)
Inequality Reduced inequalities (#10)
Cities Sustainable cities, communities (#11)
Consumption, production Responsible consumption, production (#12)
Climate change Climate action (#13)
Oceans Life below water (#14)
Terrestrial ecosystems Life on land (#15)
Societies Peace, justice, strong institutions (#16)
Global partnerships Partnerships for the goals (#17)

The problem arises from the fact that seven SDGs (1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 11, 12) require primarily that additional ecosystem services and natural resources be mobilized. In contrast, three other SDGs (13, 14, 15) require that our demands on the biosphere be reduced. Regardless of which of those SDGs are prioritized, or whether we try to achieve them all equitably, some of them will slip even further from our grasp (von Weizsaecker & Wijkman, 2018, p. 39). Five other SDGs (4, 5, 10, 16, 17) depend primarily on social justice, ethical changes and legislative reform – resources that are not subject to physical limitations. They are exempt from the constraints imposed by our overshoot, which renders them more achievable. The remaining SDGs (6, 7, and partly 13 on climate change) depend on both kinds of resources. Comparing the entries for the MDGs and SDGs indicates that very limited improvement was achieved on the grantability issue.

Considering that the SDGs and the associated Agenda 2030 mission document were developed by some of the world’s most educated minds, and that the SDGs are much celebrated for their ‘progressiveness’, we are faced with what appears to be a huge blind spot in the minds of many educated people (O’Neill et al., 2018). The above-mentioned warnings by the scientific community (Ripple et al., 2017) were hardly taken into account. This has been interpreted as a fundamental failing in today’s systems of governance and education (Lautensach, 2018).

The example of the SDGs illustrates, on the one hand, the global extent of shared concern and of corresponding efforts at this stage. On the other hand, their limited success to date (UN, 2018) indicates a persistent blindness to basic scientific understanding of what sustainability means; it shows an insufficient commitment to incur the necessary sacrifices that a globally effective Transition to sustainability would entail; and it takes no notice of crisis causation, ecological overshoot and the ongoing expansion of ecological footprints.

3.7 Concluding Comment

This chapter has shown us why we need a healthy environment, why we need a world that can meet human demand while still maintaining adequate resources and services for non-human life. The discussion of fossil fuels illustrates how one critical resource can pose fundamental problems for the health of all life, for the functioning of Earth’s life supporting systems, and ultimately for the maintenance of human security. It has also shown what happens when we place too much demand on Earth’s life supporting systems, and why we need to seriously consider what we are doing to our world. It is not just being nice to the plants and animals; it is saving our own skin, because humans need what non-human lives provide and do for us. As humans, we need ecological integrity, we need intact ecosystems, we cannot maintain our life supporting systems by ourselves.

This chapter has provided a rationale for why a healthy environment is required for human security, but, as mentioned early on, it is not the only factor determining security. There are other factors, discussed elsewhere in this book that now play their key roles at global scales. These include issues such as politics, theology, economics, culture, city planning, business considerations, social planning, and ethical considerations. However, at this stage they increasingly tend to get into each other’s way. Early in this chapter we wrote, The security discussed in this chapter is characterized by living an everyday life within a stable society functioning within a stable environment.” That security no longer exists because Earth can no longer provide a stable environment. As we see from the discussion surrounding Table 3.1, one consequence of overshoot is that the pursuit of one kind of security now tends to jeopardize the achievement of another. Only through a reduction of ecological overshoot (or degrowth) can we hope to solve that conundrum.

Human progress has created an unprecedented global environmental crisis that is leading to a multitude of unprecedented global social, political, and economic crises. While there may be pockets of ‘perceived security’, globally right now there is no genuine human security anywhere and no prospect of such security being a reality for a long time. What do we do? The moral philosopher Mary Midgley wrote, “Wisdom … comes into its own when things become dark and difficult rather than when they are clear and straightforward.” (Midgley, 2005, p. x) With that in mind, maybe a threat to our security is not all bad. Maybe these next decades will form the basis for the next significant step in our evolution, one that moves us from the current adolescence of the human species into a more mature, wiser species, fewer in numbers, considerate of, and well aware of its place on Earth and its limits in exploiting Earth’s gifts — one developing a better view of what humanity can really be.

Resources and References


Key Points

  • Human evolution has been marked by a series of momentous transformations, each allowing us to support greater numbers and greater levels of consumption.
  • Humans have a great proclivity to expand their habitat, to adapt hostile environments to their needs and to adapt their cultures to environmental contingencies and changes.
  • Some civilizations that proved unable to do so disappeared. Others who were able to meet challenges presented by their environments flourished.
  • The present situation represents an unprecedented challenge as for the first time the challenge is global, human numbers are staggeringly high and getting higher, and we continue living lives based on unsustainable practices. We cannot continue to live this way.
  • Human security on a global and equitable basis now seems farther away than at any time in human history. Our heavy use and reliance on fossil fuels for energy is a major reason but by no means the only one.
  • Our collective global ecological overshoot has led to a situation where some aspects of human security have become unachievable because they conflict with other areas.


Extension Activities & Further Research

  1. In what ways are humans the most dangerous species? Dangerous to whom?
  2. What do you think are your ‘fundamental requirements’?
  3. Ask yourself: How do I benefit from fossil fuels? What would happen to me if they were not available anymore?
  4. Describe Step 6. How do you see it evolving over your lifetime?
  5. If you were the Secretary General of UN, what recommendations would you give to the working groups in charge of the SDG programme?
  6. Explore how our current environmental crisis is likely to affect each of the four pillars of human security, first in your community, then in your country, then globally.
  7. Where do you see the greatest obstacles toward the adoption of effective policies to cope with the loss of fossil fuel energy and its consequences? Consider factual circumstances as well as popular beliefs, cultural traditions, ideologies, etc.
  8. What are your responsibilities to future generations?
  9. What are your responsibilities to the Earth?
  10. Watch the documentary Living in the Future’s Past. It streams on Amazon Prime; use the Living in the Future’s Past study guide [PDF].
  11. Suggest some changes that you could make to your personal life (that possibly aren’t already as well publicised as walking, biking and carpooling) to reduce fossil fuel consumption. Estimate the chances that these changes can be scaled to a community level or national level. The objective is to initiate some thinking about some innovative solutions.
  12. A well illustrated summary of the key features of the Anthropocene is found in Encyclopedia of Earth’s site Welcome to the Anthropocene. Identify which features manifest most prominently in your home community or region.

List of Terms

See Glossary for full list of terms and definitions.

Suggested Reading

Catton, W. R. (1982). Overshoot: The ecological basis of revolutionary change. University of Illinois Press.This is an excellent introduction to the basic aspects of ecological change. It is well written and is possibly more relevant today than when it was written in 1982. Strongly recommended.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2018). Global warming of 1.5°C: Summary for policymakers. spells out our current situation and underscores the need to stay below 1.5°C.

Landrigan, P. J., Fuller, R., Acosta, N. J. R., Adeyi, O., Arnold, R., Basu, N., Baldé, A. B., Bertollini, R., Bose-O’Reilly, S., Boufford, J. I., Breysse, P. N., Chiles, T., Mahidol, C., Coll-Seck, A. M., Cropper, M. L., Fobil, J., Fuster, V., Greenstone, M., Haines, A., … Zhong, M. (2017). The Lancet Commission on pollution and health. The Lancet, 391(10119), 462–512. important description of how chemical pollution affects human health.

MacKay, D. J. C. (2009). Sustainable energy – without the hot air. UIT Cambridge Ltd.A well-written, enjoyable, and excellent description of the energy options available to us today.

Meadows, D., Randers, J., & Meadows, D. (2004). Limits to growth: The 30-year update. Chelsea Green Publishing.A good summary of our current predicament with respect to consumption and the use of resources.

Ripple, W. J., Wolf, C., Newsome, T. M., Galetti, M., Alamgir, M., Crist, E., Mahmoud, M. I., & Laurance, W. F. (2017). World scientists’ warning to humanity: A second notice. BioScience, 67(12), 1026–1028.


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Long Descriptions

Figure 3.1 long description: Graphic of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, numbered 1 to 17. In order, they are:

  1. No poverty
  2. Zero hunger
  3. Good health and well-being
  4. Quality education
  5. Gender equality
  6. Clean water and sanitation
  7. Affordable and clean energy
  8. Decent work and economic growth
  9. Industry, innovation and infrastructure
  10. Reduced inequalities
  11. Sustainable cities and communities
  12. Responsible consumption and production
  13. Climate action
  14. Life below water
  15. Life on land
  16. Peace, justice and strong institutions
  17. Partnerships for the goals

[Return to Figure 3.1]

Media Attributions


Conflicting Perspectives

Malcolm Brown and Richard Gehrmann

Learning Outcomes & Big Ideas

  • Understand that human security is informed by a plurality of ideas; some of them contradict each other to various extents. Particular situations call for particular compromises.
  • Acknowledge that around the world, diverse philosophical perspectives on security developed over time. Globalisation has brought them into contact with each other, which often causes conflict.
  • Recognise the relationship between human security and human rights is contested; many authors argue convincingly that the latter is necessary, but not sufficient, for the former.
  • Realise that while the security needs popularised by Abraham Maslow may bear universal significance across cultures, the hierarchy in which they are commonly presented does not.
  • Understand that a considerable portion of the values underlying human security are culturally contingent, question how far can this relativism be extended before it becomes unjust.
  • Discern between freedom of religion and freedom from religion, when they are practised in tandem, enhance human security. When either is practiced in isolation from the other, it threatens human security.


Many conflicting perspectives in the study of human security are derived from a dichotomy of ‘the West’ and ‘the rest’, which is expressed in many ways: Western and Eastern cultures; the developed world and the developing world; the North and the South; modern and traditional values; secularisation and religiosity; egalitarian and hierarchical polities. This chapter explores the strengths and weaknesses of these dichotomies in the light of human security concerns and paradigms. It focuses on the global contributions of religion to both human security and human insecurity, and on the relationship between human security and human rights.

Chapter Overview

4.1 Introduction

4.2 On Globalisation

4.3 Human Rights and Human Security

4.4 Notes from an Ethnography

4.5 A Hierarchy of Needs?

4.6 The West and the Rest?

4.6.1 Asian Values

4.6.2 Human Security Paradigms

4.7 Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Religion

4.8 Conclusion – Paradoxes of Universality

Resources and References

Key Points

Extension Activities & Further Research

List of Terms

Suggested Reading


4.1 Introduction

The chapter explores the strengths and weaknesses of some conflicting perspectives on human security, with a focus on the contributions of religion to human security and human insecurity. This focus reflects a major concern of post-9/11 conceptions of human security (see for example, Shani et al., 2007; Wellman & Lombardi, 2012; Shani, 2016), but it is really not that new. Islamophobic perspectives in the West can be traced back through the Rushdie affair, the oil crisis of the 1970s, the Suez crisis and post-war decolonisation, back to the crusades, and even to the first wave of Islamic expansion in the 7th century. According to Edward Said (1995), the Orient – a concept that includes the Muslim world – is fundamentally a Western creation and a tool of Western hegemony. Over the past millennium, a dualism of Orient (East) and Occident (West) has been constructed and maintained through various Western discourses – literary, political, academic, popular, and media – in which the Orient/Muslim world is defined in terms of complémentarité (Laroui, 1990, pp. 155-65) with the West. Thus the Muslim world becomes, by definition, what the West is not. It is portrayed as essentially different and inferior because it is believed to be homogeneous and unchanging, in contrast to the cultural diversity and progress that characterise the modern West, or at least the modern West’s conception of itself. If it is homogenous, it cannot be tolerant, because tolerance depends on (and indeed is) an acceptance of heterogeneity. If it is unchanging, it will never grasp the benefits of modernity, and the Oriental Muslim mind and conscience will always be stuck in the past.

For Said and other critics, this type of Orientalism constituted a rationale for European colonial expansion in the 19th century (Said, 1995), and it continues to be seen as associated with attempts to maintain American hegemony in the Middle East and parts of South Asia. It also constitutes a lens through which Islam is perceived and portrayed. As such, Western representations of Islam – including academic ones – often reflect Orientalist assumptions. The main theme of these representations has been the irrationality of the Muslim world as it is defined by those representations. In the colonial period, the central stereotype of the Orient related to its sensuality, allowing Victorian Europe to imagine its alter ego, a “world of excess” which “was populated by androgynes, slave traders, lost princesses and the degenerate patriarch” (Turner, 1994, p. 98). The sultan’s harem, surrounded by belly dancers, produced exotic tales of Arabian nights and pages of case material for Freudian theorising. In the post 9/11 Western imagination, this sensuality appears not merely to have been hidden behind chadors and burqas, but to have been destroyed altogether. Yet the sense of exoticism remains. The bearded fundamentalist, the suicide bomber and the veiled woman who collaborates in her own oppression may not be the object of Western fantasies, but they continue to bear the label of irrationality.

A vanished sensual vision of the Orient can be contrasted with perspectives that overemphasise conflict in the historical interactions between of Islam and Europe, and these were preoccupations of Brendon Tarrant who murdered 51 people in March 2019 in the New Zealand city of Christchurch. These mass shootings occurred during Friday prayers at two different mosques, as he live-streamed his attack and published a manifesto explaining his acts of mass murder. The killer specifically focused on the significance of historical discord between the West and the Islamic world, a point emphasised by his inscription of the dates of Western – Islamic battles on his weapons. This was an attack on human security not based on the Christian religion but on a cultural western secular ethno-nationalist worldview similar to the 2011 killings perpetrated by Norwegian killer Anders Breivik. Following the attacks, an Australian far right Senator attracted widespread condemnation (and subsequent electoral defeat) for his assertion the attacks had occurred because Muslims had migrated to New Zealand, essentially blaming them for their own murder. Globalisation contributed to the open and accepting immigration policy of New Zealand, to the killers’ absorption of racist messages, and to the politician’s use of this tragedy to emphasise his political platform. A distorted misuse of religious history and an associated mass killing had further fuelled a narrative of Islamophobia.

These phenomena have a long history, which needs to be appreciated in order to understand present-day human security dilemmas and the conflicting perspectives that respond to them. However, this chapter focuses on more recent developments. The emergence of globalisation provides the context within which diverse perspectives become conflicting perspectives, because it is only when they come into contact with each other that they are able to disagree.

Another major theme of this chapter is the relationship between human security and human rights, which is central to a number of conflicting perspectives. Whether or not human rights should be universal or culturally located is a controversial issue with no easy answer. It has important consequences for discussions of human nature and the concept of Asian values, which has been articulated by political leaders in Singapore, Malaysia, and Taiwan. A related question concerns whether or not human rights should be norm based or criterion based. A norm-based approach assesses human rights situations in relative terms, comparing what actually happens within a given culture; a criterion-based approach is based on universal rules and standards, such as international human rights laws. Another way of asking this is to choose between valuing ends and valuing means. Do we accept relative outcomes including improvements in the human situation within a given culture, or do we always insist on doing the right thing according to moral and legal standards? Can apparent human rights violations be excused when they constitute an improvement on an existing situation? In order to address this question concretely, this chapter draws on ethnographic fieldnotes from a study conducted by one of the authors.

4.2 On Globalisation

We begin with a more conceptual consideration of globalisation. Roland Robertson defined globalisation as “the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole” (1992, p. 8). Since he wrote this in 1992, the word has entered everyday language, to the extent that expanding on this definition is unnecessary. Aspects of his theory include the concept of the glocal (a portmanteau of global and local), and the significance of religion.

It is not that the word ‘glocal’ was underused. Rather, it is rarely used in a judicious way. It has been used to refer to all sorts of conceptual meetings between the global and the local, and, consequently, is used to parody the sort of lazy and pretentious social science that is popularly associated with the worst excesses of postmodernism. However, Robertson  uses the term much more carefully:

Global capitalism both promotes and is conditioned by cultural homogeneity and cultural heterogeneity. The production and consolidation of difference and variety is an essential ingredient of contemporary capitalism, which is, in any case, increasingly involved with a growing variety of micro-markets (national-cultural, racial and ethnic; genderal; social-stratificational; and so on). At the same time micro-marketing takes place within the contexts of increasingly universal-global economic practices…. We must thus recognize directly ‘real world’ attempts to bring the global, in the sense of the macroscopic aspect of contemporary life, into conjunction with the local, in the sense of the microscopic side of life…. The very formulation, apparently in Japan, of a term such as glocalize (from dochakuka, roughly meaning ‘global localization’) is perhaps the best example of this. Glocalize is a term which was developed in particular reference to marketing issues, as Japan became more concerned with and successful in the global economy. (1992, p. 173)

Robertson then cites examples which ironically seem to have prefigured the injudicious overuse of the term ‘glocal’. Examples of such ‘travelling parochialism’ include the American traveller who regards access to CNN as ‘a global right’, and the saying that ‘with satellite television, you never know you left home’. However, he concludes:

what this kind of observation seriously downplays is the increasingly complex relationship between ‘the local’ and ‘the global.’ It underestimates the extent to which ‘locality’ is chosen; it underplays the extent to which ‘the local’ media are, certainly in the USA, more and more concerned with ‘global’ issues (‘local’ reporters reporting from various parts of the world, according to ‘local’ interest); and it is not explicit about the shared, global homogeneity of ‘going home.’ All of this comes about through an inability, or unwillingness, to transcend the discourse of ‘localism-globalism.’ (1992, p. 174)

This tension between the global and the local (and attempts to transcend it) is at the root of several conflicting perspectives in human security. In a world of globalisation, our local, national and ethnic identities are more important than ever. This can manifest itself in a negative form as was seen in the aftermath of the Islamic State (ISIS) intrusion into the Syrian Civil War in 2014. Millions fled both the violence of the original conflict and the imposition of religious values by an extremist minority. The role of contemporary media in a globalised world meant asylum seekers could be attracted to seek refuge in Europe where jobs, housing, and community offered real human security in contrast to makeshift camps in a neighbouring country. Whether their ethnic identity was Christian or Yazidi, or whether they were secular or moderate Muslims appalled by the Salafi jihadist extreme vision of ISIS, their local identity prevented acceptance of the new fundamentalism of ISIS. Yet, while many who fled did gain refuge, others found themselves confronted by Europeans themselves more conscious of a localised ethno-nationalist identity that emphasised their difference from these desperate refugees.

There is a real clash between the global and the local. In Australia, people might eat McDonald’s, but still think of themselves as patriotic Australians, and approve of campaigns to buy Australian. They do not usually think what the consequences of buying Australian would be if everybody else in the world followed their example and bought their own local products, leaving Australian companies unable to export. But this shows what happens when the global and the local clash with each other. Inoffensive identity might mean havingone’s nation’s flag hanging from a flagpole in their garden, retaining an un-needed second citizenship for nostalgic reasons or having some symbol of their ethnicity on the mantelpiece or in a wardrobe (e.g. a picture of the ancestral Greek island, a tartan kilt). Sometimes, people fight wars over their ethnic and national identities – the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s are vivid examples of this, as is the ongoing struggle of the Kurds. Political parties emerge to represent particular ethnic groups within the context of a nation state, and sometimes these parties demand independence.

The second of Robertson’s themes that we focus on is the significance of religion to globalisation. Religion has been given increased recognition in the broader field of international relations (Hurd, 2008; Philpott, 2018) and is also important to human security, both in the sense that human security demands protection of religious freedom, and in the sense that religion is sometimes a threat to human security. Robertson (1992, pp. 1-2) recognizes this, and discusses a number of overlaps between the sociology of religion and the study of globalisation. While acknowledging the centrality of secularization to the sociology of religion, he states:

I have become increasingly conscious of the extent to which ‘religion’ became during the nineteenth century, but particularly in the first quarter of the twentieth century, a categorical mode for the ‘ordering’ of national societies and the relations between them. In that sense ‘religion’ was and is an aspect of international relations. (1992, p. 2)

Human security is widely viewed as a paradigm within the discipline of international relations (though cf. Acharya, 2004). Consequently, we can observe that religion is an aspect of human security, and that religion ‘orders’ or ‘categorizes’ human experiences of security and insecurity. The fear of Islam and the experience of Islamophobia are probably the most vivid examples at present. But the significance of liberation theology to human security in Latin America and Eastern Europe in the 1970s and 1980s should not be underestimated, and nor should its lasting effects (cf. Robertson, 1992, p. 42). Christianity is also a part of the human security paradigm. For conservative African Anglican Christians, the values of liberal Christians in Western Europe who ordain women priests, support same sex marriage and ordain gay priests threatens their sense of security, and leads to a challenge to the authority of Anglicans in the west (Brittain & McKinnon, 2018). Not all those who supported the election of President Donald Trump were Christians of the politicised religious Right, but this grouping was emboldened by this shift in the American political landscape, and the insecurity of Americans associated with anti-globalisation also speaks to this image of a Christian America.

In his discussion of Japan – the country from which the concept of the ‘glocal’ originated – Robertson observes that not only is the phenomenon of religion important to global issues and international relations, but so is the concept of religion. Japan is a sort of global laboratory of interactions between religion and society. This is because religious syncretism (the combining of different religious systems) is relatively common, because “in Japan individuals frequently adhere to more than one religious orientation,” and because of the proliferation of New Religious Movements, each one of which problematizes earlier definitions of religion (1992, pp. 86, 88, 93-4). “At the same time,” comments Robertson, “there has been a well–developed view that since the abolition of State Shinto and the enforcement of religious freedom by the American occupiers after World War II Japanese religion has been at best an epiphenomenon of an increasingly secularized culture” (1992, p. 189). Freedom of religion, freedom from religion: both are essential to human security, and both can threaten human security.

4.3 Human Rights and Human Security

There are conflicting perspectives on the relationship between human rights and human security. They can essentially be classified into the following three groups:

  1.  “Human rights define human security” (Ramcharan 2002, p. 9)
  2. Human security builds on human rights
  3. The fundamental tension between human rights and human security.

From a human security perspective, the first of these positions is the most modest. If human rights define human security, then human security can be evaluated according to whether or not human rights are respected in practice. There is little if any need to define human security differently from human rights, and international human rights instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN, 2015) provide the legal framework for evaluating human security.

Wolfgang Benedek argues not only that “human rights can help define the concept of human security,” but also that “human rights lie at the core of human security” (2008, p. 13) by providing a “sound conceptual and normative foundation” for human security that ensures it is an “operational concept firmly rooted in international law” (Benedek et al., 2002, p. 16). More programmatically, “the best way to achieve human security is through the full and holistic realisation of all human rights” (2008, p. 13). The difference between the legal concept of human rights and the political concept of human security is recognized, but Benedek states that “human security concerns are increasingly translated into legal obligations through international conventions and protocols” (2008, p. 14).

Many will worry that Benedek’s concept of “the interrelationship of human security and human rights” (2008, p. 14) subsumes human security under the human rights tradition. It is unlikely this will find much favour among advocates of a human security perspective, because it makes the perspective superfluous if not redundant. But there is more to human security than respect for human rights law.

While many who hold human rights to be an extension of natural law, an essential property of all human beings by virtue of their being human, an empirical fact is that human rights are defined in legal terms. If someone claims x as a human right, it is not good enough to assert a vague feeling that x should be a human right. It is necessary to point to legal documentation, domestic and/or international. But if someone claims that the lack of x constitutes a lack of human security, recourse to legal argument is unnecessary.

In other words, the second position, that human security builds on human rights, not only gives the field of human security a raison d’être, but also recognises the importance of work undertaken within the legal human rights tradition, and the reality of subjective and more inclusive notions of security that are less legalistic. So Tadjbakhsh and Chenoy (2007, p. 10) are being realistic when they say that “security needs to be redefined as a subjective experience at the micro level in terms of people’s experience.” This is not a recipe for chaotic relativism, but a recognition that building human security on human rights is building a subjective concept onto an objective, criterion-based, legal one. This extends the first perspective – that human rights define human security, but does not negate it. Hampson et al. (2002, p. 15) argue that “the denial of fundamental human rights” is “the main reason for human insecurity,” but this is within the context of the “fundamental liberal assumption that individuals have a basic right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” that the international community has an obligation to protect and promote” (2002, p. 5). This perspective also conceptualizes human security as built on three ‘pillars,’ which Tadjbakhsh and Chenoy summarise as “the natural rights/rule of law approach,” which includes human rights, “the safety of people/humanitarianism approach” and “the sustainable development approach” (2007, pp. 49-50).

The third perspective – that there is a fundamental tension between human security and human rights – can be found in the work of Caroline Thomas. The problem she identifies is the centrality of property rights to legal human rights frameworks, and this introduces a neoliberal competitive and possessive individualism into notions of human security. For Thomas, this focus on the “security of the individual,” based on an “extension of private power and activity, based around property rights and choice in the market place,” undermines a more substantive human security, which “describes a condition of existence in which basic material needs are met, and in which human dignity, including meaningful participation in the life of the community, can be realised” (2001, p. 161). This material concept of human security “elucidates the poverty, inequality and security link clearly” (Thomas, 2001, p. 163). That is: “When a privileged elite defends its too large share of too few resources, the link is created between poverty, inequality and the abuse of human rights” (Smith, 1997, p. 15). In other words, the defence of the property rights embedded in international human rights instruments causes inequality, and this creates human insecurity.Editors' note: A similar argument is presented in Chapter 15 in the form of a fundamental difference between those human rights that are grantable and those that are not.

Ultimately, this adds up to the insight that “human security is indivisible; it cannot be pursued by or for one group at the expense of another” (Thomas, 2001, p. 161). Outside of a neo-realist International Relations framework, it is hard to argue that human security can be pursued by one group at the expense of another and still be a meaningful concept. However, Thomas’s materialist argument seems more questionable. Property rights are a part of human rights as they are defined in international law. However, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN, 2015) – which, although not enforceable in international law is still the closest thing we have to an international benchmark – also includes the right to social security (Article 22), the right to work (Article 23.1) and to “just and favourable remuneration” (Article 23.3), the right to a standard of living adequate to ensure one’s health and well-being (Article 25.1), and the right to education (Article 26). The problem of some human rights conflicting with human security will be discussed further in Chapter 15.

4.4 Notes from an Ethnography

There are approximately eight million Shan people, mostly in Shan State, which has been de facto part of Burma (Myanmar) since its independence in 1948. The guaranteed right to secede from Burma after ten years was never honoured. Neither have other human rights been respected, with the Shan people routinely being subjected by the Burmese military to forced labour, while little was spent on their health and education. Although the Shan people outnumber the Tibetans and the Palestinians, their plight is largely unknown, in contrast to the persecution of Burma’s Muslim Rohingya people by ultra-nationalist Buddhists in 2016 that attracted greater attention worldwide.

What follows is excerpted from the field notes of an ethnography conducted by one of the authors of this chapter on the Thai-Burma border. Some details have been changed for reasons of confidentiality.

Today I had lunch in a Chinese Muslim vegetarian restaurant, in a Thai village not far from the Burmese border. We had scrambled yellow tofu with rice noodles, accompanied by samosas and sweetcorn fritters. My companions included a Jewish Australian woman and three Shan people, all Buddhist. The Shan people all work for SalusWorld, a mental health NGO that works to heal psychological trauma caused by human rights abuses around the globe. They included a Shan woman who has recently started a postgraduate degree, which, given that many Shan people in Thailand do not go to school, even fewer go to university, and even fewer still are women, is quite remarkable.

Before lunch, we went to a nearby orange farm to assess the possibility of opening a school for the children of Shan refugees, many of whom work on the orange farms of the area for less than 100 baht (US$3) a day. Although they are refugees in the sense of being outside their country through conditions not of their own making, they are not legally recognised as refugees by the Thai government or the UNHCR. Hence, they have no papers, and their children are not entitled to a state education. This is why a number of NGOs – secular and faith-based – fund and operate schools like this potential one. That said, it is possible for Shan children to enter government schools if they meet certain criteria – notably having a sufficient level of competence in the Thai language. So, the NGO schools often focus on teaching Thai language to the Shan children, as well as English, mathematics, and Shan history. If they get into the government schools, it is possible for them to get formal school and even university qualifications, Thai citizenship, and better job opportunities.

After visiting the potential school site, we visited a Shan family on another orange farm. They have a four month old daughter, and the people from SalusWorld were delivering milk because breast feeding has become impossible, and they gave advice about vaccinations that were available at a nearby clinic. The parents both work on the farm, earning 180 baht a day between them, so a sufficient supply of milk is not something they can afford. Their main job is to spray the orange trees with pesticides. Some of the nearby orange farms use pesticides that are illegal even in Thailand; I have no way of telling if this farm is one of them, but it is certain that the pesticides would have long term negative health effects on the whole family. They had no protective clothing beyond simple scarves that they wrapped around their faces while spraying. It had been raining, and the puddles were a deep green pesticide colour.

The family have been in Thailand for six months. They escaped from Burma, and considered their living conditions to be far better than anything they had experienced previously. They were genuinely happy and relieved to be here.

Had the human security paradigm emerged in the 1930s, the perspective of my Jewish Australian companion would have merited extensive discussion. Today, her Zionism would strike many non-Jews as a threat to human security, but she would see it as necessary to the human security of her relatives and her fellow Jews. The human security of the Chinese Muslims in the village where we ate is another story. They escaped from China during the time of the Communist Revolution – some of the older generation fought for the Kuomintang. The restaurant was beside a mosque, where they were able to worship freely. The researcher’s own human security was enhanced by being able to eat in accordance with his vegetarian principles.

As for the Shan people, even the worst human rights violations they experienced in Thailand were not enough to make them wish they were in Burma. The border was onlya few kilometres away, but this barrier protected them from the Burmese military. The human security of the workers on the orange farms was compromised by their low wages, the health risks from the pesticides, and the precarious legal state that their lack of papers put them and their children in. These human insecurities were real. It is not too strong to call them human rights violations. Yet their relief at being in Thailand rather than Burma was equally real. A point worth emphasising in this chapter on religion in human security is that both Thailand and Burma are majority Buddhist states, with vastly different approaches to the intersection between the principles of human security and the principles of their faith.

Yet, there are no de minimis violations of human rights. In other words, human rights constitute a minimum acceptable standard, not a vague set of aspirations. They are necessary to human security. It is no defence of human rights violations to say they are less bad than the violations that occur elsewhere. Human rights violations cannot be excused by culture, or national security needs, or even by a democratic veto. Human rights are universal and indivisible, and they are the foundation of human security. Or are they?

4.5 A Hierarchy of Needs?

The psychologist Abraham Maslow (1943) posited a hierarchy of needs, grouped into five categories. If an ‘earlier’ need is unsatisfied, then other needs will be treated as irrelevant. The categories are:

  1. Physiological or survival needs
  2. The need for safety
  3. A need for love, affection and belonging
  4. Esteem needs
  5. The need for self-actualization.

Maslow argued that his hierarchy of needs applied to all human beings in all cultures, and that there is a “relative unity behind the superficial differences in specific desires from one culture to another” (p. 389).

If this is right, then his argument could be translated into human security terms as follows. Shan people seek fulfilment of their immediate primary needs, such as food and drink. When these needs are not met, they may risk their safety in order to escape from Burma and work on an orange farm in Thailand where their primary needs will be met, at least for a time (until exposure to pesticides affects their physical well-being). Certainly, some have fled Shan State because they were forced to labour for the Burmese military, and were therefore unable to make a living for themselves. However, even if their immediate needs are met in Shan State, then the lack of longer-term safety may become apparent, and they may take the same decision to flee.

However, there are others who risked their safety – and became political prisoners, subject to torture and risking summary execution – because of their strong feelings about the political situation in Burma. They felt that the military regime denied their human rights, and those of their compatriots. In other words, primarily due to a lack of self-actualization – not just for themselves, but for others too – they were willing to risk their safety and their physiological equilibrium.

A large number of human actions and decisions can be explained, or at least conceptualised, in Maslow’s terms. Some, apparently, cannot. The question that arises is whether or not this is culturally relative. Does Maslow’s hierarchy work better for explaining people’s felt needs, and actions to fulfil those needs, in one culture than in another? Most importantly, does it work better in the West than in the developing world? In other words, is it ethnocentric?

Hofstede (1984) argues that it was. He cites a 14-country study by Haire, Ghiselli and Porter (1966) in which managers were asked to rate the importance of a number of needs, all of which were aligned with Maslow’s five categories; the only country in which the managers responded as predicted by Maslow’s theory was the USA, the country Maslow was from. Hofstede claims that:

Maslow’s value choice … was based on his mid-twentieth century US middle class values. First, Maslow’s hierarchy reflects individualistic values, putting self-actualization and autonomy on top. Values prevalent in collectivist cultures, such as “harmony” or “family support,” do not even appear in the hierarchy. Second, … even if just the needs Maslow used in his hierarchy are considered – the needs will have to be ordered differently in different culture areas. (1984, p. 396)

Hofstede classifies these culturally ordered needs in four categories, according to what the ‘highest’ need would be in a given culture area:

  1. Self-actualization
  2. A combination of security and assertiveness needs
  3. Social relationship needs
  4. A combination of security and relationship needs (1984, p. 396).

While he places the USA and other Western counties in the first of these categories, he places Thailand in the fourth (1984, p. 393). Even the Theravada Buddhist monk – who seeks Nirvana for himself – seeks self-transcendence, not self-actualization.

4.6 The West and the Rest?

If there is a hierarchy of needs, its structure is not universal, and consequently, we would expect the different nations and culturally-defined regions of the world to define their human security needs in different ways, congruent with the ways in which their hierarchies of needs are constructed. However, this raises two important issues. First, there is the question of ‘Asian values’ – the argument that security and community are more valuable in an Asian context than freedom and democracy, and that this justifies policies and activities that would be considered unjustifiable in the West. Second, the fact that different nations and regions of the world have different human security needs does not in itself mean that they have different human security paradigms.

4.6.1 Asian Values

‘Asian values’ reflects a model of consciousness that is linked to the growing authoritarianism that characterises the second decade of the 21st century. Examination of the Asian values debate is more important than ever, with this model actively being exported to China from Singapore. Paradoxically, ideas of dominance spread from this small state to a larger one in a reversal of the normal process by which ideas are diffused (Ortman & Thompson, 2016, p. 40). It remains controversial, and the debate surrounding it is polarized. Surain Subramaniam (2000) traces the concept back to the 1970s, and summarises the “cultural relativist” position associated with the “Singapore school” that “liberal democratic values and Asian culture are fundamentally incompatible” (2000, p. 20).

Asian values were earlier seen as conflicting with modernization, but in the early 1970s the concept came to connote a commitment to modernization that would avoid the fads of Western cultural and economic life. After the end of the Cold War, however, proponents of Asian values contrasted them with Western triumphalism and the threat, real or imagined, of a new Western imperialism. Those proponents interpreted Fukuyama’s (1993) ‘end of history’ and Huntington’s (1996) ‘clash of civilizations’ theses as intellectualizations of this new triumphalism/imperialism, and, consequently, the concept of ‘Asian values’ was framed in opposition to them. The emergence of China as a global power through its Belt and Road Initiative that began in 2013, and China’s increasing geopolitical influence has also fuelled interest in a model that offers an alternative to Western liberal democratic worldviews.

While the concept was sometimes stated in a confrontational way – that Asian values were superior to Western values – its application was more pragmatic, based on a view that, simply put: “Asian values are superior to western liberal values in confronting the challenges facing Singapore” (Subramaniam, 2000, p. 22; original emphasis). While the Singaporean argument was made in other countries, it was not always made in the same way. In an intervention that may surprise readers of The End of History, Fukuyama points out:

Lee Kuan Yew [of Singapore] has attracted considerable attention by arguing that Confucianism supports a certain kind of political authoritarianism. Lee Teng-hui [of Taiwan] has called on his Confucian scholars to prove just the opposite – that there are, in fact, precedents for democracy in Confucian thought. Strategies like this are adopted in all cultural systems. Christianity can be and has been made to support slavery and hierarchy and authoritarianism as well as the abolition of slavery and the promotion of democracy and equal rights. (1997, p. 148)

So ultimately it is the content of allegedly Asian values that is of significance, not their basis, nor their motivation. Furthermore, the notion that ‘Asian values’ are applicable to the whole of Asia is at least as questionable as the notion that liberal democracy is applicable to the whole world. According to Subramaniam:

Asian values as conceived by the Singapore school are ostensibly Confucian values. However, some are also consistent with Weber’s Protestant work ethic. Others defy strict categorization. The inventory of Asian values as conceived by the Singapore school consists mainly of the following: respect for authority, strong families, reverence for education, hard work, frugality, teamwork, and a balance between the individual’s interests and those of society. (p. 24)

It is tempting to criticise the concept of Asian values on the grounds that ‘they really mean’ something else, and that they are a front for self-interested tyranny. However, the more productive criticism is a response to the actual claim of the proponents of Asian values, namely that they are appropriate to the modernization challenges facing Asian societies and economies. Amartya Sen’s reading of the empirical evidence leads him to the conclusion that: “On balance, the hypothesis that there is no relation between freedom and prosperity in either direction is hard to reject” (1997, pp. 33-34). He also argues that authoritarian government has an inflexibility that makes it unresponsive to disasters and other unforeseen circumstances, and that “the political incentives provided by democratic governance acquire great practical value” (1997, p. 34).

Sen argues that the concept of Asian values is an unrealistically homogenous one, when viewed against the enormous diversity of Asian cultures. He also points out that there are Western systems of thought that place an emphasis on order and harmony, as opposed to freedom and dissent. Furthermore, Asian traditions such as Buddhism place an emphasis on individual freedom as a necessary component of the search for truth and enlightenment, and he provides an extensive description of how such an emphasis has been given political application over the centuries.

Sen (1997, p. 40) rejects the concept of Asian values as “not especially Asian.” Subramaniam (2000, pp. 30-31) concludes that the “cultural relativist” position and the contrasting “universalist” one—that “the liberal democratic path has universal applicability”—are both only half right. For him: “The debate has become a missed opportunity to:

Such a search for common ground is likely to be more conducive to global human security than attempts to delineate another West versus Asia ‘clash of civilizations.’ Another consideration is that the diversity of Asian critiques of Asian values demonstrates the rich and extensive range of human values further challenging the Asia versus the West dichotomy. Critics also argue Asian values marginalises the perspectives of India, the world’s largest democracy and historically a major force within Asian cultural history. Indeed, India’s founding Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru advocated support for universal concepts of democracy because of its opposition to colonialism, the values of socialism as well as an understanding of a humanist liberal tradition (Varshney, 2015, p. 923).

4.6.2 Human Security Paradigms

Hofstede (1984) claims that ‘Third World social scientists’ have frequently been educated in the West, and are therefore imbued with ethnocentric Western approaches which masquerade as science, and that it therefore requires exceptional personal courage and independence of thought to break from, or even problematize, these approaches. Perhaps he underestimates the contributions of thinkers from outside the Western metropoles. It is clear that without their contributions, the study of human security would be far behind where it is now.

The contributions of Muhammad Yunus and Amartya Sen are especially notable. Both have won Nobel Prizes, and have contributed to academic discourses and practices of human security. Yunus’ development of microcredit has had a practical impact, and he has contributed significantly to the theory of social business (e.g. Yunus, 2010); in both spheres his work has contributed to human security by improving the economic security (freedom from want) of some of the poorest people in the world. In Sen’s case, not only has he contributed directly to the field of human security as an academic, but he has also contributed to United Nations discourses of human security, human rights, and development. Yet we have to ask whether or not Hofstede’s claim about ‘Third World social scientists’ is right in the cases of Yunus and Sen: do they both have essentially Western minds in Asian bodies, or is there an appreciable ‘Bangladeshiness’ or ‘Indianness’ to their work that needs to be appreciated?

Yunus’s impetus came from observing the lives of the rural poor in Bangladesh, and his model was not initially conceptualised as more than a local response to local circumstances. Yet, it has been applied not only in the developing world, but also to situations of poverty in the United States, continental Europe, Scotland, and Japan, among others (Yunus, 2010, vii-xxiv, pp. 160-162). Tadjbakhsh and Chenoy show that Sen’s central contributions to the social sciences were made in response to the development needs of the South Asian subcontinent:

Sen’s theoretical revolution, in the technical language of “functionings” and “capabilities”, was in tandem with the practical dictates of Mahbub ul-Haq, the Pakistani planner associated with the foundation of the UNDP Human Development Approach, who posed a simple statement that the purpose of all public policies is to increase people’s choices. In his “Development as Freedom,” Sen elaborated on why and how freedom is at the same time the main goal and the main means to achieve development. (2007, p. 20)

Tadjbakhsh and Chenoy locate their own perspective within an experience of the developing world and its relations with the West:

the collaboration brought together one Iranian woman who had been educated in American universities and had worked in the UN before moving to teaching, and an Indian woman steeped in the tradition of activism that, fortunately, does not escape the faith of intellectuals in India. (2007, p. 5)

Using the language of ‘the South’ and ‘the North’ (broadly equivalent to the ‘developing’ and ‘developed’ counties of the world), Tadjbakhsh and Chenoy point to:

the collective experience … of mistrust … with concepts that came from international organizations, which to the South, were often seen as institutions led by powerful Northern nations. Whether it was democracy, human rights and now human security, the discourses smacked of power in the construction of the terms. (2007, p. 4)

This does seem like an appreciably Southern paradigm, which elucidates the ‘Northernness’ of some others. This is especially apparent when they discuss the notion of humanitarian intervention, a particular use of the concept of human security in international politics which has extended the just war theory to one that legitimises war when it is prosecuted for reasons, or pretexts, of human security (2007, p. 196ff). The lack of intervention in Rwanda in 1994, and the actual intervention in Kosovo in 1999, have both been debated extensively. The Rwandan case has been used to justify subsequent interventions in Kosovo, Iraq, and Libya, for example, although Chomsky (1999, p. 81) has argued that the intervention in Kosovo “greatly accelerated slaughter and dispossession.” Tadjbakhsh and Chenoy observe that “incidents of selective humanitarian intervention have made much of the South, especially Civil Society, cynical of the concept to the extent of rejecting it” (2007, p. 198). They cite Walden Bello (2006) as an example:

most of us, at least most of us in the global South, recoil at Washington’s use of the humanitarian logic to invade Iraq. Most of us would say that even as we condemn any regime’s violations of human rights, systematic violation of those rights does not constitute grounds for the violation of national sovereignty through invasion or destabilization. Getting rid of a repressive regime or a dictator is the responsibility of the citizens of a country.

This is at least suggestive of a distinctively Southern human security paradigm. The existence of such a paradigm would be significant in that it allows its proponents to criticise the tendency of some in the South to reject human security in its entirety as a tool of Western neo-imperialism. Tadjbakhsh and Chenoy say that “the advent of human security should be seen, instead, as the triumph of the South to put development concerns into global security discussions” (2007, p. 35), because “a human security approach for the South would allow it to shed international light on the concerns of underdevelopment and individual dignity at a time when state-based interests are increasingly being used in the global war against terrorism” (2007, p. 35). And for Mahbub ul-Haq (1998, p. 5), human security paradigms create the potential for a “new partnership between the North and the South based on justice not on charity; on an equitable sharing of global market opportunities, not on aid; on two-way compacts, not one-way transfers; on mutual cooperation, not on unilateral conditionality or confrontation.”

4.7 Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Religion

Religious fervour can easily become grounds for human insecurity, but conflicting religious cultures do not necessarily generate such results. Akbar Ahmed (1999, pp. 181-184) looks at a number of issues relating to the experiences of the Muslim community in the Outer Hebrides, an archipelago off the north-west coast of Scotland where people still speak the Gaelic language, which has largely died out in the rest of Scotland. What occurs is an unusual meeting of two minority ethnic cultures: British Pakistani on the one hand and the Gaels of the Hebrides on the other. According to Ahmed, the Muslim community fitted in very well, respecting the important Hebridean custom of Sabbath observance (doing no work on Sundays), even though this is not part of the Muslim faith. This is a side of globalisation that is not always observed. Although this specific meeting of minority cultures is unusual, it is part of a pattern that is unremarkable. The lack of human insecurity experienced by the Gaels and the Muslims as a result of their interaction means that there is little to say about this aspect of globalisation. A rare example of a similarly high level of human security becoming internationally newsworthy occurred in 2016 in the British city of Leicester, and only achieved international recognition because of its association with a key component of British mass popular culture, soccer or Association Football; after the Leicester team won the English Premier league it became apparent that the racially diverse white and South Asian population of the city were harmoniously united in their support for their team (Williams & Peach, 2018, pp. 423-425). The first example would not even be discussed were it not for its surprising location and the second attracted attention because of its link to sport, but both are more representative of the experience of human security than more ‘newsworthy’ discussions of war, extreme poverty, or human rights violations could ever be.

It is important to establish that context before observing that some of the strongest criticisms of the human rights tradition – which has been extended in human security perspectives – has come from Islamic countries. In 1981, the Iranian representative at the United Nations argued that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was based on a secular understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and was thus incompatible with the core values of Muslim countries, and with the foundations of those values.

As a result of such concerns, the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam was promulgated in 1990.See The Nineteenth Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers (Session of Peace, Interdependence and Development), held in Cairo, Arab Republic of Egypt, from 9-14 Muharram 1411H (31 July to 5 August 1990), The Cairo Declaration On Human Rights In Islam. (accessed 9 Aug 2019) It was a declaration by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) which, at the time, consisted of 45 states (including Palestine, which is recognised as a state by the OIC). The declaration was presented in a form similar to the UDHR, but with notable differences in content. Unfortunately, these differences seem to reflect a weaker commitment to religious freedom, gender equality, and freedom of speech than the UDHR. For example:

It is unfortunate that many people have taken this as evidence of a lack of commitment to human rights within Islam per se. Yet the Cairo Declaration was an instrument of state actors; that is to say, it is a political document, drafted, debated and signed by those who held political power. The contributions of Muslim civil society to discussions of human rights and human security have been extensive and diverse, in keeping with the Qur’anic challenge to Muslims and Christians to “vie with one another in doing good works” (The Qur’an 5, p. 48). Yet the contributions of Muslim civil society are often mistrusted and marginalised, which undermines the human security of Muslims worldwide. Mustapha Kamal Pasha puts it as follows, in a quotation which ties together several strands of this chapter:

A […] major problem in human security discourses belongs to its fixation on a ‘hierarchy of needs’ model and its latent economism pronounced in cataloguing various indices of insecurity. Alternatively, an appreciation of the inviolability of cultural identity to the sustenance of the human condition can help displace the hegemony of economism. Such appreciation need not rest on cultural relativism or essentialism, merely the indivisibility of social life forms. In the post 9/11 context, life-worlds placed under sustained political surveillance are not merely addenda to received indices of human insecurity. Rather, culturally fractured life-worlds direct inquiry towards processes and structures of power and their effects. (2007, p. 191)

Importantly, the Cairo Declaration asserts human rights that are not enshrined in the UDHR, and thus, potentially at least, contributes to the extension of human rights and human security. For example:

To argue that these articles are reflective of Islam per se would be as unwarranted as making the same argument about the ones cited earlier. Yet, they do reflect a religious perspective on human rights and human security that is too influential to be ignored. Furthermore, freedom of religion is recognised as a human right in the UDHR, and this right “includes the right … to manifest [one’s] religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance” (Article 18). The right to manifest one’s religion in practice does not exclude the right to manifest it in political or cultural practice; although the right to abandon one’s religion has of course been problematic, as Abdullah Saeed and Hassan Saeed (2004) have noted. Freedom of religion is not confined to the private sphere, and to make it so would infringe on the human rights and human security of many people.

However, religion outside of the private sphere can also infringe on people’s human rights and human security. For example, the right to marry is guaranteed by the UDHR and other human rights declarations, including the Cairo Declaration. Yet this right is effectively denied to gay people in the vast majority of countries around the world, and attempts to legally extend it to gay people have met with substantial opposition, primarily but not exclusively from religious quarters. Such opposition to gay rights is seen as a lack of modernity, although more complex dynamics regarding the intersection between marriage rights, Muslim cultures and LGBTIQ politics need to be considered (Rahman, 2014). Homophobia and Islamophobia are both threats to human security. The denial of gay rights and the denial of religious rights are both denials of human rights, and undermine human security. Freedom of religion and freedom from religion, when they are practised in tandem, enhance human security. When either is practiced in isolation from the other, it threatens human security.

4.8 Conclusion – Paradoxes of Universality

The existence of national and ethnic particularisms seems to be universal. In his discussion of racism and nationalism, Etienne Balibar (1991, p. 54) observes that “the theories and strategies of nationalism are always caught up in the contradiction between universality and particularism.” At the simplest level, states assert their right to independence on the grounds that they are merely asserting the same right that is claimed by every other state, and, simultaneously, that there is something special about them that gives them the right to be a state when this right is denied to other social, cultural, or ethnic groups, a position redolent of racism.

Yet racism would seem to create inequalities of human rights that undermine human security. The contradiction between universality and particularism is not only a problem for nationalism; it is also a problem for human rights and human security. It is ethnocentric to reject the notion that human rights are culturally determined and therefore apply differently in different cultures. Yet it is racist to condemn a group of people to a lower standard of human rights than we would accept for ourselves, merely because they belong to a different ethnic, cultural, religious, or national group. These contradictions seem irresolvable. However the tensions are not all negative. They provide opportunities for a continued dialectic, through which Universalists and Particularists can be constantly challenged to evaluate and possibly change their positions, and continually create better instruments of human rights and human security. Ultimately, the existence of conflicting perspectives in the study of human security is actually a positive dynamic that has the potential to enhance human security in different cultures and societies.

Resources and References


Key Points

  • Many conflicting perspectives in the study of human security are derived from a dichotomy of ‘the West’ and ‘the rest,’ which is expressed in many ways: Western and Eastern cultures; the developed world and the developing world; the North and the South; modern and traditional values; secularisation and religiosity; egalitarian and hierarchical polities.
  • The emergence of globalisation provides the context within which diverse perspectives become conflicting perspectives.
  • Whether or not human rights should be universal or culturally located is a controversial issue with no easy answer. A related question concerns whether or not human rights should be norm-based or criterion-based.
  • Conflicting perspectives on the relationship between human rights and human security can be classified as (a) human rights define human security, (b) human security builds on human rights and (c) a fundamental tension between human rights and human security.
  • The example of the Shan people shows that even the worst human rights violations they experience in Thailand may not be enough to make them wish they were in Burma. However, human rights constitute a minimum acceptable standard, not a vague set of aspirations. They are necessary to human security. Human rights violations cannot be excused by culture, or national security needs, or democratic veto.
  • The hierarchy in which Maslow’s needs are presented is culturally relative. Different cultures variously regard their ‘highest’ need as (a) self-actualization, (b) a combination of security and assertiveness needs, (c) social relationship needs and (d) a combination of security and relationship needs.
  • There may be a distinctively Southern human security paradigm. Human security paradigms create a potential partnership between the Global North and the Global South.
  • Some Muslim countries have argued that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is incompatible with Islam. The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (1990) seems to reflect a weaker commitment to religious freedom, gender equality, and freedom of speech than the UDHR, but this is not evidence of a lack of commitment to human rights within Islam. Muslim civil society has contributed extensively to discussions of human rights and human security.
  • Freedom of religion is not confined to the private sphere. This would infringe on the human rights and human security of many people. However, religion outside of the private sphere can also infringe on people’s human rights and human security. Freedom of religion and freedom from religion, when they are practised in tandem, enhance human security. When either is practiced in isolation from the other, it threatens human security.
  • It is ethnocentric to reject the notion that human rights are culturally determined and therefore apply differently in different cultures. Yet it is racist to condemn a group of people to a lower standard of human rights than we would accept for ourselves, merely because they belong to a different ethnic, cultural, religious, or national group. This contradiction may be irresolvable, but it provides an opportunity for Universalists and Particularists to create better instruments of human rights and human security.


Extension Activities & Further Research

  1. Think about ways in which globalisation has influenced the local area in which you live. How has this influenced the identities of the people in the area? How has it influenced your own sense of identity?
  2. Of the three conflicting perspectives on the relationship between human rights and human security (human rights define human security, human security builds on human rights, and there is a fundamental tension between human rights and human security), which one makes most sense to you? Why?
  3. Find out more about the Shan people of Burma and northern Thailand. Why do you think their situation is so widely unknown?
  4. The example of the Cairo Declaration shows that cultural distinctiveness can be used to dilute human rights, but can also provide the inspiration to extend human rights. Drawing on cultures that you are familiar with, or that you have researched, propose one or more potential human rights that are not listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  5. Find ways in which religious freedoms are sometimes restricted, both in your own country and elsewhere. Think of ways in which these situations could be improved.

List of Terms

See Glossary for full list of terms and definitions.

Suggested Reading

Burgess, J. P., & Owen, T. (Eds.). (2004). Editors’ note: What is ‘human security’? [Special section]. Security Dialogue, 35(3), 345–346.

