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Disillusionment sets in: human security in a less secure Europe

The initial hope that the EU might be able to use human security as a strategic narrative informing its engagement as a security actor was short-lived. The War on Terror led to a changing agenda on development and security. As Duffield (2006) argued, whereas in the initial formulations of human security, development and security were seen as different but equal, the War on Terror both deepened the interconnections for policy makers between security and development, but also focused attention on particular regions and states considered to pose a threat to homeland security. While at first this shift was most noticeable in US policy, European states and the EU were not immune. This shift also came at a time when the utility of military interventions was being questioned by the general public and it is this issue that the section will address first.

During the 1990s, a substantive peace-building agenda had emerged underpinned by liberal internationalist values such as democracy, the free market and the liberal state. Postconflict societies were expected to accept these externally designed models and evolve into liberal democracies. These practices became closely associated with the practical implementation of human security and particularly R2P doctrine. As Newman (2011) points out, these agendas often failed to pay sufficient attention to everyday, basic human needs and were criticised both by scholars and local stakeholders. While these practices were criticised in both

Bosnia and Kosovo for example, their very public failure following the two major Western military interventions of the 2000s, Iraq and Afghanistan, has been harshly judged by public opinion. In both cases the motives for intervention were mixed and questionable, and have served to discredit both military intervention and the belief that failed states can be rescued.

For some, the liberal internationalist paradigm of intervention has been overridden by the preventive human security practices of resilience. The EU Human Security Study Group's 2016 Berlin Report, for example, speaks of a second generation of human security, while Chandler (2012) argues that the reason human security is less often used as a concept is because it is so widely accepted. He sees resilience as being differentiated from liberal internationalism thus:

The resilience paradigm clearly puts the agency of those most in need of assistance at the centre, stressing a programme of empowerment and capacity-building, whereas the liberal internationalist paradigm puts the emphasis upon the agency of external interveners, acting post hoc to protect or secure the victims of state-led or state-condoned abuses.

(Chandler, 2012, p. 216)

He argues that the NATO-led coalition's bombing of Libya was clearly different to that of the Kosovan campaign, in that rather than being about the responsibility to protect, it was about giving the Libyan rebels agency to secure themselves (Chandler, 2012, pp. 220-221). Although, given that post-Ghadafi Libya is neither secure nor peaceful, this approach appears to have failed as badly. Given the multiple references to resilience in the 2016 EU Global Strategy, might this mean that the EU is more committed to human security than it seemed?

The picture is in fact very mixed, at least as far as the CSDP domain is concerned. First, it is necessary to admit that the recent CSDP record has not been successful. Haine (2011) argues that the 2008 EUFOR Chad mission was really the last idealistic human security type of military operation. He judges it was ineffective, made unnecessarily risky by the insistence on neutrality and forced the main contributor, France, to act against its own national interests. He compares EUFOR Chad unfavourably with the anti-piracy Atalanta mission that was interests-driven and both better supported and more successful. Haine (2011) echoes Matlary’s (2008) judgement that the use of military force on purely idealistic grounds can go very wrong. Indeed, the lesson the major European military powers appear to have taken is not to carry out military peace enforcement operations through the EU. Recent European major crisis interventions have been unilateral (France), through coalitions of the willing (Syria) or through NATO (Libya).

Second, the costs and difficulties of a human security approach to CSDP have become very evident in the EU’s own neighbourhood. How can you justify choosing to intervene in some conflicts but not others? The EU’s inability to find consensus over how best to intervene in Libya has now been outdone by the international community's collective failings in Syria. Previous red lines like the use of chemical weapons against civilians have been crossed. But there is also a genuine dilemma - in conflicts spreading across multiple states with many different armed groupings, how even if couched in Chandler’s (2012) language of resilience, do you choose which group to give agency to secure themselves through the provision of military assistance?

