Traditional thinking in international relations and policy analysis has focused on national security as the prime (and, at times, sole) objective of foreign policy.
At the dawn of contemporary international relations’ theory, Hans Morgenthau already defined national security as the supreme goal of international politics, regardless of other principles or moral objectives.
In the past decades, such a focus on national security led to a generalized emphasis on conventional threats to national security such as military invasion (particularly during the Cold War) and, more recently, on terrorism, nuclear disarmament and the general risks associated with the availability of weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, these are all factors able to threaten the integrity of states, hence, their national security.
At least since the turn of the millennium (and especially after the military missions in Kosovo and Iraq), new voices have emerged arguing that not only is national security inappropriate to lead the behaviour of states in a globalized world, but also that foreign policies inspired by national security can easily exacerbate violations of human rights, individuals’ safety and personal well-being. Against this backdrop, the concept of human security has been proposed as a more compelling guiding principle for international relations.
Within this framework, issues such as poverty, famine, environmental degradation, migration, small weapons and human rights violations are some examples of what can undermine human security, even when they do not challenge national security. By giving centre stage to the safety of individuals, human security requires a conceptual shift from the notion of ‘threat’ to that of ‘vulnerability’. This area includes our work on new security approaches, multidimensional challenges (e.g. wildlife crime, human trafficking, etc.) and environmental threats to human development.
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