Hampson, F. O., Daudelin, J., Hay, J. B., Reid, H., & Marting, T. (2002). Madness in the multitude: Human security and world disorder. Oxford University Press.

Koenig, M., & de Guchteneire, P. (Eds.). (2007). Democracy and human rights in multicultural societies. Routledge.

Robertson, R. (1992). Globalization: Social theory and global culture. SAGE Books.

Sen, A. (1997). Human rights and Asian values: What Lee Kuan Yew and Le Peng don’t understand about Asia. The New Republic, 217(2–3), 33–41.

Tadjbakhsh, S., & Chenoy, A. M. (2006). Human security: Concepts and implications. Routledge.


Acharya, A. (2004). A holistic paradigm. Security Dialogue, 35(3), 355–356.

Ahmed, A. S. (1999). Islam today: A short introduction to the Muslim world. I. B. Tauris.

Balibar, E. (1990). Paradoxes of universality. In D. T. Goldberg (Ed.), Anatomy of racism (pp. 283–94). University of Minnesota Press.

Balibar, E. (1991). Racism and nationalism. In E. Balibar & I. M. Wallerstein (Eds.), Race, nation, class: Ambiguous identities (pp. 37–67). Verso.

Bello, W. (2006, January 14). Humanitarian intervention: Evolution of a dangerous doctrine [Speech]. Conference on Globalization, War, and Intervention, Frankfurt, Germany.

Benedek, W. (2008). Human security and human rights interaction. In M. Goucha & J. Crowley (Eds.), Rethinking human security (pp. 7–17). Wiley-Blackwell.

Benedek, W., Nikolova, M., & Oberleitner, G. (2002). ETC Occasional Paper No. 14 – Human security and human rights education: Pilot study. European Training and Research Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.

Brittain, C. C., & McKinnon, A. (2018). The Anglican communion at a crossroads: The crises of a global church. Pennsylvania State University Press.

Burgess, J. P., & Owen, T. (Eds.). (2004). Editors’ note: What is ‘human security’? [Special section]. Security Dialogue, 35(3), 345–346.

Chomsky, N. (1999). The new military humanism: Lessons from Kosovo. Pluto Press.

Fukuyama, F. (1992). The end of history and the last man. Free Press.

Fukuyama, F. (1997). The illusion of exceptionalism. Journal of Democracy, 8(3), 146–149.

Haire, M., Ghiselli, E. E., & Porter, L.W. (1966). Managerial thinking: An international study. Wiley.

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Threats to Human Security

Paul Bellamy

Learning Outcomes & Big Ideas

  • The impact of threats to human security is more easily assessed in terms of direct humanitarian costs of violent conflict; when one takes into account indirect social, economic, health-related, and environmental consequences such assessment becomes much more complicated.
  • Threats to human security originate from the socio-political, economic, health-related, and environmental areas. Even though the former area is often perceived as the origin of violent conflict, its consequences ramify into all four areas.
  • The shapes and the consequences of violent conflict have changed considerably since World War II (WWII).
  • Addressing the diverse threats to human security requires the development of a more comprehensive and logically consistent understanding of human security.


Human security focuses on the protection of individuals. Violent conflicts, especially of an intrastate nature, are a major threat to human security because of their wide-ranging and devastating impact. Key factors that can cause conflict include a state’s history, personalities of its leaders and external actors. Beyond conflict, major threats to human security target the health of people, law and order, state authority, economy and the environment. To address them, a better understanding of the components of security is needed, and associated with this, the sources of threats to this security. It is much better to address issues before they threaten lives and livelihoods.Please note that the views expressed in this chapter are not necessarily those of the author’s employer.

Chapter Overview

5.1 Introduction

5.2 Assessing Human Security

5.3 Violent Conflict as a Threat to Human Security

5.3.1 Impact of Violent Conflict on Human Security Humanitarian Impact Economic Impact

5.3.2 Addressing the Root Causes – Explaining Violent Conflict History of Past Violent Conflicts Autocratic Populist Leaders External Actors

5.4 Other Threats to Human Security

5.4.1 State Vulnerability

5.4.2 Economic Threats

5.4.3 Health-Related Threats

5.4.4 Crime

5.4.5 Terrorism

5.4.6 Environment

5.5 Conclusions

Resources and References

Key Points

Extension Activities & Further Research

List of Terms

Suggested Reading



5.1 Introduction

Whereas the traditional goal of ‘national security’ was the defense of the state from external threats, the focus of human security is the protection of individuals. Human security and national security are often mutually reinforcing. However, individuals living in secure states are not necessarily secure themselves. The protection of the state from foreign attack is a necessary condition for its security, but not sufficient for human security. Identifying potential threats that can erode human security is a key reason to study the subject area. A better understanding of human security should ultimately improve the ability to counter such threats, or at least limit their magnitude, and enhance the effectiveness of attempts aimed at reducing those threats. The need for research in this area is reinforced by human security being a relatively new concept, and the comparative scarcity of comprehensive literature on human security defined in a broad sense.

There is no consensus regarding the exact threats that individuals are protected from by human security measures. Although proponents of human security agree that its primary goal is the protection of individuals, there is debate over what that entails. Proponents of the ‘narrow’ concept of human security focus on violent threats to individuals, while acknowledging that such threats are strongly associated with poverty, lack of state capacity, and different forms of socio-economic and political inequity (i.e. ‘structural violence’). Proponents of the ‘broad’ concept believe that the range of threats should be widened to include hunger, disease and natural disasters. According to the Human Security Report 2005, the two approaches are complementary (Bellamy, 2008, p. 4). Then United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Kofi Annan used what can be described as a ‘narrow’ concept of human security when he referred to it as focusing upon “the protection of communities and individuals from internal violence” (University of British Columbia, 2005, p. VIII).

While this chapter focuses on violent conflict and its diverse consequences, other threats to the security of individuals are also outlined. For example, the health, and ultimately the lives of individuals can be threatened by a state’s inadequate infrastructure. Inadequate health, sanitation, food and water supply systems all can increase the likelihood of disease and malnutrition. Crime, especially of a serious nature, and terrorism, threatens lives and human well-being, and thus human security. Similarly, state, social and economic problems threaten livelihoods and can cause grievances, while issues like global warming affect the environment, biodiversity and people. These developments in turn can cause discontent and instability (DeRouen and Bellamy, 2008, p. XII). The UN has recognized the diversity of threats to human security. At the 2005 World Summit it was declared that “all individuals, in particular, vulnerable people, are entitled to freedom from fear and freedom from want, with an equal opportunity to enjoy all their rights and fully develop their human potential” (UN News Centre, 2008). The 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) identified climate change as the greatest threat to humanity’s security (IPCC, 2018).

This chapter first outlines selected indicators useful for evaluating the degree to which human security is threatened before reviewing actual threats. Violent conflicts are primarily examined because of their wide-ranging and devastating impact on human security. More specifically, intrastate conflicts are examined, as they are now the dominant form of conflict worldwide, and their peaceful resolution is often particularly difficult. Major effects of violent conflicts on human security are assessed, followed by a brief outline of selected factors that can cause these threats. Other threats, such as those to the state and economy, health, law and order and environment are also identified.

5.2 Assessing Human Security

Various indicators can be used to assess human security, and to identify factors that threaten it. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) publishes an annual Human Development Index (HDI) that provides a relevant comparative analysis of international human development indicators. This is a summary measure of average achievement in key dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable, and experiencing a decent standard of living. Health is assessed by life expectancy at birth, while knowledge is assessed via the mean schooling years for adults aged 25 years and more, and expected years of schooling for children of school entry age. The standard of living is measured by Gross National Income (GNI) per capita (UNDP, n.d.).

According to the UNDP’s 2018 HDI Report, the overall trend globally was toward continued human development improvements. Many countries had advanced through the human development categories: out of the 189 countries measured, 59 countries were in the very high human development group and 38 in the low HDI group. In 2010, the figures were 46 and 49 countries respectively. Movements were driven by changes in health, education and income. Health improved significantly, as illustrated by life expectancy at birth. This increased by almost seven years globally, with sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia making the greatest progress, each experiencing increases of about 11 years since 1990. School-age children could also expect to be in school for 3.4 years longer than those in 1990. However, disparities continued between and within countries. On average, a child born in a country with low human development could expect to live just over 60 years. Contrasting this, a child born in a country with very high human development could expect to live to almost 80. Likewise, children in low human development countries could expect to be in school seven years less than children in very high human development countries. A key source of inequality within countries was the gap in opportunities, achievements and empowerment between women and men. Internationally, the average HDI for women was six percent lower than for men, due to women’s lower income and educational attainment in many countries (UNDP, 2018a).

The 2018 HDI highlighted major deficiencies in well-being and life opportunities in countries and territories where human security was threatened. The top five places in the global HDI rankings were Norway, Switzerland, Australia, Ireland and Germany. The bottom ranked five countries were Niger, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Chad and Burundi.The varying threat levels were clearly illustrated by comparing the lives of people in countries ranked the highest and lowest on the HDI. The average person in Norway (at the top of the HDI), and the average person in countries such as Niger (at the bottom), experienced vastly different levels of deficiency in well-being and life opportunities. The life expectancy in Norway was 82.3 years, GNI per capita (constant 2011 United States $ purchasing power parity or PPP) was $68,012, and the mean years of schooling for adults was 12.6 years. Contrasting this, the life expectancy in Niger was 60.4 years, GNI per capita was $906 and the mean years of schooling 5.4 years (UNDP, 2018b).

The Global Peace Index (GPI) is produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), an independent, non-partisan and non-profit think tank. This ranks 163 independent states and territories according to their level of peacefulness. The GPI comprises 23 indicators of the absence of violence or fear of violence in three thematic domains. The first refers to the extent of ongoing domestic and international conflict. Here indicators include the number and duration of internal conflicts, and deaths from external and internal organized conflict. The level of societal safety and security is then measured via indicators such as the level of perceived criminality in society, political instability, and the number of refugees and internally displaced people as a percentage of the population. Finally, the degree of militarization utilizes indicators ranging from military expenditure as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) along with nuclear and heavy weapons capabilities, through to the number of armed services personnel per 100,000 people (Institute for Economics and Peace [IEP], 2019, pp. 2, 84-85).

According to the UNDP’s 2018 HDI Report, the overall trend globally was toward continued human development improvements. Many countries had advanced through the human development categories: out of the 189 countries measured, 59 countries were in the very high human development group and 38 in the low HDI group. In 2010, the figures were 46 and 49 countries respectively. Movements were driven by changes in health, education and income. Health improved significantly, as illustrated by life expectancy at birth. This increased by almost seven years globally, with sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia making the greatest progress, each experiencing increases of about 11 years since 1990. School-age children could also expect to be in school for 3.4 years longer than those in 1990. However, disparities continued between and within countries. On average, a child born in a country with low human development could expect to live just over 60 years. Contrasting this, a child born in a country with very high human development could expect to live to almost 80. Likewise, children in low human development countries could expect to be in school seven years less than children in very high human development countries. A key source of inequality within countries was the gap in opportunities, achievements and empowerment between women and men. Internationally, the average HDI for women was six percent lower than for men, due to women’s lower income and educational attainment in many countries (UNDP, 2018a).

The Fragile States Index (FSI) is another useful indicator of the degree to which human security is threatened. This index is produced by the Fund for Peace (FFP), an independent, nonpartisan, non-profit research and educational organization working to prevent violent conflict and promote sustainable security. Twelve conflict risk indicators are used to measure the condition of a state, and these can be compared over time to determine whether they are improving or worsening.

The FSI examines four areas – cohesion, economic, political, and social and cross-cutting – with three indicators for each of these. The cohesion indicators are: the security apparatus (security threats to a state); factionalized elites (the fragmentation of state institutions); and group grievance (divisions and schisms between different groups in society). Economic indicators are: economic decline; uneven economic development; and human flight and brain drain (the economic impact of human displacement). Political indicators are: state legitimacy (the representativeness and openness of government and its relationship with its citizenry); public services (the presence of basic state functions serving people); and human rights and the rule of law. Finally, social and cross-cutting indicators are: demographic pressures (such as high population growth); refugees and internally displaced persons; and external intervention (FFP, 2019, pp. 33-41).

A fragile state has various attributes. These often include the loss of physical control of its territory or the monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Other attributes include the erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions, an inability to provide reasonable public services, and the inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community. The 2019 FSI surveyed 178 countries with Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) the five most fragile states. Yemen, the most fragile, has struggled with prolonged civil war and a humanitarian catastrophe, while Saudi and Emirati coalition-led forces have also intervened. By the end of 2018, 75% of the population needed humanitarian assistance and over 3.5 million people were displaced. Contrasting these states, the five least fragile were Finland, Norway, Switzerland, Denmark and Australia (FFP, 2019, pp. 6-7, 17).

Various methods are used to measure environmental sources of insecurity. The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) by Yale University and Columbia University, in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, ranks 180 countries on 24 performance indicators. These are across ten issue categories covering environmental health and ecosystem vitality. The categories are air quality, water quality, heavy metals, biodiversity and habitat, forests, fisheries, climate and energy, air pollution, water resources and agriculture. More specifically, the indicators range from tree cover loss, wastewater treatment and species protection to sanitation. These metrics provide a gauge at a national level of how closely countries measure up to established environmental policy goals. Switzerland, France, Denmark, Malta and Sweden were the highest ranked for their environmental performance in 2018 contrasting the worst performers – Burundi, Bangladesh, the DRC, India and Nepal (Yale University et al., 2018).

5.3 Violent Conflict as a Threat to Human Security

Since the two World Wars, armed conflict has been a major and direct threat to many individuals worldwide, and thus is a good indicator of the state of human security. A study covering 1946 to 2001 identified a total of 225 armed conflicts. Of these, 163 were internal conflicts involving conflict between the state’s government and internal opposition groups without other states intervening (DeRouen & Heo, 2007, p. 2). The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), an international institute dedicated to research into conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament, in 2018 said that global security “has deteriorated markedly in the past decade.” The “broad trend so far this decade is an increase in armed conflicts, with the number each year returning to the levels of the start of the 1990s as the cold war was coming to an end.” Moreover, in many places human security has been eroded by the fluid and often chaotic nature of conflict. The number of armed groups active in each conflict has tended to increase: the average rising from eight in each intrastate conflict in 1950 to 14 in 2010. Indeed, in Syria over 1,000 separate militias have been identified, and in Libya as many as 2,000 (SIPRI, 2018a, pp. 3, 18).

Based on the Uppsala Conflict Data Programme (UCDP), the world’s main provider of data on organized violence, and the oldest ongoing data collection project for civil war, there were 52 active state-based armed conflicts in 2018, an increase from 50 in 2017.State-based armed conflict involves violence where at least one of the parties is the government of a state. Thus, violence occurs between two states or violence between the government and a rebel group. The years since 2014 have been characterized by the highest numbers of armed conflict since 1946. For the fourth consecutive year, the UCDP registered over 50 ongoing conflicts. Only one year prior to 2014 experienced numbers that high: 1991 with 52 conflicts. This trend was largely driven by Islamic State (IS or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS) expanding beyond Iraq where it originated. IS was active in 12 different state-based armed conflicts in 2018 compared to 16 in 2017. Eighteen of the 50 intrastate conflicts were internationalized with troops from external states supporting one or both sides in the conflict. Six conflicts reached the intensity level of war, with at least 1,000 battle-related deaths. This was a decrease by four from 2017, and the lowest number recorded since 2013. The decline corresponded to a significant reduction in battle-related deaths during 2018. At just over 53,000 fatalities, the numbers had decreased by 21% since 2017, and by almost 50% since the peak year of 2014 when over 104,000 fatalities were recorded (Pettersson et al., 2019).

Only two state-based conflicts were interstate in 2018—the border conflict between India and Pakistan and conflict between Iran and Israel that became active for the first time in 2018 (Pettersson et al., 2019). However, interstate tensions exist that could spark conflict. This is shown by the often tense relationship between North Korea and South Korea. Tensions were particularly high in 2017 with Pyongyang staging its sixth nuclear test. Despite a June 2018 summit between the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald J. Trump, the North reportedly continued its nuclear programme. Another February 2019 meeting collapsed with Pyongyang refusing nuclear disarmament in return for lifting economic sanctions.See British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) news stories: 4 August 2018: North Korea continuing nuclear programme – UN report’ and 26 April 2019: ‘North Korea profile – Timeline.’ The long-term resolution of tensions remains uncertain after Trump briefly visited the North in June 2019. Tensions in the South China Sea over multiple territorial claims and freedom of navigation operations, along with US-China rivalry have increased in recent years too.

Non-state armed conflicts also occur. These involve the use of armed force between two organized groups, such as rebel groups or ethnic groups, neither of which is the government of a state. Some of these conflicts are fought between formally organized groups, such as rebel groups. This has occurred in Sudan between the Lord’s Resistance Army and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army. Other conflicts occur with fighting between less-organized groups like tribes, frequently over land or other resources. This is illustrated by the fighting in Kenya between the Kikuyu and Kalenjin ethnic groups, often over land rights. The UCDP has recorded 721 non-state conflicts since 1989, with a yearly average of 39 active conflicts. In 2018, 76 such conflicts were registered compared to 83 in the peak year of 2017. The past six years had all recorded higher levels of non-state violence than any other year since 1989. Increased non-state violence was driven by numerous inter-rebel conflicts in Syria, inter-cartel violence in Mexico, and communal conflicts in Nigeria, mainly along farmer-herder lines (Pettersson et al., 2019; Human Security Research Group, 2014, pp. 95-98).

5.3.1 Impact of Violent Conflict on Human Security Humanitarian Impact

An obvious feature of violent conflict is the widespread loss of life. Casualties are especially frequent among civilians and those most vulnerable, such as women, children (who are often recruited as fighters) and the elderly. This is because cities and urban areas, which generally have large civilian populations, are strategically important, and hence control over these is often strongly contested. Battle lines are also frequently non-existent or poorly defined, with conflict occurring throughout the country. This makes it difficult for civilians to find safe havens.

The conflict in Iraq since the 2003 overthrow of President Saddam Hussein by US-led coalition forces graphically demonstrates the potential loss of life. There is debate over whether the conflict during its height was a civil war; widespread casualties and human rights violations associated with civil wars were clearly apparent. James Fearon defined the conflict as a civil war, and a January 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate said that the term accurately described key elements of the conflict. These included growing ethno-sectarian identities, the changing character of violence, ethno-sectarian mobilization and population displacements (Fearon, 2007).

Although casualties from violence in Iraq have declined since peaking in 2006-2007 they still occur. Iraq Body Count, a non-governmental organization, records violent deaths that have resulted from the 2003 military intervention in Iraq. Its detailed public database includes civilian deaths caused by US-led coalition and Iraqi government forces, and paramilitary or criminal attacks by others. The database indicates that 16,393 civilian violent deaths occurred during 2016 (compared to a peak of 29,517 in 2006), with preliminary figures amounting to 13,183 in 2017 and 3,319 in 2018 (Iraq Body Coun,t 2019). While US troop withdrawals were completed in December 2011, US-led coalition forces assisted the Iraqi Government in its fight against IS fighters. From 2014 Iraq was engaged in a military campaign to recapture territory lost to IS in the western and northern portion of the country. During 2017, Iraqi forces retook Mosul and, in response to a Kurdistan Regional Government referendum, took control over disputed territories across central and northern Iraq previously occupied and governed by Kurdish forces. In December 2017, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi publicly declared victory against IS amid continued tensions among Iraq’s ethnosectarian groups. However, the group remained active.See Krishnadev Calamur's 31 August 2018 piece in The Atlantic: ISIS Never Went Away in Iraq.

The devastating impact of violent conflict is magnified by the indiscriminate use of modern weapons. The firepower of weapons has increased significantly since World War II and can be used to devastating effect, particularly in urban areas where many civilians reside. Furthermore, the availability of such weapons has increased. The SIPRI estimated world military expenditure was $1,822 billion in 2018. Global military spending gradually rose following a post-2009 low in 2014, and in 2018 was 76% higher than the 1998 post-cold war low. Expenditure represented 2.1% of global GDP, or $239 per capita in 2018. The five biggest spenders were the US, China, Saudi Arabia, India and France. At $649 billion, US military expenditure increased for the first time in seven years – by 4.6%. The US was by far the largest spender in the world, accounting for 36% of global military spending. Expenditure increased in Central America and the Caribbean, Central Europe, Central and South Asia, East Asia, North America, South America, and Western Europe. Spending decreased in Eastern Europe, North Africa, Oceania, South East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Total expenditure of the Middle Eastern countries for which data was available also declined (Tian et al., 2019, pp. 1-3). Ambassador Jan Eliasson, Chair of the SIPRI Governing Board, has called high global military expenditure a “cause for serious concern” as it “undermines the search for peaceful solutions to conflicts around the world” (SIPRI, 2018c, n.p.).

The impact of modern weapons on civilians is illustrated by the war in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s. Tensions between the republics comprising the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia) increased in the late 1980s, as the Communist regime’s grip on power was eroded by reforms in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. Ultimately, the country disintegrated, and fighting started in September 1990. By July 1991, a civil war ravaged Yugoslavia. Much of the conflict occurred in towns and cities, and involved heavy weaponry such as artillery and tanks. Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, was under siege from 1992 to 1995. Serbia was then bombed by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1999. A more recent conflict started in March 2014 when Russian forces annexed the Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, significantly increasing tensions between the West and Russia. Over 10,000 civilians have been killed or wounded as a result of the Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine, where modern weaponry has been deployed (CIA, 2019). This was graphically shown by the July 2014 shooting down of a Malaysian airliner by pro-Russian forces that killed all 298 people on board.See BBC News from 5 June 2018: Ukraine profile – Timeline.

No less deadly are common lighter and low-tech weapons. Many of the Rwandan deaths during the 1994 conflict (outlined later) were caused by machetes. Rocket-propelled grenades, bombs and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have been very costly in Iraq and Afghanistan. In recent years such incidents have declined in Iraq, but risen in Afghanistan (Kester & Winter, 2017). A 2019 UN report documented 3,804 civilian deaths (another 7,189 were injured) in the Afghan conflict during 2018. Anti-Government Elements were responsible for 6,980 civilian casualties (2,243 deaths and 4,737 injured), mainly caused by the indiscriminate use of suicide IEDs and the deliberate targeting of civilians with these devices (UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, 2019). IS has frequently used suicide bombings, including customised armoured car bombs.See Thaier Al-Sudani's 19 July 2017 story in The Guardian: Islamic State’s customised car bombs – in pictures. Other countries facing such indiscriminate weapons include Pakistan and Russia. Incidents in Pakistan include deadly attacks during the July 2018 Pakistani general election. With regard to Russia, in October 2015 a Russian airliner was destroyed by a bomb over Egypt, killing 224 people, and in April 2017 a deadly bombing occurred on the Saint Petersburg Metro.Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 18 November 2015: Metrojet Flight 9268: Russia confirms bomb destroyed plane in Egypt.

Apart from conventional weapons, there is the threat of unconventional weapons. At the start of 2019, nine states; the US, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea possessed approximately 13,865 nuclear weapons. According to SIPRI in 2019, Russia and the US, which collectively accounted for over 90% of global nuclear weapons, had extensive and expensive programmes under way to replace and modernize their nuclear warheads, missile and aircraft delivery systems, and nuclear weapon production facilities. The other nuclear-armed states all were either developing or deploying new weapon systems or had announced their intention to do so. (SIPRI, 2019, p. 10). Moreover, chemical weapons have been used by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as in April 2017, and the UK in September 2018 warned Russia that it would pay a “high price” if it continued to use chemical weapons following the use of a nerve agent in Salisbury earlier that year from which one person died.BBC, 27 October 2017: ‘Assad forces behind deadly Syria sarin attack – UN and BBC, 27 September 2018: Russian spy poisoning: UK warns Russia over chemical weapons.

The Doomsday Clock uses the imagery of apocalypse (midnight), and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero), to convey threats to humanity and the planet. It has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and new technologies emerging in other domains. The decision to move (or to leave in place) the Clock’s minute hand is made annually by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board, in consultation with its Board of Sponsors. In January 2018 the minute hand was moved 30 seconds closer to catastrophe: two minutes to midnight, the closest the Clock had been to Doomsday. This was because in 2017 “we saw reckless language in the nuclear realm heat up already dangerous situations and re-learned that minimizing evidence-based assessments regarding climate and other global challenges does not lead to better public policies” (Mecklin, 2018, n.p.). The US intention reported in October 2018 to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty has been critiqued in the Bulletin given its negative impact on nuclear arms control (Reif, 2018); the US suspended its obligations under the Treaty effective February 2, 2019 (White House, 2019).

War crimes add to the cost. Human rights are frequently violated as social mores against such crimes are eroded while law and order collapses. These developments provide fertile ground for historical animosities to surface, for leaders to exploit tensions, and for factions to seek revenge for perceived past injustices. This, in turn, can start a cycle of violence as factions commit violence against each other that provokes retaliation. Such violence increases the level of hatred and the risk of war crimes. Human rights may also be systematically violated as terror and brutality are used to win dominance over the civilian population, and to ensure its compliance. Moreover, a breakdown of law and order can provide the opportunity for widespread violations to occur unhindered by fear of punishment. The International Criminal Court (ICC) was established to help end this impunity and gross violations of international humanitarian law. ​By August 2019 there had been 27 cases before the Court, some involving more than one suspect. ICC judges had issued 34 arrest warrants, while 16 people had been detained in the ICC detention centre and appeared before the Court. Fifteen people remained at large. Charges had been dropped against three people due to their deaths. Judges had issued nine convictions and four acquittals (ICC, 2019). Other courts such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia focus on war crimes during specific conflicts. In November 2017 former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladić was jailed for life for genocide and other atrocities.

The term ‘one-sided violence’ refers to the use of armed force by the government of a state or by a formally organized group against civilians resulting in at least 25 deaths in a year. The UCDP has recorded a total of 274 actors engaged in one-sided violence since 1989, with a yearly average of 33 active actors. In 2018, there were 32 actors compared to 31 in 2017. Governments or formally organized groups targeted and killed at least 4,500 civilians during 2018, the lowest level since 2012. IS was the actor most heavily involved in this violence with nearly 1,800 civilian fatalities recorded in 2018, a decline from previous years. With a few exceptions, most notably Rwanda in 1994, non-state actors have targeted civilians more frequently than states have. Governments were responsible for 18% of the fatalities in 2018, one such actor being the Nicaraguan government which violently cracked down on protesters opposing new social security reform (Pettersson et al., 2019). The earlier conflict in Rwanda during the 1990s provides graphic evidence of the atrocities that can occur. Historically, there had been intense tribal animosities between the Tutsis and the Hutu, and such tensions worsened when the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi died in an April 1994 suspicious plane crash. It was against this background that extremist Hutu militia and elements of the Rwandan military began the systematic massacre of Tutsis. Approximately 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed (DeRouen & Heo, 2007, p. 6).

Gender-based violence frequently occurs during conflict. The incidence of rape increases with law and order collapsing and power being held by those holding weapons, often young poorly educated males abusing alcohol and other drugs. Violence can occur with ill-discipline, but may also be employed as another tool to gain the population’s submission. Such violence is illustrated by the DRC conflict. Ethnic strife and civil war occurred with a major inflow of refugees in 1994 from conflicts in Rwanda and Burundi. A short civil war in 1997 was followed by continued ethnic unrest. Amnesty International has reported that tens of thousands of women and girls were systematically raped by combatants. Many suffered gang rapes or were taken as sex slaves, while the rape of men and boys was reported too. Rape was often preceded or followed by the deliberate wounding, torture or killing of the victim. Women suffering injuries or illnesses caused by rape were frequently denied medical care. Furthermore, victims were often abandoned by their husbands and excluded by their communities because of prejudice. This condemned them and their children to extreme poverty (Amnesty International, 2005). In Nigeria ongoing instability has included groups of schoolgirls being kidnapped by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram.

Children are frequently recruited as child soldiers by warring groups. They are viewed by groups as a readily available supply of recruits easily trainable and indoctrinated, who require no pay, and eat less food than adults. Children as young as eight years have been recruited, often forcefully, and are especially vulnerable when separated from their families or orphaned. The problem is most critical in Africa while children are also used as soldiers in various Asian countries and in parts of Latin America, Europe and the Middle East (DeRouen & Heo, 2007, p. 7). Myanmar has had an estimated 75,000 plus child soldiers, one of the highest numbers of any country (University of British Columbia, 2005, pp. 113-115).

Additional casualties can occur under the regime that emerges victorious from a conflict. Groups that use violence to seize power are likely to be willing and capable of widespread violence if they feel their power is threatened, and are likely to take extreme measures against perceived threats. This is illustrated by the brutal force used by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 against uprisings that ultimately resulted in his death, and by Bashar al-Assad against 2011 uprisings and during the resultant costly civil war. Furthermore, victorious groups might employ force to ensure that their directives are fulfilled, which may include violent and extreme ideals themselves. The resultant social and economic disruption can cause widespread hardships. The plight of Cambodians under the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979 is a particularly graphic case of violence and radical change after a civil war. By the time the Khmer Rouge lost power in early 1979, as many as 1.7 million people had died through mass executions, malnutrition or disease (Bellamy, 2005, p. 17). More recently, IS brutally administered its occupied territories before a US-backed alliance of Syrian fighters announced in March 2019 that the jihadist group had lost its last Syrian territory. This brought a formal end to the ‘caliphate’ it proclaimed in 2014.BBC, 23 March 2019: IS ‘caliphate’ defeated but jihadist group remains a threat.

The devastating effect of conflict remains long after the fighting has subsided or concluded. Higher mortality rates often remain, for it is time-consuming to rebuild the country’s damaged infrastructure, such as health and sanitation systems. Agricultural production will be compromised, and ecosystems will have suffered damage, exerting combined negative effects on public health. The reduced pool of available resources hinders rebuilding efforts. For example, there may be few people with the necessary expertise and skills as they would likely have fled the conflict or become casualties. This is especially problematic given the likelihood of greater demand for basic services because of damage, and the resultant increased threat of infectious diseases aggravated by a reduced ability to counter health threats. According to one study, during a five year civil war (the average length of a civil war is approximately seven years) infant mortality increased by 13%, and remained 11% higher than the baseline in the initial five years of post-war peace (World Bank, 2003, pp. 23-24, 93).

Lives are further threatened by the remnants of conflict. Unexploded ordnance and cluster munitions often claim lives and cause injuries; landmines are especially menacing. Landmines are frequently utilized given their inexpensiveness, ready availability and ease of use. This frequent use, along with the difficulty and cost of clearing mines and their indiscriminate harm to people and livestock, enhances their threat. Those who survive encounters are often maimed and face the prospect of losing their ability to work, and thus their livelihoods. They can also become ostracized from society. Some 61 countries and areas around the world are contaminated by landmines, and thousands of people live with this threat. In 2016, an average of 23 people around the world every day lost their life or limb to a landmine, or another explosive remnant of war. Thus, over 8,605 people were hurt or killed that year (International Campaign to Ban Landmines, 2018). Mined roads and destroyed bridges are significant obstacles to post-conflict recovery, because they hamper the use of valuable natural resources. For instance, minefields surrounding major population centres prevent the use of land suitable for agriculture and resettlement. The deaths and injuries of many Cambodians since the war there highlight the menace posed by mines.

As death and destruction spreads, many people attempt to flee. Refugees often carry minimal possessions and are forced to survive with these, at least until they find new homes or obtain assistance at refugee camps. Refugees are unlikely to receive adequate help from a weakened state, and are vulnerable to attack and to disease. The plight of refugees is further worsened by the trauma of witnessing the death and injury of relatives and friends. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the global population of forcibly displaced people grew from 43.3 million in 2009 to 70.8 million in 2018, a record high. Most of this increase happened between 2012 and 2015, driven primarily by the Syrian conflict (Syria had the highest number of refugees with 6.7 million). Other conflicts also contributed to this rise, including Iraq, Yemen, the DRC and South Sudan, along with the significant flow of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar to Bangladesh at the end of 2017. The refugee population under UNHCR’s mandate had nearly doubled since 2012. In 2018, the increase was driven particularly by internal displacement in Ethiopia and asylum-seekers fleeing Venezuela (UNHCR, 2019).

Refugee camps often find it difficult to provide adequate care, food and shelter to an influx of refugees fleeing a conflict. The World Food Programme and the UNHCR in early 2017 expressed serious concern that critical shortages in food assistance were affecting some two million refugees in 10 countries across Africa. For instance, many malnourished refugees were fleeing conflict in Somalia and South Sudan (UNHCR, 2017). Without adequate support, infectious diseases can rapidly spread among people already weakened by their flight from conflict, especially those most vulnerable. Many refugees who have fled abroad and are not in camps experience major problems too. These people often have little money to afford accommodation, are traumatized, and cannot access local support systems because of their legal status or language barriers. Thus, they are vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and radicalization. Economic Impact

The economic impact of conflict is disastrous. During a conflict, a society diverts some of its resources from productive activities to destruction. Hence, there is a double loss: the loss of resources that contributed to pre-conflict production, and the loss from the damage inflicted (World Bank, 2003, p. 13). Skills are lost with the death and exodus of people, and the damage to the country’s infrastructure and environment seriously impedes economic development and activity. The loss of reliable electricity supplies reduces productivity, and damaged transport systems hinder both the inflow of resources and the outflow of products. Furthermore, the uncertainty surrounding conflict discourages investment; it can also heighten economic instability as people try to stockpile goods, and as inflation reduces the value of money. According to the 2019 GPI, the global economic impact of violence lessened for the first time since 2012, decreasing by 3.3% or $475 billion from 2017 to 2018. The global economic impact of violence was $14.1 trillion in PPP terms during 2018, equivalent to 11.2% of global GDP. This improvement was primarily due to the decrease in the impact of armed conflict particularly in Iraq, Colombia and Ukraine (IEP, 2019, p. 4).

The impact of conflict is illustrated by the economic performances of countries witnessing conflict. One World Bank study found that during civil war countries generally grow around 2.2% more slowly than during peace. Thus, after a typical civil war of seven years’ duration, incomes would be approximately 15% lower than had no war occurred (assuming steady growth as a default). This implies the incidence of absolute poverty increased by about 30%. The cumulative loss of income during the war would be equal to approximately 60% of a year’s GDP. Another study analysed the economic impact of civil war using data from about eighteen countries affected by such conflict. For fourteen countries whose average growth rates of GDP per capita could be calculated, the average annual growth rate was negative 3.3%. Moreover, macro-economic indicators worsened during the conflict. In all eighteen economies, the external debt increased as a percentage of GDP; in fifteen countries, per capita income dropped; in thirteen countries, food production declined; and in twelve countries export growth fell (World Bank, 2003, p. 17). The devastation of Syria’s economy by civil war and international sanctions further illustrates the negative impact of conflict. After eight years of fighting it was estimated that Syria’s GDP was, at best, one-third of its pre-war level.The Economist. 7 September 2019. ‘Wings over prayers’. Page 20.

A conflict’s economic impact is not restricted to the country experiencing it. As countries are closely interlinked by the global economy, when conflict affects the economy in one country it often affects others, especially neighbours. The impact’s magnitude is shaped by the nature of the country’s economy. Conflict in a country that has a large economy with strategic resources such as oil is likely to have a larger impact on the global economy than conflict in a country with a small, resource-limited economy. The impact of conflict and instability on the global economy is illustrated by developments in the Middle East. In 2018 rising oil prices occurred against the background of geopolitical instability there. This included the US decision to unilaterally exit the July 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, under which Tehran agreed to limit its sensitive nuclear activities and accept international inspectors in return for the lifting of economic sanctions. Other instability was caused by domestic upheaval in Venezuela, tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen.See Adam Vaughan's 17 May 2018 article in The Guardian: What are the factors driving up the price of crude oil? Regional tensions continued in 2019, including a September attack on major Saudi oil facilities reducing global oil supplies by five percent and increasing prices.BBC, 16 September 2019: Saudi oil attacks: US says intelligence shows Iran involved. While price rises may be interpreted as a positive development by other oil producing countries, they often have a detrimental impact on many economies and societies.

Conflict can have an especially damaging impact on the economies of neighbouring countries. This impact can include reduced investment and the disruption of trade. According to the World Bank, having a neighbour at war reduces a country’s annual growth by around 0.5% (World Bank, 2003, p. 35). Economic growth rates may be adversely affected for various reasons. For example, conflict often discourages investment, as apparent in Africa. During 2004, the UN said that African instability and war were having a ‘ripple effect’ across the continent, and discouraging investment. Africa had the lowest level of foreign investment of any continent, about $15 billion a year (IRIN, 2005). Trade obstacles caused by conflict are especially challenging for landlocked countries, such as in Africa. The 1976-1992 civil war in Mozambique doubled neighbouring Malawi’s international transport costs and triggered an economic decline (World Bank, 2003, p. 35).

The economic impact of conflict is magnified by additional demands faced by regional economies. The plight of refugees that escaped from a conflict can strain the economies of neighbouring countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that resources have been strained by Afghan refugees entering Pakistan, with major problems arising. According to WHO, housing conditions have been inhumane, sanitation conditions below minimal standards, and there has been inadequate drinking water. WHO warned that outbreaks of communicable diseases often occurred with such problems (WHO, 2001).

Additional economic demand comes from increased defense expenditures, caused by threat perceptions in countries close to conflict. Fuelled by anxiety that the conflict could spread, there is an increased threat of regional instability, and border disputes might arise as various warring factions seek to use border areas as sanctuaries. The impact of threat perceptions is shown by international defense expenditure, which has already been outlined.

5.3.2 Addressing the Root Causes: Explaining Violent Conflict

Given their massive threat to human security, it is vital to better understand the key factors that can cause violent conflict, especially intrastate wars, in order to prevent their occurrence or at least to enhance our ability to resolve them quickly. Conflict is closely associated with other threats noted later in the chapter, so only three factors are briefly examined here. History of Past Violent Conflicts

Once a country has experienced a conflict, the threat of additional violence is elevated. The risk of a subsequent war for countries that have recently experienced war is estimated as two to four times higher. One reason for this is that the same factors that caused the initial war often remain operative (World Bank, 2003, pp. 83, 104). Indeed, these factors might have become stronger because of the ensuing destruction and casualties. Suspicion, grievances, and persistent hostility between opposing factions hinder reconciliation, and require time to be overcome. The difficulty of bringing to justice key personalities responsible for conflict poses another obstacle to reconciliation. A return to conflict is also facilitated by the likely post-conflict unemployment of many people with little experience except in fighting, and by the widespread availability of weapons. Moreover, the fate of weapon stockpiles after a war can generate tension when there is little trust between groups. The threat of ongoing conflict is illustrated by the situation in Angola where conflict has occurred since independence in 1975. Despite a 2002 ceasefire, and the establishment of a UN mission to oversee the peace process, conflict continues in areas like Cabinda. Autocratic Populist Leaders

Autocratic state and insurgency leaders can increase and exacerbate tensions that cause conflict. Leaders in countries with insurgencies and unrest often have alienated much of the population by abusing their power. This abuse frequently includes brutality against opposition, placing allies in powerful positions while excluding others, corruptly exploiting the state’s resources, and failing to improve living conditions and to resolve serious issues among the general population. Poor and incompetent leadership also erodes the regime’s legitimacy and encourages disillusionment, particularly in cases of obvious policy failure. Such a decline of legitimacy can be exploited by the regime’s opposition. A leader’s responsibility for the outbreak and continuation of conflict is shown by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic’s influential role in the conflict within the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s. Likewise, Bashar al-Assad has confounded many observers by holding on to power despite a rebellion by a large part of Syria’s population. His brutal crackdown on 2011 protests had triggered a devastating conflict, and drawn in other countries such as Iran, Russia and the US. By August 2019 over 500,000 were estimated to be dead or missing, while the regime had retaken most of the territory previously held by opposing forces.BBC, 3 September 2018: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: Facing down rebellion; BBC, 9 October 2018: Sense of an ending for Syria’s war on Idlib front line; and BBC, 30 August 2019: Syria war: Russia announces ceasefire in Idlib rebel stronghold.

Insurgency leaders often increase tensions that encourage conflict. Rebel military organizations generally have hierarchal and dictatorial structures, with significant power held by a charismatic leader. Rebel leaders frequently preach intolerance, revenge, and the need for direct action against their enemies. They are likely to exploit the grievances of various groups to rally support around the insurgency, and ruthlessly pursue power. Moqtada Sadr, a powerful radical Shia cleric, illustrates the important role of such leaders. In 2003 Moqtada Sadr established a militia group, the Mehdi Army, which fought against US-led forces in Iraq. As sectarian violence increased after Saddam Hussein’s fall this group was accused of staging reprisal attacks against Sunni Arabs. After nearly four years abroad he returned to Iraq in January 2011, and ultimately headed an alliance that won the May 2018 Iraqi parliamentary elections. External Actors

Assistance from external actors to groups can worsen conflict. Of 163 internal conflicts between 1946 and 2001, 32 involved external participation by other states (Gleditsch et al., 2002, p. 620). External actors may become involved in conflicts by deploying their own forces or by helping to finance, equip or train factions they support, or through logistics and intelligence sharing. Regardless of their particular involvement, violence often increases as warring groups become stronger, especially when outside powers directly intervene on their behalf. This intervention can be encouraged when external actors benefit from the conflict, or from a victory of a group aligned with their own interests. External involvement often occurred during the cold war, when the Superpowers and their allies promoted their rival strategic interests through proxy conflicts. This is illustrated by the American and Soviet involvement in Afghanistan during the late 1970s and 1980s. Post-cold war case studies include Iran’s support of militias in Iraq fighting US-led forces. This reportedly included providing weapons and explosives, and training in Iran (Gordon & Lehren, 2010). Gaddafi also deployed mercenaries to fight insurgent groups in 2011, while Russian and Iranian forces have provided significant support for the Syrian regime.

5.4 Other Threats to Human Security

5.4.1 State Vulnerability

The presence of key political institutions providing adequate and appropriate avenues to exercise rights, to express opinions, and to address grievances is vital in reducing the likelihood of violent conflict and unrest. This includes a representative central government able to provide the basics of good governance. However, this is not the case in many countries. Barriers to political participation and poor living conditions often encourage enlistment into rebel armies, a premise supported by the work of Barbara Walter, who studied the recurrent nature of civil war (Walter, 2004, p. 385). The term ‘fragile state’ indicates a dangerous post-cold war development, a development measured in the Fragile States Index (FSI) already mentioned. Symbolic of such states is the collapse of law and order, along with basic services. This phenomenon is often accompanied by violent conflict, as in Somalia. Where the state’s fundamental features are strong, major conflict and human insecurity are less likely, as with New Zealand (Henderson & Bellamy, 2002, p. 88). It should be noted, however, that a strong and stable state does not constitute an absolute guarantee of acceptable human security for its citizens. For instance, the North Korean dictatorship has defied many forecasts of collapse but has an appalling human rights record.

Political grievances can impact upon law and order. In Iran (ranked 52 in the 2019 FSI), rival candidates challenged Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory in the June 2009 presidential election and alleged vote-rigging. Their supporters then staged mass protests. The following year parliamentary elections in Iraq (FSI=13) resulted in no coalition winning enough votes for a majority, and political uncertainty contributed to increased violence. Mass protests in Egypt (FSI=34) against President Hosni Mubarak that ultimately led him to leave power in February 2011 were fuelled by his rule through emergency law. This gave the state sweeping powers of arrest and violated fundamental freedoms. Vladimir Putin’s March 2012 presidential election victory in Russia (FSI=73) led to demonstrations against the election’s conduct, while protests occurred after authorities disqualified various opposition candidates from standing in September 2019 local elections. Violence followed the July 2018 presidential election in Zimbabwe (FSI=10), the first such post-independence election without former leader Robert Mugabe on the ballot paper (FFP 2019: 7). Protests in Hong Kong against an extradition bill proposed by the government in early 2019 led to widespread demonstrations that continued after the bill’s withdrawal that September.

Internal divisions such as those derived from ethnicity, region, religion, and economic inequity can cause tension, ultimately threatening human security when groups cannot resolve differences peacefully. According to the World Bank, if the largest ethnic group in a multi-ethnic society forms an absolute majority, the risk of rebellion is increased by approximately 50%. In such societies, minorities may reasonably fear that even a democratic political process might cause their permanent exclusion from influence (DeRouen & Heo, 2007, p. 18). Socioeconomically dominant ethnic minorities are at particular risk, as in the case of ethnic Chinese in Indonesia or the Philippines (Chua 2003).Editors’ note: Sometimes violence erupts as soon as external powers urge the implementation of Western-style democratic reforms; the disenfranchised majority will feel empowered and violence is likely to erupt against the hegemonic group (Chua, 2003). There have also been some tensions between local populations and Chinese migrants in Africa.

The risk of unrest and conflict can be further increased by intense rivalry between two similarly sized groups over issues like political influence and power. The World Bank asserts that both polarization and dominance can cause problems. A very polarized society divided into two equal groups has an estimated risk of civil war approximately six times higher than a more homogeneous society (World Bank, 2003, pp. 57-58). Discontent can be especially strong when people are fighting for their right to live in their ancestral home, as was evident in the Ethiopian war (1976-1985). The conflict in Nigeria from 1967 to 1970 shows the potentially destructive nature of ethnic divisions. India has experienced serious clashes between Hindus and Muslims, as over the disputed holy site of Ayodhya. More recently, conflict between the Shiites and Sunnis in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq has persisted.

5.4.2 Economic Threats

Beyond the economic damage caused by conflict, poor economic development limits the resources available to construct strong political institutions. Likewise, the government’s ability to meet the population’s needs and demands are restricted by a poor economy. Here grievances over economic problems like inflation and unemployment increase as they affect living conditions, and they become stronger as such conditions deteriorate. For instance, the decline of Venezuela’s economy, despite its oil wealth, has led to mass unrest in recent years. Globalization contributes to this effect as technological innovations allow even people in the poorest and most remote areas to learn about better conditions elsewhere. Dissatisfaction with the government intensifies when the living conditions of groups are unequal due to government favouritism and corruption (DeRouen & Heo, 2007, p. 16). Here people are more likely to support factions promising better conditions even through using force. Resource ownership often becomes an issue when ownership (especially of land) is distributed unevenly. For example, white farm ownership in Zimbabwe and South Africa, and government moves to address this, has caused tensions. The plundering of natural resources by a minority can finance opportunistic rebellions. Through all those factors, resources can motivate conflict (Collier & Hoeffler, 2005, p. 632). Diamonds have been identified as influencing the incidence of civil wars but generally not the onset of conflict; easily exploited diamond deposits can be used to finance prolonged conflict (Lujala et al., 2005, pp. 559-560).

Even in the absence of violent conflict, economic malaise can threaten human security. The 2019 Global Report on Food Crises estimated that over 113 million people across 53 countries experienced acute hunger requiring urgent food, nutrition and livelihoods assistance in 2018. Conflict and insecurity was the key driver of food insecurity. Some 74 million people—two-thirds of those facing acute hunger—were located in 21 countries and territories affected by conflict or insecurity. Around 33 million of these people lived in 10 countries in Africa. Climate and natural disasters pushed another 29 million people into situations of acute food insecurity, while economic shocks were the primary driver of acute food insecurity for 10.2 million people (Food Security Information Network, 2019).

Economic mismanagement and corruption are major threats to the livelihood of people in many countries. Such problems hinder development, increase living costs and might encourage discontent. Transparency International, a non-government organization fighting corruption, included 180 countries and territories in its 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index. These were ranked by their perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and business people using a scale of 0 to 100. Here 0 (zero) was highly corrupt and 100 was irreproachable. Their report stated that more than two-thirds of countries scored below 50, with an average score of 43. Furthermore, “despite some progress, most countries are failing to make serious inroads against corruption.” Corruption was the worst in Somalia, Syria, South Sudan, Yemen, North Korea and Sudan. The least corrupt were Denmark, New Zealand, Finland, Singapore, Sweden and Switzerland (Transparency International, 2019, pp. 1, 2-3).

The threats of a struggling economy and economic inequality to human security are particularly evident where instability and conflict occurred previously. In February 2011 the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) noted that its global food price index (a measure of the monthly change in international prices of a basket of food commodities) had risen above its previous June 2008 peak, a year during which food price increases triggered violent protests in countries ranging from Haiti and the Philippines to Yemen. In 2008, price increases were driven by factors such as droughts, floods and oil price rises. In 2010, these factors returned, along with speculation about weak harvests in 2011 (Gilmour, 2011). The World Bank estimated that food price increases had placed 44 million people in the developing world back into poverty.See Michael Schuman's 14 July 2011 Time article: A Future of Price Spikes. Ultimately, the food price index peaked in 2011 between 2001 and August 2019 (FAO, 2019). Furthermore, global economic growth and stability has been threatened by the US-China trade war, and other factors such as a slowing Chinese economy and concerns over the impact of Brexit, the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union, finalised on 31 January 2020.

Natural disasters can clearly have a major disruptive impact on already economically vulnerable states. While academic evidence on the economic impact of natural disasters is mixed, natural disasters can destroy tangible company assets such as buildings and equipment along with human capital, thus reducing their production capacity (Ono, 2015). The negative impact of natural disasters is graphically shown by the January 2010 Haiti earthquake that caused up to 300,000 deaths. Here unrest was triggered by the slow pace of post-disaster reconstruction.BBC, 31 May 2018: Haiti Timeline.

Economic threats can be further aggravated by the often officially prescribed solution – regional economic development and growth – contributing to the region’s environmental impact on ecosystems, as well as to the global ecological overshoot of humanity. The former can irreversibly damage local ecological support structures, while the latter can cause similar damage worldwide and perpetuates inequity and exploitation Those consequences lead to often unforeseen (by the usual key decision makers) costs in health care and the economy, which in turn render future economic threats even more serious.

Foreign investment and loan dependency can be destabilizing. While rates of foreign direct investment to Africa have increased during recent years, little is known about how this will affect the political environment. Some research indicates that in states with a low regard for civil liberties, or with ‘unhealthy’ economies (such as a cash deficit), increased access to investment is associated with a higher number of conflict actions by the state. This can occur because access pushes regimes into using violent strategies to secure their domestic environment, and to ensure their survival against opposition and armed combatants (Kishi et al., 2017). Loan dependency is another risk, especially when loans are spent unwisely and cannot be repaid, that can prevent the government from providing basic services, and encourage unrest. In 2018 the International Monetary Fund warned that at least 40% of low-income countries in the region were either in debt distress or at high risk.Kwasi Kpodo's 8 May 2018 Reuters article: IMF warns of rising African debt despite faster economic growth. Chad (ranked 7 in the 2019 FSI), Eritrea (FSI =17), Mozambique (FSI =33), the DRC (FSI =5), South Sudan (FSI =3) and Zimbabwe (FSI =10) were considered to be in “debt distress” at the end of 2017 while Zambia (FSI =40) and Ethiopia (FSI =23) were downgraded to “high risk of debt distress” (FSI 2019: 7).BBC, 3 September 2018: Should Africa be wary of Chinese debt? Concern has also been expressed over corruption and countries becoming indebted to China, the single largest bilateral financier of infrastructure in Africa.See footnote 18.

5.4.3 Health-Related Threats

Promoting and protecting health is essential for ensuring human welfare, along with sustained economic and social development, and well-functioning ecological support structures. People rate health one of their highest priorities, which frequently makes it a political issue, and a potential grievance as regimes try to meet peoples’ expectations. The circumstances in which people grow, live, work, and age strongly influence the quality of their lives and deaths. Education, housing, food and employment all impact on health, as do a country’s standards of environmental health. Timely access to health services including promotion, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation is also important. This cannot be achieved for the majority of people without a well-functioning health financing system (WHO, 2010, p. IX). Thus, low-income countries that experience conflict and disasters that significantly damage the health system, basic infrastructure, and environmental basis are especially at risk. This is because they are least able to rebuild their systems, and in turn might experience mass causalities and further unrest.

Yemen, where a civil war rages, experienced a cholera outbreak that in 2017 was called the largest and fastest-spreading outbreak of the disease in modern history.See Kate Lyons's 12 October 2017 article in The Guardian: Yemen’s cholera outbreak now the worst in history as millionth case looms and Alanna Shaikh,'s 8 May 2018 piece in the UN Dispatch: Yemen is currently facing the largest documented cholera epidemic in modern times. A new report warns it could get worse. Between 28 September 2016 and 12 March 2018 there were 1,103,683 suspected cholera cases and 2,385 deaths reported (Shaikh, 2018). The Ebola virus has hit poor African states particularly hard. By early August 2019 there had been over 1,800 deaths and over 2,700 people infected by an outbreak in the DRC that started in August 2018. This represented the second-largest outbreak in the history of the virus. It followed the 2013-2016 epidemic in West Africa that killed over 11,300 people.BBC, 2 August 2019: Ebola outbreak in five graphics.