Third, the EU’s own security situation has markedly worsened in the last five years on two different fronts, both of which work against the mainstreaming of a human security approach to its external action. On the one hand, there is a large-scale refugee crisis stemming from the conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, to which despite the efforts of the EU institutions, there has yet to be a unified humanitarian response from the member states (with some praiseworthy exceptions). Major terrorist attacks in France and Belgium have further raised tensions amid fears that terrorists are among the refugees (although almost all the terror attacks in Europe carried out in the name of Islamic State have thus far been by home-grown extremists). This has pushed the EU into trying to agree deals with third states to prevent the refugees reaching Europe. This is hardly a human security approach. On the other hand, the conflict in Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of Crimea have reignited the Cold War security agenda. Once more the language is about inter-state conflict, deterrence and territorial defence. Again, while NATO rather than the EU might be the main actor, the member states, especially those forced to implement austerity measures, have other calls on their defence spending, and so are less likely to be able to contribute to human security type interventions. In short, even if the EU wanted to use human security, however defined, as its strategic narrative, the current situation is likely to work against a practical implementation.


This chapter has charted the development of the human security concept and its reception both by European states and by the EU. In many ways, the end of the Cold War opened up the possibilities of broadening and deepening both academic and practitioner understandings of security. Human security is one such concept. In its initial iterations, as Duffield (2006) put it, development and security were treated as equal but different. It seems at present that the narrower security-focused definition may have passed its period of popularity, damaged by both ill-judged military interventions and by the intractability of some conflicts. The so-called second generation using the broader definition and reworking the concept as resilience may have greater success.

The extent to which human security has been internalised as an EU norm is contested. This is not an unusual finding when trying to assess the extent to which an external concept has had purchase. It is indisputable that the Human Security Study Group’s reports have enjoyed unusual degrees of institutional interest, but after Solana and Ferrero-Waldner left their roles, similar powerful internal advocates have not emerged. As Pace states when discussing the EU’s levels of internalisation of a similar Normative Power Europe, ‘the extent to which NPEU constructions come from EU agents or from academics operating independently outside the EU - which then could possibly influence the way EU agents see themselves - is not crystal clear’ (Pace, 2007, p. 1050). Nor it is a given that the use of a term in official documentation means that the authors understand it in the same way as academics. What is clear though is that human security is not currently acting as a strategic narrative for the CSDP, and given the rising insecurity in and around the EU, it is unlikely to do so in the near future.

Further reading

International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (2001), The Responsibility to Protect: Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. Ottawa: International Development Research Centre.

Kaldor, Mary, Martin, Mary, and Seichow, Sabine (2007), ‘Human Security: .A New Strategic Narrative for Europe’, International Affairs, 83 (2), 273-288.

Martin, Mary, and Owen, Taylor (eds) (2013), Routledge Handbook of Human Security. London: Routledge. Paris, Roland (2001), ‘Human Security - Paradigm Shift or Hot Air?’, International Security, 26 (2), 87-102.


International Coalition For The Responsibility To Protect: United Nations Development Programme Human Development Reports: United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security:


Alkire, Sabina (2004), ‘A Vital Core that Must be Treated with the Same Gravitas as Traditional Security Threats’, Security Dialogue, 35 (3), 359-360.

Buzan, Barry, Waever, Ole, and de Wilde, Jaap (1998), Security: A New Framework for Analysis. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.

Chandler, David (2012), ‘Resilience and Human Security: The Post-Interventionist Paradigm’, Security Dialogue, 43 (3), 213-229.

Christou, George (2014), ‘The European Union’s Human Security Discourse: Where Are We Now?’, European Security, 23 (3), 364-381.

Duffield, Mark (2006), ‘Human Security: Linking Development and Security in an Age of Terror', in Stephan Klingebiel (ed), New Interfaces Between Security and Development. Bonn: German Development Institute, pp. 11-38.

Duffield, Mark, and Waddell, Nicholas (2006), ‘Securing Humans in a Dangerous World’, International Politics, 43 (1), 1-23.

