A New Model of Human Security
Want to know more about global politics?
Subscribe to our distribution list
Javier Solana

Javier Solana was EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Secretary-General of NATO, and Foreign Minister of Spain. He is currently President of the ESADE Center for Global Economy and Geopolitics, Distinguished Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Europe.

It is becoming increasingly clear that globalization progresses not steadily, but through ups and downs. Currently, it appears to be in a downswing, hindered by a growing number of irresponsible political leaders who describe it as the root of all evil. With the rhetoric of intolerance masquerading as nostalgia, populists such as US President Donald Trump advocate building walls and closing borders to reclaim “sovereignty” and “security.”

Of course, it was always naive to suppose that the nation-state could easily be divested of its central role in human affairs. But it is equally naive to believe that phenomena such as Brexit or Trump’s election augur the return of a world in which the nation-state reigns supreme. At this stage, the world is so interconnected that any talk of reversing globalization is chimerical.

In the realm of security, we need to confront the dark side of this interconnectivity. The legal and institutional mechanisms currently in place are inadequate to counter today’s threats, and this was true even before Brexit and Trump made things worse.

As Christine Chinkin and Mary Kaldor of the London School of Economics and Political Science argue in their book International Law and New Wars, the classic distinction between international and non-international armed conflict has lost currency. In this day and age, internal and external security must be understood as a continuum.

Chinkin and Kaldor show that “new wars” such as the conflict in Syria tend to involve a wide array of players – public and private, domestic and international – and transcend national borders. This latter point is illustrated by the former territorial grip of the Islamic State in Iraq, as well as its attacks in many other countries. Moreover, new wars usually have a strong ethnic, religious, or tribal component, and last for a long period of time, to the detriment of civilian populations.

The recent surge of conflicts with an intrastate dimension implies that the old Westphalian model of sovereignty – whereby states monopolize the legitimate use of force within their borders – has become obsolete. If we are to build a truly international society, we must think of sovereignty in terms of not just authority, but also responsibility.

Accordingly, the international community must be willing to intervene in countries where the government poses a danger to its own population. That is the logic behind the doctrine of the “responsibility to protect” (R2P), which the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted in 2005.

Unfortunately, when use of force has been justified on humanitarian grounds, interventions have focused narrowly on tactical military considerations. On paper, R2P also entails a responsibility to prevent and a responsibility to reconstruct, both of which are usually relegated to the background. Even worse, when the UN Security Council has authorized interventions with “all necessary” means on the basis of R2P – in Libya and the Ivory Coast, both in 2011 – the concept has been accused of whitewashing regime change.

Ever since, R2P has been stigmatized as a prerogative of power – an uncodified right to intervene that is invoked selectively, rather than a collective duty. As a result, it was sidelined. The failure of the Security Council to muster any real response to the crisis in Syria is the regrettable legacy of previous instances of overstepping in other countries, and shows that humanitarianism still comes second to geopolitics.

But does this mean that we are condemned to choose between the interventionist excesses of Iraq or Libya and the inaction that permitted mass atrocities to occur in Rwanda and Srebrenica (where UN peacekeepers were not authorized to intercede)?

The Trump administration’s rhetoric would certainly seem to suggest that these are the only two options. After all, the administration is starkly divided between isolationists and neoconservative “hawks” like National Security Adviser John Bolton, who is apparently undeterred by the long history of failure when it comes to regime change.

But we should neither resign ourselves to accepting a ramshackle framework for humanitarian intervention, nor underestimate the ability of international law to transform itself and, at the same time, transform societies globally. Chinkin and Kaldor propose a viable security model in which the protection of the individual – rather than the state – gains primacy, without resorting to paternalism.

To succeed, this model should approach security holistically, not episodically. It should internalize the priorities of affected populations, including those of women and other structurally disadvantaged groups. It should give preference to non-military means, placing a special emphasis on disarmament. It should be firmly anchored in the ethic of human rights and in a legal toolkit adapted to the logic of “new wars.” And it should enshrine the notion of “human security,” whereby the right to be protected would supplant R2P.

This model is not out of reach. In fact, R2P and the human security model were developed simultaneously, with the invaluable support of a leading thinker and global citizen: the late Kofi Annan. Many of the core principles of the latter model were laid out in a 2004 paper, “A Human Security Doctrine for Europe,” presented in Barcelona by the Study Group on Europe’s Security Capabilities. Three years later, the Human Security Study Group’s “Madrid Report” advanced the idea further.

Specifically, the Study Group outlined guidelines for expanding the European Union’s external missions. These guidelines inspired, for example, the use of human rights monitors and town-hall type consultations. Yet, as with R2P, the human security doctrine fell into disuse. Or, put another way, it was eclipsed by geopolitics, and by the military focus of various antiterrorism campaigns.

Nevertheless, we should remember that the greatest reconfigurations of international law throughout history have always followed geopolitical upheavals. At a time when civilian populations are increasingly vulnerable to new threats such as cyber warfare, reinventing the concept of human security is not some idealistic project. Rather, it is an urgent necessity.

By thinking in terms of human security, we can develop a comprehensive and collaborative strategy for managing the unconventional conflicts that are multiplying around the world. There can be no reversal of globalization. If we are going to mitigate its negative consequences, there is only one way forward: strengthening its positive effects.

Project Syndicate