A few threats disproportionately impact upon world health, and hence particularly threaten human security. According to WHO, the leading global risks for mortality (other than infectious diseases) have been high blood pressure (responsible for 13% of deaths globally), tobacco use (nine percent), high blood glucose (six percent), physical inactivity (six percent), and overweight and obesity (five percent). These increased the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancers. They affected countries across all income groups. Disability-adjusted life year (DALY) are frequently used to measure deaths at different ages and disability. One DALY basically equates one lost year of ‘healthy’ life, and the burden of disease measures the gap between current health status and an ideal situation where everyone lives into old age, free of disease and disability. The leading global risks for burden of disease, as measured in DALYs, were underweight (six percent of global DALYs), unsafe sex (five percent), alcohol use (five percent) and unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene (four percent). Excluding alcohol use, all threats especially affected populations in low-income countries, particularly in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Alcohol use has a unique geographic and sex pattern. Its burden was highest for men in Africa, middle-income countries in the Americas and some high-income countries (WHO, 2009, pp. V, 5, 9).

According to WHO, of the 56.9 million deaths worldwide in 2016, ischaemic heart disease and stroke were the world’s biggest killers with them accounting for a combined 15.2 million deaths. These diseases had been the leading causes of death globally in the last 15 years. Lower respiratory infections were the most deadly communicable disease, causing 3.0 million deaths worldwide in 2016. Over half of all deaths in low-income countries during 2016 were caused by ‘Group I’ conditions. These included communicable diseases, maternal causes, conditions arising during pregnancy and childbirth, and nutritional deficiencies. Contrasting this, less than seven percent of deaths in high-income countries resulted from such causes. Lower respiratory infections were among the leading causes of death across all income groups (WHO, 2018).

Most health threats vary according to income. A high proportion of the world’s poor are estimated to have no access to health services simply because they cannot afford to pay when they need them. Their risk of contracting disease is greatly elevated by the adverse environmental conditions in which they live. They risk being pushed into poverty, or further into poverty, as illness prevents them from working (WHO, 2010, p. 5). In low-income countries, relatively few risks are responsible for a large percentage of deaths, and loss of healthy years. These risks generally act by increasing the incidence or severity of infectious diseases. The leading risk fac­tor for low-income countries was underweight, about 10% of the total disease burden. In combination, childhood underweight, micronutrient deficiencies (iron, vitamin A and zinc) and suboptimal breastfeeding caused seven percent of deaths and 10% of total disease burden. The combined burden from these nutritional risks was nearly equivalent to the entire disease and injury burden of high-income countries (WHO, 2009, p. 9). For those who do not die, frequent illness and chronic disability prevent children from attending school, and adults from working or caring for their families. Thus, families can become trapped in a downward spiral of poverty, lost opportunity and poor health.

For high and middle-income countries (and for the affluent elites in poor countries), the most important risk factors are chronic dis­eases like heart diseases and cancer. Tobacco is one of the leading risks for both. This accounted for 11% of the disease burden, and 18% of deaths in high-income countries. For these countries, alcohol, overweight and blood pressure were leading causes of healthy life years lost (WHO, 2009, p. 9). Even in high-income countries where people still enjoy comparatively high human security, disasters can pose serious health threats that cause both acute trauma and long-term health issues. New Zealand has a history of earthquakes, though fatalities have been comparatively low (Bellamy, 2016). The September 2010 and February 2011 earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, caused widespread problems such as anxiety, depression and stress among residents. The devastating March 2011 earthquake in Japan has caused major long-term health issues given its magnitude, and the associated radioactive pollution. With middle-income countries, risks for chronic diseases also cause the largest share of deaths and DALYs. Risks like unsafe sex, unsafe water, and lack of sanitation cause a larger share of burden of disease than in high-income countries (WHO, 2009, p. 9).

Threats can similarly be influenced by demography. The profile of risks varies with age. Some risks affect children almost exclusively, such as underweight and under nutrition (apart from iron deficiency). Among adults the risks also vary considerably with age; much of the health burden from addictive substances, unsafe sex, absence of contraception, iron deficiency and child sex abuse occurs in younger adults. Contrasting this, the health burden from risk factors for chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease and cancers predominately falls on older adults. Men and women have been affected about equally from risks associated with diet, the environment and unsafe sex. However, men suffered over 75% of the bur­den from addictive substances, and most of the bur­den from occupational risks. Women suffered the entire burden from lack of contraception and unsafe abortions, 80% of deaths caused by iron deficiency, and approximately two thirds of the burden caused by child sexual abuse (WHO, 2009, p. 9).

The catastrophic impact of Japan’s 2011 earthquake on its nuclear industry underscored the role of a safe environment in public health. Pollution in its many forms, radioactive or chemical, can have devastating effects on people’s health that range from acute illness to long-range chronic dysfunctions that often remain undiagnosed (Chen et al., 2004). Here too the main burden is usually carried by the world’s poor, although catastrophes, such as the one in Japan, act indiscriminately. Their impact also tends to be regional or global rather than nationally delimited, and mitigation efforts often largely rely on nature’s own capacity to renew itself, or at least to dilute the noxious agents. Such spectacular disasters sometimes distract from the essential role of healthy ecosystems everywhere in maintaining the health of human populations, by producing food, shelter and energy, and by recycling wastes back into biomass and clean water. Those essential functions, which often do not even feature in economic analyses of a country’s health status, tend to become obvious only when the integrity of an ecosystem becomes compromised by human impact, or when its capacities become overtaxed (Hales et al., 2004; Crisp, 2010). Ecosystems also support human population health through other mechanisms, the details of which are yet to be understood (Chivian, 2001).

5.4.4 Crime

As another chapter in this text focuses on crime, only crime that tends to be associated with violent conflict, namely the production of illegal drugs and the intentional killing of a person by another (intentional homicide), is briefly outlined here. Conflict, poor governance and widespread poverty can cause a recognized government to lose control over its territory, whereupon illegal activities, such as drug cultivation, can become widespread. The cultivation or control of the illegal drug industry often provides a vital revenue source for guerrilla groups. Cultivation can also become an income source for people whose economic options were reduced by conflict, or who live in areas controlled by guerrilla and criminal groups. An estimated 95% of the global production of opium occurs in countries experiencing civil wars (World Bank, 2003, p. 41).

The link between conflict and illegal drugs is demonstrated by Colombia. Colombian intelligence sources have estimated that 40% of the country’s total cocaine exports are controlled by paramilitaries, and their allies in the narcotics underworld. Indeed, it is “impossible to distinguish between paramilitaries and drug traffickers” (Human Rights Watch, 2003). Over 900 tonnes of cocaine were produced in Colombia during 2017, prompting fears that it was losing the war on drugs.BBC, 2 August 2018: Colombia’s battle with cocaine traffickers. Sinister accessory roles can also be played by powerful external actors with an interest in the drug trade, such as the British Government during the 19th century Chinese opium wars. In some countries (e.g. South East Asia) the cultivation and trafficking of narcotics serve as income sources to corrupt governments which relativises the label of illegality.

Intentional homicide represents the most serious end of the spectrum of violent crime, and hence poses a major threat to human security. Such crime helps to shape peoples’ perceptions of insecurity, is often widely reported and influences attitudes towards law enforcement. Widespread protests can arise when authorities are believed to be incapable, or unwilling, to counter the occurrence of violent crime. This is shown by mass anti-crime protests in Mexico sparked by many deaths related to drug-related violence. President Felipe Calderon deployed the army to fight the cartels in 2006, and over 28,000 people had died by 2010 with violence spreading into Central America. Indeed, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in September 2010 commented that Mexican drug-related violence increasingly had the characteristics of an insurgency.BBC, 9 September 2010: Clinton says Mexico drug crime like an insurgency. In March 2018 Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said he planned to withdraw his country from the ICC after it began examining his controversial war on drugs. Police claimed they had killed around 4,000 drugs ‘suspects’, whereas rights groups suggested the figure could be much higher.BBC, 14 March 2018. Philippines drugs war: Duterte to withdraw from ICC. The country officially left the ICC in March 2019.

As one of the most effectively recorded crimes, law enforcement data on intentional homicide is generally more readily available than for other crimes. Thus, rates of intentional homicide per 100,000 population have sometimes been used as a proxy for levels of violent crime, or even overall crime (Harrendorf et al., 2010, p. 7).

According to the UN, the overall number of people who suffered a violent death because of homicide increased from 395,542 in 1992 to 464,000 in 2017. However, with the global population rising faster than the increase in recorded homicide victims the global homicide rate, measured as the victims of homicide per 100,000 people, fell from 7.2 in 1992, to 6.1 in 2017. Organized crime was responsible for 19% of homicides. The homicide rate in the Americas (17.2) was the highest recorded in the region since reliable records began in 1990. Africa’s rate (13.0) was also above the global average (6.1). The rates in Asia, Europe and Oceania were below the global average (2.3, 3.0 and 2.8 respectively) (UN Information Service 2019). The July 2011 massacre by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway and March 2019 mosque massacre in New Zealand focused attention on far-right extremist groups often associated with racism and violence, while ongoing mass shootings in the US have generated significant discussion over gun control.

5.4.5 Terrorism

There is much debate over what constitutes terrorism. In accordance with conventions on terrorism, such as the Geneva Conventions and Security Council resolution 1566 (2004), the UN refers to terrorism as actions intended to cause death, or serious bodily harm, to civilians or non-combatants when their purpose is to intimidate a population, or to compel a Government or an international organization to commit or to abstain from doing any act (UN, 2010). Terrorism has allowed weaker and smaller insurgent groups to pose major threats to human security. The threat of terrorism is internationally acknowledged, particularly since the 11 September 2001 al-Qaeda attacks on the US. These attacks left nearly 3,000 individuals dead or missing (DeRouen & Heo, 2007, p. 13) in the worst international terrorist attack as at its 18th anniversary.

According to the US Department of State, in 2017 a total of 8,584 terrorist attacks occurred worldwide, resulting in over 18,700 deaths and more than 19,400 people injured. These casualty figures included more than 4,400 perpetrator deaths and 1,400 perpetrator injuries. The total number of terrorist attacks worldwide in 2017 decreased by 23% and total deaths due to terrorist attacks decreased by 27%, compared to 2016. This overall trend was primarily due to significantly fewer attacks and deaths in Iraq. Although attacks took place in 100 countries in 2017, 59% of all attacks occurred in five countries (Afghanistan, India, Iraq, Pakistan, and the Philippines). Seventy percent of all deaths due to terrorist attacks occurred in Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia and Syria. IS was responsible for more attacks and deaths than any other perpetrator group in 2017. However, it undertook 23% fewer terrorist attacks and caused 53% fewer total deaths, compared to 2016. IS and groups that had pledged allegiance to it staged attacks in over 20 countries in 2017 (US State Department 2018). IS and National Thowheed Jamath were linked to April 2019 Sri Lankan bombings that killed over 250 people, while in August 2019 it was reported that IS was regaining strength in Iraq and Syria.See New York Times piece by Eric Schmitt, Alissa J. Rubin and Thomas Gibbons-Neff from 19 August 2019: ISIS Is Regaining Strength in Iraq and Syria.

The growth of terrorist groups has been facilitated by the link between conflict and terrorism. The state’s lack of control over territory, along with the general absence of law and order, can help terrorist groups. In those areas, terrorists can operate with little or no interference from state authorities. Indeed, terrorist organizations often constitute a militant faction of much larger political opposition groups, the majority of whom remain non-combatant. Terrorists can establish organizational structures, recruit and train followers, and develop international networks for intelligence and supplies. Conflict, together with a government’s ‘clumsy’ efforts to control it, might also make people more receptive to supporting terrorists, or at least accepting their presence. Terrorists often exploit the strong emotions arising from death and destruction; for instance, by serving as a conduit for retribution.

Afghanistan illustrates how countries experiencing conflict can become terrorist havens. After the Taliban seized power in 1996 they allowed al-Qaeda to establish bases, and Osama Bin Laden, the terrorist group’s leader, allegedly lived there. Despite the Taliban losing power in December 2001, conflict and lawlessness remain, as both Taliban and al-Qaeda elements operate within the country or near its borders. A study published in 2018 found that the Taliban were in full control of 14 districts (four percent of the country), and had an active and open physical presence in a further 263 (66%). Furthermore, in September 2019 it was reported that the Taliban controlled more territory than at any time since the 2001 US invasion.BBC, 31 January 2018: Taliban threaten 70% of Afghanistan, BBC finds and BBC, 3 September 2019: Afghanistan war: US-Taliban deal would see 5,400 troops withdraw . Nor has Osama Bin Laden’s death in May 2011 ended al-Qaeda attacks. Likewise, UN Secretary General António Guterres said in February 2019 that IS had “substantially evolved into a covert network,” and was “in a phase of transition, adaptation and consolidation.” IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in April 2019 also vowed to seek revenge for its loss of territory.BBC, 23 March 2019: IS ‘caliphate’ defeated but jihadist group remains a threat and BBC, 30 April 2019: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi: IS leader appears in first video in five years.

State-sponsored terrorism represents the reciprocal situation, where terrorist methods are employed by a ruling faction to promote their agenda, and strengthen their power while avoiding public scrutiny. Well known examples include the 20th century military dictatorships in Latin America, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and other Middle East autocracies, and some of the more totalitarian regimes behind the ‘iron curtain.’ A problematic variant of state-sponsored terrorism can occur in the form of radical and sweeping counter-terrorist policies. These are implemented by a regime in response to a terrorist insurgence. In such cases the general populace can be caught between the brutality of both the government and terrorists. Indeed, Amnesty International during April 2011 announced a major worldwide campaign, Security with Human Rights. This aimed to expose governments that violated human rights in the name of national security or of countering terrorism, or governments that used the threat of terrorism as a pretext to undermine human rights. Countries criticized for such actions included the US, Turkey and Pakistan (Amnesty International, 2011). In 2018 Guterres asserted that “We must fight terrorism together, with methods that do not compromise the rule of law and human rights” (UN News, 2018).

5.4.6 Environment

The natural environment within which people live and interact provides an essential basis for their lives. This is because ecosystems provide key ‘services’ for human communities: production of food, raw materials, and energy; and recycling of wastes back into resources. These services cannot be supplanted by any technologically conceived methods as the operation of technological devices itself depends on ecosystem services, and non-renewable resources (Myers, 1993).

The World Economic Forum (WEF) identifies and ranks global risks through its annual Global Risks Perception Survey, which asks the Forum’s network of business, government, civil society and thought leaders to gauge the risks facing the world. Environmental risks dominated the results of the WEF Global Risks Report 2019 on both dimensions of their likelihood and impact. According to the Report, “Of all risks, it is in relation to the environment that the world is most clearly sleepwalking into catastrophe.” Overall, the five risks most likely to occur in order of their likelihood were: extreme weather events (e.g. floods and storms etc.); the failure of climate-change mitigation and adaption; major natural disasters (e.g. earthquakes, tsunami, volcanic eruptions and geomagnetic storms); massive incidents of data fraud/theft; and large scale cyber-attacks. The five risks that would have the biggest impact, ranked according to their magnitude, were: weapons of mass destruction; the failure of climate change mitigation and adaption; extreme weather events; water crises; and major natural disasters (WEF, 2019; Myers & Whiting, 2019, n.p.).

A key indicator for the state of the environment is biodiversity. This reflects the number, variety and variability of living organisms, and how these vary according to location and change over time. Biodiversity is important for the integrity and resilience of all ecosystems, and it is the basis for the benefits provided by ecosystems to people. Biodiversity loss has direct and indirect negative effects on eight key factors. The first four are: food security (biodiversity often increases the adaptability of communities to change); vulnerability (ecosystems tend to lose their resilience and stability as species are lost); health (a balanced diet requires diverse foods); and energy security (wood fuel provides over half the energy used in developing countries, and thus shortages can cause major problems). The other factors are: clean water (the loss of forests and watersheds reduces water quality and availability); social relations and cultural identity (many cultures attach values to ecosystems or their components); freedom of life-style choice (the loss of species and ecosystems often means a loss of choices); and finally basic materials (biodiversity provides goods people need to live) (UNEP, 2010).

The environment’s significance is highlighted by the importance of biodiversity; threats to ecological integrity can have a major impact on human security. Indeed, biodiversity and ecosystem integrity are internationally threatened in many ways. According to Guterres, “Protecting and restoring ecosystems and ensuring access to ecosystem services are necessary for the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger. Reducing deforestation and land degradation and enhancing carbon stocks in forests, drylands, rangelands and croplands are needed for mitigating climate change. And protecting the biodiversity of forests and watersheds supports clean and plentiful water supplies. These are just some of the benefits of biodiversity. Yet, despite this understanding, biodiversity loss continues around the globe” (UN 21, May 2018, n.p.).

In 2017, German researchers found that a 75% fall in the population of insects critical to food systems had occurred in the past 27 years, raising fears of “ecological Armageddon.” Human destruction of habitats for farming, mining, infrastructure development and oil and gas production was the primary driver of biodiversity loss (Martin, 2018). A UN-backed study of biodiversity in 2018 stated that “Biodiversity, the essential variety of life-forms on earth, continues to decline in every region of the world” (Doyle, 2018). Human activities were causing an alarming decline in the variety of plant and animal life, thereby jeopardizing food, clean water and energy supplies.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has estimated that global warming is likely to reach 1.5° C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues increasing at the current rate (high confidence). Climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth were projected to increase with such warming (IPCC, 2018). Moreover, the US in June 2017 indicated it would withdraw from the December 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change Mitigation, the central aim of which includes pursuing efforts to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5° C. Given the significant and credible evidence of climate change, the lack of active moves to address the issue by some countries is concerning. Climate change can play a role in fostering conflict. For example, traditional systems for sharing resources can erode if farmers suddenly have to adapt to different growing seasons or herders need to move their cattle at different times. Such conflict has been reported around Africa’s Lake Chad between farmers and herders. While there is debate over their findings, some studies have suggested that climate change caused or exacerbated a severe drought in Syria during the late 2000s that triggered mass migration from farmland into cities, contributing to tensions that led to its civil war.The Economist, 23 May 2019: How climate change can fuel wars.

The impact of environmental threats on human security is graphically evident in recent disasters. In August 2010 wildfires caused by a severe heat wave killed people and devastated crops in Russia. This disaster led Russia, the world’s third largest wheat exporter in 2009, to ban grain exports, thus increasing international wheat prices. That same month some scientists linked those fires, along with floods in China and Pakistan, to global warming.The Telegraph, 10 August 2010: Pakistan floods: Climate change experts say global warming could be the cause. A Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters report found that earthquakes and tsunamis claimed more lives than any other type of hazard in 2018, with over 10,000 lives lost. Floods, droughts, storms and wildfires affected more than 57 million people. Floods affected the largest number (over 35 million), with 23 million in the Indian State of Kerala alone. Over nine million were affected by drought worldwide. The Kenyan population accounted for a third of this number, followed by Central American countries (2.5 million people). Two-thousand eighteen was a record-breaking year for wildfires. The US experienced its deadliest outbreak in over a century, and Greece suffered a record number of wildfire casualties as 126 lost their lives (UN News, 2019). With hotter, drier conditions such disasters have become more common. Different climatic conditions also mean forests can take far longer to recover.Deutsche Welle, 24 August 2018: Climate change sets the world on fire.

A different way in which environmental deterioration can threaten human security stems from the relationship between resource availability, and the stability of human economies and societies. Historical examples of cultures, even entire empires, collapsing because of ecosystem damage illustrate this essential dependency (Diamond, 2005). Other more contemporary examples show that the scarcity of natural resources caused by environmental deterioration often leads to violent conflict, and the massive displacement of ‘eco-refugees’ (Homer-Dixon, 1999). The increase in the frequency and severity of such crises illustrate the environmental impact of unprecedented multitudes of humanity, in some cases through their over-consumption, and in others through their sheer numbers (McKee, 2005).

5.5 Conclusions

The focus on human security means that the protection of individuals is prioritized. While violent conflict poses a significant threat, there are many other threats that can harm individuals. These relate to threats to health, law and order, the economy and the environment. This chapter first outlined some metrics for evaluating the degree to which human security is threatened. It then reviewed actual sources of human insecurity. Violent conflicts were prioritized because of their wide-ranging and devastating impact. More specifically, intrastate conflicts were the focus because they dominate conflict internationally, and their peaceful resolution is often difficult. As a threat to human security, their most important effect is the widespread loss of life and livelihoods. War crimes, and the negative economic impact of conflict, are additional serious concerns. Key factors that can cause conflict include a state’s history, leadership and external actors.

Beyond conflict, major threats to human security target the health of people, law and order, state authority, economy and the environment. Promoting and protecting health is essential to human welfare, and ultimately human security. Global health threats include widespread pathological conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Some of the causes for chronic illness depend on lifestyle, while many other causes are environmental. Numerous health threats vary according to income. With regard to crime, illegal drugs and ‘intentional homicide’ are serious international threats. Concern over terrorism has significantly increased since the 11 September 2001 attacks. The absence of key political institutions providing adequate and appropriate avenues to guarantee rights, to express opinions, and to address grievances can cause instability. This is especially likely when there are strong internal divisions in a country. Poor economic development also limits the resources available to construct strong political institutions, along with the government’s ability to meet the population’s needs and demands. This in turn increases grievances. Finally, there are threats to the environment support base of populations. A key indicator of the threat level to environmental support structures is the state of biodiversity. Major challenges like global warming and overconsumption seriously threaten the ecological basis of human security. The situation is confounded by the adverse environmental impact of some efforts to boost economic growth.

The world faces new and greater challenges to human security in the 2020s. A better understanding of the components of security is needed, and associated sources of threats. This includes the diverse range of conflicts and their causes, especially those that have not traditionally been associated with security. Such an understanding hopefully will facilitate the development and use of tools to effectively counter such threats.

Resources and References


Key Points

  • Although proponents of human security agree that its primary goal is the protection of individuals, the debate continues over the priorities among specific threats.
  • Proponents of the ‘narrow’ concept of human security focus on violent threats to individuals. They acknowledge that such threats are strongly associated with poverty, lack of state capacity and different forms of socio-economic and political inequity.
  • Proponents of the ‘broad’ concept believe that the range of threats should be widened to include hunger, disease, natural disasters and loss of ecological integrity.
  • Violent conflicts, especially of an intrastate nature, are a major threat to human security because of their impact. Both ‘narrow’ and ‘broad’ concept proponents agree that such conflict is not the only threat to the security of individuals.
  • The health, and ultimately the lives of individuals can be threatened by a state’s inadequate infrastructure.
  • Crime, especially of a serious nature, and terrorism in its various forms, threaten lives and thus human security.
  • State, social and economic problems threaten livelihoods and can cause grievances, while issues like global warming affect the environment, biodiversity and ultimately people. Multiple interactions between those factors exist.
  • The components of security and its threats can be better understood if the diverse range of conflicts and their causes is taken into account. This will further the development and effective use of tools to counter such threats.


Extension Activities & Further Research

  1. There is debate over defining human security along the narrow and broader conceptualisations. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each definition?
  2. The assessment of the human security of specific countries by the UNDP as described in the overview section is not universally accepted. What potential future problems can you identify with the criteria employed by the UNDP, particularly life expectancy and income? Which criterion might be least problematic and why?
  3. Who benefits from assessments of threats to human security? In whose interest might it be to lower an assessment, or to exaggerate it?
  4. How can the assessment of a security threat lead to improvement of the security situation? Explain the requirements using a case study.
  5. All the major sources of human insecurity as discussed in this chapter tend to affect each other. Give some examples of such relationships, and explain how they work.
  6. What threats are particularly serious in your country or region, and what factors contribute to their strength?
  7. What threats do you perceive will be especially serious for your region in the future, and why?

List of Terms

See Glossary for full list of terms and definitions.

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Human Security in the Context of International Humanitarian Law and International Criminal Law

Hennie Strydom

Learning Outcomes & Big Ideas

  • Summarise the main ethical considerations that have led state parties to agree on conventions and protocols to protect people in violent conflict.
  • Describe the legal instruments that allow for human individuals to be recognised as victims or perpetrators under International Humanitarian Law.
  • Implementation and enforcement of International Humanitarian Law are hampered by diverse political contingencies.


This chapter introduces the idea of protection for non-combatants in armed conflicts and explains how international law can accomplish such protection. The Geneva Conventions and associated Protocols define the situations under which protection is indicated in both international and internal conflicts. Different protection is afforded to prisoners of war, wounded and shipwrecked, and displaced people. Certain means and methods of war are also proscribed. The responsibilities of states and of individuals are defined, as well as the conditions that constitute breaches of those responsibilities. War crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and aggression are defined and mechanisms for the prosecution of state and individual transgressors are outlined. The key legal developments supporting human security include certain human rights, international humanitarian law, international criminal law, and good governance. The chapter concludes with a discussion of obstacles, particularly with respect to the responsibility to protect (R2P) and boundaries of state sovereignty.

Chapter Overview

6.1 Introduction

6.2 Situations in Which the Protective Measures Will Apply

6.3 Who and What Are Protected?

6.3.1 The Principle of Distinction

6.3.2 Prisoners of War

6.3.3 The Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked, and Aid Agencies

6.3.4 Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons

6.4 Means and Methods of Warfare

6.5 Different Responsibility Regimes, Core International Crimes and Enforcement Options

6.5.1 State Responsibility

6.5.2 The Grave Breaches Regime

6.5.3 Individual Criminal Responsibility The Core Crimes: War Crimes Core Crimes: Crimes Against Humanity Core Crimes: Genocide Core Crimes: The Crime of Aggression

6.6 Conclusion: The Future of the Responsibility Regimes

Resources and References

Key Points

Extension Activities & Further Research

List of Terms

Suggested Reading



6.1 Introduction

As the preceding chapter (Chapter 5) made clear, few incidents have such a devastating impact on human lives than armed conflict between or inside countries. It is therefore understandable that we find, even in ancient times, rules and customs of warfare with a humanitarian purpose, namely to prevent unnecessary suffering in armed conflict situations and to provide protection for certain categories of persons, such as the wounded and the sick and those not taking part in the hostilities and who can be classified as non-combatants. Today these rules and customs are largely codified in the sense that they form part of multilateral international treaties or conventions binding upon the states that have become party to them and in some instances these treaties enjoy universal or near universal acceptance by the states of the world. We refer to this body of international law as international humanitarian law (IHL) or the law of war. It must be made clear at the outset though, that IHL is not concerned with the question whether an armed conflict or the resort to armed force is lawful or justifiable. That question is determined by other rules of international law which fall outside the scope of this chapter.

However, IHL applies the moment an armed conflict has started and its sole purpose is to regulate the way in which hostilities should be conducted with a view to save and protect those who are not or no longer directly participating in the hostilities and to place restrictions on the means and methods of warfare. A first question that arises is where do we find the principles or rules applicable in these situations? To answer this question it is necessary to note the way in which states create binding law in the international legal order. This can happen in two ways: first by way of a uniform practice or custom which states follow with regard to a specific matter and which they accept as binding law between them. A rule that has come about in this manner constitutes customary international law and is binding on all states, except on a state that has persistently objected to the customary law rule. Of greater importance in our day and age is the second way in which states create binding international law, namely by concluding multilateral international agreements, also known as treaties or conventions. Sometimes even existing customary international law principles are taken up in these treaties and become codified in that way. IHL, in particular, is one of those branches of international law that has been extensively codified by means of multilateral treaties over the last hundred and fifty years. The consequences of this codification process are twofold: firstly, there now exists a well-established body of law regulating state conduct in the course of an armed conflict. This body of law is extensively covered by the documents listed in Table 6.1.

The second consequence is that non-compliance with IHL principles by a state party (who acts through its armed forces) to the conflict, will result in the legal responsibility of the state, which is a form of civil liability, and placing an obligation on the state to make reparations. At the same time the individual(s) responsible for the breach of an IHL norm may be held criminally liable for the breach on the basis of individual criminal responsibility. These two forms of liability co-exist and the one does not exclude the other. These matters will be dealt with more fully, later on in this chapter.

Table 6.1 Documents that codify International Humanitarian LawThese and many other sources are accessible on the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) website.
Geneva Convention I for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field (GCI) 1949
Geneva Convention II for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea (GCII) 1949
Geneva Convention III Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War (GCIII) 1949
Geneva Convention IV Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (GC IV) 1949
Protocol I Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts 1977
Protocol II Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts 1977

6.2 Situations in Which the Protective Measures Will Apply

As indicated in the introduction, the main purpose of IHL is to provide protection for certain categories of persons and objects and to place certain restrictions on the means and methods of warfare. Before these matters are dealt with more extensively, it is first necessary to acquaint ourselves with the situations in which this body of law will find application. In this instance we should resort to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 (Geneva Conventions I-IV, see Table 6.1), which constitute one of the major codifications of IHL with universal support. In Articles 2 and 3, common to all four conventions, three situations are listed, namely an armed conflict between two or more of the contracting parties (i.e. the typical international armed conflict situation); all cases involving a military occupation by one of the contracting parties of the territory, in whole or in part, of another contracting party; and armed conflicts not of an international character taking place in the territory of one of the contracting parties (i.e. the so-called internal armed conflict situation).

In 1977, the Geneva Conventions were supplemented by two Protocols. By virtue of Protocol I, Article 1(4), the protective measures of the Geneva Conventions and their supplementation by Protocol I, were extended to cover also “armed conflicts in which peoples are fighting against colonial domination and alien occupation and against racist regimes in the exercise of their right of self-determination, as enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations …” The inclusion of wars of national liberation as a situation falling under the Geneva Conventions was, and still is, a controversial matter. The reason for this is that governments are often reluctant to recognise an insurgent movement as a “party to an armed conflict” and prefer to deal with insurgents in terms of ordinary national law, often classifying them as ordinary criminals or terrorists posing a threat to national security. This is further borne out by the fact that nineteen of the UN’s 193 member states have not yet ratified Protocol I, including the United States, Pakistan, India, Turkey, Thailand and Myanmar.

As far as internal armed conflicts are concerned, it must be noted that it is only Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions that specifically covers this type of conflict. The article’s protective measures extend to the humane treatment of the wounded and the sick and those not taking actively part in the hostilities, including members of the armed forces who have laid down their weapons; and the prohibition, under all circumstances, of acts involving violence to life and person, the taking of hostages, outrages upon personal dignity and the passing of sentences without due process. Common Article 3 also makes it possible for the parties to an internal armed conflict to bring into force, by means of special agreements, all or part of the other provisions of the Geneva Conventions.

Protocol II of 1977 has expanded on the definition of internal armed conflict by limiting it to conflicts taking place on the territory of a contracting party between the armed forces of the contracting parties and dissident armed forces or other organized armed groups “which, under responsible command, exercise such control over a part of its territory as to enable them to carry out sustained and concerted military operations and to implement this Protocol” (Protocol II, Article 1(1). The threshold of control over a part of a state’s territory and the concomitant ability to carry out sustained and concerted military operations mean that conflicts falling below this standard will not be covered by IHL principles and will be dealt with in terms of the law of the land. As a consequence of this requirement, Article 1(2) of Protocol II explicitly excludes from the operation of the Protocol “situations of internal disturbances and tensions, such as riots, isolated and sporadic acts of violence and other acts of a similar nature, as not being armed conflicts.” The different situations here can be explained with reference to the Libyan conflict. Inspired by popular protests against undemocratic, oppressive regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, Libyan citizens took to the streets in February 2011 to protest against the dictatorial regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi who ruled over the Libyan people for 42 years. In an attempt to restore internal order, the Gaddafi regime responded with forceful action involving the police and armed forces. In the beginning this confrontation could be classified as a typical internal disturbance or spontaneous act of revolt (Protocol II, Article 1(2)) and as such fell outside the ambit of Article 1(1) of Protocol II. But the moment the protesters organized themselves as a rebel movement with a command structure, took up arms and started controlling parts of the Libyan territory an armed conflict within the meaning of Article 1(1) developed as a result of which the parties to the conflict had to conduct their hostilities in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

At this point it is appropriate to take note of the Martens Clause, which is considered to be part of customary international humanitarian law. This clause was inserted, on the initiative of Fyodor Fyodorovich Martens (1845-1909), one of Russia’s most respected international law scholars, in the preamble of the 1899 Hague Convention II containing the Regulations on the Laws and Customs of War on Land, and restated in the 1907 Hague Convention IV on the same matter. It now also forms part of the 1977 Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions. Article 1(2) states as follows: “In cases not covered by this Protocol or by any other international agreements, civilians and combatants remain under the protection and authority of the principles of international law derived from established custom, from the principles of humanity and from the dictates of public conscience.” It should be clear from this formulation that the clause serves the purpose of covering situations which can be considered grey or not being covered unequivocally by some or other established treaty or customary law principle.

The clause was also considered by the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the case of The Prosecutor v Kupreskic (IT 95-16, Trial Chamber Judgement of 14 January 2000) where the accused persons were charged with crimes against humanity resulting from the persecution and deliberate and systematic killing of civilians during the Yugoslav war. As a result of the Martens Clause the Tribunal argued that although some countries have not ratified Protocol I, they may still be bound by general rules having the same purport, because of the way states and courts have implemented the clause, it clearly shows that “principles of international humanitarian law may emerge through a customary process under the pressure of the demands of humanity or the dictates of public conscience, even where State practice is scant or inconsistent” (para. 527). And elsewhere, following this argument, the Tribunal concluded that “[d]ue to the pressure exerted by the requirements of humanity and the dictates of public conscience, a customary rule of international law has emerged on the matter under discussion” (para. 531).

In concluding this part, three remaining issues must be addressed, albeit briefly. The first deals with the distinction made by the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the two Additional Protocols of 1977 between international and non-international armed conflicts with the vast majority of provisions in these instruments dealing with the former. In recent times this distinction has been subjected to criticism and reassessment, also because of the fact that the majority of armed conflicts in today’s world are internal in nature and causing a disproportionate number of civilian casualties and ill-treatment of civilians. The argument in favour of doing away with the distinction is based on the reasoning that restrictions on the conduct of hostilities and the need for measures to protect certain categories of persons in armed conflict situations exist regardless of the question whether the conflict can be classified as international or non-international. Put differently, it is the nature of the danger people are exposed to and not the formal classification of the situation that is decisive. Support for this argument is often based on Article 1, which in all four of the Geneva Conventions, determines that the “High Contracting Parties undertake to respect and to ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances.”

The second issue relates to what has become colloquially known as the ‘war on terror’ after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States and the United States’ military response to that attack. Much has been written on the matter and a contentious issue is whether we can classify the so-called ‘war on terror’ as an armed conflict in the legal sense of the word and to which IHL will apply. An immediate response should be that terrorist attacks will only be covered by IHL to the extent that they form part of an armed conflict, be it international or non-international. If not they could be classified as violent criminal acts and punishable in terms of the criminal laws of the country where they occur. Terrorist acts forming part of an armed conflict and involving attacks against civilians could qualify as indiscriminate attacks and therefore punishable as war crimes. From this it also follows that recourse to armed force against those responsible for terrorist actions as part of an armed conflict situation, will likewise be subject to the same rules as in any other armed conflict. A recent case in point is the military conflict involving the Islamic State (ISIS).

The last issue relates to the application of IHL principles in failed states. Of specific importance here is the situation where a government in de facto control of government functions reaches such a level of disintegration as a result of internal opposition and violence in the country that it is no longer in a position to perform ordinary governmental functions, and loses control over the exercise of law and order as well as other forms of authority. If the ensuing implosion of government structures coincides with the disintegration of the armed forces an anarchical situation arises characterised by a proliferation of armed factions, a breakdown in the chain of command within the various factions, and divisions in the control over the national territory.

In such situations, civilians are mostly at risk because they cannot rely on government intervention and protection of any kind and they often find themselves at the mercy of one or several of the splintered armed factions whose main purpose in such circumstances is often self-preservation and self-enrichment through crime and wanton violence. From a humanitarian point of view the paradox should be clear: as state structures collapse the reliance on humanitarian aid organisations increases but their interventions become more hamstrung when they cannot rely on the support and cooperation of the central authorities any more. One of the most serious humanitarian challenges identified by the International Committee of the Red Cross in these and other armed conflict situations is the violence against health care workers, facilities and patients. Data collected in sixteen countries between 2008 and 2010 have shown a clear pattern of violence aimed at hindering the delivery of health care, ranging from direct attacks on medical personnel and facilities to looting and kidnapping (ICRC, 2012).For new sources see WHO's Surveillance System for Attacks on Health Care and the ICRC's New global system to monitor attacks on health care.

In anarchical situations brought about by the collapse of authority and state structures humanitarian aid organisations have no choice but to establish and maintain contact with each of the factions involved in the conflict and to negotiate humanitarian spaces for civilians, the sick and the wounded. Precarious how this may be, such efforts and the concessions that may materialize from them are often the only hope for civilians and other vulnerable persons caught between the different armed factions. A fundamental question that arises in these circumstances is the applicability of IHL principles. Here we should invoke the provisions of Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions which oblige the parties to any non-international armed conflict to respect the humanitarian principles mentioned earlier on. Although Common Article 3 does not define the term “party to a conflict” it is generally accepted that to qualify as such, an armed group opposing a government must have at least a minimum degree of organization and discipline enabling them to respect IHL. However, since Common Article 3 has a broad humanitarian purpose an unduly restrictive interpretation of its meaning will run counter to the provision’s underlying spirit. Also relevant are the protective measures provided for in Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions on condition that the threshold requirement for the existence of an armed conflict situation referred to earlier on has been met. This means that dissident armed forces or other organized armed groups opposing the government must exercise such control over a part of the state’s territory as to enable them to carry out sustained and concerted military operations (Protocol II, Article 1(1)). Excluded from the operation of the Protocol will be internal disturbances such as riots and isolated and sporadic acts of violence (Protocol II, Article 1(2)). In this context reference should also be made to the following conclusion by the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia in the Tadić case:

we find that an armed conflict exists whenever there is a resort to armed force between States or protracted armed violence between governmental authorities and organized armed groups or between such groups within a State. International humanitarian law applies from the initiation of such armed conflicts and extends beyond the cessation of hostilities until a general conclusion of peace is reached; or, in the case of internal conflicts, a peaceful settlement is achieved. (Prosecutor v Tadić, IT-94-AR72, 1995, para. 70)

This understanding of the applicability of protective measures in internal armed conflicts must not detract from the difficulties presented by anarchical situations, especially with regard to the effective implementation of IHL norms. The following observation should therefore be taken note of:

The problem posed by this type of conflict is therefore not so much that of which norms are applicable as it is that of their implementation. This can be said of all national and international legislation applicable on the territory of the State which is disintegrating. Since by definition the disintegration of the State carries with it the risk of non-compliance with the entire corpus of the law, it is in the interest of the international community to make sure, by means of cooperation and in accordance with the UN Charter, that such “no-law” zones do not come into existence. (Sassòli et al., vol II, 2011, p. 679)

6.3 Who and What Are Protected?

6.3.1 The Principle of Distinction

It is a fundamental principle of IHL that parties to a conflict must at all times distinguish between combatants and civilians and between military objects and civilian objects and to refrain from attacks against civilians and civilian objects. It is therefore important to know who will qualify as a combatant in an armed conflict situation. For current purposes it would suffice to mention two of the main categories. All members of the armed forces of a party to the conflict as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces will be classified as combatants. In the second instance, members of other militias or volunteer corps will likewise qualify for combatant status provided that they fulfil the following conditions: they must be under a responsible command; must have a distinctive emblem recognisable at a distance; must carry their arms openly; and must conduct their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war (see Geneva Convention III, Article 4). As a consequence of this classification, all persons falling into any of these categories have a legal duty to distinguish themselves from the civilian population during each military engagement and for the duration of the engagement.

In giving effect to this principle of distinction, Article 48 of Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions contains the following unequivocal provision: “In order to ensure respect for and protection of the civilian population and civilian objects, the Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objects and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives.” On the basis of this rule, Protocol I outlaws acts or threats of violence which have the primary purpose of spreading terror amongst the civilian population; indiscriminate attacks which employ a method of warfare that causes incidental loss in civilian lives disproportionate to the military objective; acts of reprisal against the civilian population; or the shielding of military objects by means of the presence or movement of civilians (Article 51). Protocol I also lists the civilian objects that should remain free from military attacks and prescribes the duties parties to the conflict have with regard to the precautionary measures they must take in complying with their obligations in terms of the Protocol (see Chapters III and IV of Protocol I).

6.3.2 Prisoners of War

A combatant who falls into the hands of the enemy is entitled to prisoner of war status and to be treated accordingly. This matter is regulated by Geneva Convention III and the basic rule on the treatment of prisoners of war is found in Article 13 which states as follows:

Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated. Any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited, and will be regarded as a serious breach of the present Convention. In particular, no prisoner of war may be subjected to physical mutilation or to medical or scientific experiments of any kind which are not justified by the medical, dental or hospital treatment of the prisoner concerned and carried out in his interest. Likewise, prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.

In following this basic point of departure, Geneva Convention III contains an extensive array of rules covering matters such as the internment of prisoners of war; disciplinary proceedings against prisoners of war, the capture and transmission of information about prisoners of war and their repatriation after the end of hostilities. Moreover, if there is doubt whether a person who has fallen into the hands of the enemy forces belongs to any of the prisoner of war categories, such person shall enjoy the protection afforded under Geneva Convention III until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal (Article 5). Also to be noted is that under Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, certain acts against prisoners of war could constitute war crimes.

6.3.3 The Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked, and Aid Agencies

Geneva Conventions I and II as well as Protocol I contain the rules for the protection of the wounded, sick and shipwrecked and extends the protection to medical personnel and facilities, administrative support staff and religious personnel. These categories of persons must not be attacked and must be allowed to perform their duties on the battlefield.

Linked to this are the measures in the Geneva Conventions and Protocols to protect in times of armed conflict the use of emblems such as the red cross, the red crescent and the red crystal and to keep free from attack facilities where these emblems are displayed. In times of armed conflict these emblems are used to provide protection of medical personnel and facilities and medical means of transport. It therefore stands to reason that their misuse or abuse, which may constitute a war crime, must be prevented.

6.3.4 Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons

International law on refugees is regulated by the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. In this context ‘refugee’ is defined in narrow terms, describing a person who has fled his or her country based on a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, and who, because of that fear is unable to return to his or her country of origin. However, it should be obvious to any observer of international events that armed conflicts are often the cause of large numbers of civilians fleeing to other countries to escape from hostilities and to find sanctuary elsewhere, quite often under auspices of the United Nations. It is therefore noteworthy that the 1969 Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa has adopted a wider definition of ‘refugee’ to include also those fleeing armed conflict situations. The provision is worded as follows:

The term “refugee” shall also apply to every person who, owing to external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events seriously disturbing public order in either part or the whole of his country of origin or nationality, is compelled to leave his place of habitual residence in order to seek refuge in another place outside his country of origin or nationality. (Article 1(2))

Under IHL war refugees will be entitled to the protection available to civilians in times of armed conflict and may therefore rely on the protective measures of Geneva Convention IV and Protocol I if they find themselves outside their national state and on the territory of one of the other parties to the armed conflict. As such they will be classified as protected persons in terms of the Geneva Conventions and will also be entitled to seek assistance from the International Committee of the Red Cross or other aid agency. The party to the conflict in whose hands such protected persons find themselves remains responsible for their treatment irrespective of any individual responsibility which may be incurred (See Geneva Convention IV, Articles 4, 29, 30). This responsibility includes the responsibility to facilitate, under certain conditions, the rapid and unimpeded passage of all relief consignments, equipment and personnel, even if destined for the civilian population of the adverse party (see Protocol I, art 70). Preventing relief operations from taking place could constitute a war crime under Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

As opposed to refugees, displaced persons are civilians fleeing within their own country to escape armed conflict. They are therefore entitled to the protection afforded them by Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions and Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions. Article 18(2) of Protocol II, for instance, stipulates as follows:

If the civilian population is suffering undue hardship owing to a lack of the supplies essential for its survival, such as foodstuffs and medical supplies, relief actions for the civilian population which are of an exclusively humanitarian and impartial nature and which are conducted without any adverse distinction shall be undertaken subject to the consent of the High Contracting Party concerned.

The issues here are well-illustrated by the response of the UN Security Council in 1991 to the repression of the Iraqi civilian population, including in the Kurdish populated areas, by Saddam Hussein’s regime which led to massive flows of refugees towards and across international frontiers. In resolution 177 (1991), the Security Council insisted that Iraq allowed “immediate access by international humanitarian organizations to all those in need of assistance in all parts of Iraq and to make available all necessary facilities for their operations …” (para. 3). In reaction to this resolution Operation Provide Comfort was launched, in which American, British and French armed forces established “safe havens” in northern Iraq, preventing military flights over the area and allowing Kurds to remain without fear of attack by Iraqi forces.

6.4 Means and Methods of Warfare

Apart from providing protection for civilians and other categories of protected persons during armed conflict, IHL also regulates the means used to conduct hostilities (means of warfare) and the way in which hostilities are conducted (methods of warfare). These matters are now subjected to three basic rules codified in Article 35 of Protocol I. This provision determines that (a) the right of the parties to an armed conflict to choose the means or methods of warfare is not unlimited; (b) it is prohibited to employ weapons and methods of warfare that would cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering; and (c) it is prohibited to employ means and methods of warfare which are intended, or may be expected, to cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment. In view of these restrictions states parties are under an obligation, when developing, acquiring or adopting new weapons, to determine whether such weapons will be prohibited by this Protocol (Article 36).

Under these rules the use of certain weapons will be prohibited in all circumstances because of their inherent characteristics and indiscriminate effects, in other instances the use of a certain weapon could be merely limited or restricted. To the first category belongs the use of expanding bullets, blinding laser weapons, poisonous gases, biological and chemical weapons, anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions.Editors’ note: Depleted uranium ordnance is apparently not mentioned in that category. Viewed as being contrary to considerations of humanity the use of these weapons has over time become outlawed by means of specific multilateral treaty arrangements with the result that their use will constitute a war crime under current international criminal law. To the second category belong restrictions on the use of certain conventional weapons now governed by a series of Protocols annexed to the 1980 Convention on Prohibitions and Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons.

A case of a special kind is presented by nuclear weapons. That this is by definition a kind of weapon that would certainly fall foul of the object and purpose of Article 35 should not be in dispute. In 1996, the International Court of Justice rendered an advisory opinion in the famous Nuclear Weapons case on the question—submitted to the Court by the General Assembly of the United Nations—whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons can in any circumstances be permitted under international law. In its analysis of international humanitarian law and principles the Court concluded that the “principles and rules applicable in armed conflict—at the heart of which is the overriding consideration of humanity—make the conduct of armed hostilities subject to a number of strict requirements.” Following this logic, the Court then reasoned that “methods and means of warfare, which would preclude any distinction between civilian and military targets, or which would result in unnecessary suffering to combatants, are prohibited.” Consequently, because of the “unique characteristics of nuclear weapons … the use of such weapons in fact seems scarcely reconcilable with respect for such requirements” (ICJ Reports 226, 1996, para. 95). However, in the final analysis, the Court, having considered what it called the “present state of international law,” reached the conclusion (by the casting vote of the President of the Court!) that it could not reach a definitive conclusion as to the legality or not of the use of nuclear weapons by a state “in an extreme circumstance of self-defence, in which its very survival would be at stake” (para. 97). In instances not involving this extreme position the Court was unanimous in its opinion that the threat or use of nuclear weapons should also be compatible with the requirements of international law applicable in armed conflict, particularly “those of the principles and rules of international humanitarian law …” (para. 97D).

Another issue under this theme is the increasing development and potential use by a growing number of states of ‘lethal autonomous weapon systems,’ which refers to weapon systems that function without meaningful human control over the critical functions of selecting and detecting individual targets. Because of the human rights and international humanitarian law implications of the use of such weapon systems, among others, the matter has featured for some time on the agenda of the UN Human Rights Council and other UN Bodies (see for instance UN Human Rights Council Documents A/HRC/23/47 of 9 April 2013 and A/HRC/26/36 of 1 April 2014) and has attracted volumes of scholarly contributions in recent times on the legal, moral and ethical implications of the use of such weapons with some calling for an outright international ban on such weapon systems.

On 12 September 2018, the European Parliament adopted a resolution (2018/27529RSP) calling on member states and the European Council to adopt as a matter of urgency a common position on lethal autonomous weapon systems that ensures meaningful human control over the critical functions of such systems. The resolution also raised concerns that the development of these weapon systems could prompt an unprecedented and uncontrolled arms race and about the implications of their use for key questions of international human rights and international humanitarian law. In response to this resolution a report was published in November 2018 indicating that there is an emerging consensus between European states that meaningful human control over the use of force should be retained, especially with regard to critical functions such as selecting and attacking targets, that human control is a prerequisite for compliance with international humanitarian law and as a way of ensuring accountability. See Crunch Time: European Positions on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems, Update 2018 [PDF], also available at PAX for Peace.

When we speak about methods of warfare we have in mind certain tactical or strategic considerations meant to outweigh or weaken the enemy. In this case too, the methods of warfare are not unlimited and methods causing unnecessary suffering or superfluous injury will be prohibited. It is now well established that the following are forbidden: giving or ordering no quarter, pillaging, perfidious conduct (misuse of a flag of truce or other protected emblem) and starvation of civilians.

6.5 Different Responsibility Regimes, Core International Crimes and Enforcement Options

6.5.1 State Responsibility

The traditional approach to international law considers violations of IHL to be committed by states and for that reason state parties incur certain responsibilities with regard to measures that must be taken to prevent and repress transgressions. This is also clear from the first article to the Geneva Conventions and Protocols clearly stating that the High Contracting Parties “undertake to respect and to ensure respect” for the Conventions and Protocols “in all circumstances”. It is also important to note that in terms of the Geneva Conventions no state party shall be allowed to absolve itself or any other state party of any liability in respect of grave breaches (see below) under the Conventions (See Geneva Conventions I-IV, Articles 51, 52, 131, 148 respectively). Under Article 91 of Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions a state party to a conflict who has violated the provisions of the Conventions or of the Protocol will be liable to pay compensation and will be held responsible for all acts committed by persons forming part of its armed forces. This rule is in keeping with the general international law principles on state responsibility and entails that the state responsible for the violation (by virtue of the actions of its armed forces) must compensate the state injured by the violation and not the individual victims of the violation. This rule is at variance with human rights law which normally requires that the individual harmed is entitled to an effective remedy.

A first obligation that arises for state parties in the case of a breach is to institute an enquiry into the breach once any other state party to the conflict has requested such an investigation and the parties have agreed on the procedure to be followed. Once the violation has been substantiated by means of the enquiry, the parties to the conflict are obliged to put an end to it and to repress it with the least possible delay (Geneva Conventions I-IV, Articles 52, 53, 132, 149 respectively).

These mechanisms have been supplemented by Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions in two ways. In terms of Article 89 of the Protocol the parties to the Protocol undertake, in the case of serious violations of the Conventions or of the Protocol, to act, jointly or individually and in cooperation with the United Nations, against the violations. For this purpose Article 90 provides for the compulsory establishment of an International Fact-Finding Commission to enquire into any facts alleged to have constituted a grave breach of the Conventions or the Protocol. However, the use of this mechanism by a state party to investigate allegations against another state party is subject to the depositing of declarations by both parties reciprocally accepting the competence of the Commission to enquire into the allegations.

6.5.2 The Grave Breaches Regime

Certain violations of IHL are considered to be so serious that they fall under a special regime in terms of the Geneva Conventions and additional Protocol I and in terms of which states parties incur special responsibilities. These violations are known as grave breaches and involve acts against protected persons or property amounting to “wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments, wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, and extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly” (Geneva Convention I, Article 50. See also Geneva Conventions II-IV, Articles 51, 130, 147 respectively). Article 85 of Protocol I has expanded on this and “grave breaches” will now also include attacks on the civilian population; indiscriminate attacks affecting the civilian population in the knowledge that such attacks will cause excessive loss of life or damage to civilian objects; attacks against works or installations containing dangerous forces knowing that such attacks will cause excessive loss of life or damage to civilian objects; making non-defended localities and demilitarized zones the object of attack; making persons who are no longer participating in hostilities the object of attack; the perfidious use of the distinctive emblem of the red cross, red crescent or red lion and sun or other recognised protective sign, etc.

In these instances state parties are obliged to enact legislation necessary to provide effective penal sanctions for persons responsible for these breaches. Secondly, state parties must search for persons alleged to have committed these breaches and prosecute them before their own courts, regardless of the nationality of the offender. If it so wishes, a state party may also hand an offender over to another party for prosecution provided that the other party has made out a prima facie case against the offender. In addition, states parties must take measures necessary for the suppression of all violations of the conventions and the protocol (Geneva Conventions I-IV, Articles 49, 50, 129, 146 respectively; Protocol I, Articles 85, 86).

