The paper examines different and competing understandings of human security and stresses the task of reconciling these differences as an important challenge for the advocates of this emerging global norm. It focuses on the perceived tensions between its two salient aspects: “freedom from fear” (more favoured in the West) and “freedom from want” (more favoured in Asia). The main argument of the paper is that debates about human security do not fall within an East-West faultline, there are also significant differences over its meaning within each camp. It refutes the view that human security is a “Western” concept, and identifies the Asian contributions to the development of the idea in both its respects. At the same time, the paper argues that human security is not simply “new wine in old bottle”. It represents a significant broadening of the notion of “comprehensive security”, which privileged regime security. It also departs from the idea of “cooperative security” which did not address the possible tension between individual and state security. In discussing the barriers to human security in its political (freedom from fear) aspects, the paper examines the difficulties in linking human security with humanitarian intervention, whether hard or soft, given concerns about state sovereignty. The paper concludes by highlighting the futility of pursuing human security as freedom from want in the absence of freedom from fear, and pleads for scholars and policy-makers to view the two understandings of human security as being complimentary and mutually-reinforcing. Promoting human security through a need-based approach does not negate the case for pursuing human security as freedom from fear, and a way of reducing the costs of violent conflict, especially in regions such as the Asia Pacific where the danger of conflict, both internal and inter-state, remains very, very real.
Last updated on 01/07/2014