Eriksson, John, with Adelman, Howard, Borton, John, Christensen, Hanne, Kumar, Krishna, Suhrke, Astri, Tardif-Douglin, David, Villumstad, Stein, and Wohlgemuth, Lennart (1996), The International Response to Conflict and Genocide: Lessons from the Rwanda Experience, Synthesis Report. Copenhagen: Steering Committee for the Joint Evaluation of Emergency assistance to Rwanda. .Available at: 23 October 2018).

Fukuda-Parr, Sakiko, and Messineo, Carol (2012), ‘Human Security’, in Graham Brown and Arnim Langer (eds), Elgar Handbook of Civil War and Fragile States. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, pp. 21-38.

Glasius, Marlies, and Kaldor, Mary (2005), ‘Individuals First: A Human Security Strategy for the European Union’, Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft, 2005 (1), 62-84.

Haine, Jean Yves (2011), ‘The Failure of a European Strategic Culture - EUFOR CHAD: The Last of Its Kind?', Contemporary Security Policy, 32 (3), 582-603.

Human Security Centre, University of British Columbia (2005), Human Security Report 200): War and Peace in the 21st Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Independent International Commission on Kosovo (2000), The Kosovo Report: Conflict, International Response, Lessons Learned. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (2001), The Responsibility to Protect: Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. Ottawa: International Development Research Centre.

Kaldor, Mary (2007), Human Security. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Kerr, Pauline (2007), ‘Human Security’, in Alan Collins (ed), Contemporary Security Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 91-108.

Louw-Vaudran, Liesl (2014), ‘Rwanda and France: The Blame-Game Continues', 1SS Today, 11 April. .Available at: rwanda-and-france-the-blame-game-continues (accessed: 23 October 2018).

Mack, Andrew (2004), ‘A Signifier of Shared Values’, Security Dialogue, 35 (3), 366-367.

Martin, Mary, and Owen, Taylor (2010), ‘The Second Generation of Human Security: Lessons from the UN and EU Experience’, International Affairs, 86 (1), 211-224.

Matlary, Janne Haaland (2008), ‘Much Ado About Little: The EU and Human Security’, International Affairs, 84(1), 131-143.

Newman, Edward (2011), ‘A Human Security Peace-Building Agenda’, Third World Quarterly, 32 (10), 1737-1756.

Pace, Michelle (2007), ‘The Construction of EU Normative Power’, Journal of Common Market Studies, 45 (5), 1041-1064.

Paris, Roland (2001), ‘Human Security: Paradigm Shift or Hot Air?’, International Security, 26 (2), 87-102.

Remacle, Eric (2008), ‘Approaches to Human Security: Japan, Canada and Europe in Comparative Perspective’, Journal of Social Science, 66, 5-34.

Suhrke, Astri (1999), ‘Human Security and the Interests of States', Security Dialogue, 30 (3), 265-276.

Thakur, Ramesh, and Newman, Edward (2004), ‘Introduction: Non-Traditional Security in Asia’, in Ramesh Thakur and Edward Newman (eds), Broadening Asia's Security Discourse and Agenda: Political, Social and Environmental Perspectives. Tokyo: United Nations University Press, pp. 1-16.

Thomas, Caroline (2001), ‘Global Governance, Development and Human Security: Exploring the Links’, Third World Quarterly, 22 (2), 159-175.

United Nations Development Programme (1993), Human Development Report 1993: People’s Participation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

United Nations Development Programme (1994), Human Development Report 1994. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

United Nations General Assembly (2012), ‘Resolution Adopted by the General Assembly on 10 September 2012’, A/RES/66/290: Follow-up to Paragraph 143 on Human Security of the 2005 World Summit Outcome. Available at: RES/66/290 (accessed: 23 October 2018).

Van de Bildt, Joyce (2015), ‘Srebrenica: A Dutch National Trauma’, Peace, Conflict &■ Development, 21, 115-145.

Williams, Paul (2001), ‘Fighting for Freetown: British Military Intervention in Sierra Leone’, Contemporary Security Policy, 22 (3), 140-168.

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