These provisions form the basis of the current international criminal law regime providing for individual criminal responsibility for war crimes, as opposed to state responsibility, and for the prosecution, before national or international tribunals, of individual offenders. The grave breaches provisions also base prosecutions in the national courts of the states parties on the concept of universal jurisdiction. This means that any state, regardless of the nationality of the offender or the place where the violation occurred could establish its national jurisdiction over the matter by means of national legislation and institute a prosecution against the offender once arrested on, or transferred to, the territory of the state willing and able to prosecute.

6.5.3 Individual Criminal Responsibility

Since the Nuremberg (Nürnberg) trials immediately after WWII the concept of individual criminal responsibility for what is generally referred to as the violations of the laws and customs applicable in armed conflict situations, has become firmly established. This development has greatly benefitted from the establishment of the two ad hoc tribunals, the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 1993 and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in 1994, and most definitely from the establishment in 1998 of the permanent International Criminal Court (ICC). On occasion, the potential impact of the developments that evolved since WWII in this area has elicited the following comment:

The regular prosecution of war crimes would have an important preventive effect, deterring violations and making it clear even to those who think in categories of national law that IHL is law. It would also have a stigmatizing effect, and would individualize guilt and repression, thus avoiding the vicious circle of collective responsibility and of atrocities and counter-atrocities against innocent people. Criminal prosecution places responsibility and punishment at the level of the individual. It shows that the abominable crimes of the twentieth century were not committed by nations but by individuals. By contract, as long as the responsibility was attributed to States and nations, each violation carried within it the seed of the next war. That is the civilizing and peace-seeking mission of international criminal law favouring the implementation of IHL. (Sassòli et al., 2011, vol I, p. 396)

We have now reached a point where international criminal law can claim to have produced a well-developed set of substantive principles and procedural rules by means of which the effective prosecution of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community can be undertaken with a view to bringing to an end impunity for the perpetrators of such crimes. What follows is a general overview of the crimes considered to be of the most serious concern for the international community and over which each state is supposed to exercise its jurisdiction. For this purpose, and in view of limited space, the focus will be on the provisions of the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which brought into being the ICC and which determines the Court’s powers, functions and jurisdiction. Article 5(1) of the Rome Statute states that the Court’s jurisdiction will be limited to the crime of genocide; crimes against humanity; war crimes; and the crime of aggression. At the time when the Rome Statute was negotiated some states wanted terrorism and international drug trafficking to be included as well, but this attempt was unsuccessful. Core Crimes: War Crimes

As indicated earlier on, what we refer to today as war crimes are closely related to the grave breaches concept in the Geneva Conventions and in Protocol I. In Article 8(2) of the Rome Statute we find different categories of war crimes, each one containing a long list of acts which can be prosecutable as war crimes. Under the first category (Article 8(2)(a)) “war crimes” means grave breaches of the four Geneva Conventions. The second category (Article 8(2)(b) identifies “war crimes” with “other serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in international armed conflict” which are given further substance by means of a list containing twenty acts that will constitute “war crimes” under this category. An important third category relates to acts committed in an armed conflict not of an international character (Article 8(2)(c) and (e)), i.e. the so-called internal armed conflict situation. The acts that will constitute war crimes under this category are those mentioned in Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions and which have been dealt with earlier on. However, there is also a second, more extensive list of acts which will amount to war crimes when committed in a non-international armed conflict according to the Rome Statute. This list mentions, amongst others, armed attacks against civilians and against personnel and facilities involved in humanitarian assistance; attacks against educational, religious, scientific and cultural facilities; pillaging of a town or place; and most importantly acts of rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization and any other form of sexual violence, and the conscripting or enlisting of children under the age of fifteen into the armed forces or armed groups. These latter additions are a reflection of the kind of atrocities modern-day internal armed conflicts have come to represent, namely the sexual abuse of women and girls as a deliberate instrument of war and the use of child soldiers to supplement ragtag armed militias and to spread terror in local communities.

By creating the possibility that grave breaches qualify as war crimes even in non-international armed conflicts, the Rome Statute has introduced an important development. Prior to this grave breaches were only possible in the course of an international armed conflict (see Prosecutor v Tadic, Appeals Chamber Decision on Jurisdiction, IT-94-1-AR 72 (1995)). Perhaps this is a further illustration of how fluid the boundaries between international and non-international armed conflicts for purposes of the enforcement of IHL can become. Here we simply have a later treaty law arrangement causing substantive changes to the existing legal regime covering non-international armed conflicts and bringing about a greater parity of esteem in the relevance of IHL norms for the two types of armed conflict. Core Crimes: Crimes Against Humanity

Acts like murder, extermination, enslavement, unlawful deprivation of liberty, torture, rape, enforced disappearances of persons, etc. are perfectly suitable to be classified as ordinary common law crimes and in many countries are prosecuted as such under ordinary national criminal law. But these acts may also be defined as crimes against humanity and the question is therefore what factor or circumstance will cause an ordinary common law crime such as these to become a crime against humanity in terms of international criminal law?

The answer to this is the following. In the first instance the act in question (murder, etc.) must be committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack. Secondly, the attack in question must be of a special kind, namely it must involve the multiple commission of any of the above acts and it must be “pursuant to or in furtherance of a State or organizational policy to commit such attack” (Rome Statute, Article 7). It is because of these two elements that crimes against humanity are considered to be particularly serious and they explain why the concept of crimes against humanity has become part of customary international law since its condemnation by the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal (See Article 6 of the Charter).

Furthermore, it must be noted that over time the nexus between crimes against humanity and an armed conflict has disappeared with the result that these crimes can also be committed in a time of peace. It is this absence of an armed conflict as a precondition for the commission of crimes against humanity that distinguishes war crimes from crimes against humanity. But this difference may also have implications for the question whether the crimes in question can be committed against civilians alone. If the existence of an armed conflict is taken out of the equation it makes sense to consider why members of the armed forces should be excluded as possible victims of such crimes, since by pure logic, they could equally become the victims of crimes against humanity irrespective of whether there exists an armed conflict or not. Core Crimes: Genocide

Two incidents that occurred during WWI had a profound influence on developments concerning crimes against humanity and genocide. The first incident was the Armenian genocide committed by the Turkish government between 1915 and 1918. These atrocities were not called war crimes despite the fact that they took place in the course of an armed conflict, nor were they referred to as acts of genocide. Instead they were referred to as crimes committed against “civilization” or the “dictates and laws of humanity”. The second incident were the offences committed by Germany and its allies in the course of WWI and which came to be described in terms similar to those used in respect of the Armenian genocide. The turning point came with the discovery towards the end of WWII of the atrocities committed against the Jews and other groups by the Nazis and the subsequent solemn declaration issued by the Allied Powers (the United States, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union) that those responsible will be pursued to the end and prosecuted for their abominable deeds. Even at this point the atrocities were not referred to as genocide but described as crimes against humanity.

The term genocide was conceived in 1944 by a Polish-Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, in his treatise Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, to denote the destruction of a nation or an ethnic group by means of a coordinated plan of different actions which are aimed at the destruction of the essential foundations of national groups that will eventually bring about the annihilation of the groups themselves. Four years later, in 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (GA resolution 260 A (III) of 9 December 1948), in which the contracting parties confirm that “genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish” (Genocide Convention, Article 1). In Article 2, genocide is defined as:

any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

  1. Killing members of the group;
  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

This legal definition of genocide enjoys universal recognition and has been reaffirmed in several international instruments since 1948. It is now also part of the Rome Statute of the ICC, which, in Article 6, adopts the definition of the Genocide Convention verbatim.

The distinctive feature of the crime of genocide lies in the specific intention with which the acts are perpetrated. This means that the perpetrator must have the specific and direct intent to bring about the annihilation of the group to which the victims belong. It is this specific intent which distinguishes genocide from crimes against humanity and war crimes. Intent, as an element of the crime of genocide, is usually inferred from the conduct of the perpetrator, the methodological manner in which the crime was committed and the way in which the victims were targeted or selected.

But our main concern should not be the legal issues related to the crime of genocide. Of far greater concern is the way in which states respond to this most heinous of crimes and the way in which they fail to comply with their cardinal legal duty in terms of the Genocide Convention to prevent and to punish genocide. In 2001, the then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, has quite correctly identified the underlying problem by stating that the United Nations has:

a moral responsibility to ensure that vulnerable peoples are protected and that genocides never occur again. Yet, on two occasions in the recent past, in Rwanda and former Yugoslavia, the international community and the United Nations failed to live up to this responsibility. We have learned from those experiences that the very first step in preventing genocides is to address the conditions that permit them to occur. (Secretary-General Report Prevention of Armed Conflict UN Doc A/55/985-S/2001/574, 7 June 2001, para. 161)

In no uncertain terms this means that the culture of reaction to gross human rights violations must be replaced by a culture of prevention. Genocide does not occur overnight. In all cases it is preceded by premeditated and careful planning characterised by an extensive propaganda phase often long before the operational phase of the actual annihilation is set in motion. Such situations call for a far more serious consideration of preventive obligations imposed on the international community by international law than has hitherto been the case. It is also settled law that the duty imposed on states to prevent genocide is an erga omnes obligation, meaning it is a duty every state owes to the international community as a whole and as such it constitutes a jus cogens norm which is considered so important for the existence of an orderly international community that no derogation from it is allowed (see Article 53 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, 1969). According to the International Law Commission the following are recognised by the international community as jus cogens norms: the prohibition of aggression, genocide, slavery, racial discrimination, crimes against humanity, torture and the right to self-determination (ILC Report, 53rd session, UN Doc A/56/10, 2001 and commentary to Article 26, para. 5 at 208). It follows then that the prevention of the commission of genocide and crimes against humanity must equally qualify as a jus cogens norm.

It must be pointed out here that the erga omnes obligation to prevent gross human rights violations such as genocide and crimes against humanity should be understood as a ‘best effort’ obligation which requires states to take all reasonable and necessary measures to prevent an event from occurring. It is therefore not an obligation that involves a guarantee that the event will not occur; the obligation is one of means and not of result. Thus, a breach of the obligation to prevent is linked to a manifest failure by the state or states concerned to take all measures necessary and within its or their power to prevent the genocide or crime against humanity from taking place (See Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Bosnia and Herzegovina v Serbia and Montenegro, 2007 ICJ Reports 1 para. 430; Méndez: 2007, pp. 225, 226). In the case of the measures taken being unsuccessful in preventing the crime from occurring, the international community still carries the obligation to ensure that the violations are prosecuted and punished.

There could be a number of reasons why the international community is reluctant to intervene preventively in imminent cases of genocide or crimes against humanity. Two that stand out should be mentioned here. The one is the deep-seated respect for the principle of state sovereignty which is still the paramount principle on which international relations are based and which prevents states from intervening too easily in the affairs of another state. But state sovereignty can also function as a masquerade for indifference, a lack of political will or a complex of political and strategic reasons preventing a state from taking timely action. The second reason is denial coupled with a failure to reach consensus in the international community on the true nature of the atrocities by, for instance, repeated statements that a certain situation does not constitute a full-blown genocide or crime against humanity or using all kinds of euphemisms to dance around the problem without taking decisive action. In the end semantics become more important than facing up to the atrocities.

A preventive measure that is often debated but rarely implemented because of its highly controversial nature is humanitarian intervention. Its controversy stems mainly from two sources. Firstly, from a widespread concern that it may be abused for ulterior motives and used as a pretext to achieve certain political or strategic objectives which have nothing to do with rescuing civilians in a foreign state from a great peril; and secondly from a fear that the consequences of the intervention, which is undertaken with military means, may do more harm than good, such as causing an increase in the number of casualties, extensive damage to the infrastructure of the state, and more refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries. This often confronts the international community with a serious dilemma: what is the appropriate response when, for instance, large numbers of civilians in a war-torn country face imminent death? Should a no-action attitude be adopted or should there be a unilateral or collective military intervention by a state or states of the international community to try and save the civilians from death or serious maltreatment. A tragic case in point is the failure of the UN and the OAU in 1994 to intervene decisively to prevent the killing of 800,000 civilians in the course of the genocide in Rwanda. Compare also the example of NATO’s Kosovo bombardment below.

In Article 4(h) of the Constitutive Act of the African Union (2000) the Union has reserved for itself the right (as opposed to duty) to intervene in a member state of the Union in respect of grave circumstances such as war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. Whether the Union will ever be able to marshal the necessary political will for exercising this right is of cause open to debate. In the recent case of the Libyan conflict the United Nations Security Council decided, by Resolution 1973 (2011) to authorize:

Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory, and requests the Member States concerned to inform the Secretary-General immediately of the measures they take pursuant to the authorization conferred by this paragraph which shall be immediately reported to the Security Council. (para. 4)

This was preceded by statements in this resolution as well as in resolution 1970 (2011) to the effect that the gross and systematic violations of human rights committed during the internal armed conflict in Libya may amount to crimes against humanity. The military response that followed was largely a NATO offensive and undertaken as a form of humanitarian intervention to protect civilians as authorized by resolution 1973. However, in the unfolding of events it also became clear that NATO pursued a second objective, namely the targeting of the Gaddafi regime which led to allegations that NATO abused the Security Council’s authority to facilitate a regime change in Libya instead of protecting civilians. This is but one incident that demonstrates the controversial nature of humanitarian intervention by military means, and it raises the question whether in certain circumstances it may be necessary to remove a regime by force to prevent the continuation of atrocities against a civilian population under threat by their own government. This is further illustrated by the Syrian government’s violent crackdown against a pro-democracy uprising in which thousands have been killed since the start of the riots in 2011. On 4 February 2012, yet another attempt by the Security Council to obtain agreement amongst its members for stronger action against the Syrian regime failed because of a veto by Russia and China, two of the five permanent members in the Council. The resolution in question called for an immediate end to the violent crackdown and for President Assad to step down. This was interpreted by the Russian and Chinese governments as creating an opportunity for military intervention and regime change by forceful means in the style of the Libyan incident, a measure both governments were vehemently opposed to, seemingly on the basis of the rule against interference in the internal affairs of states (Zifcak, 2018). But one should not exclude other, more ulterior motives. Since the Soviet days Syria has been a loyal client state of Russia, including in the arms trade business, and as far as China is concerned, the country’s own human rights and democracy record is far from exemplary!

Another, earlier example was Operation Allied Force involving a large-scale aerial bombardment in 1999 by NATO with the objective of destroying Yugoslav military infrastructure in Kosovo. The justification for this offensive was based, amongst others, on the necessity to end all military action and violent repression by the Milosevic regime and to establish a UN administration over the territory. Any offensive action of this nature would need Security Council authorisation in terms of Chapter VIII of the UN Charter. Since it was clear from the beginning that Russia and China would use their veto right in the Security Council the offensive was undertaken without Security Council authorization which led to an international debate on the legality of the bombardment, a matter that even ended in proceedings before the International Court of Justice when Yugoslavia, arguing against the legality of the use of force by NATO, asked the Court for provisional measures, which failed on a finding by the Court that it did not have jurisdiction in the matter (see Cases Concerning the Legality of the Use of Force (Yugoslavia v 10 NATO States), Provisional Measures, ICJ Reports, 1999).

The controversial nature of humanitarian intervention is also as a result of a potential claim by states that under certain circumstances states might have a ‘right’ to intervene militarily or by other coercive means. If such a right exists the first question then is how it relates to the fundamental prohibition on the use of force in Article 2(4) of the UN Charter and on non-intervention in the internal affairs of states in Article 2(7) of the UN Charter. Over many years these conflicting notions exposed major divisions in the international community with no progress being made on what should be done when widespread, gross and systematic human rights violations occur in a country unwilling or unable to provide the necessary protection. The challenge to find a new consensus on this was put forward in 1999 during the 54th session of the UN General Assembly when the then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, called on states to find common ground in upholding the principles and purposes of the UN Charter and on when it is necessary to act in defence of our common humanity.

In September of the following year the Canadian government, in response to this challenge, announced the establishment of an Independent Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) which published a report in 2001 which has become the subject of much debate ever since. The report’s main contribution lies in its interpretation of state sovereignty as implying a duty of a state to protect its own citizens. Consequently, when a population faces serious harm as a result of internal armed conflict or repression and the national state is unwilling or unable to bring to an end or avert the harm, the principle of non-intervention will have to make way for the international responsibility to protect. As an exceptional and extraordinary measure a military intervention pursuant to the exercise of the duty to protect will only be justified in cases where actual or apprehended large scale loss of life is imminently likely to occur as a result of deliberate state action or state neglect or inability to act. Equally important are the report’s views on the substantial conditions that must be met at the outset to prevent any intervention of this kind to be abused for ulterior purposes or to become a disguised form of aggression. These conditions are: 1. the primary purpose of the intervention must be to halt or avert human suffering, i.e. the right intention; 2. the use of military means must always be a last resort and after non-military means have been exhausted or found to be inappropriate; 3. the planned military action must be proportional to securing the humanitarian objective in question; and 4. the military means must stand a reasonable chance of success (ICISS Report, p. 35 et seq).

In view of its primary responsibility for peace and security (see Article 24 of the UN Charter), the UN Security Council must remain the principal body to decide on the use of force (see also Article 42 of the UN Charter). This is equally true in the case of the use of military means for humanitarian purposes. Here, we should take note of the consensus position in the ICISS Report where it is clearly stated that “it is the Security Council which should be making the hard decisions … about overriding state sovereignty” and it is the Security Council that “should be making the often even harder decisions to mobilize effective resources, including military resources, to rescue populations at risk …” (Article 49). But what are the implications of inaction, i.e. when, for instance, through the veto of one of the permanent members of the Security Council, the Council is paralysed and prevented from acting in these circumstances? That the Council itself stands to suffer the most with regard to its stature and credibility is a clear message in the ICISS Report, for, if because of the veto ad hoc coalitions of states, or even individual states, decide to circumvent the UN system and successfully perform their duty to protect, questions about the usefulness of the Security Council may have enduring consequences (ICISS Report, p. 55).

At the occasion of the 2005 World Summit, states of the world committed themselves to the responsibility to protect principle in the following terms (General Assembly Resolution A/RES/60/1 paras. 138, 139):

Each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes, including their incitement, through appropriate and necessary means. We accept that responsibility and will to act in accordance with it. The international community should, as appropriate, encourage and help States to exercise this responsibility and support the United Nations in establishing an early warning capability.

The international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter, to help to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities are manifestly failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Core Crimes: The Crime of Aggression

When the Rome Statute of the ICC was adopted in 1998, the crime of aggression was listed amongst the crimes over which the Court would exercise jurisdiction (Article 5(1)). However, this was made subject to the adoption of a definition of the crime of aggression – still missing at the time – setting out the conditions under which the Court shall exercise jurisdiction with respect to the crime of aggression (Article 5(2)). The task to find a suitable definition of the crime of aggression was assigned to a special working group who reported on the matter during the Rome Statute’s first review conference which took place in 2010 in Kampala, Uganda. At this occasion a resolution was adopted on a definition of the crime of aggression which will be the subject of an amendment to the Rome Statute in accordance with Article 121 of the Statute. This means that the amendment will have force and effect for states parties that have accepted the amendment one year after they have become parties to the Rome Statute (Rome Statute, Article 121(5)).

The resolution adopted in Kampala defines a crime of aggression as the “planning, preparation, initiation or execution, by a person in a position effectively to exercise control over or to direct the political or military action of a State, of an act of aggression which, by its character, gravity and scale, constitutes a manifest violation of the Charter of the United Nations” (Resolution RC/Res.6, 11 June 2010, para. 1). The means by which the act of aggression is executed involves the use of armed force by a state against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another state in any of the forms specified in the resolution (see para. 2). Currently, thirty seven states have ratified the amendment of the Rome Statute in accordance with this resolution to provide for the crime of aggression. This is brought about by the insertion of the following new provisions in the Rome Statute: Articles 8bis, 15bis, 15ter and 25(3)bis.

If this amendment meets with the approval of a large number of states parties it will indeed be an historic occasion and a triumph for the criminal-justice response to international atrocities of a kind which other measures by the international community have failed to stop or prevent. It will also mark the culmination point of a post WWII development which has recognised at Nuremberg that there is something like a crime against peace based on considerations that now inform the Rome Statute’s crime of aggression.

However, at the same time we should understand the political and legal complexities of this development. The criminal-justice perspective to the crime of aggression cannot escape the realities of international relations and international politics for the simple reason that it has implications for the collective security system of the United Nations Charter. Any act of aggression will amount to a violation of the principles of the UN Charter and as such could trigger the collective counter-response provided for in Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Furthermore, the Charter assigns primary responsibility for international peace and security to the Security Council (Article 24 of the UN Charter), where the five permanent members of the Council (the USA, China, United Kingdom, Russia and France) have the veto power, and in terms of Article 39(1) of the Charter, the Council is the only body that can determine whether an act of aggression exists. This explains the delicate balance between the powers of the Security Council and the powers of the Court introduced into the Rome Statute by the Kampala resolution. This is reflected in the power given to the prosecutor, when considering that there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation in respect of a crime of aggression, to first ascertain whether the Security Council has made a determination of an act of aggression committed by a state concerned. Where a determination has been made, the prosecutor is entitled to proceed with the investigation into the crime of aggression (paras. 6, 7).

If the Security Council has not made a determination within six months after the notification to the Secretary-General, the prosecutor is likewise entitled to proceed with the investigation, provided that the pretrial chamber of the Court has authorised the investigation (para. 8). The resolution has made a further attempt at securing the independence of the Court, by stating that a determination of an act of aggression by an organ other than the Court shall not have an effect on the Court’s own findings in this regard (para. 9). But there still remains the overriding power of the Security Council in terms of Article 16 of the Rome Statute which allows for a deferral of an investigation or prosecution for a renewable period of twelve months on request by the Security Council in terms of Chapter VII of the UN Charter. The reference here to Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which deals with acts of aggression and threats to international peace and security, should make it clear that the tension between the idealism of international criminal justice and the realism of international politics is an inseparable part of the Rome Statute.

6.6 Conclusion: The Future of the Responsibility Regimes

A first conclusion regards the responsibility of states parties to ensure respect for the obligations in international treaties for the protection of war victims, and secondly the prospects for the international criminal justice system for the prosecution of individual transgressors.

As was noted earlier, state parties are obliged to respect and to ensure respect for the principles enunciated in the Geneva Conventions and Protocols. According to the ICRC and a number of states this treaty obligation implies that every contracting party is entitled to request that another contracting party involved in an armed conflict must live up to what the Conventions and Protocols stipulate. Cassese has correctly pointed out that this right or entitlement of a state party:

accrues to any contracting State from the mere fact of being a party to the Conventions or the Protocol: it is not necessary for it to prove that it has a specific and direct interest in the observance of the rules violated. In other words, the obligations laid down in the Conventions and the Protocol are erga omnes contractantes and consequently each of the latter is endowed with the corresponding right to demand their fulfilment, irrespective of any damage it may have suffered from the wrongful action. … This feature of the obligations at hand constitutes the necessary precondition for the possible characterization of gross breaches of the Conventions and the Protocol as international crimes of States. (Cassese, 2008, p. 409)

A crucial question that arises from this understanding of states parties’ treaty obligations relates to the kind of action considered by states to be authorised by the Conventions and Protocol. A survey on this conducted by the ICRC in 1972 has shown that the majority of states took the view that states parties are entitled to exercise supervision over compliance collectively as well as individually and that measures to ensure compliance could cover both preventive action and reaction to breaches. However, despite this understanding amongst states of their obligations in terms of the Conventions and Protocol, state practice with regard to concrete actions in response to violations confirmed a very cautious approach by states in reacting to serious breaches of IHL principles and that the tendency is to limit reaction to verbal condemnation of the breaches and to appeals to the belligerent parties to comply with their obligations (Cassese, 2008, p. 412). On the reaction by individual states it has been noted that:

If one contrasts the daily perpetration of gross violations of human rights during armed conflicts with the legal reaction of other States, the impression is exceedingly dispiriting. Only in very unique and exceptional circumstances do third States publicly react to them. They normally prefer to keep aloof or, at most, they approach the delinquent State via diplomatic channels when they wish to request that it discontinue the wrongdoing. (Cassese, 2008, p. 413)

From the perspective of state responsibility this remains one of the flaws in the quest for more effective enforcement of IHL norms and it is unlikely that any fundamental change will occur any time soon. It is at the same time also a problem of political leadership which in many instances is strikingly inadequate in the face of gross violations of IHL and other norms which occur so regularly in times of armed conflict.

The international criminal justice system has made considerable progress in ending the impunity of individual perpetrators for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Apart from the establishment of the two ad hoc tribunals, the ICTY (1993), the ICTR (1994), and the permanent International Criminal Court (1998), the following tribunals are equally noteworthy examples of this progress: the East Timorese Tribunal (2002), the Special Court for Sierra Leone (2002), the Cambodia Tribunal (2003) and the Lebanon Tribunal (2009).

One should not be oblivious to the obstacles that may stand in the way of effectively enforcing humanitarian law principles through an international criminal justice system, especially when considering the future success of the ICC and its potential international role in bringing about an efficient and trustworthy international legal regime for the punishment of individual perpetrators. One obvious obstacle is international cooperation. The ICC cannot function without the assistance of states parties in matters such as the execution of warrants of arrests, the apprehension and transfer of suspects, the gathering and securing of evidence, the making available of witnesses, and financial assistance for the day to day running of the system. After all, states parties have undertaken in Article 89 of the Rome Statute to cooperate fully with the Court in its investigation and prosecution of crimes falling within the jurisdiction of the Court. However, some recent developments have shown how easily this cooperation can be undermined. A case in point is the reaction by the African Union to arrest warrants authorised by the ICC for the arrest of sitting heads of state, namely Al-Bashir in Sudan and the late Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. In both instances the African Union refused to cooperate with the ICC, citing differences of opinion on the issue of immunity against legal process of sitting heads of state and interference by the Court in peace negotiations the African Union were involved in in both instances. Another example is South Africa’s deliberate failure to arrest Al-Bashir in 2015 while attending an African Union summit in the country and to surrender him to the ICC. This failure occurred in clear violation of South Africa’s Rome Statute obligations and the country’s own legislation (see the ruling of South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal in the case of Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development and Others v Southern African Litigation Centre 2016 (3) SA 317(SCA).

This is not the place to go into the merits of these claims, but they illustrate the fragile position the ICC finds itself in and how important it is for the international community to address such issues and to find consensus on them, lest the whole effort of building up an international criminal justice system over half a century runs aground on the harsh realities of international politics.

A second obstacle of note relates to the complementary nature of the ICC’s jurisdiction. The Court’s jurisdiction is based on the notion that the primary responsibility for the prosecution of individual perpetrators lies with national courts and that the ICC will only assume jurisdiction if the state concerned is unwilling or unable to proceed with an investigation and prosecution (see Articles 1 and 17 of the Rome Statute). But this approach places the ball squarely in the court of national states to, inter alia, adopt the necessary national legislative and other measures that will empower their national legal systems to conduct the necessary criminal proceedings against persons accused of the crimes listed in the Rome Statute. Although the Rome Statute boasts hundred and twenty two ratifications, there is concern over the relatively low number of states that have adopted national measures for the effective implementation of the Rome Statute. As long as this situation does not improve significantly so long will there be “safe haven” states where fugitives can avoid criminal accountability. If it is accepted that an essential function of criminal prosecutions is the restoration of confidence in the rule of law, then that objective must be vigorously pursued at the national level as well.

Resources and References


Key Points

  • Non-combatants in armed conflicts are protected by international law in the forms of the Geneva Conventions and associated Protocols.
  • Their protection extends to both international and internal conflicts.
  • Different protection is afforded to prisoners of war, wounded and shipwrecked and displaced people.
  • International law also regulates the responsibilities of states and of individuals in terms of means and methods of war.
  • War crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and aggression are defined by international law, and mechanisms for the prosecution of state and individual transgressors are outlined.
  • Current legal developments supporting human security include the development of certain human rights, of international humanitarian law, of international criminal law and of norms for good governance.
  • Obstacles on the way towards further development of international law are encountered in the context of initiatives for the responsibility to protect (R2P) and when boundaries of state sovereignty are tested.


Extension Activities & Further Research

  1. Examine the ethical principles and considerations that provide the basis for IHL and for the restrictions it places on the conduct of armed conflict. Do you consider this basis sufficient or would you advocate for its expansion? Present your case.
  2. The use of nuclear weapons has been limited to specific circumstances (Section 6.4). Picture a scenario where the current state of political relations in the Middle East renders the use of nuclear weapons a distinct possibility. How would the pros and cons be represented in the International Court of Justice?
  3. Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions, which has not been signed by the US, refers to wars of liberation “against colonial domination and alien occupation.” If the Protocol had been in place at the time, to what extent could it have been applied to protect the combatants in the American War of Independence (1775-1783)?
  4. Describe the trend underlying the development of IHL and how it might manifest in the future.

List of Terms

See Glossary for full list of terms and definitions.

Suggested Reading

Cassese, A. (2011). Reflections on international criminal justice. Journal of International Criminal Justice, 9(1), 271–275.

Cryer, R., & Henderson, C. (Eds.). (2017). Law on the use of force and armed conflict. Edward Elgar Publishing.

deGuzman, M. M., & Amann, D. M. (Eds.). (2018). Arcs of global justice: Essays in honour of William A Schabas. Oxford University Press.

Gillespie, A. (2011). A history of the laws of war. Hart Publishing.

Schabas, W. A. (2006). Preventing genocide and mass killing: The challenge for the United Nations. Minority Rights Group International.

ReferencesEditors’ note: The frequent references to legal documents in this chapter are not included in this list; those documents are freely accessible online.

Cassese, A. (2008). The human dimension of international law: Selected papers. Oxford University Press.

Méndez, J. E. (2007). The United Nations and the prevention of genocide. In R. Henham & P. Behrens (Eds.), The criminal law of genocide: International, comparative and contextual aspects (pp. 225–230). Ashgate Publishing.

Sassòli, M., Bouvier, A. A., & Quintin, A. (2011). How does law protect in war? International Committee of the Red Cross.

Zifcak, S. (2018). The responsibility to protect. In M. D. Evans (Ed.), International law (5th ed., pp. 502–505). Oxford University Press.


Bassiouni, M. C. (1999). Crimes against humanity in international criminal law (2nd ed.). Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.

Bassiouni, M. C. (2003). Introduction to international criminal law. Transnational Publishers.

Cassese, A. (2011). Reflections on international criminal justice. Journal of International Criminal Justice, 9(1), 271–275.

Cassese, A. (2013). Cassese’s international criminal law (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press.

Cassese, A., Acquaviva, G., Fan, M., & Whiting, A. (2011). International criminal law: Cases and commentary. Oxford University Press.

Cook, S. E. (2006). Genocide in Cambodia and Rwanda: New perspectives. Transaction Publishers.

Crawford J., Pellet, A., & Olleson, S. (Eds.). (2010). The law of international responsibility. Oxford University Press.

Cryer, R. (2005). Prosecuting international crimes: Selectivity and the international criminal law regime. Cambridge University Press.

Cryer, R., Friman, H., Robinson, D., & Wilmshurst, E. (Eds.). (2014). An introduction to international criminal law and procedure (3rd ed.). Cambridge University Press.

Evans, G. (2009). The responsibility to protect: Ending mass atrocity crimes once and for all. Brookings Institution Press.

Gaeta, P. (Ed.). (2009). The UN Genocide Convention: A commentary. Oxford University Press.

Hamburg, D. A. (2008). Preventing genocide: Practical steps toward early detection and effective action. Paradigm Publishers.

Henham, R., & Behrens, P. (Ed.). (2007). The criminal law of genocide: International, comparative and contextual aspects. Ashgate Publishing.

Hong, M.-L. K. (2008). A genocide by any other name: Language, law, and the response to Darfur. Virginia Journal of International Law, 49(1), 235–272.

International Committee of the Red Cross. (2011). Health care in danger: Making the case (ICRC Publication Reference 4072).

Jørgensen, N. H. B. (2003). The responsibility of states for international crimes. Oxford University Press.

Lamont, C. K. (2010). International criminal justice and the politics of compliance. Ashgate Publishing.

Nollkaemper, A., & van der Wilt, H. (2009). Conclusions and outlook. In A. Nollkaemper & H. van der Wilt, System criminality in international law (pp. 338–354). Cambridge University Press.

Orakhelashvili, A. (2008). Peremptory norms in international law. Oxford University Press.

Ratner, S. R., Abrams, J. S., & Bischoff, J. L. (2009). Accountability for human rights atrocities in international law: Beyond the Nuremberg legacy (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press.

Roux, M. (2012). A comparative analysis of the causes for breaching the erga omnes obligation to prevent and prosecute gross human rights violations [Doctoral thesis, University of Johannesburg]. University of Johannesburg Institutional Repository.

Schabas, W. A. (2006). Preventing genocide and mass killing: The challenge for the United Nations. Minority Rights Group International.

Schabas, W. A. (2010). The international criminal court: A commentary on the Rome Statute. Oxford University Press.

Schabas W. A., & Bernaz, N. (Eds.). (2012). Routledge handbook of international criminal law. Routledge.

Triffterer, O., & Ambos, K. (Eds.). (2016). Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court: A commentary (3rd ed.). Hart Publishing.


Individuals and Groups Outside of the State System

Anna Hayes

Learning Outcomes & Big Ideas

  • Explore and define the term ‘stateless’ and what factors can cause ‘statelessness.’
  • Analyse and discuss the refugee crisis noting the key international conventions related to refugees and state obligations to refugees, including environmental refugees.
  • Compare and contrast statist vs. human security approaches to refugees and asylum seekers.
  • Discuss what is meant by ‘alienated citizenship’ and how it can lead to sub-state terrorism.
  • Compare and contrast statist vs. human security approaches to countering terrorism.


In this chapter the security status of individuals and groups outside of the state system is examined. The chapter begins with an examination of statelessness and its drivers. It then examines the extent and causes of the global refugee crisis, illustrated by case examples from the global north and the global south. Within this discussion, the chapter also explores the relatively new phenomenon of environmental refugees, and how climate change could cause an increase in forced migration as vulnerable populations are compelled to leave their home locales due to climatic changes. In doing so it discusses the precarious situation of environmental refugees, who are still not recognised under the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) definition of a refugee. The chapter then considers vastly different individuals and groups outside of the state system to those mentioned above, namely alienated citizens and terrorists. Avenues leading to the alienation of the citizen from the state are described, including roads towards terrorism and the possible effects of anti-terrorism legislation and strategies on the status of individuals. Case examples from current issues are discussed throughout the chapter.

Chapter Overview

7.1 Introduction

7.2 Individuals and Groups Outside of the State

7.2.1 Refugees and Asylum Seekers

7.2.2 Alienated Citizens and Terrorists

7.3 Alienated Citizenship and Sub-state Terrorism

7.3.1 Timothy McVeigh and Anders Breivik

7.3.2 Statelessness and Terrorism: Wafa Idris

7.4 Counter Terrorism, Human Rights and Human Security

7.5 Conclusion

Resources and References

Key Points

Extension Activities & Further Research

List of Terms

Suggested Reading


7.1 Introduction

In 2004, Tom Hanks starred in a movie called The Terminal. Hanks played Viktor Navorski, a character that ends up becoming stateless due to civil war in his home country. This causes him to be denied entry to or exit from the United States (US). Viktor is forced to take up residence in JFK International Airport and the comedy-drama depicts his experiences as a person living outside of the state system. The importance of The Terminal, and its depiction of statelessness however, is that Viktor’s story is based on the real-life story of Mehran Karimi Nasseri, who spent 18 years living in the departure lounge of France’s Terminal One, Charles De Gaulle Airport. Nasseri’s case is an interesting example of statelessness, but it also demonstrates the vulnerability of refugees. After being granted refugee status by Belgium, Iranian-born Nasseri tried to settle in the United Kingdom (UK), which he claimed was his mother’s country of origin. En route to the UK, his documents were stolen in Paris and upon his arrival in Britain he was turned back to France. Thus began his life in the terminal and provided the story upon which the movie was based.

This chapter explores the experiences of individuals and groups outside of the state system. It firstly provides a general overview of the phenomenon of statelessness before focusing its attention on refugees and asylum seekers. In doing so it examines the refugee crisis, current trends in refugee flows worldwide and state responses to refugee movements. It examines the link between refugee outflows and breakdowns in human security, using the Rohingya crisis as a case study. It then critiques Australia’s tough stance against asylum seekers, using the experiences of an asylum seeker (named Michael), who was deported from Australia to dangerous circumstances in his homeland Angola, as a case study. That section also examines the impact of 9/11 on state responses to refugees and asylum seekers, and how states can best address the needs of refugees so they can contribute to their new country of citizenship. It then identifies what is meant by environmental refugees, and how climate change will lead to the rise of environmental refugees if appropriate climate action is not taken.

The chapter then examines other individuals and groups outside of the state system. It focuses on alienated citizens who committed acts of sub-state terrorism, using Timothy McVeigh and Anders Behring Breivik as case studies. The two case studies have many similarities, and reflect both McVeigh’s and Breivik’s experiences of alienation and subsequent acts of sub-state terrorism. It then examines statelessness as a motivation for terrorism. In this examination, Wafa Idris, the first female suicide terrorist of the Second Intifada, provides our case study. Idris’ act of terrorism brought attention to Palestinian statelessness, and it also provides a useful basis for gendered analysis of terrorism and responses to terrorism. The chapter ends with a broad overview of counter terrorism in the 21st century, and the changes to human rights and human insecurities that have resulted. This discussion also highlights what constitutes a human security based approach to countering terrorism.

7.2 Individuals and Groups Outside of the State

An individual or group of individuals who are stateless are not recognised as a national (or a citizen) of any state in the world. As a result, they lack legal recognition. Therefore, they may experience difficulty travelling as they do not have citizenship documents such as a current passport, and they may not be eligible to access education or healthcare services. They may also be prevented from marrying, and they do not have voting rights. Their cumulative experience is one of marginalisation and exclusion. According to Manly and Persaud (2009):

Stateless people are in many ways the ultimate ‘forgotten people’ and identification of statelessness remains a major challenge. Frequently, stateless persons live on the margins of society and are, almost by definition, ‘uncounted.’ (p. 7)

Statelessness can result from war, conflict, persecution and natural disasters (see Case Study 7.1). For some individuals and groups, statelessness is temporary, and they are able to return to their former residence, resuming their citizenship and nationality once the situation that caused them to flee has been resolved or its effects muted. Others however, may never be able to return to their home country. At the close of 2017, the UNHCR reported there were 3.9 million identified stateless individuals worldwide (UNHCR, 2018a, p. 51) (See Table 7.1). However, if we take into consideration unreported or unidentified stateless individuals, the UNHCR believes that the total number of stateless individuals worldwide is much higher, possibly in the vicinity of 10 million people (UNHCR, 2018a).

Table 7.1 Identified stateless persons, 2005–2017Data sources: UNHCR, 2018a; UNHCR, 2018b
2005 2.3 million
2006 5.8 million
2007 2.9 million
2008 6.5 million
2009 6.5 million
2010 3.4 million
2011 3.4 million
2012 3.3 million
2013 3.4 million
2014 3.4 million
2015 3.6 million
2016 3.2 million
2017 3.9 million

Stateless individuals experience heightened human insecurity. In addition to impinging on the above mentioned rights and facilities, statelessness increases an individual’s vulnerability to violence, rape, disease, starvation, gross human rights violations, and human trafficking for labour and sexual servitude. There have been attempts to provide legal frameworks around the protection of stateless peoples, beginning with the Nansen passport, issued by the League of Nations during the 1920s and 1930s to protect stateless refugees displaced by World War I. The UN followed up with the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. Stateless individuals are also covered by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and there are specific statements related to statelessness in both the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979). However, if we consider the large number of stateless individuals worldwide, and the persistently inadequate state responses to stateless persons, there currently does not appear to be an effective model for adequately responding to the human rights and human security needs of individuals outside of the state system (van Waas, 2009). Also, not all states worldwide are party to these conventions, so they do not uphold them or fulfil their responsibilities to stateless individuals who enter their state. Therefore, more work will need to be done in order to compel states to respond to issues of statelessness into the 21st century.


The Rohingya Refugee Crisis: Statelessness and Human Insecurity

The Rohingya people have lived in the Rakhine State in Myanmar (Burma) for centuries. However, as a predominantly Muslim population, their position within the modern state of Myanmar has been marred by anti-Muslim prejudice, discrimination, marginalisation, human rights violations, and statelessness (Ahsan Ullah, 2016).

Following changes to its citizenship laws in 1982, ethnicity in Myanmar became increasingly politicised (Beyrer & Kamarulzaman, 2017). The changes were introduced under the military dictator General Ne Win, who came to power in 1962 in a coup d’état. General Ne Win’s changes meant that citizenship became based on ethnicity, with categories of citizenship including citizens (predominantly Buddhist Burmans); associate citizens and naturalised citizens. Under Section 6 of the Act, Rohingyas should have been able to acquire citizenship under the categories of either associate or naturalised citizens (having previously held citizenship in Burma post 1948). However, lack of official documentation to prove their ancestry in Burma, meant they were denied citizenship and many Rohingyas became stateless peoples (Ahsan Ullah 2016). The resultant statelessness has meant that the Rohingyas have been denied civil and political rights for decades (Beyrer & Kamarulzaman, 2017).

Moreover, ethnicised politics has heightened insecurity for Rohingyas. There have been deliberately exclusive nationalist slogans such as ‘Burma for the Burmans,’ ‘to be Burman is to be Buddhist,’ and anti-Muslim riots targeting Rohingyas. In addition, in 1978 the Burmese military launched a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya (and other ethnic minority groups), resulting in torture, murder and rape being carried out against Myanmar’s Muslim population (Ahsan Ullah, 2016, p. 289). This was not the first time such violence against Rohingyas has occurred. There have been a number of expulsions of Rohingya from Burma to neighbouring countries, including in the late 1700s, early 1800s, the 1940s, 1978, 2012 and in 2015. Regional history and colonial experiences coalesce into a potent mix when it comes to Myanmar and this has contributed to significant difficulties in Myanmar’s sense of national unity as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. Put simply, to be Burmese and to be Buddhist simply does not reflect the ethnic and religious make-up of the state, despite strong desires from the state’s pro-Buddhist agitators.

The most recent outbreak of violence and expulsion of the Rohingyas began in late 2016, continuing into 2017. Following attacks on police stations and an army base in October 2016 by the armed ethno-nationalist insurgent group the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, Myanmar’s armed forces launched a brutal retaliatory campaign against not only the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army but the Rohingya civilian population of Myanmar. Satellite imagery and first-hand accounts by those fleeing signal there has been widespread burning of Rohingya homes and communities, threats of violence to those who have not immediately fled to Bangladesh, torture, extrajudicial killings, and systematic rape of Rohingya girls and women by security forces (UNHCR, 2018a; Beyrer & Kamarulzaman, 2017).

Known worldwide as the ‘Rohingya Refugee Crisis’, by the end of 2017 the number of Rohingya forced to flee the Rakhine State numbered 655,500 (UNHCR 2018a). This expulsion constitutes ethnic cleansing. It has been estimated that of those who have fled, 25% are women, 20% are men, and 55% are children (UNHCR, 2018a). In his assessment of the situation, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi (cited in UNHCR, 2018a, p. 25) concluded:

Nowhere is the link between statelessness and displacement more evident than for the Rohingya community of Myanmar, for whom denial of citizenship is a key aspect of the entrenched discrimination and exclusion that have shaped their plight for decades.

Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has been strongly criticised for her ongoing silence on the persecution of the Rohingyas and the resultant refugee crisis. There have also been strong calls for her to be stripped of her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded for her “non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights” (Nobel Foundation 2018). According to Olav Njoelstad, the secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Aung San Suu Kyi will not be stripped of her prize as each award is for the achievements of the recipient up until it is awarded (cited in Reuters, 2018). Furthermore, the rules regulating the Nobel prizes do not contain avenues for the withdrawal of previously awarded prizes. In the meantime, the State Counsellor’s silence on the Rohingya refugee crisis continues and there are now more than 930,000 Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh (UNHCR, 2018a, p. 24).

Currently, responses to statelessness often lack political will and effective state-based solutions. This has resulted in increased human insecurity and prolonged suffering for those affected. According to Manly and Persaud (2009, p. 7) the UNHCR cannot replace the state, largely because of the continuing dominance of the state in an international structure that is predominantly shaped by realism. Therefore, durable state-based solutions are necessary in dealing with this humanitarian crisis, ones that focus on human rights and human security. States are the first stage in the prevention of statelessness. This requires them to respect and uphold the human rights and security of their citizens. In areas where stateless citizens make up much of the social fabric of a state, citizenship campaigns that provide citizenship to such peoples should be undertaken.

In 2003, 190,000 Indian Tamils were finally provided citizenship in Sri Lanka (Manly & Persaud, 2009). The Indian Tamils are also known as ‘Estate Tamils’ or ‘plantation Tamils’ because they were brought to Sri Lanka from India by the British as bonded labour in the 19th century to work on tea and coffee plantations (Manly & Persaud, 2009). Accounting for approximately five percent of the overall population, Indian Tamils have long been stateless peoples in Sri Lanka. While there had been an earlier granting of citizenship to some, it took until 2003 for all remaining Indian Tamils to gain citizenship, thereby removing their statelessness. The role of colonialism in the region, and forced labour migration as part of colonial control, is important here as it left the Indian Tamils in a situation of statelessness, and significant human insecurity, for generations. Therefore, it is important for us to consider how historical events continue to impact the human security of populations globally, particularly those in the global south.

Following formal recognition of their citizenship within Sri Lanka, Indian Tamils now have access to services and support provided by the state, and they now have political and voting rights, which were previously denied to them. For the Sri Lankan state, it can now refocus its efforts on the inclusion of the Indian Tamils as citizens of their state, not excluding/ overlooking them on the basis of their lack of citizenship or perceived illegality. It has also eased some of the ethnic tensions that existed among the wider Sri Lankan community, which had seen strong cleavages based on ethnicity, caste and citizenship status (or lack thereof) between the Sinhalese majority, the Sri Lankan Tamils (who were already recognised citizens of Sri Lanka), and the Indian Tamils (Shastri, 1999; Hollup, 1992). This example demonstrates an effective state-based response to statelessness within host state borders.

Scholars such as Steiner (2009) see amnesties, that is, the granting of citizenship to stateless persons within a host state, as a tangible solution to state concerns over illegal immigrants. Steiner posits quite succinctly “[a] final way to get rid of illegal immigrants is to make them legal” (2009, p. 39). In fact, the US has used amnesty programmes in the past to legalise illegal immigrants to the extent that by 2000, 5.7 million illegal immigrants had been legalised via such amnesties (Steiner, 2009). However, more recent efforts to provide similar amnesty programmes have not been supported.In June 2018 Paul Ryan introduced a bill to US Congress seeking an amnesty for an estimated 2.2 million people, the largest amnesty in the US for over three decades. However, the bill also contained problematic border security provisions, which made it unpopular to many Democrats and it was defeated by a 193 to 231 vote in the House (Centre for Immigration Studies, 2018). The US and Sri Lanka are not alone in passing such amnesty programmes in the past. According to Steiner, since the 1990s Greece, Spain and Italy have all passed amnesty programmes to help solve the problems associated with the marginalisation and illegality of immigrants within their borders, many of whom are contributors to the state’s labour market. Furthermore, by granting such stateless persons citizenship rights through amnesties, their labour can be unionised (as they are no longer illegal workers in a black market trade). This is beneficial not only to the formerly stateless workers, who are often victims of exploitative work conditions, but it also ensures more fair and equitable working conditions for all workers as it removes the threat of labour displacement and wage depression, which can result in areas of a large black market labour force.

We now turn our examination to refugees and asylum seekers. These groups constitute a significant proportion of the world’s stateless people. They often face insurmountable obstacles in their quest for human security, and we will consider a range of factors relevant to them as individuals or groups outside of the state system.

7.2.1 Refugees and Asylum Seekers

It was the League of Nations that first articulated (albeit limited) protection rights for refugees. Conflicts in the early part of the 20th century saw many people in need of sanctuary as they fled violence and persecution. When the League was dissolved in 1946, it was replaced by the newly established UN. In an attempt to respond to the huge numbers of people displaced by the Second World War, the UN appointed the UNHCR in 1950, replacing the League’s International Refugee Organisation. Also at that time, the UN set about to codify what constituted a refugee and what the international society’s obligations to refugees should be. In 1951, the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees was finalised and approved by the United Nations. It came into force in 1954. According to the original Convention, a refugee is any person who:

owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it. (UNHCR, 2010, Article 1 (A) (2) 1951 Convention, p. 14)

The 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees made slight, but important, amendments to the original convention. The ultimate goal of the Protocol was to widen the scope of the convention to make it a more objective definition representing the range of threats that had emerged since the refugee convention was first envisioned. The Convention also inspired the codification of other regional conventions including the 1969 Organisation of African Unity Refugee Convention in Africa and the 1984 Latin American Cartagena Declaration. However, these conventions have been criticised for not adequately including gender-based vulnerabilities such as female genital mutilation, laws that prohibit or punish gay and lesbian sexual orientations, women and girls being denied education or the ability to work outside of the home, for example, all of which may cause people subjected to such persecutions to flee their country, seeking asylum elsewhere. Currently, these types of issues are examined on a case-by-case basis, which does not inspire confidence that people in these groups will be protected.

The 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol, known collectively as the Refugees Convention, are important as they identified that foreign nationals seeking asylum must be granted the same types of human rights as those normally experienced by citizens of a state. Therefore, the statelessness of refugees does not abolish their human rights. In addition, the international society of states must uphold those rights and protect refugees, regardless of their statelessness. The Convention recognises that this can only be achieved through international burden sharing, one that signatories of the Convention have committed to uphold.

There are currently 147 signatories to the Convention and/or Protocol, including both developed and developing states in the global north and the global south. By ratifying the Convention and/or Protocol, these governments have indicated their willingness to provide sanctuary to those fleeing persecution and to honour and uphold their human rights. If we consider the obligations of states to asylum seekers and refugees, and we contrast this with current state responses to asylum seekers and refugees, the following questions should be asked. Why are refugees and asylum seekers increasingly being viewed through the lens of illegality? What rights do they have to seek asylum? How do state responses to asylum seekers uphold or contravene their human rights and human security?

In recent years, refugee flows have attracted heightened attention from governments and citizens of many states around the world. Asylum seekers however, have also attracted significant attention. Asylum seekers are those fleeing persecution who have not yet been formally declared refugees by the UNHCR or other governing body. This is usually because they are unable to access a UNHCR camp near where they live and are therefore forced to flee persecution by crossing state borders, often without travel documents or travel permits. While this is also a right enshrined by the Refugees Convention, asylum seekers have increasingly been associated with ‘illegality’ and they are often wrongly viewed as being economic migrants, not refugees.

In 1995, the world refugee population peaked at more than 27 million. This is an unsurprising figure if we consider the events that were occurring around that time. The Cold War had recently ended, the USSR had broken up, and there was a revival in some areas of ethnic tensions, rivalry, nationalism and ultra-nationalism. The Persian Gulf War (1990-1991) had driven five million people to flee persecution. Throughout the 1990s, almost three million people fled persecution in the former Yugoslavia, and the Rwandan Genocide (1994) sent over two million refugees into neighbouring countries. In addition to these specific events, civil wars and instability throughout many areas of the world were also causing people to flee persecution in droves. Complicating the situation further was that the end of the Cold War meant that capitalist states no longer regarded there to be an ideological need to accept refugees, many of whom were from developing countries. This contrasted from previous policy positions, which on occasions had seen Cold War politics influence state acceptance of refugee flows, particularly if the refugees were from communist states (Human Security Centre, 2005).

Table 7.2 Hosting countries of refugees, 2017Data source: UNHCR, 2018a
Turkey 3.5 million
Pakistan 1.4 million
Uganda 1.4 million
Lebanon 989,900
Islamic Republic of Iran 979,400
Germany 970,400
Bangladesh 932,200
Sudan 906,600
Ethiopia 889,400
Jordan 691,000

Following the 1995 peak, the numbers of refugees decreased to 15.4 million by the close of 2010 (UNHCR, 2011, p. 5). However, recent conflicts have increased numbers and at the close of 2017 the UNHCR (2018a, p. 13) estimated there were 25.4 million refugees worldwide (including 5.4 million Palestinian refugees who are under the care of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East). In addition, there were 3.1 million applications for asylum still under consideration and 40 million internally displaced people (IDP) (UNHCR, 2018a, pp. 3 & 33). The major refugee hosting countries at the close of 2017 were Turkey, followed by Pakistan, Uganda, Lebanon, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Germany, Bangladesh, Sudan, Ethiopia and Jordan (UNHCR, 2018a, p. 18) (see Table 7.2). The Syrian Arab Republic is the largest country of origin for current refugees (6.3 million people, almost one-third of all refugees), followed by Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar (see Case Study 7.1), Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Eritrea and Burundi (UNHCR, 2018a, p. 14) (see Table 7.3). What is important to note about these countries is that they are all areas of conflict, including sites in the ongoing War on Terror, or states that do not uphold human rights for their citizens. Human insecurity is rife in these states. Therefore, it is not surprising that their citizens have been forced to flee persecution.

