The role of human security in foreign policy: what lessons for the EU?

5 December 2006

Mary Kaldor, Professor of Global Governance, London School of Economics, said that with the threat of three simultaneous civil wars in the Middle East and similar risks in Central Africa, the world was facing a “real security gap”.

The security arrangements already in place in these regions are based on conventional military forces, but it is also important to protect ‘human security’ - that is, the “security of the individual or the communities in which they live”. Human security deals with “increasingly intertwined” risks which threaten stability, such as human rights violations, crime, rape, child soldiers, environmental disasters and disease.

Professor Kaldor then focused on how EU policy would change if it took ‘human security’ as its “guiding narrative”. She described the work of the EU Human Security Study Group convened by Javier Solana, EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, which had produced a report in September 2004 and had been reconvened under the Finnish Presidency.

She said that while human security was implicit in the EU’s activities, it was referred to as “crisis management”. This involved civilian and military cooperation, with the military increasingly protecting “humanitarian space” to allow the civilian population to rebuild the country.

What more can the EU do?

Professor Kaldor argued that the EU now needs a set of “human security” principles on which to base its future work.

These were: 1) to protect civilians’ human rights, 2) to create a legitimate political authority (state building), 3) to work with other agencies and within the rule of law, 4) to work “bottom up” (i.e. consulting people on the ground); and 5) to take a regional approach, as conflicts spread across borders.

Professor Kaldor described how adopting a human security concept could enhance EU policy. First, it would help make different parts of the EU (the Member States, the Council of Ministers and European Parliament) take a more coherent approach to human security-related issues. Second, it would make the policy more effective, by creating principles to give a mandate to those working on the ground. Thirdly, it would give EU action more visibility, which was crucial because, while the public supports the EU’s global role in human security, few are aware of what it does.

She regretted the lack of global agreement on the importance of human security, believing that if the EU described its activities in this way, it would mobilise popular support and encourage non-EU governments to do more.

“Building blocks” for human security

H.E. Ross Hornby, Ambassador, Canadian Mission to the European Union, described his country’s concept of human security as focusing on protecting civil populations against attack.

He said that human security was not intended to replace “security”, but covered issues such as disarmament, peace-keeping, humanitarian rights and food security. The Canadian government’s approach is to humanise security policy, and reduce the human costs of war. By preventing conflicts, it is a “continuum” of state building.

The Ambassador explained that Canada has put together “building blocks” for its human security policy: pushing for “micro disarmament” by banning anti-personnel land mines, which led to the Ottawa Convention; campaigning to combat “impunity”, which led to the creation of the International Criminal Court; supporting efforts to ban child soldiers; underlining the plight of women in conflict by supporting United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.

The big challenge at the end of the millennium had been to get the UN Security Council to take human security issues seriously. This led, in 2005, to the adoption of a resolution on “responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity”.

This was a “significant step in completing the normative basis of human security”, said the Ambassador, urging the EU and Canada to work together to support the resolution’s common objectives and to build the capacity to monitor and enforce it.

The challenge now is to expand ‘human security’ to cover three significant areas: protecting children from urban armed violence; tackling inter-communal violence (for example, in Nigeria); and promoting the right to human safety and combating the “privatisation of security”.

H.E. Thomas Greminger, Ambassador, Head of the Political Affairs Division (Human Security) in the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, said the two approaches to ‘human security’- freedom from want or the (narrower) concept of freedom from fear (i.e. removing the threat of violence) - were really two sides of the same coin, as both focused on the individual’s needs.

The Swiss government acts on both these fronts, said the Ambassador, alleviating poverty and promoting human rights by working to ban anti-personnel mines, combat human trafficking and support women. 

His government’s five priorities are: to prevent the use and supply of small arms and live weapons; to support human rights and international humanitarian law; to foster policies to prevent armed non-state groups; to push for the rule of law in peace processes, including the protection of minorities; and to deal with transitional justice, for example in the Balkans, Colombia and Guatemala, as a means of aiding reconciliation among the population.

Turning to the EU, Ambassador Greminger said he would welcome moves to adopt a human security strategy, although he believed that the EU had already started to do this without naming it as such.

Raising the profile of human security

Merja Lahtinen, Adviser for Rule of Law, Development Policy Department, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Finland, described how the Finnish government had put human security on the agenda during its EU Presidency.

It is supporting Common Foreign and Security Policy processes that include human security, and has fostered discussion in other policy areas where human security should be promoted. It has also worked to increase public awareness of the EU’s presence on the ground, promoting human rights expertise among EU personnel, encouraging greater dialogue with NGOs, and emphasising the position of women, children and ethnic minorities. Among other initiatives, it organised a seminar on the human security approach in crisis management and reconvened the study group on human security in CFSP.

Ms Lahtinen explained that the term ‘human security’ had been advanced in the Helsinki Process on globalisation and democracy, adding that she hoped these activities would create the basis for a focus on human security during Germany’s EU Presidency.

Richard Wright, Director, Crisis Platform – Policy Coordination on Common Foreign and Security Policy, DG Relex, European Commission, closed the dialogue by asking how defining human security in a narrow or broad way would affect the way in which crises were managed.

He said the concept already pervaded EU foreign policy, explaining that the Union was already doing a lot but this was not visible: in Palestine, EU intervention had helped to prevent the worst levels of poverty; in Sudan, the EU was leading the way in paying for the African troops; and both the EU and individual Member States were providing support in the Democratic Republic of Congo.