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Human security
Violence seems to be the language of the new era

 

December 22, 2005
iranian.com

Some 50 experts from all over the world recently (December 12-13, 2005) participated in a meeting held in Paris on human security sponsored by UNESCO. It was a spirited meeting.  It aired a diversity of views, ranging from a United States declaration that UNESCO should spend its resources elsewhere to the more general view that UNESCO is on the right course.

What is human security?   Words have their own biographies.  The concept was introduced first by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in 1994 in its annual publication, Human Development Report.  The late Mahbub al-Haq, at one time Vice-President of the World Bank, had injected the concept into the UN system as a counter-balance to the excessive preoccupations with physical growth rates.  It was the right idea at the right time.

In 1996, for example, the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research (Toda.org) inaugurated a research program on Human Security and Global Governance (HUGG).  The University of British Columbia established it own Centre for Human Security (HumanSecurityCenter.org). Challenging the concern with national security, human security focused on the personal insecurities in food, shelter, health, environment and identity.  UNDP introduced a set of indices to measure human development, such as literacy, life expectancy, and educational participation.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attack on the United States, the international discourse shifted back to national security. The establishment of a Department of Home Security in the U. S. dramatized this shift.  Human security was put into the back burner. Global affairs, however, have entered a new era. Violence seems to be the language of the new era. This is manifested by state and opposition terrorism shown in former Yugoslavia, Rwanda-Burundi, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, and Palestine-Israel.

In the post-Cold War era, most of the world conflicts have been intra rather than inter-state.  Most of the casualties are civilian rather than military.  Most of the resources are again shifting to military preparedness.  Talk of peace dividends has virtually ceased.  

The nuclear powers (USA, UK, France, Russia, China, Israel, India, and Pakistan) like to have a monopoly.  Other medium size countries such as North Korea and Iran seem to seek their security in nuclear arms.  Proliferation will no doubt continue until and unless everyone reaches the conclusion nuclear weapons are immoral and impractical. They mostly depend on which way the wind blows.

Nine-eleven may be thus considered as the onset of a global civil war.   The new war has no physical or moral boundaries.  It uses the latest technologies such as electronic fund transfers, wireless telephony, internet, and manned and unmanned aircraft.  In future, it may use nuclear or biological weapons. 

What is the cause of the new warfare? Some have called it the struggle between an “axis of evil” against a presumed “axis of virtue.”   Others, less inclined toward Manichean dichotomies, have recognized a qualitative change in the modalities of international struggle.

The world is no longer divided between the communist and capitalist worlds, East and West, North and South. All countries have more or less jumped, or wish to jump, on the band wagon of globalization.  All countries unabashedly seek membership at the World Trade Organization.

  New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has declared the new world as flat.   If you look within each state, however, the social hierarchies are not flat.  In fact, available data shows that the wealth and income gaps within and among nations are growing. That is a recipe for increasing social and political conflict.  State and opposition terrorism is one manifestations of the current state of affairs.

What can be done to reverse the trend toward the current militarization of social conflicts?   Evidence shows that countries with less military expenditures are often more at peace. Cost Rica has no standing military, yet it enjoys greater domestic peace than most Latin American countries. Switzerland requires all its citizens to have periodic military training but does not boast of a standing national army. 

Can the resulting peacefulness due to a higher rate of human security and development.  The Human Development Report suggests such correlations between human security and peacefulness.  The Scandinavian countries, for instance, have greater human security and less military expenditures.

UNESCO’s assumption of the mantle of human security is thus appropriate and timely.

We need more human security, dignity, identity, participation, and development. If the war on terrorism could focus less on the symptoms and more on the causes of violence, the human family would be less torn. 

About
Majid Tehranian is Director of the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research in Honolulu, Hawaii.  He is the author of Bridging a Gulf: Peace in West Asia (London, I. B. Tauris, 2003).

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