Table 7.3 Major origin countries of refugees, 2017Data source: UNHCR, 2018a
Syrian Arab Republic 6.3 million
Afghanistan 2.6 million
South Sudan 2.4 million
Myanmar 1.2 million
Somalia 986,400
Sudan 694,600
Democratic Republic of Congo 620,800
Central African Republic 545,500
Eritrea 486,200
Burundi 439,300

Asylum seekers are regularly incorrectly labelled in both political discourse and media reports as ‘illegal aliens/immigrant’ and ‘queue jumpers,’ and states such as the US, the UK and Australia have introduced mandatory detention as part of their processing procedures. Increasingly, refugees and asylum seekers are being viewed as security threats to both the state and its citizens. Post 9/11, tightened immigration controls and increasing xenophobia have led traditional safe havens to close their doors to refugees and asylum seekers. The human security and the human rights of refugees and asylum seekers are increasingly being challenged and overturned, and many asylum seekers and refugees face years in camps and detention centres before being granted sanctuary and citizenship rights (if these rights are in fact granted at all) by receiving states.

In Australia, the US and the UK, there has also been a tendency to view the current ‘refugee crisis’ and numbers of asylum seekers as rapidly increasing to widespread proportions, and that they are seeking to migrate to countries in the global north for purely economic reasons. The above statistics demonstrate that while numbers of refugees are increasing, they are increasing in places experiencing conflict, war and violence, and with the exception of Germany, they are mainly being hosted by other states in the global south. In addition, over the past few decades the US, the UK and Australia have all become increasingly focused on tightening border security, even when it comes to asylum seekers. These states hold the misperception that they are being ‘swamped’ by ‘waves’ of asylum seekers and refugees. However, this is simply not the case, and closer examination of refugee statistics above attest it is neighbouring states to the conflict or crisis that are shouldering the largest hosting responsibility (see Table 7.2 and Table 7.3).

Table 7.4 Number of refugees and peoples of concern, 2000–2017Data sources: UNHCR, 2018a; UNHCR, 2018b. Number of refugees in this table include Palestinian refugees who are cared for by United Nations Refugee and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East.
2000 12.1 million 21.8 million
2001 12.1 million 19.9 million
2002 10.5 million 20.8 million
2003 9.5 million 17 million
2004 9.5 million 19.5 million
2005 8.6 million 21 million
2006 9.8 million 32.8 million
2007 11.3 million 31.6 million
2008 10.4 million 34.4 million
2009 10.3 million 36.4 million
2010 10.5 million 33.9 million
2011 10.4 million 35.4 million
2012 10.4 million 35.8 million
2013 11.6 million 42.8 million
2014 14.3 million 54.9 million
2015 16.1 million 63.9 million
2016 17.1 million 67.7 million
2017 25.4 million 68.5 million

Closer examination of refugee numbers demonstrates they have waxed and waned over the past seventeen years in direct correlation to global insecurity and areas of conflict (see Table 7.4). This is also evident when examining the number of ‘persons of concern,’ mainly comprising of internally displaced persons, stateless persons or people seeking asylum, over the same period. Overall, these figures demonstrate the correlation between human insecurity and population outflows, either inside the state (internal displacement) or across state borders as refugees and asylum seekers. If we reconsider the previously mentioned major hosting states we see further evidence that a large flow of refugees from the global south to the global north is simply not reflected in current statistics on refugee flows. Instead, it is typically neighbouring states to the conflict that shoulder the heaviest population outflows.

Furthermore, if we compare states such as the USIn 2016, the US accepted 84,994 refugees, in 2017 the number of refugee admissions dropped to 53,716, and by 2018, it had dropped even further to 22,491. In 2018, the region most represented among admissions was Africa whereas in 2016 and 2017, the ‘Near East and South Asia’ region was the largest region for admissions (Refugee Processing Centre, 2019)., the UK In 2017, the United Kingdom accepted 34,435 refugees. In 2018, the number of refugees accepted was 37,453. Iran was the largest country of origin for asylum seeker applications in 2018 (Refugee Council, 2019)., and Australia Australia granted 17,555 visas under the Humanitarian Programme in 2015-2016. This figure includes 8,284 visas granted to refugees, 7,268 offshore Special Humanitarian visas and 2,003 onshore visas (Commonwealth of Australia, 2018). to Turkey, Pakistan and Uganda, the above figures demonstrate that the former states are receiving far fewer asylum seekers and refugees than the latter states. Also worrisome is that in Australia, failed attempts at asylum have seen asylum seekers facing deportation back to their former homes (see Case Study 7.2). Some failed asylum seekers have even committed suicide in detention, rather than be expelled from Australia and forced to return home. Non-refoulement, which is the principle that people should not be sent back to countries where they face persecution, has become binding international law.


The Long Journey to Freedom

Michael, a Bakango man from Angola, was interviewed by researchers investigating examples of the Australian government deporting asylum seekers on the grounds that they did not qualify as refugees. He told them he had fled Angola as he was well-known for having opposed the Angolan government during the civil war and for refusing to act as a government spy. With the help of a friend, Michael fled Angola by plane, claiming asylum upon arrival.

He was interviewed by a representative from the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA), and then placed in mandatory detention for the next three and a half years. During his detention, Michael took part in a protest at the detention centre, and was then sent to a prison for a period of time. While in prison he was raped twice, before being sent back to the detention centre.

The Federal Court ruled twice in favour of Michael fulfilling the categorisation of being a refugee in need of protection. However, on both occasions the Refugee Review Tribunal rejected these decisions. With only one day’s notice, Michael was deported from Australia in 2000. DIMIA sent Michael to South Africa where they engaged the services of a private company, P&I (Protecting and Indemnity) to repatriate him. P&I first tried to send him to the Democratic Republic of Congo, but Michael refused to travel and he was then held in a cell at the airport. Michael demanded to see the Angolan Ambassador, who confirmed that he was in fact Angolan, but the Angolan officials who visited Michael told him he should return to Australia as his safety could not be guaranteed should he return to Angola. Although Amnesty International tried to help Michael, the Australian government refused his requests for assistance.

Michael was held in the cell for three days before being repatriated to Angola. Upon his return he was immediately incarcerated for being anti-government, and for fleeing Angola and claiming refugee status in a foreign country. Before leaving Australia, a friend had given Michael some money. After three months in jail he was able to bribe a prison guard to allow him to escape. He took refuge in a remote part of Angola, away from his hometown. The same friend then provided further assistance to Michael and he was able to go to another global north country. This country accepted his claim for refugee status after just six months and when interviewed, Michael was adjusting to life in a safe location, he was learning to become a brick layer, and he was hoping to be reunited with his wife and child who still lived in Angola, through a family reunification scheme.

Michael’s story demonstrates a failure by the Australian government to not only uphold its obligations as a signatory of the Refugees Convention, but also to recognise decisions made in courts of law that rule in favour of an asylum seeker proving they are a legitimate refugee. It also demonstrates that Australia has contravened the non-refoulement principles of the Convention. The report that contains Michael’s account found that of the 40 rejected and deported asylum seekers that the researchers spoke to, only five were found to be living in safe circumstances. This does not represent a commitment to human rights or an honouring of Australia’s commitment to stateless peoples (Glendenning et al., 2004).

Over the past decade, Australia has faced increasing scrutiny due to the high rates of self-harm and suicide by asylum seekers in detention. After years of advocacy by human rights and refugee groups, and some prominent Australian politicians, in July 2011, the Commonwealth Ombudsman announced that an inquiry into the high rates of self-harm and suicide in detention would be undertaken. Despite the findings of inquiry, which recommended the maximum period of detention for asylum seekers should be 90 days and that “prolonged detention exacts a heavy toll on people, most particularly on their mental health and wellbeing” (Commonwealth of Australia, 2012, p. X), Australia maintains its tough stance towards asylum seekers, particularly irregular maritime arrivals. Excessive time spent in detention, numbering in the years rather than months or days, offshore processing, and documented sexual and physical abuse of detainees, as well as serious mental health issues resulting from detention including self-harm and suicide are features of Australia’s continuing treatment of asylum seekers. These practices reflect the enmeshment of Australia’s approach to asylum seekers with domestic politics, to successive governments wanting to prove their tough security credentials to domestic electorates by honing in on vulnerable asylum seekers (Archbold, 2015; Tazreiter, 2017). These practices also demonstrate that Australia is not upholding its responsibilities under the Refugees Convention.

The Commission on Human Security (2003) believes that solutions to refugee crises need to firstly consider if their former homeland has transitioned to peace and security. If this has occurred, refugees should be offered the option of voluntary repatriation and resettlement. In areas where this cannot be achieved, perhaps because conflict is ongoing or refugees feel unable to return to their former home, resettlement in a new state should be pursued. This requires cooperation from states to accept refugees into their overall immigration programme. All too often, the focus on refugees settles on their vulnerability and their perceived ‘burden’ to the state. While refugees face increased human insecurity before and during their escape from persecution, once they are provided sanctuary and citizenship in their new locale they should be considered a valuable and contributing member of that state and society. According to the Human Security Now report (Commission on Human Security, 2003), some of the areas that require attention by receiving states include:

establishing secure livelihoods [for refugees], protecting people against downside risks, reducing inequalities among communities, strengthening governance and respecting human rights. (p. 48)

If we consider Michael’s story from Case Study 7.2, after settling in a safe location, one that honoured his human rights and human security, Michael undertook employment training so he could become a settled member of his new state. Increasingly however, states are closing their doors to refugees. As previously mentioned, the post-9/11 political and security climate has seen states like the US, Canada and Australia restrict their intakes of refugees. In fact, the Commission on Human Security (2003, p. 48; Refugee Processing Centre, 2019) reported that the US refugee resettlement figures dropped from 69,886 in 2001 to just 27,131 in 2002 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the more rigorous security checks that resulted.

However, in addition to the above mentioned human insecurities and persecutions, which force people to flee their homes, the link between environmental insecurity and forced migration also warrants consideration. Myers and Kent (1995, p. 18) defined environmental refugees as “persons who no longer gain a secure livelihood in their traditional homelands because of what are primarily environmental factors of unusual scope.” They argued that should scientific predictions on the effects of a climate out of equilibrium come to pass, climate change could cause substantial increases in refugee, asylum seeker, and IDP numbers in affected areas.

People in low-lying atoll/island states throughout the Pacific have been identified as particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels. Similarly, people in other low-lying areas such as Haiti, Bangladesh, Vietnam and India (to name a few) are also expected to be affected by rising sea levels. However, climate change will also cause more lengthy and recurrent droughts (as has been witnessed in countries in the Sahel and Horn of Africa), desertification, more damaging and intensive cyclones/typhoons/hurricanes, and other climatic changes. Therefore, it is increasingly likely that environmental/climate change-induced migration will grow into the future, should environmental insecurity grow as anticipated. In spite of this, the UNHCR does not currently include environmental refugees into its mandate or definition of refugees, and there is ongoing debate over their status, or not, as refugees.

On the other hand, scholars such as Mortreux and Barnett (2009, p. 111) argue the impacts of climate change on populations may be less severe than expected. Their research has demonstrated that people “respond to events (such as climate change)” and that adaptation (adapting to rising sea levels for example) could mean that population flows may not be as numerous as currently predicted. While this is a fairly optimistic viewpoint of future scenarios for vulnerable populations, other scholars such as Urosevic (2009) believe that there must be more focused analysis of the plight, and inclusion, of environmental refugees in the existing UNHCR refugee mandate. According to Urosevic, the UNHCR is the logical organisation to respond to environmental refugees, and that a protocol, like the 1967 Protocol, should be passed so as to expand the Convention to specifically include environmental refugees. Such a protocol would be most pertinent in assuring the human security of affected and vulnerable populations, particularly those forced to flee as environmental refugees. This has not yet been achieved however, and the UNHCR acknowledges that environmental refugees are not covered by the existing Refugees Convention. This acknowledgement occurs alongside statements that the UNHCR expects both displacement and human insecurity to grow alongside increasing environmental insecurity worldwide.

At present, the UNHCR promotes planned environmental migration to be mainstreamed within climate change mitigation and adaptation policies (UNHCR, 2015, p. 12). This type of migration refers to vulnerable populations being relocated under planned migration strategies by the state in which they live, resulting in a forced internal displacement, but one that is planned, staged and carefully managed rather than an abrupt forced migration like what occurs during periods of conflict or sudden catastrophe. However, this is not an easy undertaking, especially for states within the global south. Furthermore, even with such a planned approach to migration, forced migration of any kind can lead to increased human insecurity and tensions between the migrating and receiving populations if resources are scarce or if numbers are significant, even if they reside within the same state.

In their examination of environmental migration in Papua New Guinea, Connell and Lutkehaus (2017) explored the forced migration of Manam Islanders within Papua New Guinea. Manam Island is located about 12 kilometres from the New Guinea mainland and it is an inhabited volcanic island. There have been many eruptions in the past, whereby Manam Islanders have temporarily evacuated to the mainland by canoe and as a result they had forged good relations with the coastal communities on the mainland. Such evacuations usually involved just a couple of affected villages (perhaps two or three out of the fifteen villages) to one occasion in 1957-1958 whereby the whole island had to evacuate. Furthermore, these evacuations were only temporary and the Manam Islanders returned to their island once the volcanic activity had subsided.

In 2004/2005, all 10,000 Manam Islanders were forced to suddenly evacuate the island following a major volcanic eruption. The length of time of their stay and their numbers overwhelmed the host population, leading to a significant drain on available resources, which strained relations. Within six months of their resettlement on the mainland, social tensions between the two groups began to increase, as did human insecurity, and violent conflicts led to some deaths. Even though volcanologists have identified the volcano to be an ongoing environmental hazard, by 2015 several thousand Manam Islanders had returned to Manam Island, despite it no longer receiving government support or facilities. They have been motivated to return, despite the dangers, due to a range of factors including kinship and traditional connections to their traditional land, the experiences of dislocation from their land and the inability to acclimate to mainland life which is very different to island life, right through to the ongoing tensions in the host communities on the mainland.

Further volcanic activity and eruptions could see more dislocation for returned Manam Islanders into the future. Together with supporting Manam Islanders who have stayed on the mainland, the plight of the returned Manam Islanders requires careful management by Papuan authorities. For our purposes, the Manam Island experience is useful in demonstrating that migrations like these, even when occurring within state borders, have the potential to exacerbate human insecurity among both evacuated and receiving populations. Therefore, prevention of the need for such relocation in the first place makes more sense than accepting such an outcome as a fait accompli. While this example was a sudden migration due to volcanic activity, the experiences of both populations are likely to be similar for low-lying populations who, due to rising sea levels, face forced resettlement from islands or low-lying coastal regions, to the mainland or higher ground. Even staged environmental migration, like that proposed by the UNHCR, is likely to cause adjustment problems, especially if it is not well managed or supported. This will be a significance governance issue for many states in the global south into the coming decades as the predicted sea level rises begin to alter where habitation of such low-lying areas is able to occur.

One such state that has begun its preparedness for such an eventuation is the small atoll state of Kiribati in the Pacific. In 2014, the Kiribati government bought land on one of Fiji’s islands as a protective measure for their population should rising sea levels make their own atolls uninhabitable (Caramel, 2014; Connell & Lutkehaus, 2017). While this transaction provides some refuge for the peoples of Kiribati should they have to leave their atoll homeland, the act itself will render them stateless as sovereignty does not transfer to the land thereby making them stateless peoples living in Fiji. When interviewed about the purchase and the anticipated environmental migration that drove such a decision, the President of Kiribati Anote Tong stated “We would hope not to put everyone on [this] one piece of land, but if it became absolutely necessary, yes, we could do it” (cited in Caramel, 2014). Forced migration due to environmental insecurity is an issue that could increase both human and state insecurity into the future, and if whole populations from low-lying states like Kiribati have to relocate, statelessness will also result.

In addition to those individuals or groups outside of the state system discussed above, some individuals and groups within a state system may feel that they are politically, socially, culturally or morally excluded from that system. This can lead to increased human insecurity in states, particularly if such individuals or groups resort to violent means to enhance their perceived security. We now turn our attention to such individuals or groups who perceive themselves to be outside of the state system, although, sometimes they are physically located inside the state from which they feel removed.

7.2.2 Alienated Citizens and Terrorists

This section examines a very different category of individuals and groups outside of the state system – alienated citizens and terrorists. We include these groups in our analysis because they too occupy a position of statelessness, although this sometimes is a self-imposed statelessness. A citizen of a state can become alienated for a number of reasons. Taxation, domestic and foreign policies passed by the government, or building regulations are but a few examples of the types of things that can annoy the everyday citizens of a state from time to time. For most citizens, these types of issues will not cause them to turn to extreme measures. Instead, they will simply accept them as day-to-day matters, annoying but not threatening. Other citizens however, may see issues such as these to be a full frontal attack on their freedom, religion, culture, or their perceived national identity. Their concerns may lead them to a more extreme response as they become more marginalised from mainstream or centrist views on issues. They may become alienated from their family, friends and wider society, instead seeking out like-minded others. This can cause them to desire social and/or political change, even through the use of force or terrorist acts. These alienated citizens-turned-terrorists can then pose direct threats to their own state and its citizens, as well as to other states and citizens whom they regard as threats to their own interests and/or home state interests.

7.3 Alienated Citizenship and Sub-state Terrorism

7.3.1 Timothy McVeigh and Anders Breivik

If we consider Timothy McVeigh, and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, we can see the extreme lengths some alienated citizens can go to in trying to get their message across. McVeigh was motivated and called to action by his involvement in the American militia movement, a movement which claims to be legitimate, constitutionally-backed, and acting in the best interests of the US and its citizens (Crothers, 2002). Militias have significant historical roots in the US, dating back to the American War of Independence (1775-1783). According to Crothers (2002), apart from the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and the John Birch Society, both of which have a long and continuous history in the US, America’s modern-day militia movement began around 1994, and was spearheaded by citizens who were concerned by the Ruby Ridge incident (1992) In 1992, Randy Weaver and his family were involved in a standoff with FBI agents and US marshals on their property at Ruby Ridge, Idaho. A gun battle ensued and Weaver’s wife, son and a Marshal were killed. Weaver later surrendered to authorities. He went to trial for weapons charges but was acquitted by a jury (Crothers, 2002). and the Waco incident (1993) The Waco incident occurred just six months after the Ruby Ridge incident in 1993. Federal agents amassed at the Branch Davidian compound to serve a warrant on the cult’s leader, David Koresh. The agents were fired upon, a gun battle broke out, and several agents and members of the Branch Davidians were killed. Fifty-one days later, agents stormed the compound using tear gas and tanks. The compound caught on fire, and almost all of the remaining members of the group were killed in the blaze. Questions have remained as to how the fire started and the government’s role in the incident (Crothers, 2002). Timothy McVeigh was a frequent observer of the standoff at Waco, even selling anti-government and pro-gun bumper stickers to those who joined the throng of observers at a hill, three miles away from the Mount Carmel compound, which allowed visualisation of the standoff as it unfolded (Goodman, 2017). For the modern day militias, these two incidents were seen as evidence of the corruption of the US government, and they, the ‘sovereign citizens’ Sovereign citizens are defined by Crothers (2002, p. 229) as “those whose forebears entered into the social contract that created the US Constitution.” This classification excludes any Americans whose forbears were not present at the time of the American War of Independence, most Native Americans and African Americans, as well as those who have migrated to the US since that time, regardless of the length of time their families have lived in the US, which could be generations. According to the militias, only sovereign citizens have the right to evaluate, sanction or abolish actions/decisions made by the government. Therefore, there are many US citizens, who have long lived in the US and participated in its nation building process, who are excluded by this limited definition. [/footnote] of America, had a duty to all Americans to challenge the illegal actions of the government. Timothy McVeigh, a former US soldier and militia sympathiser, heeded this call to arms and on 19 April 1995, with earlier assistance from his accomplices Terry Nichols and Michael and Lori Fortier, McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Building, a Federal government complex. The bombing killed 168 people, including 19 babies and children in attendance at the childcare centre housed within the building. In 2001, McVeigh was executed by lethal injection for his crime.

Until 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing was the worst terrorist attack on US soil. McVeigh’s attack represented sub-state terrorism or terrorism from below (Haynes et al., 2011). It was not an act of political violence committed by an ‘outsider’. Instead, Americans were challenged when they learned that US citizens had planned and committed the bombing. The ultimate goal of sub-state terrorism is the formation of a new society and system of governance. It is believed this can be achieved by directly attacking the state, thereby bringing down existing governance systems. However, it can also be used to garner attention and sympathy to a particular cause. While McVeigh’s act of terror was a direct attack on the US government for perceived suppression of far-right groups, it is unlikely that he believed his actions would bring about change. Rather, the act of terrorism would attract national and global attention to McVeigh’s cause (D’Anieri, 2011). However, was McVeigh motivated purely by his involvement in the militia movement?

McVeigh has been characterised as an “angry young man…from a broken family” who found camaraderie in his membership of the fringe culture of “American Patriots” (Whittaker, 2004, p. 63). Prior to Ruby Ridge and Waco, McVeigh had already started to self-isolate by buying land and building a bunker-style complex on it when he was just 20 years old. According to Whittaker (2004), prior to Ruby Ridge and Waco, McVeigh’s anger was already directed toward “the White House, Communist fellow-travellers, Jews and blacks” (p. 64) and after active service in the first Gulf War, his fellow soldiers became a target, with McVeigh labelling them “sickos” (p. 64) for their violence on the front line and at base. In a local paper, McVeigh vented his anti-government rage stating: “America is in serious decline and I am too. Do we have to shed blood to reform the present system? I hope not—but it might be so” (cited in Whittaker, 2004, p. 65).

Clearly, McVeigh was troubled by both his early home-life, his experiences in the military, and by what he felt America had become—a departure from his patriotic notions of the ‘real America’ he belonged to. If we compare McVeigh and Anders Behring Breivik, another sub-state terrorist, who confessed to committing the 22 July 2011 Oslo bombing and the massacre on the island of Utøya (Hewitt, 2011) we see striking similarities in their roads from alienation to sub-state terrorism.

Like McVeigh, Breivik’s bombing target was a government building, driven by his anger towards government policies on multiculturalism, which he felt made him ‘alienated’ from Norway and threatened his identity. He also had connections to far-right extremist groups, who shared similar views as his own. Under the pen name of Andrew Berwick, Breivik compiled a 1,518 page manifesto detailing his alienation and path to terrorism. He mentions McVeigh in two separate entries, demonstrating his understanding of McVeigh’s motives, how he carried out the attack, and the cost of the attack in a dollar sum (Berwick, 2011, pp. 950, 967). His ideas on immigration and his lack of compassion for asylum seekers are clearly communicated when Breivik praises Australia’s tough stance against asylum seekers, concluding that former Australian Prime Minister John Howard ‘has repeatedly proven to be one of the most sensible leaders in the western world’ for his border control policies (Berwick, 2011, p. 680).

Another commonality with McVeigh is that Breivik could also be described as an ‘angry young man’. His father divorced his mother when Breivik was one year of age, and moved to Paris where he remarried. His father sought custody of Breivik, but he lost the case and Breivik was raised by his mother. Breivik became estranged from his father when he was a teenager and their estrangement continued throughout his adult life (Allen, 2011; BBC, 2012). Breivik’s personal life then, is significant when we examine much of what he included in his manifesto. In it Breivik includes his own, and others’ thoughts, on a range of issues including abortion, custody rights, divorce, eugenics, “servant classes,” feminism, traditional sexual morality, patriarchal societal structures, marriage, and sexually transmitted diseases being endemic across Europe due to “cultural Marxism” (Berwick, 2011). When discussing custody rights, Breivik’s past torment becomes clear. He stated:

Fathers should be favoured (prerogative rights) when child custody cases are decided in courts… The goal is to re-introduce the father as the authority figure and family head and will therefore strengthen the nuclear family. It is estimated that these changes will result in a decline of the divorce rate/broken families by approximately 50%. Furthermore, the father can without fear of being punished by the law, reassert an authority role in the family. Physical disciplinary methods will once again be a factor in the upbringing of children. (Berwick, 2011, p. 1145)

However, these writings provide only part of the story behind Breivik’s alienation. He was also strongly alienated by multiculturalism. In his manifesto, Breivik strongly criticised Europe’s multicultural policies, which he believed had led to “Islamisation” of Europe. He further believed that this would ultimately lead to “Islamic colonisation of Europe” (Berwick, 2011, pp. 5, 8-9). This was a significant motivator for Breivik to commit acts of sub-state terrorism. According to Breivik:

It is not only our right but also our duty to contribute to preserve our identity, our culture and our national sovereignty by preventing the ongoing Islamisation. There is no Resistance Movement if individuals like us refuse to contribute… Multiculturalism (cultural Marxism/political correctness), as you might know, is the root cause of the ongoing Islamisation of Europe which has resulted in the ongoing Islamic colonisation of Europe through demographic warfare (facilitated by our own leaders). (Berwick, 2011, pp. 8-9)

This extract identifies the motives behind Breiviks’s twin attack in Norway. The Oslo bombing killed eight people. The massacre on Utøya killed 69 people, 33 of whom were children below the age of 18, 29 of whom were young people aged between 18 to 25 years of age. The twin attacks by Breivik were aimed at attacking the Norwegian government. Both attacks attest to his alienation, not only personal, but also his strong responses to government policies on multiculturalism and social policy, even referring to the European Union (EU) as the “Eurabian Empire” (Berwick, 2011, p. 311), signalling his belief that the EU was a bedfellow to the Arabian states in the process of ‘Islamisation’. The massacre at Utøya however, demonstrated the lengths to which Breivik’s alienation extended. His intentions on Utøya were to kill the next generation of left-leaning leaders, due to his strong beliefs and convictions about ending multiculturalism and Norway’s social policies. The Utøya camp was hosting the Worker’s Youth League (AUF) of the Labour Party, and Breivik regarded these youth as a political threat to Norway due to their party’s support for multiculturalism and the social policies that Breivik opposed.

Like McVeigh’s attack in Oklahoma City, there have been no noticeable changes to Norway’s immigration or social policies in response to Breivik’s attacks. However, the attacks have seen significant media and political attention on multiculturalism and questions have been raised as to the long term effects and sustainability of multiculturalism. However, rather than leading to Breivik’s goal of ending and even reversing multiculturalism, greater attention has been paid to the intensification of the social inclusion dimensions of multicultural policies, to avoid this kind of racially-motivated attack from re-occurring.

7.3.2 Statelessness and Terrorism: Wafa Idris

As with McVeigh and Breivik, Wafa Idris, an ambulance volunteer and the first female suicide terrorist of the Second Intifada, probably also believed in the righteousness of her actions when she detonated a bomb outside of a shoe store in downtown Jerusalem on 27 January 2002 (Dunn, 2010; Hasso, 2005). In addition to killing herself, the bomb blast killed an Israeli man and injured over 100 people. Idris did not leave behind any writings or videos on her intentions to commit the attack, so we can only speculate on her motivations. She was an active member of Fatah-aligned nationalist Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, however, so her detonation of the bomb can reasonably be viewed as an act of Palestinian militancy, and her attack was followed by a series of female suicide attacks in Israel (Hasso, 2005; Bokhari, 2007). Unlike McVeigh and Breivik however, Wafa Idris was not a citizen of the state she sought to attack – Israel. Instead, she was a Palestinian living in the al-Amri refugee camp. Therefore, the alienation that drove her to commit a terrorist act was one of statelessness, which was compounded by the human rights violations and human insecurity that she and other Palestinians around her experienced.

For Idris, and the 5.4 million other Palestinian refugees registered with the UN at the close of 2017 (UNHCR, 2018a), citizenship remains the issue, along with dispossession and statelessness. The Arabic-speaking Palestinians, who were forced to flee or were expelled from their homes during the 1948 Palestine War, and those who have been expelled or forced to flee since then, have maintained their right of return to the traditional homelands from whence they came. The right of return for Palestinian refugees is articulated in the United Nations UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (11), passed on 11 December 1948. This resolution states:

[T]hat refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest predictable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.

Therefore, the terrorist act committed by Idris can also be conceived as an act committed by an individual outside of the state system. Idris was truly a stateless person, born a second generation refugee to refugee parents in the al-Amari refugee camp. Her brother, Khalil Idris, had the following to say about his sister and her actions in Jerusalem:

Wafa was my sister. We were close friends. What she did was a real surprise to us. She’d tell us that someone had been killed and she’d seen his brains splattered all over the place or the inside of someone’s stomach shot out or someone else who’d lost his leg. She was also upset by pregnant women forced to give birth at the checkpoints and then see their babies die there. She was also injured by rubber bullets. These were powerful incentives for her to avenge her people. (cited in Pilger, 2002, n.p.)

It is very likely that Idris was motivated by her own, and ‘her people’s’, the Palestinians’, statelessness and constant human insecurity. She may also have been motivated by the violence and death she witnessed as an ambulance volunteer. Bokhari (2007) believes Idris’ act of terrorism “was arguably prompted by a sense of hopelessness under occupation and rage” (pp. 60-61). Whatever her motivation, Idris’ act of terrorism inspired other women to follow suit, and the ‘Wafa Idris Group’ a martyrdom cell for Palestinian women was formed after her death, and resulted in a wave of female suicide attacks throughout Israel (Hasso, 2005).

The suicide attack by Idris is also noteworthy because it challenged the gender narrative of women needing male protection in times of conflict, and represented a significant call to arms for both Palestinian men and women. As Hasso (2005) has argued, Idris’ act of terrorism also challenged gender assumptions held by Israeli forces that it was male bodies, not Palestinian female bodies, which threatened their security. Furthermore, there was fierce debate among fundamentalist Islamic organisations as to whether or not women could participate in the Palestinian struggle in such a militant way due to the religious principles and traditional Islamic social norms that prevented unmarried men and women from having such close contact with each other, as would be the case in planning and carrying out a suicide attack (Bokhari, 2007; Dunn, 2010). Therefore, the entry of women into what had largely been a male dominated arena, conflict and terrorism, was challenging and confronting to some political and religious leaders.

By targeting civilians who were going about their shopping, Idris’ actions also received a great deal of attention largely focused around the question ‘why.’ Why would a young female ambulance volunteer commit such a brutal act and deliberately try to kill innocent civilians? Separating the Utøya Massacre from the Oslo bombing, McVeigh’s and Breivik’s choices of bombing locations signalled attacks against the government, as they targeted government employees, Again, it is noted by the author that bystanders and other civilians, including children, were also killed in both attacks. still innocent civilians, but people who represented the government they were attacking. Idris targeted regular citizens in an indiscriminate fashion (like Breivik did on Utøya), as well as taking her own life in the process. The act of killing people was the statement, albeit linked to Palestinian statehood and to ending the Israeli occupation. This reinforces the findings by Callaway and Harrelson-Stephens (2006) who argue that:

[w]hen looking at the genesis of terrorism around the world it always occurs in conjunction with the denial of basic human rights… the basis for terrorism is found in the deprivation of political, subsistence, and security rights, and therefore any policy designed to decrease terrorism necessarily implies addressing these rights.’ (p. 774)

The recruitment of women into suicide terrorism has proven to be an innovative, inexpensive and effective political tool. However, female suicide attacks remain a rare occurrence globally, with estimates suggesting that between 1982 and 2015, only nine percent of suicide attacks were carried out by female suicide terrorists, and they were mostly located in the Middle East (Thomas, 2018, p. 513). The recruitment of women is innovative and inexpensive in the sense that women are not generally viewed as threats due to the gender roles ascribed to women, which regard them as passive, weak and nurturers. Therefore, women can pass more easily through checkpoints than their male counterparts, allowing them to get closer to their intended targets and increasing the success of their suicide attack (Thomas, 2018, p. 514). Therefore, by simply recruiting women, terrorist groups can increase their chances of success and potentially, the lethality of their attacks without any significant outlay on equipment or deflection techniques.

Female suicide terrorists are an effective political tool in the sense that they draw greater attention to ‘the cause’ compared to their male counterparts. For example, because Idris was a woman, her act of terrorism drew more attention to the human insecurity and persecution of the Palestinians than may have resulted had the act of suicide terrorism been committed by a male suicide terrorist. Due to the identified gender stereotypes, when a woman commits a suicide terrorist act, attempts to rationalise the act sees much focus drawn to the social context – Why did she commit such an act? What drove her to such a decision? As part of this attempt at rationalising the act, death tolls become a secondary concern. Instead, the focus centres on an attempt to understand what could have caused, in Idris’ case, an attractive, educated, young woman to take her own life and the lives of others (Bokhari, 2007). If we consider Bueno de Mesquita’s (2000) definition that terrorism is aimed at the “spread of fear and anxiety (terror) through a population so that it will, in turn, put pressure on its leaders to change policies in a way favoured by terrorists” (p. 339), female terrorists are very effective in achieving these goals. By committing terrorist acts, they draw attention to the problems, human insecurities and prolonged conflict situations that lead to such extreme acts in the first instance. This point was reflected in media reports about Idris following the attack. They reported on her life under Israeli occupation and on the Palestinian struggle, drawing considerable attention and some sympathy to Idris’ cause.For example see: (“Suicide girl shot 3 times,” 2002, January 31). The Sun. p. 2; Bennett, J. (2002, January 31). Arab Woman’s Path to Unlikely ‘Martyrdom’. The New York Times. p. 1; and Walker, C. (2002, February 1). Sight of her people’s blood fired bomber – War on Terror. The Australian. p. 7.

Although it is not a new phenomenon, terrorism has become a serious threat to human and state security in the 21st century. Increasingly, states are grappling with how best to respond to terrorists and how to prevent future attacks from occurring. We now turn our attention to counter terrorism, in particular, the impact of counter terrorism measures on individuals and groups.

7.4 Counter Terrorism, Human Rights and Human Security

There is no single definition of terrorism in existence. It is a contentious term that has different meanings for different people. For the purposes of this chapter, terrorism can be defined as “a premeditated, politically [socially, ideologically or religiously] motivated use of violence or its threat to intimidate or coerce a government or the general public” (Whittaker, 2004, p. 1). If we compare this definition, to the above definition by de Mesquita, we see they both convey the same basic principles, they are just phrased differently. Therefore, these definitions are fairly representative of mainstream definitions on terrorism (in the absence of an official, universal definition of terrorism). Terrorists use force, or the threat of force, to push their particular agenda, targeting civilians and other non-combatants for maximum media, political and domestic attention and flow on results. Terrorism is also a means whereby a significantly weaker party can close the power gap with a stronger force, by virtue of surprise attacks that are unexpected and indefensible. Sovereign borders do not contain terrorism and over the past few decades, globalisation and its associated communications technologies have helped terrorists to recruit members, finance operations and carry out terrorist attacks. Terrorism experts are concerned that by ‘going global’, future incidents of terrorism will be more lethal, particularly if terrorist organisations are able to access and use nuclear, chemical and biological weapons (Crenshaw & Cusimano Love, 2011).

While terrorists and terrorism increasingly cross state borders, states still need to respect sovereign borders when countering terrorism. As terrorists constitute non-state actors, one of the difficulties faced by states in countering terrorism has been how they respond to an enemy that is not a state. Counter terrorism has been developed to aid national defence against terrorism, as governments have increasingly scrutinised who enters their borders as well as monitoring the activities of their citizens, or others, residing within their borders. However, this defence has sometimes incurred significant costs to human rights and human security, and some consider it aptly named.

Tsoukala (2006) warns that post 9/11, many EU countries have adopted counter terrorism policies that negatively impact on human rights, in the interests of state security and the war on terror. These changes have increased police powers, enabled trials on terrorism charges to take extraordinary forms, and there are pathways for unusual terms and conditions of detention for terror suspects and those convicted of terrorism (Tsoukala, 2006). Similar changes have occurred in the US and the UK, where human rights activists and lawyers have been increasingly concerned about the erosion of human rights in the face of counter terrorism measures. Gearty (2005) concluded that in the US, human rights appear to have “little or no place at all” (p. 31) in the fight against terror. If we re-visit the earlier quote from Callaway and Harrelson-Stephens (2006) that “the genesis of terrorism around the world…always occurs in conjunction with the denial of basic human rights” (p. 774), it would seem that counter terrorism measures that deny or infringe upon human rights are counter-productive and may actually result in a self-fulfilling prophecy.This effect was actually an express goal of the terrorist organisations that operated in Europe during the 1970s, such as the Baader-Meinhof group in Germany and the Red Brigades in Italy. Gearty (2005) concurred with these sentiments, believing that the war on terror and the curtailing of human rights that has been a part of the war, would likely lead to future attacks by virtue of people’s experiences of the war.

In their assessment of home grown terrorism in the US, Reveron and Mahoney-Norris (2019) examined the links between counter terrorism operations and the role it plays in indoctrinating US citizens to commit terrorist acts. They identified the 2009 Fort Hood shooting (which killed 13 people), the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing (which killed three people), the 2015 Chattanooga shootings (which killed five people), and the 2015 San Bernardino attack (which killed 14 people) as examples that have led to debates over whether such acts have resulted, in part, from the US’s continued military involvement in predominantly Muslim countries as part of the ongoing war on terror. Their discussion identifies the role of cyberspace as a recruitment tool for extremism, meaning citizens no longer have to leave their home state but rather they can connect with other alienated peoples across the world within their own homes via the internet.

On the flipside, Reveron and Mahoney-Norris also identified how counter terrorism operations and exclusionary rhetoric have also led to the rise of anti-Islamic and white nationalist hate groups online and domestically within the US. Furthermore, they identified a 91% increase in the rise of hate crimes against Muslims in the US in just the first half of 2017 (Reveron & Mahoney-Norris, 2019, pp. 53-54). Examples of such hate crimes ranged from mosques being vandalised or bombed (numerous examples across the country), the 2017 stabbing deaths of two bystanders who intervened to assist a Muslim girl in Portland who was being harassed by a white nationalist, the shooting murders of nine African-American parishioners by a white nationalist at a church in Charleston in 2015, and the 2017 vehicular attack on peaceful protestors in Charlottesville, which lead to the death of one person and left 19 others injured (Reveron & Mahoney-Norris, 2019). Both forms of extremism are concerning and both threaten human and national security within the US.

The introduction of special powers or measures to counter terrorism is not a new occurrence, however. Tsoukala (2006) stated that these types of measures have been used by various states across Europe since World War Two when countering terrorism. Conversely, the post-9/11 counter terrorism measures and the intensity and applicability of these measures have had significant ramifications for human rights and human security worldwide because they are so all-encompassing and far reaching. As we discussed earlier, states like the US, the UK and Australia have been less open to receiving refugees and asylum seekers since 9/11 and the onset of the war on terror. Restricting entry to refugees and asylum seekers is but one example of a state trying to counter terrorism by controlling who enters their borders. However, the linking of refugees with terrorism, or militancy, represents seriously flawed logic and reflects an intersection of racism or other ideological bias with extreme security measures. Whittaker (2004) describes such an approach as being marked by “suspicion and over-zealous security measures [which] easily exploit[s] divisions between people of different origins and faiths and breed[s] xenophobia” (p. 140).

In his evaluation of US counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the 2007 troop surge, Gilmore (2011) concluded that the war on terror has continued to be a high-impact war, despite US claims of adopting a more restrained and empathic approach, one that incorporated principles of human security. In addition, Gilmore (2011) concluded that rather than pursuing a human security approach, “US counterinsurgency represents an oppressive instrument of the global War on Terror—one that is likely to result in the disempowerment of local populations” (p. 34). This is confirmed when we consider torture. Throughout the war on terror, torture has been used in efforts to extract information from suspected terrorists in military policing facilities such as Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prison. In fact, US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been cited as advising President George W. Bush on 25 January 2005 that “[t]his new paradigm [the war on terror] renders obsolete Geneva’s [the 1949 Geneva Protocol on the Treatment of Prisoners of War] strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners” (cited in Bellamy, 2006, p. 123). It would appear that in the war on terror, human rights and human security have been among the first casualties of war as states have been prepared to contravene basic principles of human rights that have been the foundation of modern democracies.

So how then can states counter terrorism while maintaining human rights and human security? Callaway and Harrelson-Stephens (2006) have demonstrated that when it comes to the root causes of terrorism, ‘the human condition’ (p. 776) is at the heart of the matter. They identified political, civil, security, and subsistence rights, international factors such as past experiences of colonisation and imperialism, as well as present day political and economic development, all to be fundamental elements in causing terrorism. These factors can alienate citizens against their own state, or states they see as being responsible for the lack of human, political or economic rights to be found in their own society or state. Therefore, in order to successfully counter terrorism, one needs to go to the source. This would require more active commitment by states to promote and uphold human rights and human security worldwide, not just in pockets that hold specific national interest to selected states. Whittaker (2004) confirmed this position when he stated:

Real security can only be achieved through full respect for human rights. Nobody should be able to pick and choose their obligations under international law. A combination of forces is seeking to roll back the human rights gains of the last five decades in the name of security and counter terrorism. These restrictions on liberty have not necessarily led to increased dividends on safety. (p. 141)

Obviously, states need to be able to defend themselves and their populace from acts of terror. However, the aforementioned counter terrorism measures are really only band-aid solutions, if they are in fact even that, and they are almost certain to contribute to more acts of terror in the future. The key to effective and long-term counter terrorism is to strike at the core of the issues and human insecurities that lead people to commit acts of terror in the first instance. If we reflect on Wafa Idris for a moment, if she had been born a citizen of Palestine, and not a stateless Palestinian in a refugee camp, do you think her life would have turned out differently? If she had not been witness to the daily violence and conflict resulting from ongoing occupation of Palestinian lands by Israeli authorities, do you think she still would have committed such a gross act of terror – the taking of life and the injuring of others? While we can never know the definite answer to these questions, after what we have examined in this chapter we can probably answer the first question with a confident ‘yes’ — her life could have been different, and ‘no’ to the second question — she would not have turned to terror to try to reclaim human rights and human security for ‘her people’. This demonstrates the links between human insecurity and disempowerment to terrorism. Therefore, by adopting human security approaches rather than current state-centric approaches to counter terrorism, states will be able to prevent lives being lost through acts of terror. This will require more long-term thinking and planning by states, involving state focus on the human condition, and ensuring human rights and human security are never compromised for state interest and state security, in both peace time and in times of conflict. In short, it will involve a marked difference to how states are currently attempting to tackle terrorism.

7.5 Conclusion

Throughout this chapter we have explored the experiences of individuals and groups outside of the state system. Being outside of the state system has many forms. People can be ‘stateless’; they can be fleeing persecution as refugees, they can be escaping from an environmental calamity with no hope of help from their native government, or they can be so alienated by what they perceive to be an unjust and unfair society or political structure that they turn to acts of terror. In all instances, being outside of the state system often involves a real, or perceived (in the case of McVeigh and Breivik), lack of human rights and human security. The human condition is a precursor for people to find themselves outside of the state system. Therefore, when responding to refugee flows, or when implementing counter terrorism measures it is important that the human condition, human rights and human security are at the forefront of policy decisions and the implementation of such policies. Violations of human rights and continued human insecurity are not acceptable under international law, and they run counter to logical and long-term considerations on how to best address and resolve the issues we have examined in this chapter. Current responses fall far short of meeting appropriate human security responses to these issues. However, human security and thinking about its practical implementations in world politics and models of state security provides hope. Perhaps we will see more appropriate human security based measures in future responses to individuals and groups outside of the state system.

Resources and References


Key Points

  • Statelessness refers to an individual or group of individuals lacking official recognition as a national (or a citizen) of any state in the world.
  • Stateless individuals experience heightened human insecurity.
  • Refugees and asylum seekers are stateless peoples, often having fled persecution in their former homelands. However, their statelessness does not abolish their human rights and states must uphold those rights and protect refugees, regardless of their statelessness.
  • The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) and the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (1967) are important as they identified that foreign nationals seeking asylum must be granted the same types of human rights as those normally experienced by citizens of a state.
  • By ratifying the Convention and/or Protocol, signatory governments have indicated their willingness to provide sanctuary to those fleeing persecution and disaster to honour and uphold their human rights.
  • It is predicted that climate change could cause increasingly large numbers of environmental refugees to flee their homes.
  • The UNHCR does not currently include environmental refugees into its mandate or definition of refugees.
  • It is logical that environmental refugees should be included in the UNHCR mandate and a protocol should be passed to secure such an outcome.
  • If their former homeland has transitioned to peace and security, refugees should be offered the option of voluntary repatriation and resettlement. In areas where this cannot be achieved, resettlement in a new state should be pursued.
  • Alienated citizens can also occupy a position of statelessness, although this is usually a self-imposed statelessness. Some alienated citizens turn to sub-state terrorism to draw attention to their ‘cause’ or to force changes in governance and social policy.
  • While terrorism has become a serious threat to human and state security in the 21st century, many countries have adopted counter terrorism policies that negatively impact on human rights and human security, in the interests of state security and the so-called ‘war on terror.’
  • Perceived violations of political, civil, security, and subsistence rights, as well as international factors such as past experiences of colonisation and imperialism, and the undesirable outcomes of present day political and economic development, have all been identified as fundamental elements that contribute to displacement and can foster terrorism.
  • In order to successfully counter terrorism, there needs to be a stronger state commitment to promote and uphold human rights and human security worldwide, not just in pockets that hold specific national interest to selected states.
  • The key to effective and long-term counter terrorism is to strike at the core of the issues and human insecurities that lead people to commit acts of terror in the first instance.


Extension Activities & Further Research

  1. Explore the immigration statistics for your own country. How many refugees does your country accept? Compare your country’s statistics to a country you believe is comparable to your own. Do you think the figures reflect a reasonable intake of refugees? Why or why not?
  2. What is meant by the term ‘war on terror’? How does this conflict differ from previous wars or conflicts? Has the war increased or decreased the threats posed by global terror networks?
  3. Do a search for newspaper articles on the suicide attacks by Wafa Idris or another female suicide terrorist. Analyse the content of the news articles. Was the article focused on death toll, or did it focus on the reasons behind the attacks and the human condition of Palestinians? What do you conclude about the attack by Wafa Idris, or others, and how it was reported?
  4. Examine Case Study 7.1. What factors contributed to the statelessness of the Rohingya people? How significant might the link between the 1982 Burma Citizenship Law and the leader at the time being a military dictator who came to power through a coup d’état? How have these changes heightened the human insecurity of the Rohingya people? What could the international community have done to prevent the ongoing abuse of the Rohingyas and the 2017 ethnic cleansing?
  5. What have been the key areas of progress in addressing the needs of individuals and groups outside of the state system over the past decade? What areas can you identify that need further improvement?
  6. Examine Case Study 7.2. What motivations might have contributed to the Australian government’s actions? How might those actions have been different had the refugee hailed from drought and famine-stricken Somalia? Are you in favour of the non-refoulement policy being expanded to include environmental refugees? Explain.
  7. Consider additional areas in the world where environmental change may cause displacement and forced migration. How does planned migration mitigate some of the risks of unplanned statelessness due to environmental change? What risks still exist even when the migration is planned?

List of Terms

See Glossary for full list of terms and definitions.

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Steiner, N. (2009). International migration and citizenship today. Routledge.

Steiner, N., Mason, R., & Hayes, A. (Eds.). (2015). Migration and insecurity: Citizenship and social inclusion in a transnational era. Routledge.


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Crenshaw, M., & Cusimano Love, M. (2011). Networked terror. In M. Cusimano Love (Ed.), Beyond sovereignty: Issues for a global agenda (4th ed., pp. 120–140). Wadsworth Publishing.

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Political Hybridity and Human Security in Post-colonial and Post-conflict State Building / Rebuilding

Kevin P. Clements

This chapter is based on collaborations with colleagues at the Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Queensland with an AUSAID research grant. I wish to acknowledge my debt to the whole fragile state team at the University of Queensland namely, Drs Volker Boege, Anne Brown and Anna Nolan for all their work on these issues with me in 2007-2008. In particular see Boege et al. (2009).

Learning Outcomes & Big Ideas

By the end of this chapter, the reader should be able to:

  • Critique how the literature conceptualises fragile post-colonial states.
  • Understand how colonialism fractured indigenous sources of legitimacy and did not replace these with meaningful systems that made sense to local peoples.
  • Think about what hybrid political institutions might look like, using case examples.
  • Locate the arguments for and against the hybrid approach in the context of the human security debate.

Big ideas gained from this chapter include:

  • Political hybridity is a combination of modern and customary-traditional norms, values and institutions, as well as international regimes.
  • Fragile states are characterized by a sovereignty gap that results in large portions of the population remaining insecure, ungoverned, and ungovernable.
  • In some regions with fragile states human security is best ensured through hybrid political systems.
  • An important component of sustainable development is ensuring that governing structures are considered legitimate by the governed.
  • Many developing countries are hampered by limitations in the capacity, the effectiveness, and the legitimacy of the state.
  • In those cases, rational legal sources of power and authority should be balanced by traditional sources in order to maximise human security.


One of the cornerstones of development aid to developing countries consists of efforts to strengthen central government authority. These efforts are not often as successful as their designers envision. Apart from structural explanations, the reasons lie in the lack of legitimacy that compromises the ability of state authorities to govern outlying areas. Legitimacy is lacking in the eyes of the populace because the central state authority is usually modelled after the Western Weberian pattern and thus foreign to many cultures, whereas traditional sources of authority and customary norms receive much greater respect. The result is often a fragile state in danger of ‘failing’ and poor human security. The most promising way to mitigate this situation is to aim for a ‘hybrid’ approach to governance that makes use of both sources of authority.

Chapter Overview

8.1 Introduction

8.2 Enhancing State Resilience and Promoting Human Security

8.3 The Quest for Human Security in Insecure and Fragile States

8.4 Diagnosing Vulnerability and Preventing State Failure

8.5 Promoting Human Security in Weak States

8.6 Hybrid Political Orders

8.7 Community Sources of Legitimacy

8.8 Centrality of Context

8.9 Conclusions

Resources and References

Key Points

Extension Activities & Further Research

List of Terms

Suggested Reading


Media Attributions

8.1 Introduction

The international donor community has committed itself to assist in “building effective, legitimate and resilient state institutions, capable of engaging productively with their people to promote sustained development” and human security (OECD-DAC, 2007, Preamble). The Paris Declaration of March 2005 in particular addresses the need to deliver effective aid in fragile states and declares as the “long-term vision for international engagement in fragile states (…) to build legitimate, effective and resilient state and other country institutions” (OECD, 2005, point 37).Interestingly, though, the important strategic document on development policy — the Accra Declaration for Action from September 2008 — does not mention the issue of legitimacy in the context of aid policies for countries in fragile situations. State-building is seen by major donors as a central dimension of development assistance, and functioning, effective and legitimate state and society institutions are seen as a prerequisite for sustainable development.

In this context, practical policies and assistance have very much focussed on capacity and institution-building as a means for generating political effectiveness. In comparison, legitimacy, which many would argue is a prerequisite for capacity and effectiveness has been relegated to a somewhat secondary position. The underlying assumption is that legitimacy somehow automatically result from effectiveness. Only recently, have issues of legitimacy gained more prominence in their own right. Importantly, the OECD-DAC’s Fragile States Group State Building Task Team has given legitimacy prominence in its deliberations and initial findings on state-building. This provides an excellent starting point for further conceptual and practical work on this topic in the context of the necessities of state formation under conditions of fragility.

