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Globalization and Human Security: Framing the Issues

By Edmond J. Keller

Work in Progress

What is human security and how can we ensure it?

These are not new questions. To a large extent they have been the questions of the moment for at least the past four decades. However, with the ending of the Cold War these questions have taken on new meaning.

Traditionally the concept of security has been couched in neo-realist terms, relating to protecting the territorial integrity and political sovereignty of nations. This continues to be a legitimate concern for scholars and policy-makers alike, but at the current state of human development it is clear that an alternative or even complimentary conception of security needs to assume critical importance.

At a very fundamental level, the security of states is dependent upon whether or not their citizens feel secure and unthreatened. There is ample evidence in the world today that political instability can easily become transnationalized, threatening national, regional and even international security. A conceptualization of security that is centered primarily on the individual or community can be understood as human security. This notion grows from the assumption that there are needs, problems, and issues that are common to all of mankind no matter what part of the world they live in. For example, poverty; the spread of communicable diseases; environmental degradation; the loss of faith in institutions; population pressures; and economic crisis. It is imperative that we view these concerns in terms of global trends and forces that affect the individual. These trends include such processes as: the depletion of non-renewable resources; drug trafficking; human trafficking; the rapid spread of communications technology; the rampant growth of capitalist markets with no controls to avoid the excesses of the capitalists; poverty, inequality and human misery; and the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Human security, then, primarily relates to the safety and well being of people everywhere. It has been found that a sense of insecurity among certain groups invariably leads to group conflict and political instability. The threats involved may relate to the physical well being of individuals and groups, but they might also---and often doinvolve a perception that values are being threatened.

How can we ensure human security? This can be achieved not through force of arms, but through policies that lead to the empowerment of people and an attack on the sources of such problems as poverty, inequality and political disenfranchisement. Today, more than at any other time in human history, we are able to marshal the resource to address the most intractable social, economic and technological problems that confront us. This would involve the implementation of poverty reduction strategies in the poorest parts of the world that lead to measurable positive results; systematic efforts to mitigate the potentially harmful effect of the rapid spread of global economic forces; and the promotion of good governance characterized by responsible, responsive and transparent political leadership, rule of law and respect for human rights. The achievement of all of these goals would contribute to the establishment of an enabling environment in which democracy could grow. Complementary to all of this would be efforts on the part of states and the world community at large to avoid future domestic conflicts that could become transnationalized, through preventive diplomacy and preventive development or peace building.

Human Security and Africa

All of the challenges to human security alluded to above are magnified in Africa, with global implications:

Bad governance often resulting in popular protest and even violent resistance on the part of certain groups against the forces of repression.

Regular violations of human rights perpetrated against the most vulnerable in society (e.g. women, children, the poor, and unarmed citizens).

Drug trafficking that is linked to a deadly global network.

International terrorism, with African states and people both as victims and perpetrators.

Increasing international migration as a function of population growth, poverty, and political and economic insecurity on the continent.

Population growth, which increases the pressure on non-renewable resources and is intimately related to global poverty, environmental degradation and international migration.

Internal wars fought by irregular forces of ethnic and religious groups equipped with small arms.

These issues do not exhaust the range of issues that relate to the human security

dilemma in Africa today. However, this list gives a good indication of the scope and intensity of this dilemma on the continent. As in the past, African states are attempting to mobilize in an effort to reverse the tide of human insecurity. Various mechanisms designed to do this are either now in place or on the drawing board (e.g. the OAU Mechanism for Conflict Prevention and Resolution; the African Union; and, the New Partnership for Africas Development (NEPAD)). It remains to be seen, however, whether Africa alone can solve its human security problem. Some observers insist that given the global dimensions of the human security problem, global actors must become committed to its resolution.

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Globalization Research Center - Africa