1.6.2013 | Von:
Thorsten Nieberg

Human Security

Touristen in Bangkok laufen an einem Soldaten vorbei.Tourists in Thailand walk past a soldier. (© picture-alliance/dpa)

In Germany, as elsewhere, security conventionally has focused on the state and the protection of its territory and people from the intentional harmful actions of other countries or individuals. However, over the years, such a definition increasingly seemed too narrow to adequately address the threats to humanity. Amongst others, this was highlighted in the 1994 Human Development Report (HDR) by the United Nations (UN) which argued that the concept of security needed to place greater emphasis on the security of individuals and their protection from threats other than those related to the force of arms and the state—including matters such as environmental degradation, the spread of diseases or issues related to the labor market. In the report it was stated that:

For too long, the concept of security has been shaped by the potential for conflict between states [and] has been equated with the threats to a country's borders. … [However], [f]or most people today, a feeling of insecurity arises more from worries about daily life than from the dread of a cataclysmic world event. Job security, income security, health security, environmen-tal security, security from crime—these are the emerging concerns of human security all over the world.[1]

Figure 2: The conventional/traditional and the new/human conceptualization of security

  Traditional national security Human security
Source: Prezelj 2008 (this author’s replication)
Security for whom
(referent object)
Primarily statesPrimarily individuals
Values at stake
(security of what values)
Territorial integrity and national independencePersonal safety and individual freedom
Security from what
(threats and risks)
Traditional threats (military threats, violence by countries…)Non-traditional and also traditional threats
Security by what meansForce as the primary instrument of security, to be used unilaterally for a state’s own safetyForce as a secondary instrument, to be used primarily for cosmopolitan ends and collectively; sanctions, human development, and humane governance as key instruments of individual-centered security
Assessment of powerBalance of power is important; power is equated with military capabilities.Balance of power is of limited utility; soft power is increasingly important.
Significance of inter-state cooperationCooperation between states is tenuous beyond alliance relations.Cooperation between states, international organizations and NGOs can be effective and sustained.

These aspects relate to the concept of human security which is rooted in the political science and international relations disciplines. As the Commission on Human Security has noted:

Human security in its broadest sense embraces far more than the absence of violent conflict. It encompasses human rights, good governance, access to education and health care and ensuring that each individual has opportunities and choices to fulfill his or her own potential.[2]

In the sense of the concept of human security state security is improved by protecting people from a range of non-military threats that could also be sources of conflict and thus threaten the wider security of the state itself.[3] Through its focus on the well-being and the dignity of human beings the concept provides a useful framework to assess a state's policies towards its citizens, expats included.

Figure 2 gives an overview of the different dimensions of the human security concept. Some of these are a reflection of the concerns and needs of German expats in Hong Kong and Thailand as will be demonstrated in the following section.

Figure 3: The dimensions of human security and their specifics

Source: this author’s own illustration (as based on UNDP 1994b, pp. 25-33)
Economic securityA sense of security that can be derived from access to work, a fairly stable employment situation and a guaranteed basic income, either through that employment or public welfare.
Food securityA sense of security that can be gained from the opportunity to have access to an adequate amount and range of food that is required to cover the basic needs of people in this regard.
Health securityA sense of security that refers to being protected from the infection of diseases and to the opportunity to access professional medical treatment in cases needed.
Environmental securityA sense of security that relates to the non-exposure to hazards of the “natural” living environment of people, including sudden threats like earthquakes, cyclones or floods and more long-term dangers such as air pollution and desertification.
Personal securityA sense of security that refers to being protected from any form of violence directed to harm the physical and psychological integrity of people.
Community securityA sense of security that can be gained from the awareness of being part of a greater group of people sharing similar views and attitudes.
Political securityA sense of security that can be derived from membership in a non-repressive society in which “basic human rights” are respected by its organizing authorities.

This text is part of the policy brief on "Germans Abroad".


UNDP (1994a), p. 3.
Commission on Human Security (2003), p. 4, italics added.
Hayes (2010), pp. 91-92.
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