My proposition in this chapter is that external actors working in fragile post-colonial environments need to focus much more attention on legitimacy issues than has been the case so far and to do so they have to widen their understanding of legitimacy considerably. The hypothesis underlying this paper, is that legal-rational legitimacy as found in the developed Western OECD states is only one type of legitimacy applicable to fragile states and situations, and it is important to engage with other types of legitimacy in order to help build effective, resilient and sustainable states in fragile situations. The chapter argues that it is important to blend/hybridise rational legal sources of legitimacy with traditional and charismatic legitimacy, and the processes and the contexts that constitute their sources. This is the only way of ensuring higher levels of support for state institutions and is critical to the promotion of human security. In fragile situations traditional (and to a lesser extent, charismatic) legitimacy matter and have to be taken into account in state-building endeavours in relation to state formation, peace-building and development. This is not to say that this is an easy task, quite the contrary. It is extraordinarily challenging to understand exactly what legitimacy is in fragile situations and even more difficult to design internal and external intervention strategies capable of generating higher levels of political legitimacy that support state-building, peace-building and development. It is complicated because there is often confusion about the different types of legitimacy and their relation and interaction, and about what legitimacy resides in the state as a set of legislative, executive and judicial institutions and what legitimacy resides in particular governments or regimes. They are mutually reinforcing. Legitimate state institutions are conducive to the emergence of legitimate regimes and governments and vice versa. But sometimes there are odious regimes in legitimate states and states which lack legitimacy hosting quite positive regimes. My focus is on the legitimacy of state institutions and their interaction with non-state societal institutions and actors who enjoy legitimacy, not on the legitimacy of specific governments or regimes. In the context of state-building in fragile situations in the developing world, it is the institutions of states that are modelled along the Western Weberian template (which is the OECD model state) that have legitimacy problems; it is the state institutions as such, and not only specific governments, that have had to struggle with the lack of legitimacy.

8.2 Enhancing State Resilience and Promoting Human Security

The problem of how to build or rebuild state systems continues to challenge bilateral, regional and multilateral development agencies in most parts of the world. State systems should:

Much insecurity is generated by political systems threatening indigenous peoples and marginalized groups, acting oppressively and corruptly and not having either the will or resources to deliver effective, capable and legitimate governance.

The dilemma is how ‘stable and well established democracies’ can work with less democratic regimes in order to build capable, effective, legitimate and relatively uncorrupt state institutions in situations of poverty, inequality, corruption and structural instability. Frank Fukuyama framed the problem as follows, “Can informal institutions embedded within social norms [or ‘hybrid institutions’] be made to work more effectively for development outcomes in the absence of a functioning Weberian state system?” Lecture to Ausaid February 2006 (publication unknown [ed.])

It is probably more useful, for both analytical and policy purposes, to direct Fukuyama’s question to focus attention on whether new kinds of ‘hybrid’ political institutions can evolve that will combine the comparative advantages of both the classic Weberian system and traditional or customary institutions.

In most countries in Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia, for example, the modern OECD model of the state has not evolved as predicted and what state institutions exist are largely incapable of meeting the specific political, economic and social needs of different countries and cultures within the region. Similarly, customary and traditional forms of order have been challenged and in many cases severely undermined by colonial rule and market capitalism and have often been usurped by individuals and groups for specific partisan interest rather than the common good of a village, community or province.

8.3 The Quest for Human Security in Insecure and Fragile States

In many if not most post-colonial states, individual security is neither guaranteed by the state nor by traditional mechanisms and individuals, and groups find themselves caught between tradition and modernity without conventions or institutions to guide appropriate economic, political or social behaviour with kin groups shouldering most responsibility for the care and security of members. The challenge facing analysts and policy makers, therefore, is how to think about this problem in non-dualistic ways so that the Weberian State does not trump traditional order or vice versa. In other words how can we think about this problem in a way that combines the strengths of both modern and customary systems in a new form of political organisation? The particular challenge of this is how to do this without wittingly or unwittingly reinforcing patrimonial/neo-patrimonial systems that are often corrupt and predatory.

Socio-cultural evolutionary theorists such as Ferdinand Toennies (1957), Max Weber (1949) and Talcott Parsons (1966), proposed that change processes are irresistible and universal. Modern evolutionary theory argues that societies move in a more or less linear direction from traditional to modern forms of economic, social and political forms of organization. In the process of evolution, state institutions become differentiated and acquire a measure of autonomy from traditional economic and social systems. In Max Weber’s view, the mark of a ‘developed’ state is that it has separate administrative, representative and executive capacities and has a ‘monopoly of coercive force’ so that it is able to control the territory under its sovereign jurisdiction. At minimum, states should be able to counter any resistance to legitimate authority and (more optimally) provide basic services in order to ‘win’ popular legitimacy. In this evolutionary process from traditional to modern, it is assumed that modernity will trump tradition. It will do so because market forces and industrialization will generate irresistible dynamics in favor of possessive individualism justified by ideologies or myths such as consumer sovereignty in the economy and citizen sovereignty in the polity. What evolutionary theory seems to have ignored, however, is the strength, resilience and persistence of custom and tradition both as a source of identity and as a means of organizing social, economic and political systems in a modern, globalised world system. Persistent and intractable conflicts in Africa, for example, often take place in post-colonial states where little or no effort has been made to attend to locality, customs or traditions with the result that political institutions sit uncomfortably in relation to traditional economic, social and religious orders. They are ineffective in terms of the delivery of services, lack any organic connection to locality and have difficulty ruling by persuasion. They thus tend to revert to colonial methods, dominating by divide and rule and by specific processes of inclusion and exclusion.

National and global capitalism, despite its dominance, has not succeeded in trumping all traditional economies and representative democratic institutions have not completely replaced customary or traditional rules and rulers. On the contrary there has been a ‘radical’ reassertion of tradition and the importance of a relatively undifferentiated approach to social, economic and political organization in a variety of high and low context cultures.In a high context culture like Vanuatu, for example, there has been a strong and robust reassertion of the importance of ‘Kustom’ and the power of traditional chiefs. In a low context culture like the Vatican, the current Pope has revived the tridentine Latin Mass and reasserted the primacy of traditional Catholicism over all other branches of Christianity. Both of these examples illustrate how traditional behaviour can reassert itself even in modern and post-modern time. This can be viewed both positively and negatively. The articulation of tradition and custom can generate a strong sense of continuity, trust, and order in complex social systems. Negatively, tradition can also be used as a justification for practices which are patrimonial, reactionary and unjust for groups such as women and youth. Custom is sometimes used to justify patriarchy and patterns of domestic violence, for example, and also to negate the positive contribution of youth in cultures which venerate age. The challenge confronting development specialists, policy makers and agents of change, therefore, is how to work with traditional ‘authority’ to reinforce its progressive role and to diminish its more negative influence. This is particularly important in relation to the role of the state in promoting human security. How can states do this without a deep acknowledgement of the long continuities that exist in every social system and without some effort to give these customs a place in new state formations or their reformation in the wake of conflict?

8.4 Diagnosing Vulnerability and Preventing State Failure

Nowhere is this more important than in relation to the development of appropriate mechanisms for ensuring the security of individuals and groups, of appropriate forms of ‘community governance’ and of effective machinery for the peaceful settlement of individual and collective grievances. These issues are normally assumed to be the preserve of the State (at both local and national government levels). In many conflict zones, however, state systems fail in their duty of care and are a primary source of insecurity for citizens. They are incapable of delivering security, order, predictability and essential services such as education and health. Far from creating environments, therefore, within which robust markets can emerge, the state system is often a primary source of predation and an impediment to economic growth or what might be called ‘affluent subsistence.’

This has given rise to the ‘Fragile, Failed and Failing State’ literature which focuses attention on the problems that generate failed and failing states, e.g rampant corruption, predatory elites, an absence of the rule of law and severe ethnic and religious divisions. The fragile state literature argues that there will be no development without security and there will be no security without strong and legitimate state systems capable of imposing their will on potentially recalcitrant citizens (Foreign Policy and Fund for Peace, 2007).

The solution to vulnerability, therefore, is often seen as the development of an effective military, police and penal capacity as the first and most pressing imperative confronting modern state systems. The Failed and Failing State perspective has been quite influential with policy makers in the last five years with the result that much attention has been dedicated to enhancing state effectiveness (normally seen in terms of the state’s monopoly of force and coercive capacity) so that state systems can dominate and control their populations and territory, in order to reduce their vulnerability to and capacity to do violence to each other.

While the diagnosis might be correct, the prescriptions thus far have not been particularly successful and in some instances have enhanced the repressive capacities of the state without increasing the security of citizens. These initiatives have by and large reasserted the centrality of a strong state system based on classic ‘Westphalian principles’ in the absence of either the historic, economic or geographical conditions that make such systems possible. They have emphasised respect for the sovereign equality of nation states externally without, in many instances, a corresponding respect for the dignity and basic rights of all people within the state. A good case could be made that much of this literature has focused too much attention on state entitlements without paying the same attention to state responsibilities both internally and externally.

Ashraf Ghani and others (2005) have responded to some of these criticisms in their analysis of what they call the sovereignty gap. This refers to the incapacity of many states in the developing world to protect citizens and to extend basic services to the whole population. Ghani et al, reiterate the mantra that most developing states have limited internal accountability and responsibility and do not possess a monopoly of force. Their solutions, however, still direct most attention toward the approach of enhancing ‘good’ governance and the central functions of the state in the hope that this will generate the conditions within which development can take place. ‘Trickle down’ will only occur once development assistance has ‘trickled up’ to reinforce central state functions! They propose that the underlying concept of the State remains some variation on the European OECD model, without much practical appreciation of other non-state sources of order, stability and development. In fact it is somewhat surprising how little of this literature considers state-civil society relationships and more surprising still how almost no-one considers the relationships between state systems, civil society and customary orders. It is simply assumed that if state systems can be made capable, effective and legitimate they will fulfill something akin to the traditional Weberian functions of the state.

The challenge facing policy makers is not so much the goals of state capability, effectiveness and legitimacy as what constitutes appropriate means to achieve these ends. My argument here is that until customary norms, values and institutions are taken seriously and incorporated directly into state building dynamics and vice versa these goals will remain elusive.

OECD style states are in the minority rather than a majority within the United Nations. Most states in developing parts of the world, and particularly within much of Africa and in Oceania represent what can be called hybrid political orders. The locus of much social order and effective governance in these states resides in non-state forms of customary rule rather than in government institutions. This does not mean that these states should be regarded as ‘incomplete,’ or ‘not yet’ properly built, or ‘already’ failed. Rather than thinking in terms of fragile states, it is theoretically more appropriate and practically more fruitful to think in terms of hybrid political orders. Instead of assuming that the complete adoption of western state models is the most appropriate avenue for conflict prevention, security, development and good governance, therefore, it might be more appropriate to focus on models of governance which draw on the strengths of social order and resilience embedded in community life. Without wishing to idealise custom and tradition I hypothesize that this hybrid model holds particularly true for societies in Africa and the Pacific. Hybrid models which genuinely blend or combine traditional and modern norms and practices are more likely to deliver effective, functioning and legitimate governance precisely because they build on the hybridity and multiplicities of existing political orders. This is not to imply that they will always or consistently generate such governance. It is possible for hybrid political orders to generate insecurity, be predatory and patrimonial as well, in which case hybrid forms will have negative rather than positive consequences. In the main, however, I would argue that hybrid models—in post-colonial environments—have a better chance of generating capable and effective governance than non-hybrid models.

8.5 Promoting Human Security in Weak States

The current political and scholarly debate about state fragility and state-building frames the issues at stake too narrowly. It sometimes sees only the problems (real though they are) without also taking into account the strengths of the societies in question, acknowledging their resilience and encouraging indigenous creative responses to the problems and strengthening their own capacities for endurance.Editor’s note: This narrow conception of political strength represents another facet in the conventional development paradigm, the economic misconceptions of which were discussed in Chapter 1.

Talking about ‘weak’ states, for example, implies that there are other actors on the domestic socio-political stage that are strong in relation to the state. In the countries of the Pacific ‘The state’ is only one actor among others, the state order is only one of a number of orders claiming to provide security, frameworks for conflict regulation and social services. In Melanesia, neither colonial rulers nor post-colonial governments have been capable of establishing a legitimate state monopoly of violence in the territories that became independent ‘nation states.’ In particular they have not been able to impose effective control over the peripheral outlying areas of their own state territory. There is a considerable sovereignty gap in these systems. Effective control cannot be exerted over the whole state and services cannot be provided by central state institutions. Although state institutions claim authority within the boundaries of a given ‘state territory’, only ‘outposts’ of ‘the state’ can be found in large parts of that very territory. It is a societal environment that is to a large extent ‘stateless.’ ‘The state’ has not (yet) permeated the whole of society.

Having no state institutions, however, does not mean no institutions at all. Rather, traditional non-state societal institutions are of major importance. Traditional societal structures—extended families, clans, religious brotherhoods, village communities—and traditional authorities such as village elders, headmen, clan chiefs, healers, religious leaders (and the belief structures they stand for), etc. determine the everyday social reality of large parts of the population in developing countries even today, particularly in remote peripheral areas. Legitimacy rests with these actors, and not with state institutions – and this lack of formal political legitimacy is a decisive feature of a state’s fragility. Thus state fragility is not only a problem of political will, functions, institutions and powers of enforcement and implementation, but also a problem of preferences, perceptions and indigenous legitimacy.

State fragility, therefore, has two sides: fragility with regard to functions and effectiveness, and fragility of legitimacy. People on the ground do not perceive themselves as ‘citizens of the state’ (at least not in the first place). They identify themselves instead as members of some sub-or trans-national, non-state societal entity (kin group, tribe, village). For them it is the community that provides the nexus of order, security and social safety, not the state.

This has extraordinary consequences for their loyalty or disloyalty to the state. People are loyal to ‘their’ group (whatever that may be); legitimacy and authority rests with the leaders of that group, not with the state authorities. ‘The state’ is perceived as an alien external force, ‘far away’ not only physically (in the capital city), but also mentally. This of course significantly reduces the capacity of state institutions to fulfil core state functions effectively. Editor’s note: However, in situations where the state authorities (or other authorities with the collusion of the state) mainly seek to exploit and dominate peripheral regions with little regard to their welfare this unwitting civil disobedience can be rather beneficial to human security. Examples include czarist Russia and corporate hegemony in Latin America.

The fragile states discourse with its focus on a functioning and effective state organisation is in danger of missing a critical point: the relative disengagement of the people on the ground from the introduced state.For instance, in their presentation of the functions of the modern sovereign state Ghani et al. do not address these important issues of state—civil society relationships and legitimacy (See Ashraf et al., 2005).

We are seeing in countries as diverse as Aotearoa/New Zealand, Australia and most of Melanesia and Polynesia that traditional actors and institutions, customary law and indigenous knowledge have shown considerable resilience and in many places are enjoying a resurgence that defies ‘modernisation’ theory. It is the indigenous actors and institutions that provide what order there is in the peripheral territories of each state. They form an integral and important dimension of local governance – all the more so as the state’s ‘outposts’ are mediated by ‘informal’ indigenous societal institutions that implement their own logic and their own rules within the (incomplete) state structures.

The infiltration of the outposts of the state distracts them from the ideal type of ‘proper’ state institutions; for example, clientelistic networks penetrate state institutions, and kinship ties determine who is in charge and how the outposts actually operate. State institutions are captured by social forces who make use of them not in the interest of the state and its citizenry, but in the interest of traditional kinship-based entities. This has caused complaints about clientelism and nepotism (wantokism in the Melanesian context), parochialism, corruption and inefficiency with regard to state authorities and the public service (e.g. Turnbull 2002). On the other hand, the intrusion of state agencies impacts on the local societal orders as well. Customary systems of power and rule are subjected to deconstruction and re-formation as they are incorporated into modern state structures and processes.

An additional important dimension of societal and political life in fragile states is the emergence and growing importance of new non-state institutions, movements and formations. This is a consequence of poor state performance, and their activities contribute to the further weakening of state structures. In situations where state agencies are incapable of or unwilling to deliver security and other basic services, people not only rely on their traditional societal structures, but also increasingly turn to other social entities for support since those are perceived as more powerful and effective: warlords and their militias in outlying regions, gang leaders in townships and squatter settlements, ethnically based protection rackets, millenarian religious movements, transnational networks of extended family relations or organized crime, new forms of tribalism — but also NGOs, collectives, and other elements of civil society and local or global social movements. These new formations often are linked to traditional societal entities and try to instrumentalise them for their own goals (power, profit, etc.).

Finally, developments at the international level, induced by the various aspects of globalisation, also put pressure on the state in its conventional form as a nation-state. The state-building approach hence is not only at odds with local traditional forms of social and political order in the Pacific and other regions of the Global South, but it also has to cope with the fact that certain functions of the state are challenged by international developments such as the evolution of international regimes, the emergence of an international civil society, the growing importance of a global capitalist economy, the World Trade Organization and other international organisations.

Regions of fragile statehood thus are places in which diverse and competing claims to power and logics of order and behaviour co-exist, overlap and intertwine: the logic of the ‘formal’ state, the logic of traditional, informal societal order, and the logic of globalisation and international civil society as well as societal fragmentation in various forms (ethnic, tribal, religious). Thus what we call hybrid political orders combine elements of the introduced western model and elements stemming from the local autochthonous traditions of governance and politics.

8.6 Hybrid Political Orders

Hybrid political orders differ considerably from the modern Western model state. Governance is carried out by a collection of local, national and international actors and agencies. In this environment, state institutions are dependent on the other actors – and at the same time restricted by them. Hybrid political orders can also be perceived as or can become ‘emerging states.’ Prudent policies could assist the emergence of new types of states – drawing on the western state model, but acknowledging and working with the hybridity of particular political orders. This might be of particular significance in the Pacific Islands, where small populations and narrow economic bases can weaken the potential for generating state revenue. Attempts at state-building, therefore, which ignore or fight hybridity are likely to experience considerable difficulty in generating functioning, effective and legitimate systems.

Recognising the hybridity of political order should be the starting point for any endeavours that aim at conflict prevention, development and security. One has to search for ways and means of constructive interaction and positive mutual accommodation of modern state and traditional, local, as well as civil society mechanisms and institutions. A central question is how to articulate formal state-based institutions, informal traditional institutions and civil society institutions so that new forms of statehood emerge which are more capable and effective in local circumstances than strictly Western models of the state.

Pursuing such an approach means stressing the positive potential rather than the negative features of the current situation: not to stress weakness, fragility, failure and collapse, but hybridity, generative processes, innovative adaptation, opportunity and ingenuity. This also means treating community resilience and customary institutions as assets that can be drawn upon in order to forge constructive relationships between communities and governments, between customary and introduced political and social institutions. An approach to state-building that takes account of and supports the constructive potential of local community, including customary mechanisms where relevant, is a necessary complement to strengthening central state functions and the political will of state representatives. The main problem is not the fragility of state institutions as such, but the lack of constructive linkages between the institutions of the state and society. The organic rootedness of the state in society is decisive for its strength and effectiveness. Hence engaging with communities in relation to governance and human security is as important as working with governments and central state institutions on the same issues.

Given the importance of legitimacy for state stability or fragility, the development of a sense of citizenship is an essential component of state-building, at least as important as functioning and effective state capacities.Of course, both tasks are closely linked: effective state institutions will enhance the legitimacy of the state; and a notion of citizenship will make the establishment and the functioning of state institutions easier. However, both are separate tasks that deserve specific approaches. Institutions of governance can only be effective and legitimate if the people have a sense of ownership and accountability. Citizenship and the interface between state and society, rather than only the quality of state institutions in themselves are therefore critically important to enhancing state function in emerging states. Unfortunately, building concepts of citizenship that can be understood in traditional environments has so far received much less support than building central government institutions.

There are often real frictions between people’s customary identity as members of traditional communities and their identity as citizens of modern (nation-) states and society. Nevertheless, a broadly constructive interaction of these identities is essential for building citizenship and state under conditions of hybrid political order. Engagement with, not rejection of, customary community-based identities is a necessary part of citizenship formation.

8.7 Community Sources of Legitimacy

It is important, therefore, that agencies working on enhancing state effectiveness should not just focus on the core functions of the state but also on the fundamental ‘community’ sources of legitimacy as well. State functions are not an end in themselves, but a means to provide citizens with development, internal and external peace and human security. Under conditions of political hybridity these goals may be better served by supporting positive mutual accommodation than by concentrating solely on the institutions of the state. The relationship between state institutions and other sources of social order may be constructive, but it might also be destructive or neutral. The challenge is to find ways of supporting constructive interaction. In order to assess the potential for new types of exchange between state and society it is useful to address three core dimensions of the relationship between the state and the other elements of hybrid political orders, namely:

Assessing core state functions in the light of the three dimensions of substitution, complementarity and incompatibility facilitates a richer and more realistic analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of different states. It underpins a broader understanding of what a functioning and effective state might look like and also helps identify ways to support the emergence of such states.

The development of more fully legitimate state processes grounded in community life will necessitate a sophisticated, ongoing, flexible process of exchange between the local-endogenous and the introduced-exogenous systems. There is no guarantee that this process of exchange will always be successful and it is an open question whether societal and political life in the so-called fragile states can sustain this – not least depending on the political will of the main actors. In any event, what we discovered in work done in Bougainville, the Solomons, Timor Leste, Tonga and Vanuatu, was that societies in the Pacific region have – compared to other regions in the Global South—specific advantages that give reasons for optimism.

To summarize: functioning and effective statehood means that internal and external actors need to focus as much attention on the dimensions of legitimacy and citizenship as they do on strengthening the core functions of the state. It is our contention, based on working in Vanuatu, the Solomons and Timor Leste, that building new forms of state and citizenship that are based on a positive mutual accommodation between the Weberian State and Customary Order will transform hybrid political orders into emerging states that — in the long run — will generate new forms of governance beyond the model western state. Thus in addition to enhancing the state through reinforcing its core functions, a model of governance that is more sensitive to the multi-stranded character of political order in the Pacific will produce more realistic assessments of social and political resilience and the potential for serious violent conflict. In order to develop this new thinking it is important to communicate it through schematic representation of the model, encompassing ideal types and realistic possibilities. The schema represented in Figure 8.1 highlights how political leadership, political responsibility and new concepts of citizenship might be able to generate higher levels of accountability, legitimacy and effectiveness. It does this by focussing attention on ways that generate a more intentional blend between traditional and modern forms of governance – with neither having either a theoretical or practical primacy. By applying the concepts of substitution, complementarity and incompatibility it should be possible to begin mapping where the Weberian state and traditional conventions and institutions have a comparative advantage. Where no obvious advantage can be identified a case can be made for developing hybrid forms that build on the strengths of both systems. In all of this, the aim is to build on the strengths of community, to highlight how kin and other relationships can be made resilient and adaptable and how security might be guaranteed by both traditional and modern institutions. Policy makers need to ensure that the Weberian model possesses a legitimate monopoly of violence and that communities are able to generate high degrees of social resilience. This is best achieved by attending to the positive features of the spheres of state, civil society and customary rule.

Figure 8.1 Schematic representation of the interactions between political leadership, political responsibility and new concepts of citizenship and their contributions towards hybrid systems of governance with higher levels of accountability, legitimacy and effectiveness. [Long Description]

8.8 Centrality of Context

The pursuit of positive synergies between modern and traditional orders (although this is a problematic dichotomy because of the bias towards modernism) always takes place within specific economic and socio-cultural environments. In most parts of Polynesia and Melanesia, for example, the economic environments are stressed by high levels of poverty, hardship and inequality. They are also biased towards urban rather than rural areas. The schema presented above is aimed at developing some research hypotheses on factors that advance or impede functioning, effective and legitimate political order. This schema is a heuristic device and should not be reified.

In this schema there are three ideal types of political order and governance, namely the ideal type of the Weberian state on the one pole and the ideal type of non-state customary order on the other pole, with hybrid political order in between the two. The Western OECD states come closest to the Weberian state in reality, while traditional Melanesian and Polynesian societies were forms of customary order (this type, however, can hardly be found in pure form in today’s world any more). In the Pacific region as well as in other parts of the Global South the hybrid type of political order dominates; it combines elements of both the Weberian and the customary ideal type but normally in an unintentional and ad hoc fashion.

The three types can provide pathways to effective and legitimate governance and hence social peace, and all three types are susceptible to fragility or even collapse and violent conflict. Hybrid political orders, however, seem to be particularly vulnerable. The co-existence of state and customary institutions can be non-cooperative, incompatible or even confrontational and hence lead to frictions that cause fragility, failure and collapse.

Given the ubiquity of hybrid political orders in the Pacific and the Global South the challenge therefore, is to take hybridity as a starting point for endeavours of state-building by means of positive mutual accommodation of state and customary institutions. This might lead to the emergence of new forms of the state that do not simply emulate the western Weberian model but reflect high context cultures, strong social relationships, high social resilience and effective and legitimate political institutions. Hybrid political orders need to be analysed and dissected in order to identify the dynamics that strengthen resilience and diminish fragility.

In order to do so it is useful to focus on the actors and institutions of the hybrid political order and ask who is doing what and how effective their efforts are. In this way it should be possible to develop a political map that will generate a more self-conscious division of labour between the state, civil society and custom. Some of the questions that need to be addressed include who is performing crucial tasks, who is:

These factors can then be analysed and rated according to their contribution to an effective and legitimate form of governance (or the lack thereof). Following this methodology will, for example, show which (combination of) institutions and actors actually provide internal security: Is it an institution of the state (the police) or a customary non-state institution (the elders)—or both? And what is the relation between the two—complementarity, substitution or incompatibility?

The rating then will indicate how effectively or ineffectively the function is fulfilled. The overall assessment of the sum of the factors will finally allow a positioning of the given political order in the diagram along the axes of the type of governance and the effectiveness of governance. This allows for a comparison of various countries. On the basis of such an analysis and comparison a reassessment and eventually a revision of the current analytical approaches as well as the current state-building approaches can be conducted.

In this context it is again useful to focus on Pacific Island states and societies. Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Bougainville, the Solomon Islands and Tonga for example all provide different illustrations of hybridity in action. Over the past thirty years Vanuatu has been spared violent conflict and a disruption of state functions on a larger scale. However, there is considerable conflict potential that could lead to conflict escalation. Hence one might perceive the situation in Vanuatu as pre-conflict, with conflict prevention and state-building an urgent task. On the other hand, kastom—the traditional social, cultural and political order—is still very strong in Vanuatu and very much determines the everyday life of the majority of Ni-Vanuatu people. The country is in a critical stage of its history as an emerging state, and the prospects for development, security and peace very much hinge on the establishment of functioning, effective and legitimate forms of governance.

The situation in Papua New Guinea is highly volatile, particularly in view of recent political instability. The country has to struggle with its immense diversity and the stark differences in life-worlds within its boundaries. Both the political elite and the ordinary ‘citizens’ are confronted with the challenges of harmonising customary ways of life and the needs and opportunities of modern society in an era of rapid change and globalisation. Violence in parts of the country is endemic, impeding developmental progress. Shortcomings and deficiencies of formal state institutions are obvious. On the other hand, as in Vanuatu, kastom in large parts of the country still provides cultural orientation, social security and political order to some extent. Papua New Guinea is also in a critical stage of its history as an emerging state. Both paths seem possible: further deterioration or stabilisation. The latter, again, depends on the implementation of good governance.

Bougainville is a highly interesting case. After almost a decade of war, Bougainville has over the last few years gone through a comprehensive process of post conflict peace-building which is one of the rare success stories of peace-building in today’s world, and it seems to have a good chance of becoming one of the equally rare success stories of state-building (be it in the context of Papua New Guinea or be it as an independent state). The reasons for this are that people on Bougainville are pursuing a new form of state-building that does not simply copy the Western model of the state. Rather, a home-grown variety of political order is in the making, utilizing customary institutions that already have proven to be effective and efficient in peace-building. If things go well on Bougainville, a positive accommodation of traditional non-state societal institutions and introduced state-based institutions will lead to a new political order that will provide a sound framework for peace, security and development. A more detailed analysis of the Bougainville case might provide insights in culturally contextualised forms of state-building that might also be useful for other emerging states.

The Solomon Islands find themselves in a critical phase of peace-building and state-building. Compared to Bougainville successes seem more tenuous, in spite of intensive external intervention to promote the process. After years of turmoil, violence was terminated and order restored by RAMSI (The Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands). These are important achievements. However, building sustainable peace and political order remains profoundly challenging. To what extent are difficulties encountered due to a too narrow focus on ‘rebuilding’ state institutions, ignoring the hybrid character of political order and the resilience of communities on the ground? A sense of lack of local ownership could also be the source of problems. Although RAMSI is presented as a ‘regional’ endeavour, it is very much perceived (both within the Solomons and the international arena) as an Australian project. Success or failure in the Solomons hence will very much impact on Australia’s future stance in the region. An analysis of the situation on the ground in the light of the approach outlined in this chapter could contribute to fresh thinking about prospects in the Solomons.

Timor Leste (formerly East Timor) represents a somewhat different case than the others considered here, having a long history of embedded violence and occupation and an associated legacy of distrust and fractured political community. Despite the complex international dimensions to its current state of low intensity conflict it also provides many fascinating insights into the ways in which custom persists within the judicial and governmental sectors. Following the Indonesian withdrawal, Timor Leste has been the recipient of an extensive international state-building effort, with the early processes of institutional transfer occurring under the direct supervision of the UN. Sadly, just over eight years after the Indonesian withdrawal, the political, legal and security structures and systems at the heart of the new state have fractured, the capital has to rely on international security forces to maintain order, and an unexpected regional antagonism has emerged and hardened, splitting the capital and to some extent the country. Better understanding of the relationship between state-building efforts and how local people seek restoration of political community could contribute to better practice supporting the emergence of a state in the context of post-conflict peace-building and to what is likely to be a slow process of recovery in Timor Leste.

In Tonga, a Polynesian chieftain system developed into a constitutional monarchy in the 19th century, with the contemporary political arena still dominated by the royal family and the nobility. The country (which was not directly colonised) has thus taken a different route in the interaction between indigenous and liberal political governance than its Pacific Island neighbours and it has been associated with “not the weakness of authority or the threat of anarchy, but an excess of authority” (Campbell, 2006, p. 274). Over the past decade, however, Tonga has been making very slow moves towards greater democratisation. Democratic transitions are dangerous; Tongan democratisation had been proceeding relatively peacefully until a riot in the capital city in November 2006 destroyed large parts of the city and left several people dead. These events of 16 November 2006 were a traumatic experience for Tongan society, and the effects will be felt for a long time, both in the economic sphere (with a severe economic downturn) and in politics: the process of democratisation will become much more difficult. A case study of Tonga provides an important counterpoint to the other studies, since the state system has survived more or less in the same form for over 150 years. However, today different change dynamics are in place, and the impact they will have on traditional patterns of hierarchy, power and control are likely to yield different insights into state fragility and state effectiveness.

These six cases provide different combinations of Weberian-Traditional and Hybrid orders and each requires further research and analysis to determine precisely how it might be possible to blend, separate, combine different kinds of political order in order to strengthen social resilience, satisfy basic human needs and generate peace, order and security. Most political analyses have endeavoured to reinforce/impose a particular Weberian model of the state without any real recognition of the ways in which traditional and hybrid forms are or could generate different kinds of political behaviour, social and economic resilience and long term sustainable structural stability. What is very clear is that unless political hybridity is accorded more importance, the Weberian state systems will continue to be deficient and vulnerable; customary order will have difficulty generating the security it used to provide pre-colonisation and incorporation into the global capitalist economy, and situation of the Melanesian and Polynesian states of the Pacific will become increasingly precarious. A focus on hybridity will certainly allow more rapid movement towards the New Zealand government’s concept of Good Governance in the Pacific. Without it the prospects for achieving more capable, effective and legitimate governance will be problematic. The New Zealand International Aid and Development Agency (NZAID) defines good governance as the exercise of economic, political and administrative authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels, in a manner that is participatory, transparent and accountable. It is also effective and equitable and promotes the rule of law. Good governance ensures that political, social and economic priorities are based on broad consensus in society and the voices of the poorest and most vulnerable are heard in decision making over the allocation of development resources. It includes essential elements such as political accountability, reliable and equitable legal frameworks, respect for the rule of law and judicial independence, bureaucratic transparency, effective and efficient public sector management, participatory development and the promotion and protection of human rights. (NZAID, 2005)

8.9 Conclusions

So what does all of this have to do with the role of the state in promoting human security? In the first place, taking customary institutions, leadership and traditions seriously in thinking through ways of responding to and overcoming state fragility reflects the human security priority of putting the people and their needs first and developing institutions appropriate to these tasks. Second, focusing on political hybridity provides an excellent way of transcending simplistic dualisms in relation to thinking through the specific role of the state in post-colonial situations. Hybrid systems, for example, can be traditional and modern; Western and indigenous; formal democratic and informal customary; hierarchical and egalitarian. Third, it will ensure that more attention is paid to bringing state and community into closer liaison and developing more organic connections between both spheres of activity. This is critical to what I think about as ‘Grounded Legitimacy’ (Clements, 2008). This is the capacity of local peoples and communities to reconnect with those customs, values and traditions that have been subverted or destroyed by colonialism or war. Fourth, if there is any justification for thinking that indigenous peoples and/or those living in subsistence with nature are going to be good conservers of resources then focusing on political hybridity is one way of ensuring higher levels of sustainability to any political economy. Excluding customary custodians of fishing, agricultural and other resources from governance decisions is likely to result in rapid depletion of scarce resources. Finally, a good argument can be made for thinking that hybrid political institutions are likely to be more peaceable because efforts will be made to combine and blend customary methods of dispute and conflict resolution with more modern strategies. Thus it could be argued that hybrid political orders are more likely to generate more peaceable and harmonious communities than those which are built solely or exclusively on Westphalian principles. Having said this, however, political hybridity is no panacea for every political malady. It requires time, energy and effort to breathe life into both customary forms of governance and modern political systems. Whether one is talking about a Weberian model, a traditional model, or a hybrid , their successfulness will still hinge on ensuring maximal levels of societal participation in and engagement with the decisions that will determine whether emergent political systems will be capable, effective and legitimate in satisfying the basic human needs of citizens in post-colonial and post-conflict environments.

Resources and References


Key  Points

  • Functional and effective statehood means that internal and external actors need to focus as much on the dimensions of legitimacy and citizenship as they do on strengthening the core functions of the state.
  • Building new forms of state and citizenship that are based on a positive mutual accommodation between the Weberian State and Customary Order will transform hybrid political orders into emerging states that — in the long run — will generate new forms of governance beyond the model western state.
  • Thus, in addition to enhancing the state’s capacity to generate security through reinforcing its core functions, a model of governance that is more sensitive to the multi-stranded character of political order in the Pacific will produce more resilient social and political systems, better equipped to deal with grievances and prevent the eruption of serious violent conflict.


Extension Activities & Further Research

  1. This chapter has focused on the necessity for more practical and academic attention on the social and communitarian sources of order, governance and legitimacy. This suggests that official and non-official development agencies need to direct more attention towards what might be called strength rather than vulnerability assessments in their analysis of the relationships between states and societies. Think of what difference it would make to your understanding of fragile states if you were to focus on sources of strength rather than weakness.
  2. Where states are lacking in capacity and effectiveness it ought to be possible to substitute community action for state action and vice versa. In all of this work it is important that more recognition be given to ‘connectors,’ i.e. individuals, groups and organisations capable of linking across boundaries of political, ethnic, linguistic and class differences. These connectors are critical to an adequate articulation between state and civil society and to the realisation of new concepts of grounded legitimacy in a post-colonial environment. What actors could be considered ‘connectors’ in your own environments? Are they strong enough to deal with those who might choose to divide rather than unite fragile social systems?

List of Terms

See Glossary for full list of terms and definitions.

Suggested Reading

Andersen, L., Møller, B., & Stepputat, F. (Eds.). (2007). Fragile states and insecure people?: Violence, security, and statehood in the twenty-first century. Palgrave Macmillan.

Anderson, M. B. (1999). Do no harm: How aid can support peace—or war. Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Brinkerhoff, D. W. (2007). Governance in post-conflict societies: Rebuilding fragile states. Routledge.

Clements, K. P. (2008). Traditional, charismatic and grounded legitimacy: Study by Kevin Clements on legitimacy in hybrid political orders. GTZ Sector Project: Good Governance and Democracy.

Regan, A. J. (2000). ‘Traditional’ leaders and conflict resolution in Bougainville: Reforming the present by re-writing the past? In S. Dinnen & A. Ley (Eds.), Reflections on violence in Melanesia (pp. 290–304). Hawkins Press; Asia Pacific Press.


Amburn, B. (2009). The Failed States Index 2007. Foreign Policy.

Andersen, L., Møller, B., & Stepputat, F. (Eds.). (2007). Fragile states and insecure people? Violence, security, and statehood in the twenty-first century. Palgrave Macmillan.

Anderson, M. B. (1999). Do no harm: How aid can support peace—or war. Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Ashraf G., Lockhart, C., & Carnahan, M. (2005, July). Closing the sovereignty gap: How to turn failed states into capable ones. ODI Opinions, 44.

Australian Aid. (2006). Australian aid: Promoting growth and stability – A white paper on the Australian Government’s overseas aid program.

Barcham, M. (2005). Conflict, violence and development in the southwest Pacific: Taking the indigenous context seriously (CIGAD working paper series 4/2005). Massey University.

Boege, V. (2006). Bougainville and the discovery of slowness: An unhurried approach to state-building in the Pacific (Occasional Paper 3). Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Queensland.

Boege, V., Brown, A., Clements, K., & Nolan, A. (2009). On hybrid political orders and emerging states: What is failing – States in the global South or research and politics in the West? In M. Fischer & B. Schmelzle (Eds.), Building peace in the absence of states: Challenging the discourse on state failure (pp. 15–37). Berghof Research Centre for Constructive Conflict Management.

Brinkerhoff, D. W. (2007). Governance in post-conflict societies: Rebuilding fragile states. Routledge.

Brown, M. A. (2007a). Introduction. In M. A. Brown (Ed.), Security and development in the Pacific Islands: Social resilience in emerging states (pp. 1–31). Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Brown, M. A. (2007b). Conclusion. In M. A. Brown (Ed.), Security and development in the Pacific Islands: Social resilience in emerging states (pp. 287–301). Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Campbell, I. C. (2006). Rock of ages: Tension underlying stability in Tonga. In D. Rumley, V. L. Forbes, & C. Griffin (Eds.), Australia’s arc of instability: The political and cultural dynamics of regional security (pp. 273–288). Springer.

Clements, K. P. (2008). Traditional, charismatic and grounded legitimacy: Study by Kevin Clements on legitimacy in hybrid political orders. GTZ Sector Project: Good Governance and Democracy.

Department for International Development. (2005). Why we need to work more effectively in fragile states.

Ghani, A., Lockhart, C., & Carnahan, M. (2005, June 30). Closing the sovereignty gap: How to turn failed states into capable ones. Overseas Development Institute.

New Zealand’s International Aid & Development Agency. (2005). Preventing conflict and building peace.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2005). The Paris declaration on aid effectiveness.

OECD Development Assistance Committee. (2007). Principles for good international engagement in fragile states and situations.

Parsons, T. (1966). Societies: Evolutionary and comparative perspectives. Prentice-Hall.

Regan, A. J. (2000). ‘Traditional’ leaders and conflict resolution in Bougainville: Reforming the present by re-writing the past? In S. Dinnen & A. Ley (Eds.), Reflections on violence in Melanesia (pp. 290–304). Hawkins Press; Asia Pacific Press.

Tönnies, F. (1957). Community and society. Transaction Books.

Turnbull, J. (2002). Solomon Islands: Blending traditional power and modern structures in the state. Public Administration and Development, 22(2), 191–201.

Weber, M. (1968). Economy and society: An outline of interpretive sociology (G. Roth & C. Wittich, Eds.). Bedminster Press.

Long Descriptions

Figure 8.1 long description: A complex chart depicting the relationship between political leadership and citizens.

[Return to Figure 8.1]


Media Attributions


Climate Change and Human Security

Cherry Tsoi

Learning Outcomes & Big Ideas

  • Understand the effects that impacts of climate change have on the Earth’s ecosystems, and on human society
  • Explain the mechanics of the greenhouse effect, global warming and climate change.
  • Identify the origins of major emissions, who the major drivers are and what populations are most affected by climate change impacts.
  • Describe examples how climate change affects ecological structures and relationships.
  • Explain how climate change poses a serious risk to human security now and in the future.
  • Define the concept of climate justice, and explain how it supports the ethical imperative of fighting climate change; differentiate between equity and equality in the context of climate justice.
  • Describe examples how fighting climate change can include prevention, mitigation and adaptation.
  • Identify personal opportunities to contribute towards addressing the challenges of climate change.


Since the mid-20th century the Earth has warmed gradually at an increasing rate, largely as a result of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. The most prominent greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide, the levels of which have been closely monitored and reliably documented. The increased retention of heat is affecting the climate of different regions in different ways, including heat waves, droughts, severe weather events, the loss of polar ice and glaciers, as well as the disruption of regional weather cycles. Additional global effects include the acidification of the oceans, the rise of sea levels, the melting of arctic permafrost and the unpredictable response of major ocean currents. Ecosystems respond to those changes in complex and unpredictable ways, affecting the distribution of species and their interrelationships, as will be explained on examples. Human societies are affected in ways that compromise human security across the four pillars. Sources of insecurity in different pillars can reinforce each other and lead to major regional crises, as in the case of Syria. A major catastrophe is expected for South Asia as their sources of freshwater in the Himalayas are disappearing.

The global distribution of emission levels is very uneven, with per capita levels among the most affluent exceeding those of the poorest by two orders of magnitude. The impacts of climate change on individuals follow an inverse distribution, with the highest impacts disproportionately affecting the world’s poorest. The underlying injustice has incited protests and calls for reform worldwide. However, industrial greenhouse gas emissions are clustered in private and state-run industries that are slow to respond to arguments of climate justice. Major reform strategies involve governments and civil society and focus on mitigation and adaptation. Although they are facing some technological barriers, the most insurmountable obstacles are cultural and political.

Chapter Overview

9.1 Introduction

9.1.1 Climate Change Impacts on Natural Systems Heat Waves and Droughts Precipitation and Storms Sea Level Rise Ocean Acidification

9.1.2 Delving Deeper: Climate Change Impacts on Ecosystems

9.1.3 Impacts on Human Society

9.2 Current and Future Risks to Human Security

9.3 Major Culprits and Victims of Climate Change

9.3.1 Climate Justice

9.3.2 Climate Justice in Practice

9.4 Barriers to Counteracting Climate Change

9.4.1 Technological Barriers

9.4.2 Culture and Society

9.4.3 Politics, Money and Power

9.5 Achieving Climate Justice as the Way Forward

Resources and References

Key Points

Extension Activities & Further Research

List of Terms

Suggested Reading


Media Attributions

9.1 Introduction

The Earth’s climate is changing, and it is changing at a rate that has not been seen in millions of years. The cause of this change is the production of anthropogenic greenhouse gas The major greenhouse gases include water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone. Problematic is not their natural production (which has long kept our planet hospitable) but their excessive, anthropogenic emission in recent decades, including synthetic GHGs such as chlorofluorocarbons and hydrofluorocarbons. emissions that can be traced back to the mid-20th century and the Industrial Revolution, that brought with it the invention of technology that allowed humans to burn fossil fuels for energy. Since that time, the rate of fossil fuel use has increased, and has allowed great leaps forward in public health, food production, science, and urbanization, in turn contributing to exponential population growth in countries all over the world. Unfortunately, the greenhouse gases (GHGs) produced from burning fossil fuels are disturbing fragile ecological relationships that have evolved over millennia. Part of the solar energy absorbed by the Earth is normally emitted back into space as infrared radiation; now, GHGs in the atmosphere absorb much of that infrared radiation which causes warming. The resulting climate change disturbs the ecology of the planet in manifold ways.

Climate change, or global warming, is a phenomenon that scientists were studying as far back as 1960, when the first models of global climate supported the theory that increasing greenhouse gases were warming the Earth’s climate (Robinson & Robbins, 1968). The causes and impact of global warming were known to scientists, news reporters, and policymakers alike. However, it wasn’t until 1995 that the global community came together to identify strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate change at the first United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP). Fast forward 19 years later, the 21st Conference of Parties finally achieved a landmark agreement signed by 195 countries to limit the Earth’s warming to “well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius to substantially reduce the risks and effects of climate change” (Rogelj et al., 2016, p. 631). This prescribed limit to warming is based on extensively peer-reviewed climate science by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC is an intergovernmental branch of the United Nations that is responsible for assessing the science of climate change. Its mandate is to provide periodic updates on the science of climate change to help policymakers tackle this multi-sector issue. In 2018, the IPCC published a special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Currently, human activities are estimated to have already increased the temperature of the earth 0.8 to 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels. If humans continue to conduct business as usual, the IPCC estimates that we will reach 1.5°C sometime in the next 11 to 33 years (Hoegh-Guldberg et al., 2018). The report’s sobering bottom line tells us that there is a big difference in limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2°C.

Table 9.1 Comparison of global warming by 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius (°C) of warming past industrial levelsData sources: Ge & Friedrich, 2020; Levin, 2018.
2 vs. 1°C
Extreme heat: percentage of global population that will be exposed to severe heat at least once every five years 14% 37% 2.6 times worse
Sea-ice-free arctic: the minimum number of ice-free summers once every 100 years once every 10 years 10 times worse
Sea-level rise: amount of sea level rise by 2100 0.04 metres 0.46 metres 11.5 times worse
Loss of plants: species that lose at least half their range 8% 16% 2 times worse
Loss of insects: insects that lose at least half of their range 6% 18% 3 times worse
Ecosystems: amount of Earth’s land area where ecosystems will shift to a new biome 7% 13% 1.86 times worse
Permafrost: amount of Arctic permafrost that will thaw 4.8 million km2 6.6 million km2 1.38 times worse
Crop yields: reduction in maize harvests in the tropics 3% 7% 2.3 times worse
Coral reefs: further decline 70 to 90% 99% about 1.2 times worse
Fisheries: decline in fish stock 1.5 million tonnes 3 million tonnes 2 times worse

As Table 9.1 shows, global warming has impacts on everything from nutrient and geological cycles, to oceanic currents and atmospheric jet streams, to biodiversity and food production and supply. These multiple impacts present a great threat to human security.

This chapter first explores the primary impacts of climate change on the natural world. Next, the chapter explores the continuous drivers of climate change and frames climate change, in both its causes and its impacts, as an issue of social injustice and inequity. Further, this chapter will look at the climate justice social movement and its aims, and how the various climate justice campaigns around the world are at once targeting the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions as well as the underlying political systems that enable fossil fuel extraction and use and championing the just representation and consideration of those underrepresented communities on the front lines of climate disasters. We will end the chapter by drawing on the connections between the need for climate justice in reducing present and future risks to human security, in upholding democracy, a secure food supply and maintaining public health.

9.1.1 Climate Change Impacts on Natural Systems

The effects of climate change on natural systems include major changes in regional weather patterns, ocean acidification, sea level rise, and melting of glaciers and polar ice caps. Within and besides these major categories of impacts, there are many other effects on our natural world and the organisms that live in it. This section will look at the major climate change effects on Earth, and give brief examples of the impacts seen on humans and ‘nature.’ The next section will delve deeper into climate change impacts on ecosystems, giving an example of how one climate change impact can cause a domino effect that will be felt by the intimately interconnected species, nutrients, and habitats in a biome. Following this, detailed examples of impacts on human society will be discussed.

Climate change has major effects on the Earth’s overall temperature, the ocean, Earth’s biogeochemical cycles, and cloud formation. These effects translate further into major changes in weather such as increased variability and unpredictability of rainfall, increased intensity and frequency of heat waves, droughts, and extreme events such as hurricanes. Further, the increased overall temperature of the Earth induces accelerated melting of the polar ice caps and other large bodies of ice, creating sea level rise and threatening fresh water supplies. Finally, the increased levels of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere and oceans mean that there are greater levels of hydrogen ions in the ocean, causing ocean acidification.

Sometimes climate change can reinforce itself, which manifests as accelerating change. This is dangerous as it reduces our response time. For example, the albedo effect describes the accelerating warming of polar regions; as their cover of snow and ice disappears those regions no longer reflect sunlight but absorb more of it, warming up even more. To accelerate the process even more, the warming of arctic climates causes the melting and breakdown of permafrost soil, which liberates methane (a very potent GHG), and causes even more warming. Heat Waves and Droughts

The rising temperature caused by climate change increases evaporation in some areas, which results in more storms and higher precipitation in other areas. This intensified water cycle means certain parts of the world are experiencing greater than average rainfall while other areas are experiencing greater than average periods of drought. On average, dry areas will become drier, while wet areas will become wetter (Field, 2014).

In those areas that are already dry, heat waves and droughts are occurring more frequently and with greater intensity. Seasonal temperature averages are breaking records in cities, states, and countries all over the world. Along with the increase in average temperature, prolonged periods of heat are impacting ecosystems and humans. Sustained levels of heat waves in the ocean can have negative consequences such as loss of kelp forests, coral reef decimation, and loss of marine invertebrates (Smale et. al., 2019). In cities, the consequences of increased intensity and frequency of heat waves include greater number of hospitalizations due to heat stress, and a greater number of deaths due to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. The IPCC Special Report on an increase of 1.5° C states that there are “lower risks projected at 1.5 degrees Celsius than at 2 degrees Celsius for heat-related morbidity and mortality.” (Hoegh-Guldberg et al., 2018, p. 11) Heat waves are particularly hard on the senior population, and the effects of heat waves are exacerbated in urban centers, where average temperatures are several degrees higher than in the rural areas surrounding cities (Hoegh-Guldberg et al., 2018).

An increase in global temperature can disturb fragile biological relationships that are much older than the human species. Studies showed that the mountain pine beetle’s range in the Pacific Northwest of Canada has grown considerably as temperatures warm, as the beetle can now survive in a hospitable environment that was previously inhabitable (Sambaraju et al., 2019). In addition, a longer summer season in the Pacific Northwest has made it easier for the mountain pine beetle to cause damage to larger swaths of forest. Making matters worse, the frequency and intensity of droughts are a stressor to trees’ defensive mechanisms, allowing the pine beetle to be more successful in its attack, decreasing the tree’s chances at survival. Further, greater swaths of damaged trees can act as kindling to wildfires, adding dangerous fodder to a dry, hot environment that is already ideal for the spread of fires.

Another ecological effect of increased surface temperatures in world oceans is the bleaching of coral reefs. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, purported as the largest living organism in the world, (2,2500 km long) is dying from the effects of climate change and industrial sediments.See Climate change has caused an 89% decrease in new coral in the Great Barrier Reef, study finds. Precipitation and Storms

As noted above, recent years have seen a major increase in frequency and intensity of rainfall and storms in certain parts of the world (Hoegh-Guldberg et al., 2018). The warmer temperatures caused by climate change increased the intensity of the water cycle, and generally, rainfall will increase in areas that are already experiencing higher than average levels of rainfall, but precipitation will generally decline in subtropical regions.

The melting of ice caps and the warming of surface water are likely to affect the major ocean currents that determine regional weather cycles. All of the major currents are connected into a coherent global system (the ‘Global Conveyor Belt’), which means that changes to currents in one region could affect other regions far away (World Ocean Review, 2010). Evidence is mounting that such changes are imminent (Editor, 2018)). Examples that raise particular concerns are:

In addition, most climate models predict increased intensity of rainfall nearly everywhere when it does occur (Pfahl et al., 2017). Scientists are still in the process of analyzing the complicated relationship between climate change and precipitation in order to better understand patterns and gather forecasts, but there is consensus that “risks from heavy precipitation events are projected to be higher at 2 degrees Celsius compared to 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming … in regions including several northern hemisphere high-latitude and high-elevation regions, eastern Asia, and eastern North America” (Hoegh-Guldberg et al., 2018). Table 9.1 showed the overall extent of the differences.

Recent modeled projections show a likely increase in occurrence of high intensity tropical storm hurricanes, with a possible decrease in overall frequency of storms (Pachauri et al., 2014). These more intense storms are very likely to be accompanied by higher than usual volumes of rain. In addition, climate models predict an increase of 2-11% in wind speed by the year 2100 (Knutson et al., 2010). In 2017, Hurricane Harvey broke the record for most rainfall in any tropical hurricane system, with some areas receiving 91 or more centimetres of rain, totalling over 152 centimetres of rain over the duration of the storm. Its highest wind intensity on land was 177 km per hour. At least 68 people died from the direct effect of the storm, and the economic devastation to homes and infrastructure was second only to Hurricane Katrina (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Centre, 2018). Sea Level Rise

Another major impact of the increased global temperature of climate change is sea level rise. It is caused by a combination of the melting of the polar ice caps, the warming of the ocean causing thermal expansion, and a reduced amount of liquid water storage on land (Hoegh-Guldberg et al., 2018). Global mean sea level rise (GMSLR) has occurred naturally in the past but it was slower. The rate of GMSLR has more than doubled from the period of 1901-1990, to 1993-2010 (Church et al., 2013) from 1.5 mm per year to 3.2 mm per year. The GMSLR rate of increase in the 21st century is projected to exceed that of 3.2 mm, in all Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP). RCPs represent possible future scenarios of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions of varying concentrations in the atmosphere (Van Vurren et al., 2011). The pathways show different rates and magnitudes of climate change, and is a standard set of scenarios that allows scientists to assess risks associated with each. “The goal of working with scenarios is not to predict the future but to better understand uncertainties and alternative futures, in order to consider how robust different decisions or options may be under a wide range of possible futures.” (IPCC, 2019).

For RCP 2.6, considered the world’s best case scenario for limiting greenhouse gas emissions, projected GMSLR is between 0.28 to 0.61 meters by 2100. For RCP 8.5, the “worst case” scenario for limiting anthropogenic climate change, GMSLR could be between 0.53 meters to 0.98 meters by 2100 (Church et al., 2013). Almost all major coastal cities would be affected, with over 570 low-lying coastal cities inundated by at least half a meter in sea level rise by 2050 (C40 Network, 2019). The impact on megacities will be discussed in section 9.1.3. If crucial ‘tipping points’ in emissions are transgressed, a self-reinforcing ‘runaway’ greenhouse effect might ensue. The consequence would be a scenario called Hothouse Earth, which involves all ice disappearing and sea levels rising by 10–60 metres (Steffen et al., 2018). Ocean Acidification

The increased concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere translates to an increase in carbon dioxide concentration in our oceans (as approximately a third of atmospheric CO2 is absorbed by the ocean) (Gruber et al., 2019), leading to a lower pH of the ocean. Ocean acidity as expressed by hydrogen ion concentration, has increased by 26% since 1850, a rate of change that is tenfold the rate of change from any time in the last 55 million years (Doney et al., 2009). As the oceans become more acidic, carbonate ions are not as freely available, making it difficult for organisms to produce calcium carbonate that make up shells and skeletons. This can have a cascading effect of other unwanted impacts on marine ecosystems, fisheries, aquaculture, and tourism. There is also a possibility that higher levels of carbon dioxide in the oceans may benefit photosynthetic organisms like algae and kelp (Britton et al., 2016), which could be desirable with kelp forests but disastrous with algal blooms. The impacts of ocean acidification are explained in closer detail in the next section.

9.1.2 Delving Deeper: Climate Change Impacts on Ecosystems

The primary driver of climate change is the emission of greenhouse gases, which can have many unintended impacts on the Earth’s natural processes, as detailed in the previous section. This section will delve deeper into climate change impacts, and look at how the changes in Earth’s natural processes can impact an ecosystem by threatening the species that call it home, and interrupting fragile ecosystem services.

Ecosystems encompass all living organisms within a particular area, and the non-living things with which they interact. For example, a forest ecosystem includes the living trees, mosses, microbes, deer, birds, and insects that call it home, as well as the air, soil, lakes, rocks, and sunlight within it. Together, each organism and non-living substance are part of a coexisting community that is itself made of countless interdependent relationships. Many of these relationships are developed over such long periods of time, that they have come to rely on the specific habits of species, or the specific timeline and pattern of a nutrient cycle.

For example, the Pacific Northwest coastal ecosystem is home to oysters of many different species. Each species has adapted to thrive in the cold waters off the western coast of North America, which welcome a periodic upwelling of nutrient-dense waters from the deep ocean (Kämpf & Chapman, 2016). However, ocean acidification due to climate change is threatening the continued survival of oyster species. The increased acidity of the ocean affects the Pacific Northwest oyster species in two major ways. First, the lower pH wears at a young oyster’s shell, which is made up of calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate, when interacting with a low pH solution, slowly dissolves as free hydrogen ions work to break calcium carbonate molecules apart. Another way a low pH ocean can interfere with oyster shells is by binding with free carbonate ions in the ocean, and making them less abundant in the environment for an oyster to use to build its shell. This is particularly stressful for young oysters, as their life cycle requires them to build up 90% of their body weight as shell within the first few days of life. Further, more carbon dioxide in the oceans can spell trouble for oyster reproduction. A recent study on Sydney rock oysters found the ratio of females to males in oyster populations could be affected by increased levels of carbon dioxide in the ocean (Boulais et al., 2017), where ocean acidification was found to increase the ratio of females to males by 16%. This could have negative implications for successful reproduction of oyster populations in light of an increasingly acidic ocean.

Oysters also provide important ecosystem services to their surrounding environment and the organisms living in it. Oysters feed by filtering their surrounding water and taking up phytoplankton or algae biomass through their gills. Inadvertently, this process helps improve the water quality by removing organic and inorganic particles. The inorganic particles that the oysters are unable to absorb are packaged into bundles and released as pseudofeces, which are then deposited into the lowest level of the ocean substrate, where it poses little to no harm to the ocean ecosystem. The loss of oyster reefs from ocean acidification could impact the quality of water in these coastal marine ecosystems, the effects of which are not yet fully understood.

Oyster reefs also provide a habitat for other organisms such as barnacles, mussels, and anemones. The hard reefs formed by oysters’ shells and the surrounding substrate allows these animals to attach to a secure and sheltered structure. Oyster reefs also provide hiding spots for prey seeking refuge, which in turn draw larger predators to reefs, creating a dynamic, thriving environment. Other oyster reef ecosystem services include the provision of a spawning area for species of fish such as oyster gobies and blennies, who lay their eggs in dead oyster shells. A reduction in oyster reef substrate would pose a problem to species that rely on reefs for habitat, reproduction, and shelter. As a keystone species, fluctuation in oyster populations will have a substantial effect on a large number of other organisms.

Finally, oyster reefs serve as breakwaters that can protect nearby shorelines from erosion, and are being used and considered as a tool in adapting to sea level rise. New York City’s Billion Oyster Project is an oyster reef restoration project, that aims to educate the public on the importance of oysters as a keystone species, an “ecosystem engineer,” and collects oyster shells from restaurants to return to the ocean as a building block of new oyster shells, and reefs (Billion Oyster Project, 2019).

We have used the example of the coastal marine ecosystem of oyster reefs as an example of how the impacts climate change can wreak havoc on ecology, and, in turn, the disrupt the role that ecology plays in bolstering resilience to climate impacts. This is only one example, and there are many other climate change impacts that can have trickle down effects through Earth’s ecosystems.

9.1.3 Impacts on Human Society

Climate change impacts, including the impacts on ecosystems, threaten human society in many ways. This section will broadly review the effects of climate change on human society. Human societies are deeply embedded into natural ecosystems and are dependent on them for sources of food, potable water, shelter, waste processing, raw materials and more. Humans are undeniably reliant on these ‘ecosystem services’ provided by nature, but for the greater part of modern society’s existence, there has been little to no thought on ensuring these ecosystem services can be sustained for future generations. Our rate of resource extraction has exacted an insurmountable cost to the planet (further discussed in Chapter 12).

We will use the example of Mumbai, India, as a case study of climate change impact on human society, and how one climate change impact can create another unexpected, and often undesired, consequence (see Figure 9.1).

A map of a city on a peninsula, featuring two airports and small islands to the southeast.
Figure 9.1 Map of Mumbai.

While climate change impacts will be felt all over the world, some areas will feel the impacts more severely in terms of intensity, frequency, and number of people affected. The climate change impact of sea level rise incurs major economic costs. One study projects the accumulated total cost of global sea level rise to be $14 trillion USD by 2100 (Jevrejeva et al., 2018). While some areas are more affected than others, cities in Asia will disproportionately bear a greater burden of impact, with 38% of the cities most at risk for sea level rise located on the Asian continent. Scientists estimate that the ten cities with the highest proportion of population exposed to sea level rise impact will be Mumbai, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Miami, Ho Chi Minh City, Kolkata, Greater New York, Osaka-Kobe, Alexandria, and New Orleans (Nicholls et al., 2008). These cities have high exposure levels because they are densely populated, situated close to sea level and represent major industrial and financial hubs.

Climate change is expected to wreak havoc on human society in many ways. Major costs are associated with the displacement of communities, building degradation, flood damage, loss of tourism, and increased mortality. Table 9.2 below depicts estimated costs of various impacts on human society from climate change in Mumbai.

Table 9.2 Estimated economic losses due to the impact of climate change in MumbaiData source: Kumar et al., 2008
Dislocation due to extreme events of flooding of low-lying areas every five years until 2050The costs of work disruption and material damage, as well as mortality costs (loss of earnings) have been computed on the basis of a conservative approach wherein it has been assumed that flooding would be limited to five days in a year and also that the frequency of such extreme occurrences shall be once every five years. The computation has been limited to the year 2050. It also conservatively assumes that the population in these areas will not change, though it would change depending upon the local government policy of development relevant to the time frame up to 2050. Population figures have been taken from the census for locations shown in Figure 9.1 based on the area and density of population. Cumulative costs from 2005–2050 0.57
Material damage to low-lying areas due to extreme events every five years until 2050See Footnote #5. Cumulative costs from 2005–2050 8.962
Mortality costs due to extreme events of flooding every five years until 2020See Footnote #5. Cumulative costs from 2005–2050 4.263
Disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) lost due to diseases like marlaria, diarrhoea and leptospirosisIncrease in the incidence of malaria, diarrhoea and leptospirosis would result in loss of income due to non-working days and deaths. Losses have been computed using Disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) for all the major illnesses likely to impact the population. Incidence of all these illnesses will increase steadily with increase in income loss; a sharp increase is likely from 2045 to 2055. By 2050 the cumulative income loss due to malaria, diarrhoea and leptospirosis, calculated on the basis of DALYs will be 155 597 and 2401 crores [1 crore = 100,000], respectively. The calculation of DALYs is based on the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines 8 and 9, and income levels prevalent for Mumbai. Cumulative costs from 2005–2050 4.406
Building foundation damages due to sea-level rise for 2050Due to sea-level rise there will be loss of coastal area and ingress of sea water. Assuming that sea water penetrates 200 m inland, calculations have been made showing the monetary loss due to buildings getting affected in the region near the shore. The current loss has been computed on the basis of the present value of buildings. This is based on the assumption that buildings along the coastline located within 200 m from the shore will get affected due to rise in the sea level and ingress of sea water. Cost estimate for the year 2050 2,097.917
Tourism loss resulting from fewer tourists visiting MumbaiCalculations are based on Tourism Statistics of India10. Future costs have been calculated using the average gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate of India. It also takes the current rates of 6% and 13% increase respectively in domestic and foreign tourism per year into account. Cost estimate for the year 2050, as compared with the base year 2005 2,743.101

The impacts of global warming will cause great disruptions to society, and some foreseeable consequences of these impacts include forced migrations and displacement of populations. Though the UNHCR does not formally recognize environmental refugees, the number of persons that are forcibly displaced due to climate change impacts will soon become too great to ignore, and will exert effects on states and human security.

9.2 Current and Future Risks to Human Security

Having reviewed in depth climate change impacts on natural systems and human systems, this section now links them to the four pillars of human security: military/strategic security of the state, economic security, population health, and environmental integrity.

All four pillars define risks to human security that are related to climate change and its impacts. In fact, specific climate change impacts often exacerbate more than one of these pillars. The IPCC AR5 Scenario (IPCC, 2019, Chapter 12, p. 758) states, “human insecurity almost never has single causes, but instead emerges from the interaction of multiple factors. Climate change is an important factor threatening human security through: 1. undermining livelihoods; 2. compromising culture and identity; 3. increasing migration that people would have rather avoided; and 4. challenging the ability of states to provide the conditions necessary for human security.” These four links between human security and climate change identified by the IPCC fit into the domains outlined by the four pillar model.

The World Health Organization published a report in 2017 that explains how the marginal, often unsanitary living conditions of those displaced, are causing increases in diseases such as acute watery diarrhea, measles outbreaks, and noncommunicable diseases. Other major health impacts include severe depression and anxiety, malnutrition in children and infants, and increased deaths from lack of proper treatment and medicine (WHO, 2017). Such adverse effects on health affect civil society, people’s day-to-day lives, the rule of law, social stability and peace, and the financial security of families. Lately, descriptions of climate trauma have appeared in the literature (Richardson, 2018; Woodbury, 2019) — socio-emotional changes in a person’s psychological health that could have severe consequences for social groups.

An event that figures prominently in recent world history is the Syrian Civil War, which began in 2011 and is ongoing at the time of writing, and the Syrian refugee crisis that followed, which had displaced 5.6 million people by September 2018. This example clearly shows how climate change can pose a threat to human security through undermining livelihoods, compromising culture and identity, increasing migration, and challenging the ability of the state to provide security. It is important to note that the Syrian civil war is an extremely complicated political conflict, and the facts presented here serve only to demonstrate the role that climate change played in exacerbating the situation, not in causing the war.

Many scholars saw Syria’s water shortage as a major tipping point in the war, due to the climate change impact of intense drought. Water has always been a sought after resource in Syria, a country considered to be highly water scarce (Guppy & Anderson, 2017). Its water sources such as the Euphrates River and the Yarmouk River, are sources of tension due to management disputes between the countries that share them (Gleick, 2014). From 2006 to 2011, the country experienced a period of extreme drought that made a precarious situation more dire. Agricultural yields dropped, prompting analysts to call it an agricultural failure. Between 2006 and 2011, the United Nations found 75% of farmers’ crops failed and 85% of livestock died from thirst or hunger. Syria’s current drought situation is even more dire than when the war began. In 2016, grain yields dropped to 50% of the yield in 2011. This caused major economic instability for millions of Syrians (FAO, 2016). The combination of water shortage, loss of crops and livestock, and financial hardship catalyzed a mass migration of people from rural areas to urban areas like Homs and Damascus. This put cities under greater stress, with people vying for jobs, food and shelter. This contributed to the social unrest and dissatisfaction with the Assad regime that was already present. While scholars are careful to attribute cause to effect, and still others posit that the Syrian civil war would have happened regardless of a drought, it is mostly agreed upon that the conditions of drought and water shortage, along with the resulting food shortages, exacerbated existing tensions. (Kelley et al., 2015).

The war has been raging since 2011, and over half a million citizens have died (Human Rights Watch, 2018), and over 13.5 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance (UNHCR & Government of Turkey, 2019). The war has created tension between nation states that disagree on the proper action to be taken, and has created tension within nations that are divided on the acceptance of refugees into their societies.

Notwithstanding these breaches of state security and economic security, the Syrian civil war has had a major effect on population health. Many Syrians still living within the nation’s borders are food insecure. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO, 2016) reports that there are 6.5 million starving Syrians. The World Health Organization published a report in 2017 that explains how the marginal, often unsanitary living conditions of those displaced, are causing increases in diseases such as acute watery diarrhea, measles outbreaks, and noncommunicable diseases. Other major health impacts include severe depression and anxiety, malnutrition in children and infants, and increased deaths from lack of proper treatment and medicine (WHO, 2017).

9.3 Major Culprits and Victims of Climate Change

We know greenhouse gas emissions cause climate change, and the major driver for carbon dioxide is the burning of fossil fuels. Other major activities that cause emissions include land use change, agriculture, construction, and the accumulation and production of waste, which also give off the lesser known greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide. Extraction and transport of liquefied natural gas causes significant methane emissions, which causes concern because methane is twenty times more powerful than CO2 as a GHG. Emissions are not generated in equal parts from countries around the world. On a global scale, there is a correlation between wealth and higher emissions (Ritchie, 2018). This correlation, shown in Figure 9.2, is seen at the state and city level, as well as on a per capita basis.

Scatter plot of CO2 emissions per capita versus GDP per capita for 2016. Long description available.
Figure 9.2 CO2 emissions per capita vs. GDP per capita, 2016. Carbon dioxide emissions per capita measured in tonnes per person per year, and GDP is measured in international dollars in 2011 prices to adjust for price differences between countries. [Long Description]

In addition, wealthier and larger companies also generate a disproportionate amount of emissions. The Decolonial Atlas (Engel & Gross, 2019) published the names and locations of the Top 100 people “killing the planet” with the highest emissions of greenhouse gases in the world. To quote the source, “just 100 companies are responsible for more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. The guys who run those companies — and they are mostly [men] — have gotten rich on the backs of literally all life on earth.” A graphic representation is shown in Figure 9.3.

Map of the world showing cumulative CO2 emissions from 1850 to 2011. Long description available.
Figure 9.3 Top 100 companies ‘killing the planet.’ [Long Description]

The Carbon Disclosure Project reports on this disproportionality in great detail. In their 2017 report The Carbon Majors Database, its authors show that “over half of global industrial emissions since human-induced climate change was officially recognized can be traced to just 25 corporate and state producing entities” (Griffin, 2017, p. 8). This global corporate hegemony is shown in Figure 9.4. Some of the highest emitting companies include ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron, and Peabody Energy. Together, these companies made a profit of more than 69 billion dollars in 2018 alone. On the other hand, the world’s poorest 50% of people are responsible for 10% of global emissions (Oxfam, 2015).

Breakdown of the sources of greenhouse gases since 1751. Long description available.
Figure 9.4 The worldwide distribution of GHG emissions reflects the global corporate hegemony. The world’s top 100 corporate producers of fossil fuels are responsible for 52% of all GHGs emitted since the beginning of the industrial revolution. The narrow box at the bottom right represents the GHG emissions produced by the poorer half of humanity (Data sources: Griffin, 2017, p. 5; Ge & Friedrich, 2020; Oxfam, 2015). [Long Description]

In terms of felt impacts, the people and places that bear the greatest burden are those that are vulnerable, populations that are already at risk. It is well-documented that climate change affects all populations and communities across the world, but also that it affects some groups more than others. Poorer populations are not as well equipped to respond to the impacts, and often cannot access the benefits of mitigation and adaptation measures. Other vulnerable populations include the elderly, immigrants, persons with disabilities, children, and people of color. Besides being socioeconomically disenfranchised, these communities tend to live and work in areas and homes that are more exposed to climate hazards. This lack of resilience renders them more exposed to hazards.In the context of environmental challenges to social-ecological systems, resilience is defined by the Stockholm Resilience Centre as “the capacity of a system, be it an individual, a forest, a city or an economy, to deal with change and continue to develop. It is about how humans and nature can use shocks and disturbances like a financial crisis or climate change to spur renewal and innovative thinking.” ( accessed 2 Aug 2019; See also Simonsen et al., 2014) At-risk populations are also more sensitive to hazards, and have less capacity to adapt to or resist climate hazards. Studies show that these frontline communities are often at a disadvantage when facing climate change impacts because of a lack of resources, less access to benefits or information, as well as structural inequalities, such as racism that is written into legislation or laws. For example, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, communities of colour were at a disadvantage because the areas they lived in were more exposed to the storm and they had less resources to adapt and respond to the storm. One reason was because these areas had outdated infrastructure from a history of systematic public disinvestment, going all the way back to the practice of “redlining,” the refusal of mortgage loans to communities of color (Mendez et al., 2013). Over time, this contributed to racial segregation where wealthy communities of white Americans live in well-kept neighbourhoods separate from Black communities, who live in less affluent areas that are more rundown and have less access to social services.See also Giroux, H.A., 2010. “The Media and Hurricane Katrina: Floating Bodies and Disposable Populations”, pp. 29–51.

The major takeaways from this section are: (a) Greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change are mostly created by wealthy countries and individuals and (b) the unwanted impacts of climate change are mostly felt by the poor and vulnerable. There is an inherent injustice in climate change, and it has not gone unnoticed by climate action and social justice advocates alike. The result is a global movement of people demanding real action on climate change that uplifts communities that are most vulnerable to climate change. The next section delves deeper into what this means and how people are trying to change it.

9.3.1 Climate Justice

Climate justice is a term coined by activists in the environmental and climate movement who purport that a true climate solution is one that also delivers social justice. Climate justice as a solution to the climate crisis acknowledges the need to deliver equitable measures that are fully accessible by frontline communities and at-risk populations, ensures these vulnerable populations are heard and have a seat at the negotiation table — in that their interests are equally represented, and that these communities can participate in the decision-making processes. Finally, a tenet of climate justice includes the restoration of social and natural systems to the benefit of all populations and future generations. (Parks & Roberts, 2010).

The difference between equity and equality is an important distinction to make when defining climate justice. Both are principles of fairness, but differ in that equity refers to equal access to opportunity and services, whereas equality is the process of treating every person the same. While equality aims to promote fairness, the end result is only ‘fair’ if each person starts from the same place of privilege. For example, a college entrance exam treats every exam taker the same, and allows any high school student to take the exam. However, while it treats every exam taker the same, it does not account for the fact that some students did not have access to a tutor, or a home environment that was conducive to studying, or the money to pay for top of the line high school education that predisposes certain students to a better score, and therefore better chances of doing well on the entrance exam. Further, the students that are primed to do well are then able to get into ‘top’ colleges, and go on to have high paying, desirable jobs. Some colleges are now beginning to understand this inequity in the education system, and are trying to address it through a number of strategies including setting aside a percentage of seats for people from marginalized communities (Bertrand et al., 2010) as well as providing services for these communities throughout their education programmes. In other words, they are trying to develop from the principle of equality towards equity. If the inequities within a system remain unaddressed, often the gap will continue to widen between those who are favoured and those who are not, entrenching those disparities.

Inequities in our education systems can build up over time through structural racism and prejudice. Similar to inequities in the education system, how we respond to climate change can affect whether structural inequities that face marginalized and at-risk communities are further entrenched and whether those who have and those don’t are pushed further apart. In the case of climate change, the injustice is twofold: the wealthy live lives of privilege where increased consumption and frequent travel produce the bulk of greenhouse gases globally, and the poor bear the brunt of the climate change impacts. To further unpack this injustice, fossil fuel companies continue to make immense profits that benefit a small percentage of people in the world at the expense of the many, and at particular expense of vulnerable populations such as people of color and other marginalized communities. Moreover, in many countries fossil fuel production and consumption are still subsidised from public funds.

Climate justice theory posits that any transition to a post-carbon economy must be cognisant of the inherent inequities in climate change, aim to rectify these inequities and refrain from exacerbating them.

9.3.2 Climate Justice in Practice

While the concept of climate justice is relatively new, there are already concrete examples of policy and programmes designed with climate justice as a framework or objective. At the level of a municipality, the District of Columbia’s clean energy plan outlines an entire chapter on “An Equitable Energy Transformation,” and puts forth a framework that takes into account both an equitable process of policy development, as well as an analysis of each proposed policy against risks or barriers to equity in order to design an outcome that uplifts at-risk populations (DC Department of Energy & Environment, 2018). Other US cities such as Philadelphia and Seattle have also taken steps to integrate climate justice into their climate action plans. The United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner and the Mary Robinson Foundation co-hosted the Climate Justice Dialogue event in Geneva in 2015, which produced the Geneva Pledge for Human Rights in Climate Action, a voluntary initiative supported by 18 countries around the world to “facilitate the exchange of expertise and best practice between our human rights and climate experts to build our collective capacity to deliver responses to climate change that are good for people and the planet” (CIEL, 2015, p. 1). Currently, over 30 countries are signatories to this pledge.

In addition, the United Nations’ 13th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG #13 includes a target to direct $100 billion dollars in funds annually from developed countries to developing countries to support climate change mitigation efforts (UN, n.d.). This redirection of wealth is a step in the right direction for climate justice.

9.4 Barriers to Counteracting Climate Change

In principle, climate change and its consequences can be counteracted through prevention, mitigation and adaptation. As it stands, opportunities for prevention, although abundant throughout the 20th century, have been largely missed; at this stage we can only prevent the worst any more. This is sometimes included in the area of mitigation, which also means that the impact of climate change is lessened. In contrast, adaptation efforts focus on developing ways to live with the consequences as they occur. As the climate crisis unfolded, the spectrum of most effective countermeasures shifted from prevention towards mitigation and adaptation.

So what are the barriers to mitigating the climate crisis and to adapt to its outcomes? Scientists have shown that the many years of gathered and modeled data make the main answer uncompromisingly clear: stop burning fossil fuels, or anything else. The carbon dioxide that comes from burning fossil fuels makes up the majority of the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change. These emissions come from the major sectors of energy, waste, residential and commercial buildings, industry, transport, and agriculture, land use, and forestry (IPCC, 2014a). Curbing emissions from these sectors will require a mix of top-down governmental pressure, and bottom-up demand from citizens and civil society. Climate change is a problem that does not recognize political or geographical boundaries, and thus presents a unique situation in which cooperation from all sectors, all countries, and all people, is required. It also makes it that much harder to solve. In this section, the major barriers to a climate solution are examined.

9.4.1 Technological Barriers

In order to reduce emissions in all sectors, sources used for energy must be low in emissions, or have no emissions altogether. Thermonuclear energy is generally not considered among these options as it entails its own unique set of environmental problems. That leaves industries in the renewable sector. These renewable energy sources include solar, geothermal, wind, and hydroelectricity. Following this solution, mitigation of emissions from abatement technologies, land use change and agriculture should also be addressed. Because of the pressing nature of climate change, all solutions must be pursued, but solving the climate crisis inexorably requires a global transition to clean, renewable energy use.

The transition to the use of renewable energy will not be simple and will require a coordinated effort between many stakeholders. Take, for example, British Columbia’s major source of heating fuel for residential and commercial properties. Natural gas is supplied by five natural gas thermal plants that extract from four fields (Whiticar, 2017). A transition to a renewable thermal energy supply would require an overhaul or redesign of the distribution infrastructure that is currently in place, whether that is geothermal heating, solar thermal energy, or using electric boilers or heat pumps (Boyle, 2004). In addition, a transition away from natural gas would affect those with a vested interest in the industry – including shareholders, workers, and policymakers. It will require a well thought-out, just, and equitable transition plan that takes into account training for workers in renewable energy jobs, assistance to natural gas companies in the transition, both financially and operationally, to renewable energy technology. The ongoing disputes about pipelines illustrate the difficulties.

The technology required to get the world to 100% renewable energy is already available — and is the focus of a few studies globally.See Ram M., D. Bogdanov, A. Aghahosseini, A.S. Oyewo, A. Gulagi, M. Child, H-J. Fell & C. Breyer. Global Energy System Based on 100% Renewable Energy – Power Sector. Study by Lappeenranta University of Technology and Energy Watch Group, Lappeenranta, Berlin, November 2017. See Jacobson, M.Z., M.A. Delucchi, Z.A. Bauer, S.C. Goodman, W.E. Chapman, M.A. Cameron, … & J.R. Erwin. 2017. 100% clean and renewable wind, water, and sunlight all-sector energy roadmaps for 139 countries of the world. Joule 1(1): 108-121. More funding and resources should be devoted to testing this model’s capacity to serve a growing population. In addition, scientists and policymakers alike should continue to conduct research and development to advance to renewable energy infrastructure capabilities (i.e. number of people served, improved storage capacity, etc.)

While there is ample public support for renewable energy technology around the world, cultural resistance still exists in many communities. Many people feel resistant to a renewable energy transition because they fear it will change the way they live, or greatly affect an important socio-cultural practice in their lives. This reluctance is supported by conservative media and opinion engineers that tend to enjoy ample funding and political support. They pervade and partially shape our culture.

9.4.2 Culture and Society

While the environmental movement has certainly picked up steam over the last few years, it has not yet moved into the mainstream. Culturally, there are several reasons people have not integrated sustainable habits into their lifestyles. Culture refers to the socially accepted norms and behaviours people engage in, and differences are found from country to country, region to region — between neighbouring cities, and even down to the level of neighbourhoods. These behaviours and norms include the values, attitudes, beliefs, ideals and priorities that children acquire from an early age.

The most prominent reason humans do not opt to change their habits is the ease of retaining and using longstanding, well-established systems and modes of behaviour (status quo bias). To change that can often be time consuming or costly, and sometimes both. For example, sorting through your garbage bin to separate the various recyclable materials takes more time and energy than just throwing it all ‘away’ in the trash. It is more expensive to buy an electric vehicle than a regular gas-guzzling automobile, and it is costly to install a solar photovoltaic energy system onto the roof of a house. Most urban centers are organized around easy flow of traffic and consumer goods, and it is the path of least resistance for most people.

The infographic in Figure 9.5 depicts some other ways a person can reduce their own contribution to climate change.

Bar graph detailing personal carbon emissions savings. Long description available.
Figure 9.5 Personal choices to reduce your contribution to climate change. The heights of the bars indicate the personal contributions to climate change, or the savings incurred by foregoing the practices. The horizontal marks state average values by country. Note the actual height of the interrupted bar to the left, suggesting the inordinately high impact of an extra child (from Wynes & Nicholas, 2017, CC BY). [Long Description]

According to Figure 9.2, the top three ways to reduce personal contributions to climate change are: (a) have one fewer child, (b) live car free and (c) avoid one transatlantic flight. Having children is a social and cultural norm in most countries across the globe, and in some places, choosing not to have children can be met with incredulity and disbelief, or worse, criticism. For many, having children and starting a family are major life goals that are equated to success and happiness. Culturally, this is the accepted norm in many countries across the world. The choice to not achieve these normative goals can be alienating and difficult. The second personal choice of living car free is just not feasible for many, especially in North America. Vehicles are the primary mode of transportation for people to get to work or to go on vacation. Cars have, for years, been a symbol of wealth. To many, a car represents freedom and accessibility. Finally, the third choice of avoiding a transatlantic (or equivalent) flight means forgoing a chance to see a loved one across seas, or a sun-drenched vacation after months of hard work. These are choices that are hard to make, and it is much easier for an individual to place greater weight to their immediate enjoyment and pleasure (effectively promoted by ubiquitous advertisements) over the long-term goal of mitigating climate change, an achievement that is not promised or secure, and the rewards of which may never be reaped personally. The change of moral norms is hindered by the fact that ‘carbon solutions’ are still widely perceived as belonging into the domain of ‘environmentalism’; the realisation that carbon mitigation will actually contribute to human security is not yet widespread. This extends even to UNHCR’s refusal to recognise ‘environmental refugees.’

Still, cultural and social norms may not always be the biggest barrier to a renewable energy transition. While these aforementioned barriers to change are real, there is still a strong environmental movement seen across the world advocating and pushing government and corporations for more action on climate change. The school strikes of 2019 and the ‘Extinction Rebellion’ movement impressively demonstrated that. Civil society has a part to play in influencing the market toward greater supply of renewable energy and sustainable products as well as pressuring governments to introduce regulations and legislation that will institute new, sustainable ways of living, and usher in new sociocultural systems. So why has change not occurred to the point where global emissions of GHGs are reduced?

Is the biggest barrier economic? Will the renewable energy transition simply cost too much for the global economic system to bear? The answer, gleaned from many economic and scientific studies, is simply no. On the contrary — it will save us enormous costs down the track (IRENA, 2019).

The renewable energy transition is fundamentally, at its core, a political struggle between current dominant systems of power and privilege and those advocating for new energy systems and a more secure future for all. To understand this conflation of energy and power, the following section will deconstruct the relationship between fossil fuels, money, and political power.

9.4.3 Politics, Money and Power

The world primarily runs on fossil fuels, and it has done so since the Industrial Revolution from approximately 1760. This energy revolution allowed massive leaps forward in technological, economic, and social development. Since then, total global fossil fuel consumption has increased exponentially (see Chapter 3).

During the early age of the Industrial Revolution through to the early 2000s, developed countries like the United Kingdom produced vast amounts of fossil fuel energy, a rate that has slowed in recent years (Tiseo, 2018). The United Kingdom has amassed the wealth and ability to invest in renewable energy technology, and reduce its fossil fuel production as well as its consumption. On the other hand, developing countries like China have seen an explosive increase in rate fossil fuel energy production and consumption. In all, production of all types of fossil fuel energy including coal, oil, and natural gas, has continued to increase globally (Ritchie & Roser, 2019).

The lack of political will is the primary reason why fossil fuel production and consumption have not slowed. While the IPCC, UNEP, and other major world organizations, have called on governments from around the world to limit and decrease fossil fuel production, to place sanctions or a moratorium on explorative drilling for fossil fuels, many countries, states, and cities, are still subsidizing and incentivizing the continued production of fossil fuels. Regimes for emissions trading are taking hold but their benefits accrue too slowly. The failure of governments to act manifests in many ways, including the distortion and obfuscation of evidence that climate change is caused by humans, and the continued subsidization of fossil fuel industries and outright refusal to invest in renewable energy technology.

The fossil fuel industry’s political ties are defined by the grassroots climate activism organization as a cultivation of “sponsorship relationships.”See About fossil free divestment by the website. Fossil fuels have a long history of close political ties to capital, not in the least because of its inherent physical power as an energy resource, and also because it is a source of immense profit and political power. Aside from the often bloody battle for rights to ownership and extraction (Auzanneau, 2018), many human rights violations and atrocities have been supported by partnerships with or directly funded by oil companies (Silverstein, 2014). Often, the extraction of fossil fuels in developing countries profits the company and corrupt politicians while leaving the nation’s citizens impoverished, and decimating the land and its ecosystems. The amassment of wealth in fossil fuel extraction and production over many decades has allowed some people to become very powerful. Jane Mayer documents clearly in her 2016 book “Dark Money,” the rise of the conservative Tea Party in the United States of America, with the systematic funding by billionaires with fortunes steeped in oil, coal, and gas. In this book, Mayer (2016) documents the funding of neoliberal, free market economic ideology in the political arena by billionaires like the Koch brothers and other oil magnates. These powerhouse businessmen have for years set up right wing think tanks, schools and non-profit foundations that either directly preach neoliberal thought or fund its dissemination. This co-option of education, media, and popular culture, makes its way into policy in the form of deregulation. This term is misleading because it does not mean a complete lack of government regulation, but rather it is a set of policies that protect the rights of big business and give free rein to corporations and businesses, leaving little protection for citizens. It is co-option of government by big business, big money, and big oil, to have social and political license to continue to profit from fossil fuel extraction and production. It proceeded in the shadow created by a massive and well-coordinated public relations campaign that obfuscated scientific findings about climate change and financed deceptive efforts to promote false ‘skepticism’, using the same tactics (and specialists) that were employed by the tobacco lobby before (Oreskes & Conway, 2010). A recent analysis indicated that climate ‘contrarians’ (i.e. deniers) enjoy a 49% higher media visibility compared to expert scientists (Petersen et al., 2019).

9.5 Achieving Climate Justice as the Way Forward

This chapter delved into the main drivers of climate change, its impacts, and the primary victims of these impacts. Getting to the heart of why there is still no real progress made in tackling climate change reveals a power imbalance, perpetuated by the wealthy who have made fortunes in dealing fossil fuel energy, and who still hold immense power over politicians, the media and public opinion, and even some science and academic institutions. This power imbalance allows a wealthy few the ability to sow seeds of doubt that pit conservatives against progressives, and to sway government officials in their favour — to perpetuate the status quo. In this imbalance of power that gives corporations more space than citizens at the table to negotiate on behalf of their own profit creates a political system that is no longer democratic. It is often aggravated by undemocratic electoral systems.

Invoking arguments of justice as a way forward to achieve climate security frames the conversation in a way that recognizes that there is inequity in the drivers of climate change, and so any solution should address that inequity and attempt to rectify it. In the allocation of burden as well as benefits, climate justice in practice will aim to uplift the marginalized and make the worst polluters pay their fair share in the transition to renewable energy infrastructure. The restoration of a just process is also necessary, so that corporations with huge pockets cannot co-opt the media and spin a self-serving public narrative nor lobby or bribe the government over the best interests of the public and nature. Finally, framing the climate change conversation in terms of justice acknowledges that a harm to vulnerable and frontline populations, and to the human species at large, has been committed and should be rectified.

The IPCC’s report published in 2018 gives the global community just short of 11 years to limit global warming to 1.5°C (Hoegh-Guldberg et al., 2018). It is unlikely that a consensus will be reached within this short period of time on which effective precautionary measures should be taken. In fact, no matter what mitigation strategies are taken, climate change is already happening, and the current changes to global natural processes could activate feedback processes that accelerate warming far into the future and push Earth into a ‘hothouse’ state — where glaciers are all gone and the Earth’s sea level has risen 100 metres, and extreme conditions are pervasive all over the world.

Continued inaction at this late stage cannot be condoned. The movement advocating for climate justice now spans the globe, with climate rallies and school strikes becoming commonplace and occurring frequently, led by the young Greta Thunberg. Divestment from fossil fuel is steadily increasing. Even some politicians are embracing ideas that were once considered fringe, such as US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s inclusion of an ambitious stimulus package that at once addresses climate change as well as economic inequality in her platform — in other words, it strives to achieve climate justice.See and download the US Congress resolution Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal. While the world has a long way to go, these steps toward real action are promising.

Resources and References


Key Points

  • Greenhouse gases have played an important role in the regulation of the Earth’s climate since the planet developed an atmosphere. However, the sudden increase of anthropogenic emissions during the Anthropocene is disrupting that regulation.
  • Besides the general increase of average surface temperatures, global warming is causing complex patterns of climate change that vary among regions and latitudes. In addition, the world’s oceans are becoming more acidic, sea levels are rising, permafrost is melting and ocean currents may change.
  • The effects of climate change on natural systems affects the ranges of species and generally reduces biodiversity. The changes are occurring faster than natural systems could adapt.
  • The effects of climate change on human security operate partly through those biotic effects and partly they arise from severe weather, droughts, crop failures and the displacement of ever larger populations. Especially threatening are the inundation of densely populated coastal plains and shortages of fresh water.
  • Those impacts are affecting the world’s poorest most severely, while the levels of GHG emissions are highest with developed countries.
  • Climate change can be addressed in principle by prevention, mitigation and adaptation. Apart from preventing the worst outcomes, the emphasis now lies on mitigating its impacts and adapting to those impacts that have become inevitable. The goal is to maximize human security in equitable and just ways.
  • Barriers to effective countermeasures are technological, cultural and political. Other sources of human insecurity such as overconsumption, overpopulation, industrial growth, militarization and economic inequity render those countermeasures more difficult to achieve.


Extension Activities & Further Research

  1. Who are the victims of climate change? While this chapter focused on human inequities, can you think of others?
  2. While the harm of climate change is undeniable, whether it constitutes an injustice is a matter of personal ethics. Where do you stand on that? Would you extend your interpretation of justice to include nonhumans, ecosystems and the biosphere?
  3. Identify the major issues and challenges that characterise British Columbia’s transition towards climate neutrality. In what ways are you contributing personally to the problems and to the solutions?
  4. Explore the interactive presentation of the ‘Global Conveyor Belt.’ Speculate how it is likely to affect the climate of your home region, and how that climate might change if the currents change.

List of Terms

See Glossary for full list of terms and definitions.

Suggested Reading

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Levin, K. (2018, October 7) Half a degree and a world apart: The difference in climate impacts between 1.5°C and 2°C of warming. World Resources Institute. Retrieved August 28, 2019, from

Oreskes, N., & Conway, E. M. (2010). Merchants of doubt: How a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming. Bloomsbury.

Steffen, W., Rockström, J., Richardson, K., Lenton, T. M., Folke, C., Liverman, D., Summerhayes, C. P., Barnosky, A. D., Cornell, S. E., Crucifix, M., Donges, J. F., Fetzer, I., Lade, S. J., Scheffer, M., Winkelmann, R., & Schellnhuber, H. J. (2018). Trajectories of the Earth system in the Anthropocene. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 115(33), 8252–8259.

Wynes, S., & Nicholas, K. A. (2017). The climate mitigation gap: Education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions. Environmental Research Letters, 12(7).


Auzanneau, M. (2018). Oil, power, and war: A dark history. Chelsea Green Publishing.

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Boyle, G. (Ed.). (2004). Renewable energy (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press.

Britton, D., Cornwall, C. E., Revill, A. T., Hurd, C. L., & Johnson, C. R. (2016). Ocean acidification reverses the positive effects of seawater pH fluctuations on growth and photosynthesis of the habitat-forming kelp, Ecklonia radiata. Scientific Reports, 6, Article 26036.

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Church, J. A., Clark, P. U., Cazenave, A., Gregory, J. M., Jevrejeva, S., Levermann, A., Merrifield, M. A., Milne, G. A., Nerem, R. S., Nunn, P. D., Payne, A. J., Pfeffer, W. T., Stammer, D., & Unnikrishnan, A. S. (2013). Sea level change. In T. F. Stocker, D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S. K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex, & P. M. Midgley (Eds.), Climate change 2013: The physical science basis. Contribution of working group I to the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (pp. 1137–1216). Cambridge University Press.

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Doney, S. C., Fabry, V. J., Feely, R. A., & Kleypas, J. A. (2009). Ocean acidification: The other CO2 problem. Annual Review of Marine Science, 1, 169–192.

Engel, J., & Gross, D. (2019). The decolonial atlas.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2016). FAO response to the Syria crisis: A call for increased support in agriculture.

Ge, M., & Friedrich, J. (2020, February 6). 4 Charts explain greenhouse gas emissions by countries and sectors. World Resources Institute.

Giroux, H. A. (2010). The media and Hurricane Katrina: Floating bodies and disposable populations. In G. Martin, D. Houston, P. McLaren, & J. Suoranta (Eds.), The havoc of capitalism: Publics, pedagogies and environmental crisis (pp. 29–51). Brill.

Gleick, P. H. (2014). Water, drought, climate change, and conflict in Syria. Weather, Climate, and Society, 6(3), 331–340.

Griffin, P. (2017). The Carbon Majors Database: CDP Carbon Majors Report 2017. Carbon Disclosure Project Worldwide.

Gruber, N., Clement, D., Carter, B. R., Feely, R. A., van Heuven, S., Hoppema, M., Ishii, M., Key, R. M., Kozyr, A., Lauvset, S. K., Lo Monaco, C., Mathis, J. T., Murata, A., Olsen, A., Perez, F. F., Sabine, C. L., Tanhua, T., & Wanninkhof, R. (2019). The oceanic sink for anthropogenic CO2 from 1994 to 2007. Science, 363(6432), 1193–1199.

Guppy, L., & Anderson, K. (2017). Global water crisis: The facts. Institute for Water, Environment and Health, United Nations University.

Hoegh-Guldberg, O., Jacob, D., Taylor, M., Bindi, M., Brown, S., Camilloni, I., Diedhiou, A., Djalante, R., Ebi, K. L., Engelbrecht, F., Guiot, J., Hijioka, Y., Mehrotra, S., Payne, A., Seneviratne, S. I., Thomas, A., Warren, R., & Zhou, G. (2018). Impacts of 1.5°C global warming on natural and human systems. In Global warming of 1.5°C: An IPCC Special Report (ch. 3). IPCC.

Human Rights & Climate Change Working Group. (n.d.). Promoting the Geneva Pledge for Human Rights in Climate Action.

Human Rights Watch. (2019). World report 2019: Syria.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2014a). Climate change 2014: Impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability – Part B: Regional aspects. Contribution of working group II to the fifth assessment report of the IPCC. Cambridge University Press.

IPCC. (2014b). Climate change 2014: Synthesis report. Contribution of working groups I, II and III to the fifth assessment report of the IPCC.

IPCC. (2014c). Climate change 2014 synthesis report: Summary for policymakers.

IPCC. (2019, November 4). Scenario process for AR5.

International Renewable Energy Agency. (2019). Global energy transformation: A roadmap to 2050.

Jevrejeva, S., Jackson, L. P., Grinsted, A., Lincke, D., & Marzeion, B. (2018). Flood damage costs under the sea level rise with warming of 1.5°C and 2°C. Environmental Research Letters, 13(7), Article 074014.

Kämpf, J., & Chapman, P. (2016). The functioning of coastal upwelling systems. In J. Kämpf & P. Chapman, Upwelling systems of the world: A scientific journey to the most productive marine ecosystems (pp. 31–65). Springer, Cham.

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Kumar, R., Jawale, P., & Tandon, S. (2008). Economic impact of climate change on Mumbai, India. Regional Health Forum, 12(1), 38–42. World Health Organization, Regional Office for South-East Asia.

Levin, K. (2018, October 7) Half a degree and a world apart: The difference in climate impacts between 1.5°C and 2°C of warming. World Resources Institute. Retrieved August 28, 2019, from

Mayer, J. (2017). Dark money: The hidden history of the billionaires behind the rise of the radical right. Anchor Books.

Mendez, D. D., Hogan, V. K., & Culhane, J. F. (2014). Institutional racism, neighborhood factors, stress, and preterm birth. Ethnicity & Health, 19(5), 479–499.

National Hurricane Center. (2018, January 26). Costliest U.S. tropical cyclones tables updated [Press release].

National Ocean Service. (n.d.). The global conveyor belt.

Nicholls, R. J., Hanson, S., Herweijer, C., Patmore, N., Hallegatte, S., Corfee-Morlot, J., Château, J., & Muir-Wood, R. (2008). Ranking port cities with high exposure and vulnerability to climate extremes (OECD Environment Working Papers No. 1). Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Ocean circulation is changing, and we need to know why [Editorial]. (2018). Nature, 556(7700), 149.

Oreskes, N., & Conway, E. M. (2010). Merchants of doubt: How a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming. Bloomsbury Press.

Oxfam. (2015, December 2). Extreme carbon inequality: Why the Paris climate deal must put the poorest, lowest emitting and most vulnerable people first [Media briefing].

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Petersen, A. M., Vincent, E. M., Westerling, A. L. (2019). Discrepancy in scientific authority and media visibility of climate change scientists and contrarians. Nature Communications, 10, Article 3502.

Pfahl, S., O’Gorman, P. A., & Fischer, E. M. (2017). Understanding the regional pattern of projected future changes in extreme precipitation. Nature Climate Change, 7(6), 423–427.

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Ritchie, H. (2017). Fossil fuels. Our World in Data.

Ritchie, H. (2018, October 16). Global inequalities in CO2 emissions. Our World in Data.

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Sambaraju, K. R., Carroll, A. L., & Aukema, B. H. (2019). Multiyear weather anomalies associated with range shifts by the mountain pine beetle preceding large epidemics. Forest Ecology and Management, 438, 86–95.

Silverstein, K. (2015). The secret world of oil. Verso Books.

Simonsen, S. H., Biggs, R. (O.)., Schlüter, M., Schoon, M., Bohensky, E., Cundill, G., Dakos, V., Daw, T., Kotschy, K., Leitch, A., Quinlan, A., Peterson, G., & Moberg, F. (n.d.). Applying resilience thinking: Seven principles for building resilience in social-ecological systems [Brochure]. Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Smale, D. A., Wernberg, T., Oliver, E. C. J., Thomsen, M., Harvey, B. P., Straub, S. C., Burrows, M. T., Alexander, L. V., Benthuysen, J. A., Donat, M. G., Feng, M., Hobday, A. J., Holbrook, N. J., Perkins-Kirkpatrick, S. E., Scannell, H. A., Gupta, A. S., Payne, B. L., & Moore, P. J. (2019). Marine heatwaves threaten global biodiversity and the provision of ecosystem services. Nature Climate Change, 9(4), 306–312.

Sönnichsen, N. (2020). Total fossil fuel extraction in the United Kingdom (UK) from 1998 to 2017. Statista.

Steffen, W., Rockström, J., Richardson, K., Lenton, T. M., Folke, C., Liverman, D., Summerhayes, C. P., Barnosky, A. D., Cornell, S. E., Crucifix, M., Donges, J. F., Fetzer, I., Lade, S. J., Scheffer, M., Winkelmann, R., & Schellnhuber, H. J. (2018). Trajectories of the Earth system in the Anthropocene. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 115(33), 8252–8259.

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Wynes, S., & Nicholas, K. A. (2017). The climate mitigation gap: Education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions. Environmental Research Letters, 12(7), Article 074024.

Long Descriptions

Figure 9.2 long description: Scatter plot of CO2 emissions per capita versus GDP per capita in 2016. The subtitle says, “Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per capita are measured in tonnes per person per year. Gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is measured in international dollars in 2011 prices to adjust for price differences between countries and adjust for inflation.” On the x-axis is GDP per capita, and on the y-axis is CO2 emissions per capita.

The scatter plot shows the general trend that a country with a larger GDP per capita also has greater CO2 emissions per capita. Most points are bunched closely together on a diagonal that goes from the bottom-left corner to the top-right corner. Data points differ in size, most likely because of population.

Here are some individual data points, with exact figures taken from this interactive version of the CO2 emissions per capita versus GDP per capita scatter plot:

[Return to Figure 9.2]

Figure 9.3 long description: Cartogram of carbon emissions with many cities labelled. The caption says, “100 companies are responsible for most of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. These are the names and locations of their executives. Country sizes depict cumulative CO2 emissions from 1850–2011.” Beneath each labelled city are the names and companies of the executives who live there.

The cities with the most executives from top-polluting companies are Houston (seven), Jakarta (five), Calgary (four), Moscow (four), Beijing (four), and Johannesburg-Pretoria (three). Many of the companies whose executives are shown on the map produce oil or energy. Executives are depicted in every corner of the world. Some of the most distorted countries are the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Japan, and South Korea.

[Return to Figure 9.3]

Figure 9.4 long description: Breakdown of the sources of greenhouse gas emissions since 1751.

This chart shows that 52 per cent of industrial green house gases emitted since 1751 have come from 100 producers of fossil fuels. Out of those 100 top producers, 41 are public investor–owned, 16 are private investor–owned, 36 are state-owned, and seven are state producers. Those 100 entities have generated 923 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalents.

The other 48 per cent of industrial greenhouse gases emitted since 1751 have come from the rest of the world, totalling 852 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalents. Just a sliver of that 48 per cent (perhaps 5 per cent) of emissions have come from the poorer half of humanity.

[Return to Figure 9.4]

Figure 9.5 long description: Bar graph depicting the emissions savings of certain personal choices, measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents (tCO2e) per year. Actions are coded as high impact (saving more than 0.8 tCO2e), moderate impact (saving 0.2 to 0.8 tCO2e), and low impact (saving less than 0.2 tCO2e). Where information is available, the average impact of personal choices in particular countries is indicated.

The action with the highest impact by far is choosing to have one fewer child, which saves an average of 58.6 tCO2e per year and an average of 117.7 tCO2e per year in the United States. Other high-impact personal choices include the choice to live car free, avoid one transatlantic flight, buy green energy, buy a more efficient car, switch from an electric car to a car-free lifestyle, and to adopt a plant-based diet, all of which save between 0.8 and 2.4 tCO2e per year on average.

Some actions have greater impact in particular countries. For example, living car free saves an average of 3.08 and 3.04 tCO2e per year in the United States and Australia, respectively, compared to 2.4 tCO2e per year on average around the world. Buying green energy in Canada and Australia saves an average of 2.51 and 2.2 tCO2e per year, respectively, compared to 1.5 tCO2e per year on average around the world.

Moderate-impact actions include the choice to replace a gasoline-powered car with a hybrid, wash clothes in cold water, recycle, and hang clothes to dry, all of which save between 0.2 and 0.8 tCO2e per year on average.

The one low-impact action depicted is the choice to upgrade light bulbs, which saves an average of 0.10 tCO2e per year.

[Return to Figure 9.5]


Media Attributions


Human Security and Resource Scarcity

Richard Plate

This chapter is adapted from the first edition of Human Security with minor edits and updates.

Learning Outcomes & Big Ideas

  • Explain traditional responses to resource scarcity, using your own examples.
  • Critique the assumption of infinite substitutability.
  • Explain how the tragedy of the commons works, using an example from your own experience.
  • Describe how the different types of social traps (ignorance, externality, time delay) conspire to prevent proactive policies to address resource scarcity.
  • Explain how complex systems differ from static or linear systems and what problems that difference causes for resource management.
  • Explain how resource capture and environmental marginalisation can give rise to violent conflict.
  • Describe how effective systems of governance can mange the drama of the commons and minimise the harm caused by social traps.


In this chapter we will examine the relationship between societies and the resources that support them from both an ecological and economic perspective. Societies tend not to address natural resource challenges until those challenges have evoked a crisis of some sort and here we will explore why people are not more proactive in the ways that they address matters of resource scarcity. These reasons include social dynamics, common psychological weaknesses, and a fundamental misunderstanding of the environmental systems that support us. We will explore how each of these reasons can be addressed so that societies are able to address resource challenges before human security is threatened. Perhaps most importantly, we will see that as a result of the social, economic, and ecological connections that now span the globe, failing to address resource challenges proactively will have significant global impacts on human security.

Chapter Overview

10.1 Introduction

10.2 Resource Scarcity Through the Ages

10.2.1 Geographical Expansion

10.2.2 Increased Procuring Efficiency

10.2.3 Substitution

10.3 Understanding Resource Scarcity

10.4 Tragedy of the Commons

10.5 Social Traps

10.5.1 Ignorance

10.5.2 Externality

10.5.3 Time Delay

10.6 Understanding Complex Systems

10.6.1 Dynamic Systems

10.6.2 Interconnectedness

10.7 Resource Scarcity and Conflict

10.8 Human Security in the Face of Resource Scarcity

10.8.1 Drama of the Commons

10.8.2 Overcoming Individual Traps

10.9 Case Studies in Water Scarcity

10.9.1 Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin

10.9.2 Mekong River Basin

Resources and References

Key Points

Extension Activities & Further Research

List of Terms

Suggested Reading


Media Attributions

10.1 Introduction

From the early 1900s, ecologists have understood the population of a species as typically developing according to the S-curve shown in Figure 10.1. Consider a population that, with abundant resources, can double in one reproduction cycle. Two individuals become four over the first cycle. Those four become eight over the second cycle. Note that in the first cycle only two individuals were added, while four were added in the same amount of time in the second cycle. As the doubling continues, the population will reach 16, 32, 64, 128 and so on. This rapid increase explains the first half of the S-curve in Figure 10.1, as it moves from very shallow to very steep increases. This rapid increase in population is called exponential growth.

Over time, population will increase until it levels off when it reaches the "carrying capacity."
Figure 10.1 Carrying capacity. S-curve model for growth of population.

According to this model, the population will continue to grow exponentially until it reaches the limits dictated by available resources (food, space, etc.). As the amount of available resources per individual declines — in other words, as resources become scarce — mortality rates increase and reproductive rates decrease, causing the population to level off at what ecologists call the “carrying capacity” of an ecosystem — the maximum population size that an ecosystem can support sustainably. Many have applied this same basic model to humans as well, pointing toward localized examples of resource scarcity as evidence that humans are subject to the same ecological realities observed in other species. This claim has proven controversial in part because of people’s general aversion to being lumped in with other species. Some argue that our ingenuity and adaptability as a species allows us to transcend ecological barriers that constrain other species. Indeed, human population dynamics have shown that the carrying capacity of an ecosystem (or of the global system) may not be as fixed as ecologists once assumed. We will return to this topic later, but first, let’s take a look at how earlier societies have addressed resource challenges.

Incidentally, the same S-shaped curve (or part of it, as of yet) is observed in plots of resource use over time, economic production, energy use, fertiliser consumption, transportation, communication, tourism, pollution, deforestation and other forms of land degradation. Those plots gave rise to the concept of the Great Acceleration (Steffen et al., 2015) that introduced the Anthropocene. The point is that while the population is growing exponentially, many of its activities do so as well. This even goes for plots per capita, at least temporarily! Sooner or later, however, limiting factors become operative, slowing the increase until an inflection point is passed and further slowing results in a plateau — or even a crash. Quite often those ‘limiting factors’ amount to resource scarcity.

10.2 Resource Scarcity Through the Ages

Dealing with the challenge of resource scarcity is nothing new in human history. Indeed, the history of humans can be seen largely as a series of responses to resource needs. Conventional methods for addressing these needs can be grouped into three major categories: geographical expansion, increased procuring efficiency and substitution.

10.2.1 Geographical Expansion

Of these three categories, geographical expansion is perhaps the easiest to visualize. If we are running out of resource ‘X’ here, then perhaps more ‘X’ is available over there. This logic sits at the heart of numerous wars and exploratory expeditions into uncharted areas. While expansion into new resource-rich areas can be observed in a number of different contexts, I will use the example of global fisheries. Archaeological evidence from Europe on the topic suggests that a shift in diet occurred around 1000 years ago from freshwater fish to marine species. In his book An Unnatural History of the Sea, Callum Roberts (2007) suggests this shift was due to a combination of a decrease in supply of freshwater fish due to declining environmental conditions of European rivers and the increased demand for fish.

Having significantly depleted stocks of freshwater fish, Europeans looked to the sea, and the sea provided. For example, early accounts of the Newfoundland cod fishery describe a sea “swarming with fish, which can be taken not only with the net, but in baskets let down with a stone, so that it sinks in the water” (quoted in Roberts, 2007, p. 33). Fish, however, were not the only plentiful source of meat. In the Caribbean Christopher Columbus and his crew saw sea turtle populations so large “that it seemed that the ships would run aground on them and were as if bathing in them” (quoted in Roberts, 2007, p. 63). Often these types of accounts are accompanied by statements regarding the impossibility of exhausting such abundant resources, but human appetites continually proved to be more than a match for the sea’s abundance. The Newfoundland cod fishery, which fuelled that region’s growth for centuries, collapsed in the 1990s and is still closed to commercial fishing. Sea turtles are now an uncommon sight in the Caribbean and most other places, as all species of sea turtles are listed as threatened, endangered, or critically endangered.

However, as each fishery collapsed, another was there to take its place. Ransom Myer and Boris Worm (2003) illustrated this pattern in modern times using commercial fishing catch data. They show that starting from the 1950s, periods of intensive fishing were followed by lower catch-per-unit-effort numbers (abbreviated CPUE, a common measure for the health of a fishery). As those numbers dropped, commercial fleets shifted to new fishing grounds, where CPUE figures were initially high. In time, the CPUE would decrease again, prompting commercial fleets again to shift to new richer waters. By the end of the Myer and Worms data set in the 1980s, commercial fishing fleets spanned the globe with no fisheries achieving the high yields seen in the 1950s.

10.2.2 Increased Procuring Efficiency

When a resource becomes harder to get, the typical response is to try to become better at getting it. In the second category of responses — increased procuring efficiency — decrease in a resource is met with improvements being made to methods used for acquiring those resources. Here again, fishing provides an excellent example. Fishing technology has seen many improvements since the days of rudimentary hooks at the ends of flaxen strings. Each technological advance — including the modern use of spotting planes and sonar for finding fish and mile-long lines baited with thousands of hooks for catching them — have enabled fishers to increase their fishing success even in the face of decreasing fish populations.

The same pattern can be seen in better detection and drilling capabilities of the oil industry. Estimates of available oil reserves increased from 635 billion barrels in 1973 to 1,148 billion barrels in 2003 (Watkins, 2006). These increases did not represent an actual increase of oil deposits within the Earth’s crust, but rather our increased ability to locate and access those deposits. In other words, an apparent scarcity of a resource can be addressed (at least temporarily) by improving our ability to find and obtain that resource.

10.2.3 Substitution

The last category of responses to scarcity is substitution. If we run out of a resource, we can often find a different resource that satisfies the same need. In a sense, we can view the early European shift from freshwater fish to marine species as an example of substitution. As freshwater species became unable to meet demand, fishers began to provide marine species, which could serve the same purpose. Modern fish substitutions make for some interesting marketing campaigns. For example, the spiny dogfish—a bottom-dwelling species of shark—was once considered a nuisance by fishers. Not only were they undesirable commercially, but they tore nets, stole bait, and even pilfered caught fish that were still on the hook. As populations of more valuable species declined, however, the spiny dogfish itself became the focus of a new commercial fishery, but since people might be reluctant to eat something called dogfish, the name was changed to the more palatable moniker, rock salmon.

These methods for dealing with scarcity have taken us far as a clever and adaptable species. However, there is a limit to their effectiveness. Eventually, we run out of new geographical areas to provide untapped resources and at some point the amount of available resources meet their physical limits. There are no more uncharted fisheries to be found and by most accounts the days of plentiful, low-cost oil are behind us (e.g. Campbell & Laherre, 1998; Hirsch, 2005; Owen et al., 2010). This leaves substitution, but as we shall see, there are some resources for which there are no adequate substitutes.

10.3 Understanding Resource Scarcity

So far, I have been using fishery and petroleum examples as if they were the same type of resource, but they actually represent two very different types: renewable and non-renewable, respectively. The petroleum that we take from the ground is not being replaced (at least not in a time scale relevant to human aspirations), and non-renewable resources like petroleum, no matter how slowly we use them, will eventually run out.Editors’ note: An interesting theoretical way to cope with this challenge was suggested by Bartlett (2012) under the term of ‘sustained availability.’ For example, assuming that the available reserves of a given non-renewable resource would last for 40 years at the present rate of consumption (as has been estimated for petroleum), it can be available indefinitely provided that its consumption is scaled back by 1/40 = 2.5% each year. The same recommendation was made independently in the Uppsala Protocol (Campbell & Aleklett, 2004). Thus renewable resources are resources that can be consumed at a rate that allows them to be replenished as quickly as they are consumed. For example, as long as people do not catch fish at a rate faster than the fish can reproduce, then the fishery is renewable and can be sustained indefinitely. Therefore, sustainably managing one’s natural resources requires reducing one’s dependence on non-renewable resources and limiting the exploitation of renewable resources to a level correspondent to the resource’s ability to replenish itself.

However, many economists argue that the scarcity of a resource should not be defined in material terms. Within neoclassical economics, still the dominant model among economists today, one views scarcity in terms of prices and costs. Material scarcity is only one of many factors affecting price. For example, if a natural resource becomes materially scarce, it becomes more difficult to obtain. One must drill deeper for less oil or fish longer for fewer fish. As a result, the costs associated with obtaining the resource (time, fuel, etc.) will increase, which will lead to an increase in the price of that resource. As that price increases, new economic possibilities emerge. For example, substitution of other, relatively cheaper resources becomes more attractive. From this perspective, as available petroleum deposits decline, the increased price of oil should simply provide a greater incentive to pursue other energy sources more aggressively.Similarly, recycling could become an economically viable option for some resources as the costs associated with obtaining virgin resources increases. Therefore, in a neoclassical economic sense, the material scarcity of a resource simply indicates a transition to something newer and perhaps better.

This traditional economic view of scarcity assumes infinite substitutability. That is, for material scarcity to have the rather minor effect on an economic system that many economists suggest, an alternative resource must always be available as a substitute for a materially scarce resource. Neoclassical economists place much confidence in the ability of future technological innovations to ensure that alternative resources are indeed always available when needed. Ecological economists do not view infinite substitutability as a valid assumption. More specifically, ecological economists argue that the limited supply of natural resources will and should place constraints on economic systems.

Neoclassical economists can indeed point to numerous technological innovations that have helped us to address potential resource shortages. The ‘green revolution’ in the mid-20th century has often been cited as a quintessential example of how preconceived limits can dissolve in the face of new technology. In the 1960s many believed that Thomas Malthus’ prediction (150 years earlier) that human population would eventually grow beyond its ability to feed itself was finally coming true. These fears, however, subsided as new agricultural techniques (including use of pesticides, irrigation, inorganic fertilizers, and new varieties of grains) greatly increased agricultural output. By the 1970s, instead of the predicted famine, food prices remained stable or even decreased.

Now, however, we can see that these agricultural gains came with a price. First, agricultural biodiversity decreased significantly. High agricultural diversity is seen by many as an effective hedge against agricultural collapse for the same reasons that bankers recommend a diversified investment portfolio. In a diverse agro-industry, if something happens to one crop (e.g. disease), other strains are still available. With the green revolution, however, farmers favoured the new varieties that responded best to heavy fertilizer loads. The fertilizer itself became a non-renewable resource, produced using an energy intensive process that requires natural gas as a raw material. Water demands by agriculture also increased greatly, creating a strain on water resources, and given the projected shortages of both fossil fuels and water, many are already calling for more sustainable agricultural methods. And finally, pesticides, while useful for increasing crop production, have in many cases resulted in environmental degradation and ecosystem failure, and have become a threat to human health.

In short, while the green revolution successfully staved off the impending food shortages of the 1960s, it led to a number of unsustainable practices that continue to today. Moreover, the high rates of population growth mean that we will once again be faced with a need for a green revolution, and this time it cannot depend upon fossil fuels. Certainly, technical innovation will play a major role in how we address contemporary resource challenges, but technical innovation does not imply a world without limits and learning to live within those limits will require far more than a technical solution. Managing limited resources requires managing our own behaviour, but as we shall see, living within our limits has proven to be an extraordinarily difficult task.Editor’s note: The fact that the idea of infinite substitutability is still being discussed in some circles indicates that the political relevance of an idea is not necessarily affected by its scientific refutation; climate change denial is another example.

10.4 Tragedy of the Commons

It is perhaps a sad sign that the most cited article in natural resource literature is one describing immanent failure at managing limited resources. Garret Hardin’s 1968 article “Tragedy of the commons” has become part of the parlance of our times, and the points Hardin raised are still the focal point of much discussion among academics and resource managers. In the article, Hardin describes how economically rational behaviour, at the individual level, can lead to the collapse of common pool resources, that is, resources that are open to exploitation by multiple users.While we use the term ‘rational’ colloquially to imply the use of sound judgment and good sense, economists use it to refer specifically to behaviour in which one assesses the costs and benefits of a decision and opts for the path that maximizes net gain. As we can see in Hardin’s example below, economically rational behaviour (based on analysis at the individual level) often clashes with what we think of as sound judgment. Contemporary examples include fisheries, forests, and the Earth’s atmosphere (in the context of greenhouse gases).

Hardin uses the illustration of cattle grazing on an open prairie to illustrate his point. Consider five herders, each with his own herd of cattle, sharing a common area for grazing. Since the grass is a renewable resource this situation can continue indefinitely as long as the rate of grazing does not exceed the grass’s growth rate. And naturally, if a rancher were to add an animal to his herd, the added animal would mean added pressure on the pasture, but since the pasture is shared by five herders the added costs (i.e. negative effects on the pasture) are split five ways, while the rancher who added the animal reaps all the added benefits (e.g. additional milk or meat). Thus, simple arithmetic tells the herder to add to his herd. Since each herder follows this same line of reasoning, each herder adds animals, and each added animal results in more pressure on the pasture. Eventually, the pasture becomes so damaged that it can provide only a small fraction of the benefits seen before the pressure increased.

This pattern, argued Hardin, will be followed in the context of any common pool resource. Even when the resource users are aware of this dynamic, avoiding a collapse is difficult. If one or two of the herders decides to forego extra animals in an effort to save the pasture, the life of the pasture might be extended, but as long as any of the herders continue to increase their herds, then eventual collapse is inevitable. Thus, a herder who is perfectly aware of the dynamics of the tragedy of the commons might not unreasonably decide to increase his herd while possible, taking what benefits he can before the resource collapses. This attitude has been seen in fishers who, knowing the fishery to be near collapse, continue to fish to draw as much income as they can before the end (see Carey, 1999).

It is worth dwelling on Hardin’s title for a moment. Hardin explained that he does not use the term tragedy to refer to how sad this situation is. Rather, he uses it in the context of what he calls (quoting Alfred Whitehead) “the remorseless working of things” (Hardin, 1968, p. 1244). In other words, the resource users are destined to collapse the resource, not because they are malicious or irrational, but because this is simply how common pool resources work. Others disagree with this conclusion, and we will discuss some additions and amendments scholars have made to these ideas. First, however, we will look at other barriers to the sustainable use of resources.

10.5 Social Traps

Shortly after Hardin’s article was published, John Platt published another more general look at collective behaviour with undesirable results. He titled the article “Social traps,” defining the term as situations “where men or organizations get themselves started in some direction or some set of relationships that later prove to be unpleasant or lethal and that they see no easy way to back out of or to avoid” (1973, p. 641). The common pattern here involves a lack of connection between the short-term or local effects of an action and its long-term, broad consequences. In much the way that a mouse falls victim to a trap due to its failure to look beyond the hunk of cheese toward the metal spring set to snap its spine, people often fail to look past immediate and local gain. Economist Robert Costanza has explored how these social traps work in the context of natural resources, and has identified several different types (1997), each of which will be discussed in turn.

10.5.1 Ignorance

The most straightforward of these traps is simple ignorance, and early fishers might very reasonably have pled ignorance regarding the effect that their actions would have on the fisheries that they caused to collapse.Editors’ note: ‘Simple’ ignorance excludes in principle any kind of disingenuous ignorance, i.e. false claims of ignorance or deliberate attempts not to find out. In modern times, however, the ignorance trap is more commonly associated with the broad or long-term effects of industrial chemicals. For example, when chlorofluorocarbons were developed in the early 1900s, they were celebrated because they were useful as a refrigerant, as well as non-flammable and non-toxic to humans and decades passed before scientists realized the damage CFCs were doing to the ozone layer. In the context of resource use, however, the ignorance trap is less relevant and in most cases, scientists can predict the scarcity of a resource long before it occurs. Other traps, on the other hand, are less easily dispelled than the ignorance trap.

10.5.2 Externality

Externality is an economic term, referring to a cost or benefit of an action that is not felt by the actor. For example, an individual living on a river might be inclined to view that river as a convenient tool for disposing of waste. One could simply dump their waste in the river, and need not worry about it anymore. However, the waste is not truly gone. The dumper may not experience the negative effects of the waste in the river, but people living downstream from the dumping will. The Mississippi River, which flows over 2,500 miles through much of the United States including several large farming states, provides a useful example of the effects of externality traps. Over its long course, the Mississippi picks up nutrient runoff (from excessive fertilizer use) and carries those nutrients downstream. By the time the waters reach the Gulf of Mexico, the nutrient levels are high enough to cause a dead zone roughly the size of New Jersey. The term dead zone refers to an area in which oxygen levels in the water are too low to support most marine life. The Gulf of Mexico dead zone, one of the biggest in the world, now encompasses what was once a habitat that supported a productive shrimp fishery.

The term externality indicates that the effects of an action are not accounted for within the marketplace. In theory, if Person A was dumping waste into a river and negatively affecting Person B downstream, then the two parties might reach an agreement by which Person A compensate Person B. In reality, however, such agreements are quite complicated due both to the number of people involved (e.g. thousands living along the Mississippi River and near the dead zone) and the difficulty in placing an economic value on the damage done to the resources in question.

In the Mississippi River example, environmental degradation in the form of the dead zone has, among other things, decreased the supply of a natural resource. In other words, the externality trap plays an indirect role in resource scarcity. But this trap can play a direct role as well. The most common type of example points to the disparity between the rich and the poor and the resulting disparity between their ability to respond to resource scarcity. Put simply, those with more resources are better able to respond to resource scarcity than those with fewer resources. Consider the rise in the average price of gasoline in the United States. In 1999 the average price per gallon was $1.34. By 2008, the average had increased to $3.01 per gallon.Values are reported in 1995 US dollars. Data were taken from the U.S. Energy Information Administration: (accessed 26 July 2019) While still relatively low by global comparisons, the steep price increase was a shock for many. Those individuals with more expendable income, however, were better able to either absorb the higher fuel costs or to purchase more fuel efficient cars. For those individuals without expendable income, these options were not available.

A similar pattern can be seen globally. Karen Lock and co-workers observe that, “Between January 2006 and July 2008, global food prices rose by an average of 75%, causing an estimated 75 million additional people to become undernourished worldwide” (Lock et al., 2009, p. 269). As one might imagine, the wealthy were not among the 75 million additional undernourished people. In fact one of the factors contributing to the increase in food prices is the shift in diet in nations with growing economies. New wealth in places such as Brazil, India and China has caused a shift from plant-based diets to ones based on meat and dairy products, more resource intensive food sources. As a result, the demand for grains increased to support the meat industry. While those individuals still depending directly on grains for their diet were not a part of this shift, they were still affected by increased grain prices. Approximately three billion people spend over half of their income on food. For these people, “any price increase will at best lead to poorer quality diets and, at worst, increase rates of malnutrition” (Lock et al., 2009, p.  270).

This discussion has focused on individual behaviour, but the same patterns hold at broader scales as well. Developing countries are more susceptible to the stresses brought on by resource scarcity than industrial countries (Jonsson et al., 2019). In fact, often the measures taken by the wealthy to adapt to scarcity exacerbate the problem for the poor. When the wealthy perceive an immanent scarcity of a resource, the common response is to increase one’s own stocks, meaning that even less of that resource is available for others. Anyone who has prepared for a hurricane has likely witnessed the mad rush for bottled water and plywood that takes place due to the fears of an impending shortage of these resources. The conflicts that take place at local hardware stores or supermarkets during those times point to the types of conflicts than can occur between classes and even countries in the face of resource scarcity. Such hoarding behaviour is deeply ingrained in human behaviour. We will discuss these dynamics later in the chapter. For now, we will continue with the survey of social traps.

10.5.3 Time Delay

To understand the next social trap, ask yourself which of these you would rather have: a one hundred dollar bill, or a check for one hundred dollars post-dated one year from today. You would likely prefer the cash. In fact, you can carry the exercise further and ask whether your answer would change if the check were for $105? How about $120? By identifying the exact amount that would lead you to choose the check, you can find what economists call your discount rate. That is, your level of preference for immediate benefits over future ones.

We have good reasons for preferring immediate benefits. First, we cannot know what is going to happen in a year. You might lose the check, or the account might be closed. The safer choice is to take the immediate gain. However, our penchant for immediate gains goes far beyond what is reasonable. Most of us exhibit behaviour that can be rationalized only because of the time delay between the behaviour and its consequences. For example, excessive drinking would likely not be nearly as widespread among college students if the hangover were felt immediately upon drinking alcohol rather than the next day. Procrastinating with homework so that an entire paper must be written in one stress-filled night is another example. The benefits of not doing the work in a timely fashion seem to trump the stress and potentially decreased quality of work that are bound to come from rushing at the last minute.

In terms of natural resources, the benefits we receive now from unsustainable use of resources today means that those resources will not be available tomorrow for use by us or by future generations. Consider for a moment the ethics involved in caring for future generations. Most would agree that one’s access to resources should not be dictated by one’s race or gender, and in the same vein one might argue that access to resources should not be based on what period in time a person is born. Sustainable use of resources implies an ethical responsibility (intergenerational justice) to ensure that future generations have access to the same quality of life that we have today. If we accept the argument by environmental scientists and ecological economists—that human innovation will not be able to substitute for all the services currently provided by our natural resources and environmental systems—then our commitment to future generations will require learning to live within the limits set by the Earth’s environmental systems.

The time-delay trap, however, often causes logic like this to land on deaf ears. We have heard the adages about taking precautions in order to avoid future hardship. A stitch in time saves nine. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Still, our preference for immediate payoffs causes us to ignore such wisdom, and blind faith in future technological solutions represents a convenient way to rationalize such behaviour. As a result, we tend to address environmental challenges only after they have reached catastrophic proportions. Strict environmental regulations are rarely enacted proactively. Rather, they come after a fishery has collapsed or the majority of an area has become deforested.

Some see this behaviour as having deep psychological roots and B.F. Skinner (1904-1990) tried to explain why people exhibit unsustainable behaviour by making the distinction between knowing by acquaintance (i.e. learning through our own experience) and knowing by description (i.e. learning through someone else’s advice).See a summary of B. F. Skinner's accomplishments on the Harvard University's Department of Psychology web page. The former is far more powerful, and since we cannot know the future through experience, we tend not to focus on it. This is particularly true when predictions—including sound, scientifically-based predictions—involve information that we do not want to hear.


Fishing for Today, Not Tomorrow

A fishery is a renewable resource because the fish are able to replenish their numbers through reproduction. The rate of reproduction is dictated largely by the size of the population (Figure 10.2). When the population is relatively small, its growth rate is based on a percentage of its population. For example, a species might exhibit a growth rate of 10%, meaning that 100 individuals in the first year would grow to 110 individuals in the next, providing a net gain of ten individuals. A larger population, say 1000 individuals, would be able to produce a net gain of 100 individuals in that same period. In other words, the larger the population, the more individuals it is able to produce. This explains the shape of the left side of Figure 10.2. When a fish population is so large that its numbers are close to the maximum that can be supported by the environmental system, mortality increases due to lack of resources and the growth rate decreases as shown on the right side of Figure 10.2.

Most commercial fisheries are currently on the left side of this graph, meaning that a reduction in population size decrease the amount of fish that can be sustainably taken the following year.a Each year in which catch rates exceed sustainable limits further reduces the population’s ability to reproduce. If overfishing continues, then the population will eventually become too small to support any industry at all. Conversely, limiting current catch rates leads to greater sustainable catch rates in the future. Sustainable fishing requires restraint, taking fewer fish than we are able to take. However, as a result of the obstacles to sustainable behaviour discussed in this chapter, there is a strong tendency to catch fish at unsustainable rates, leaving little for future generations.

The UNFAO estimates that 52% of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited; 17% are over-exploited, meaning that the fish are being caught faster than they are reproducing; and seven percent are depleted, meaning that they can no longer support a commercial industry (FAO, 2006).


Reproduction accelerates until the population is no longer sustainable, so it starts to decrease.
Figure 10.2 Population dynamics in fisheries.

Psychologists use the term cognitive dissonance to explain the discomfort we feel when we hold contradicting beliefs (see Festinger, 1957). When we act in what we know to be an unsustainable manner, we may feel a sense of fear or guilt. To reduce the cognitive dissonance—and the accompanying emotional discomfort—we have two options: change the behaviour or change the belief that the behaviour is harmful to ourselves or others in the future. Often the first choice is taken, and people choose to behave in more sustainable ways (e.g. Aitken et al., 1994; Kollmuss & Agyeman, 2002). However, changing one’s beliefs to fit one’s unsustainable behaviour is not uncommon. We often seek information that supports our behaviour and dismiss information that does not (e.g. Stoll-Kleemann et al., 2001; Kilbourne & Pickett, 2008). Indeed, psychologists have shown that we will even change the way we perceive physical reality in order to reduce cognitive dissonance (Balcetis & Dunning, 2007).Editor’s note: A pathologically extreme variant of such behavior is known as anosognosia. It manifests as the inability of a patient to recognize his/her anatomical or physiological defect, such as paralysis. Catton (2009) discussed sociocultural equivalents to such behavior that support cornucopianism. Nonetheless, we shall see that this strong psychological focus on the present can be overcome under the right circumstances.

10.6 Understanding Complex Systems

Social traps, such as the tragedy of the commons or time-delay, help to explain much of the unsustainable resource use currently taking place. Yet even without these traps, our fundamental misunderstanding of social, economic, and ecological systems tends to promote poor decision making and complacency regarding the natural systems that support us. The term social-ecological system is used to indicate the interactions between social, economic, and ecological systems. These systems are complex, meaning they are dynamic (rather than static) and characterized by web-like causal connections (rather than linear causal chains). Our failure to acknowledge and understand these characteristics causes us to be surprised by their unexpected behaviours. In this section, we will look at each of these characteristics of complexity.

10.6.1 Dynamic Systems

We tend to think of social-ecological systems as static systems that exhibit linear behaviour. A bicycle exhibits this behaviour. If you pedal at a certain rate, the bicycle will move at a corresponding speed. If you double your rate of pedalling, the bicycle will move at roughly twice the original speed. This is called a linear response. Now imagine a bicycle that would take off like a rocket if you doubled your pedalling rate or one that would some days barely respond to pedalling at all. This is closer to how complex systems behave. With a basic understanding of complex systems this behaviour can be explained and to a certain extent even predicted.

Erling Moxnes (2000) performed an interesting experiment to show how our inability to understand the dynamics of complex systems can contribute to the collapse of a resource. Moxnes designed a model of a fishery based on the population dynamics described in the textbox above. He then had study participants (including fishers and fishery managers) manage this simulated fishery. Each year a participant could decide whether or not to add a ship to the fishing fleet. The participant would then receive data regarding the number of fish caught that year and, based on that information, make a decision about adding another ship the following year.

Two characteristics about this exercise are relevant to our discussion of social traps. First, the simulated fishery was privately owned. Participants did not have to worry about someone else catching the fish that they left to reproduce. Second, the participants themselves were rewarded (i.e. paid) based on their success in running a sustainable fishery based on an infinite time horizon. In other words, the higher immediate payoff to the participants came if they were able to maintain a high reproductive rate in the fishery far into the future. By setting the game up this way, Moxnes effectively eliminated the potential for tragedy of the commons or time-delay traps, presumably taking away the most difficult aspects of managing real-world fisheries.

Despite these advantages, the median fleet size built by Moxnes’ participants was almost double the size required to maximize sustainable yield. Even without the social traps described above, the participants overfished their fisheries. Perhaps even more interesting than the participants’ poor performances were their responses to this and other similar simulations. Many were dubious of the results, suggesting an error in the model itself or attributing their performance to factors outside the parameters of the model (e.g. disease).

The difficulty for these participants stemmed from their assumption that the fishery was a static, rather than a dynamic system. Moxnes explains that the participants assumed there was a set rate of growth, say 1000 fish per year. They proceeded to increase their fleet size, assuming that a decrease in catch would indicate that they had found the growth rate. They did not realize that growth rate is a moving target, which decreases as the population size becomes smaller. By the time participants observed a decrease in catch, they had already decreased the population significantly, causing a severe reduction in the population’s ability to make more fish.

Moxnes’ findings apply to far more than fisheries. Social, economic, and ecological systems are all complex, dynamic systems. Because of our tendency to view these systems as static, we are consistently surprised by their behaviour in the same way that Moxnes’ participants were surprised by the response of the model. Consider, for example, the phenomenon of positive or reinforcing feedback, where a small change leads to bigger and bigger change. The build-up of nuclear arms during the Cold War is an oft-cited example. The United States developed a small arsenal of nuclear weapons. The Soviet Union, viewing this as a threat, developed their own arsenal in response. The United States viewed this response as a threat and added to their arsenal, and the Soviet Union behaved likewise. This cycle continued until the two countries had enough nuclear arms to blow up the Earth many times over—a situation that was costly and dangerous to both countries.

To see how reinforcing feedback works in the context of natural resources, we can return to the example of the green revolution. Scientists responded to the perceived threat of the human population becoming too large to feed by increasing our ability to produce food. Forgetting for the moment the objections raised regarding the agricultural methods used to increase food production, we can focus on the problem with the logic of this solution in a dynamic system. If the amount of food needed to feed the world population were a static figure (as is assumed in the slogan ‘feeding the world’), then increasing food supply alone would have indeed solved the problem. However, as we have seen with fish populations, population growth involves a complex and dynamic system.

The reinforcing loop that illustrates this pattern is shown in Figure 10.3. To understand the dynamics of the system, one must simply follow the arrows in the loop. Reproduction leads to an increase in population size, which leads to an increase in reproduction, which leads to an increase in population size. And on it goes round and round the loop. The result of this feedback loop in populations is the exponential growth described earlier in the chapter (Figure 10.4). This pattern of growth can be seen in populations of many species. However, reinforcing loops are constrained by a balancing loop. The growth of populations is typically constrained by available resources, as shown in the fishery example in Figure 10.2.

This pattern is basic ecology, but it was not a part of the solution offered by the green revolution. Increasing the global food supply further increased the global population. In the 1960s, people were worried about feeding a population of four billion. In the next few decades, we will be concerned about feeding a population of nine to 10 billion. In short, increasing food production made it possible to go around the reinforcing feedback loop of Figure 10.3 several more times, but it did not address the fundamental problem. A more holistic approach to the problem might have included measures for addressing population growth (e.g. family planning programmes). By choosing to limit our reproduction rates before we are forced to by resource constraints, we can address the root of the famine and suffering that the scientists of the green revolution intended to address.

Population size (number of individuals) and the reproduction rate (number of individuals per year) are in a feedback loop.
Figure 10.3 Reinforcing feedback. Population size (individuals) and reproduction rate (individuals per year).


Population size increases exponentially, with the curve angling upward over time.
Figure 10.4 Exponential growth. Population size over time.

10.6.2 Interconnectedness

In addition to being dynamic, complex systems are characterized by a high level of interdependence between parts. When we analyse a process, we tend to think in linear terms with series of events making causal chains, but in complex systems one cause can have many effects that move through a system. Ecologists often observe this type of behaviour, in which the loss of one species causes major changes to the entire system. For example, fishers, observing otters eating fish, used to view them as competitors for fish near a kelp forest. Now, however, scientists know that the absence of otters in a kelp forest system can lead to the loss of the entire forest, including the fish.

In terms of natural resources, particularly renewable resources, this interconnectivity can mean that activity regarding one resource leads to difficulties with others as well. We have already seen how activity in states along the Mississippi River affects resources in the Gulf of Mexico. Examples abound. One area that has received greater attention recently is the connection between coastal forests and marine systems. Each of these systems provides important resources and services. Only recently have resource managers looked closely at how these systems interact. For example, loss of coastal forests can significantly increase the amount of nutrients and sedimentation entering nearby coral reefs (Caddy & Bakun, 1994; Humborg et al., 2000). In short, scarcity in one resource can cause scarcity in others as well. In addition, environmental degradation taking place on a global scale (see Chapter 9 and Chapter 12) can cause severe reductions in available living resources.

10.7 Resource Scarcity and Conflict

So far, this chapter has focused on the barriers to addressing resource scarcity issues before they become major problems. In this section, we will look more closely at behaviours that people exhibit once resource scarcity has become a major problem. There is still much debate over the relationship between resource scarcity and violent conflict. Thomas Homer-Dixon argued that resource scarcity can often be a significant contributor to violent conflict, particularly in developing countries, which face “increasingly complex, fast-moving, and interacting environmental scarcities” (1999, p. 5). He describes two patterns of interaction in the face of scarcity.

One of these, is that “powerful groups within society – anticipating future shortages – shift resource distribution in their favour, subjecting the remaining population to scarcity” (Percival & Homer-Dixon, 1998, p. 280). This interaction is called ‘resource capture.’ As a result of this distribution shift, weaker groups are forced to migrate to ecologically sensitive areas, thereby increasing scarcity. This Homer-Dixon calls ecological marginalization. These interactions can result in “a self-reinforcing spiral of violence, institutional dysfunction, and social fragmentation” (Homer-Dixon, 1999, p. 5). These dynamics, predicts Homer-Dixon, are likely to lead to a future increase in violence as resource scarcity challenges become severe, particularly in combination with social injustice (Homer-Dixon, 2006).

Describing processes not unlike what Homer-Dixon depicts above, scholars cite resource scarcity as the primary cause for many recent conflicts, including the Sudanese civil war (Suliman, 1999) and Rwandan genocide (Diamond 2005) and others (Finsterbusch, 2002; Parenti, 2011). Others, however, argue that resource scarcity has rarely been a major contributor to violent conflict. Several quantitative studies have found little correlation between factors such as population density, deforestation, water scarcity and violent conflict (Esty et al., 1998; Theisen, 2008). They point to what they see as more significant factors contributing to violent conflict, including lack of education, poverty, and instability. Indeed, some even see the potential for positive impacts. When scarcity is addressed early, the need to manage a resource can have a unifying effect, encouraging cooperation between institutions or nations. Recognising non-negotiable environmental limits and adapting to them is an important component of resilience in the Anthropocene (Pirages & Cousins, 2005).

Disentangling the various components of conflicts and identifying their specific roles is a difficult task and continues to be the focus of much debate. Whatever one’s view is of the relationship between violent conflict and resource scarcity, experts agree that the resource challenges of the present and near future will test our systems of governance in new ways. The ability of these institutions to respond to new stresses plays a significant role, not only in the context of violent conflict, but also in the context of basic quality of life. In the next section, we will look at how to design institutions that can respond appropriately to contemporary resource challenges.

10.8 Human Security in the Face of Resource Scarcity

Much of the debate regarding resource scarcity and conflict focuses on localized shortages. Future natural resource challenges are likely to be felt much more broadly (Bretthauer, 2016; Pirages & Cousins, 2005). Ecologist C.S. Holling describes the situation like this:

Nature, people, and economies are suddenly now co-evolving on a planetary scale. Each is affecting the others in such novel ways and on such large scales that large surprises are being detected and posited that challenge traditional human modes of governance and management and that threaten to overwhelm the adaptive and innovative capabilities of people. (Holling, 1994, p. 81)

Note the focus here on “adaptive and innovative capabilities.” Holling’s primary concern is not with scarcity of resources per se, but with scarcity of possible responses to new challenges. In an ecosystem, responses to new changes become limited by loss of biodiversity. In a social system, response to change becomes limited when individuals lose creativity and institutions become overly rigid.

I am using the term institutions broadly here, referring to systems of governance on multiple scales. This includes national and local governments as well as less formal systems, including social norms and habits of interaction. In his book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond (2005) describes several examples in which societies failed because they were unable to change their individual and/or collective behaviour in the face of changing environmental conditions. For example, he describes how Norse settlements in Greenland collapsed in the 15th century largely because of their reluctance to adopt foods and practices that better suited the resources and environmental conditions of Greenland. Of course, in today’s globalized world of social, economic and ecological interconnectivity the stakes have risen. Repeating the failures that Diamond illustrated on a local level can have much broader costs today (Bretthauer, 2016; Dawson et al., 2018). Avoiding those failures will require addressing the social traps discussed earlier in the chapter.

10.8.1 Drama of the Commons

It is worth noting that many of the thousands of articles and books that cite Hardin’s “Tragedy of the commons” disagree with his conclusions and suggest alternatives to the resource collapse that Hardin described. The dynamics of common pool resources that Hardin describes are indeed challenges, but they are not insurmountable obstacles. First, Hardin’s scenario comes about because the herders are all focused ona narrowly defined self-interest. In reality, people are quite capable of focusing on the collective good, and adjusting their behaviour accordingly. Cultural contingencies add to the variability. Moreover, people, aware of their tendencies toward narrow self-interest, are capable of developing and accepting a set of rules designed for the greater good of society. If only one of Hardin’s herders refrains from increasing his herd, then the resource will still collapse from the behaviour of the others acting in narrow self-interest. However, if all five herders agree to limit their herds, then the resource can be sustained.

Hardin’s critics have also pointed out that resource users typically do develop rules governing use of common resources (e.g. Berkes, 1985). Indeed, many argue that the ability to cooperate plays a strong role in selection of communities (e.g. Boyd & Richerson, 2009). In other words, cooperation within a community increased the ability of members within that community to survive. When one includes this broader spectrum of behaviour, the management of a common resource need not be tragic at all. Ostrom and coworkers (2002) prefer the term “drama of the commons” since common resource management involves a mixture of tragedy, comedy, and history. The question then becomes, “What systems of governance are best suited for addressing the drama of the commons”?

The answer to this question depends largely on the specifics of the resource and community in question. What works well for one community may fail miserably in another. Editor’s note: The international community seems to lag behind smaller communities in this capacity for cooperation; it even seems to be moving into the wrong direction. However, scholars have identified several key aspects of governance systems that increase the likelihood of a community to manage its resources sustainably. A fuller discussion of these will be offered in Chapter 20, but four of the most important characteristics are listed below.

The system must be responsive to the whole range of resource users. Excluding certain resource users from discussion of management can create ethical problems as well as practical ones. Maintaining a diversity of voices involved in the discussion can provide useful insights and innovative ideas.

The system must include institutions working together across scales. This means that local institutions must be able to coordinate with regional, national and global ones. Local institutions are often important sources of creativity and innovation, but the larger institutions are needed to coordinate efforts and implement new ideas. By working together, these institutions can combine their respective strengths (see Berkes, 2007).

The system must be adaptive. Environmental systems change continually. Governing systems must be able to perceive and respond to these changes. There are numerous examples where resource collapse came about largely due to the insistence of governing agencies to retain policies that no longer fit the circumstances (see Gunderson & Holling, 2001).

The system must earn the trust of the resource users. Resource decisions are often not win-win. They involve costly measures that can inflict hardships on resource users. Those sacrifices will be resisted unless the resource users are confident that the system of governance is fair and effective (Jonsson et al., 2019).

10.8.2 Overcoming Individual Traps

Of course, the tragedy of the commons is only one of the obstacles to sustainable use of resources discussed earlier in the chapter. Institutions with the characteristics described in the previous section will not succeed unless the other traps are addressed as well. For example, we must educate ourselves regarding natural resources. Scientific discoveries over the last several decades have illustrated numerous ways in which our actions affect the environmental systems that support us. We can no longer claim ignorance when fisheries collapse or vast areas become deforested. But to truly avoid the ignorance trap, the level of environmental literacy among the general public must increase.

A basic understanding of complex systems and of the intricate web of connections that now connect us globally must be considered part of environmental literacy. We can understand simple systems intuitively; when filling a glass of water, we know to stop pouring before the level reaches the top of the glass. The feedback of the increasing water level is clear, and we know the appropriate response. The behaviour of complex systems is not so straightforward. Imagine pouring that same glass of water blindfolded and without being able to control the flow from the pitcher. Such conditions would call for far more precaution if we still wish to avoid spilling. This latter scenario is closer to how complex systems behave. If more people understood this behaviour, or at least expected it, then policies that proactively address resource challenges would be more popular.Editor’s note: The argument that ecosystems behave as complex systems whose responses are not easily predicted is often used to support the precautionary principle in environmental policy.

Other traps, such as externality and time-delay, may require an ethical shift. Overcoming the externality trap requires taking responsibility for the effect of our actions on others. The fact that those others may be far away geographically does not relinquish us of those responsibilities. With time-delay, the ethical extension is not across space, but time. Supporting policies for sustainable use of resources requires overcoming our preference for immediate payoffs. Ensuring that our descendants have adequate access to resources often means using less for ourselves now. Whether we are concerned for our own future well-being, that of people living far away, of future generations, or even of other species, our decisions must go beyond immediate payoffs and incorporate a broader perspective. Our response to these types of personal challenges will in no small way shape the way that we respond collectively to the resource challenges of this century and beyond. Some directions for conducive ethical changes will be described in Chapter 11.

10.9 Case Studies in Water Scarcity

Typically, when people think of water scarcity, they think of deserts. This perception is not without reason. Many armed conflicts over access to water have indeed taken place in arid regions. One of the factors for the Arab-Israeli 1967 War was access to the Jordan River. Israeli Premier Levi Eshkol proclaimed, “water is a question of life for Israel,” explaining that “Israel would act to ensure that the waters continue to flow” (quoted in Gleick, 1993, p. 85). Similarly, many scholars cite disputes over the Nile River as an important example of the central role that water can play in inter-state conflicts in northern Africa (e.g. Homer-Dixon, 1994; El-Fadel et al., 2003; Kameri-Mbote, 2006). While these violent, international conflicts garner much attention, they do not represent the norm. Conflicts over water resources typically occur on local or regional scales rather than international ones, they rarely result in violent conflict, and they often occur in places that receive substantial rainfall. In this section, we will look at two case studies of conflicts due to water scarcity that are more representative of typical scarcity issues.

10.9.1 Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin

Our first case study illustrates howinstitutions can find themselves trapped in a situation that everyone agrees is unsustainable. In the United States, most people associate water scarcity conflicts with arid western states. However, Florida, Georgia and Alabama have found themselves in a hotly contested struggle over the waters of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin. The ACF basin, which covers 12 million acres from Atlanta to the Gulf Coast of Florida, provides drinking water for Atlanta, hydro-electric power for Alabama, and prime natural habitat in Florida’s panhandle. In the 1980s a series of droughts combined with Atlanta’s growth made the limits of the ACF basin a matter of concern. Note the potential for an externality trap here. More pumping in Atlanta would mean that less water was available to produce electricity in Alabama and to maintain the important riverine ecosystems in Florida.

The three states involved in this conflict have made numerous attempts to develop a management plan on which all can agree. These attempts, mixed with numerous law suits and appeals, have now spanned more than two decades, and the dispute has still not been resolved. Water Law expert Robert Abrams attributes this stalemate to a misguided effort among those involved to find a “static, presently articulable, final result that will adequately ensure and properly prioritize the region’s most vital interests” (Abrams, 2008, p. 682). In other words, those involved in negotiations want to find an answer that will resolve this issue permanently and without the need for later adjustments. Such an approach not only makes it difficult for institutions to respond to current changes, but may also hamper institutions’ abilities to respond to changing conditions in the future. Moreover, the negotiators are holding steadfastly to their own positions, taking what Abrams calls “aggressive, jingoistic public positions that prevent candid, open-ended negotiations” (Abrams, 2008, p. 683).

Recall that adaptability and coordination between institutions from multiple scales (local, regional, and national) are two key attributes for a system of governance that can successfully manage the challenges of resource scarcity. While the three states are mired in this conflict, residents from each state cite negative economic and environmental impacts as a result of the status quo. In their efforts not to lose the negotiations, the state and federal institutions involved have missed opportunities to coordinate conservation and research efforts to find practical ways to address the water scarcity. The next step will likely be intervention by Congress, but there is no clear end to the dispute.

10.9.2 Mekong River Basin

Our second case study presents a much different approach. The Mekong River flows through or borders six countries in Southeast Asia. Coordination between these countries began in the 1950s when the Mekong River Basin (MRB) became the focus of a United Nations study on river basin planning. The lower Mekong nations — Cambodia, Laos, South Vietnam, and Thailand — adopted the UN report as the basis for development in the region and formed the Mekong Committee in 1957 with financial support from the United States, France and Japan. National Mekong committees were quickly formed and studies initiated on both physical and socio-economic impacts of potential developments within the basin. The international committee coordinated this work to ensure consistency in research methods throughout the MRB.

The Committee’s progress slowed in the 1960s in part due to the same type of competing goals described in the previous case study, but also due to the outbreak of war in the region. It is worth noting, however, that even during wartime, Committee members continued to share data and information on water resources and development. Indeed, scholars suggest that the scientific work done through the Committee contributed to regional security and positive international relations. An Interim Mekong Committee continued work after 1978, when Cambodia dropped out. In 1991 Cambodia was readmitted and negotiations began for the Agreement on the Cooperation for the Sustainable Development of the Mekong River Basin. Adopted in 1995, this agreement lays out a set of rules guiding development in the MRB. It is considered a “milestone in international water resources management treaties due to its emphasis on joint development, ecological protection, and a dynamic process of water allocation” (Radosevich & Olson, 1999; quoted in Jacobs, 2002, p. 360).

Much of the success seen in the MRB management can be attributed to the factors described above. First, it represents coordination of efforts on local, national, and international scales. Projects are not considered individually, but as parts of a larger regional programme. This coordination includes assistance from the UN and international non-governmental organizations, providing expertise and support when needed. Second, the Mekong Agreement of 1995 provides enough flexibility for institutions to adapt to changing needs. It lays out guidelines for management rather than details regarding water allocation. And finally, as a result of the long history of cooperation in the management of the MRB, members can approach negotiations with a high level of trust and confidence in the long-term management of the region. Conflicts are not avoided, but they can be viewed in the context of this history, which creates an atmosphere more likely to produce open and fruitful discussion.

Challenges regarding water management like the ones described here are far from uncommon and are likely to become more prevalent as societies scramble to support growing populations. Physical evidence of water shortage — lower groundwater tables, dried up wetlands, reduced river flow — can already be seen all over the globe. Our responses to such challenges — as individuals and as societies — will shape our own futures and those of our descendants. Whether these challenges will be resolved in bitter struggles or with open cooperation depends largely on us.

Resources and References


Key Points

  • At some point, all societies must address the challenges presented by the scarcity of resources.
  • Historical ways of dealing with local resource scarcity are unlikely to be as effective now at addressing global resource scarcities.
  • Understanding the assumptions that economists and ecologists make when discussing resource scarcity can help us to see how each field provides important insights to future resource challenges.
  • Numerous factors, including social dynamics anda general lack of focus on the broad effects of our actions, make unsustainable use of resources more likely.
  • By understanding those factors, we can address resource scarcity through better decision-making and the development of effective institutions for managing resource use.
  • Better decision-making and effective institutions will be necessary in order to maintain human security in the face of contemporary resource challenges.


Extension Activities & Further Research

  1. Play Oh Deer [PDF]. This is a kids’ game, but undergraduates tend to enjoy it at least as much as young children. It provides a lesson in population dynamics and resource scarcity.
  2. Have students read the debates regarding resource scarcity and substitutability between neoclassical economists such as Julian Simon and ecological economist such a Herman Daly. They can then write a response paper expressing their own views on the debate.
  3. Choose a conflict that scholars attribute to resource scarcity (e.g. Sudanese civil war). What role did resource scarcity play? What other factors led to violent conflict?
  4. Identify an example where people misunderstand the behaviour of a complex social-ecological system and explain how that misunderstanding leads to unsustainable behaviour. See Meadows (2008) for more information on understanding complex systems.
  5. Discuss what things are regarded as resources in your culture. Compare, e.g. a glass of juice: with a lake, with your parents, with the local church. Which of these four things are less like a resource and why? What does this difference depend on?

List of Terms

See Glossary for full list of terms and definitions.

Suggested Reading

Bretthauer, J. M. (2018). Climate change and resource conflict: The role of scarcity. Routledge.This work and the one by Pirages et al. provide a current evaluation of Homer-Dixon’s model.

Daly, H. E. (1982). The ultimate resource by Julian Simon [Review of the book The ultimate resource, by J. Simon]. Minnesotans for Sustainability. Daly’s review of the first edition of Simon’s book, in which he challenges the neoclassical arguments. Daly published much about the concept of zero-growth economies.

Dawson, C. M., Rosin, C., & Wald, N. (Eds.). (2019). Global resource scarcity: Catalyst for conflict or cooperation? Routledge.

Jonsson, F. A., Brewer, J., Fromer, N., & Trentmann, F. (Eds.). (2019). Scarcity in the modern world: History, politics, society and sustainability, 1800–2075. Bloomsbury Academic.This work and the one by Dawson et al. bring the reader up to date on the international situation.

Lomborg, B. (2013). The skeptical environmentalist: Measuring the real state of the world (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press. is a more recent version of Simon’s neoclassical arguments. Both are being re-evaluated now in view of the Anthropocene.

Meadows, D. (2008). Thinking in systems: A primer (D. Wright, Ed.). Chelsea Green Publishing.This book provides a thorough introduction into the behaviour of complex systems.

Pimm, S., & Harvey, J. (2001). No need to worry about the future: Environmentally, we are told, ‘things are getting better’. [Review of the book The skeptical environmentalist: Measuring the real state of the world, by B. Lomborg]. Nature 414(6860), 149–150. Pimm and Jeff Harvey’s scathing review of Lomborg’s book in the journal Nature.

Pirages, D., & Cousins, K. (Eds.). (2005). From resource scarcity to ecological security: Exploring new limits to growth. MIT Press.

Population Reference Bureau. (n.d.). Population Reference Bureau. www.prb.orgThe website of the Population Reference Bureau offers numerous analyses on topics concerning population and resources.

Simon, J. (1996). The ultimate resource 2. Princeton University Press.This book lays out the neoclassical view of resources. Simon considers human ingenuity the ultimate resource, allowing humans to cope with scarcity in other resources.

Smith, C. (1999). Ecological and economic perspectives. Ecology and Economy. on the debate between neoclassical economists (J. Simon) and ecological economists (H. Daly, P. Ehrlich).


Abrams, R. H. (2008). Settlement of the ACF controversy: Sisyphus at the dawn of the 21st century. Hamline Law Review, 31(3), 679–702.

Aitken, C. K., McMahon, T. A., Wearing, A. J., & Finlayson, B. L. (1994). Residential water use: Predicting and reducing consumption. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 24(2), 136–158.

Balcetis, E., & Dunning, D. (2007). Cognitive dissonance and the perception of natural environments. Psychological Science, 18(10), 917–921.

Bartlett, A. A. (2012). The meaning of sustainability. Teachers Clearinghouse, for Science and Society Education Newsletter, 31(1), 1–17.

Berkes, F. (1985). Fishermen and ‘the tragedy of the commons’. Environmental Conservation, 12(3), 199–206.

Berkes, F. (2007). Commons in a multi-level world. International Journal of the Commons, 2(1), 1–6.

Boyd, R., & Richerson, P. J. (2009). Culture and the evolution of human cooperation. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1533), 3281–3288.

Bretthauer, J. M. (2018). Climate change and resource conflict: The role of scarcity. Routledge.

Caddy, J. F., & Bakun, A. (1994). A tentative classification of coastal marine ecosystems based on dominant processes of nutrient supply. Ocean & Coastal Management, 23(3), 201–211.

Campbell, C. J., & Aleklett, K. (2004, June 7). The Uppsala protocol: Uppsala hydrocarbon depletion study group. Peak Oil.

Campbell, C. J., & Laherrère, J. H. (1998). The end of cheap oil. Scientific American, 278(3), 78–83.

Carey, R. A. (2000). Against the tide: The fate of the New England fisherman. Houghton Mifflin.

Catton, W. R., Jr. (2009). The problem of denial. Culture Change.

Costanza, R. (1987). Social traps and environmental policy. BioScience, 37(6), 407–412.

Daly, H. E. (1991). Review of The ultimate resource. In H. E. Daly, Steady-state economics (pp. 262–269). Island Press.

Dawson, C. M., Rosin, C., & Wald, N. (Eds.). (2019). Global resource scarcity: Catalyst for conflict or cooperation? Routledge.

Diamond, J. (2005). Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed. Viking Press.

El-Fadel, M., El-Sayegh, Y., El-Fadl, K., & Khorbotly, D. (2003). The Nile River basin: A case study in surface water conflict resolution. Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education, 32(1), 107–117.

Esty, D. C., Goldstone, J. A., Gurr, T. R., Harff, B., Levy, M., Dabelko, G. D., Surko, P. T., & Unger, A. N. (1999). State Failure Task Force report: Phase II findings. Environmental Change & Security Project Report, 5, 49–72.

Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford University Press.

Finsterbusch, K. (2002). Scarcity and its social impacts: Likely political responses. In M. N. Dobkowski & I. Wallimann (Eds.), On the edge of scarcity: Environment, resources, population, sustainability, and conflict (pp. 93–107). Syracuse University Press.

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