More on Human Security and Health

Further Definitions, Useful Web Sites and Useful Publications

Further Definitions

Human Security: Security is usually defined as the condition of being protected from, or not exposed to, some danger or threat. Human security includes freedom from want and freedom from fear. This means the absence of hunger and illness as well as of violence and war. Human security places the individual rather than the state at the centre of security considerations.

The United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) 1994 Human Development Report is considered a milestone publication in the field of human security, marking the point where the concept gained international acceptance. The UNDP report states that human security consists of two basic pillars: the freedom from want and the freedom from fear. This means the absence of hunger and illness as well as of violence and war. Considered further, possible threats to human security were categorised into seven main categories: economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community, and political security.

In international relations and foreign policy thinking, security has generally meant national security, or the security of the state from military violence used or threatened by another state. This state-centric violence paradigm shaped how leaders and governments conceived of national security. Anything that fell outside of the threat of military violence from another state was not, by definition, a security issue. Thus, public health problems, such as communicable disease epidemics, were traditionally outside the realm of security policy. Historically, security and health never developed any type of policy relationship.

The end of the Cold War opened a new debate about what security means and a more diverse range of issues began to appear on the national security agendas of states, ranging from terrorism to environmental degradation. In addition, other concepts of security, most notably the idea of human security promulgated by the United Nations Development programme, began to challenge the traditional dominance of national security. Human security placed the individual rather than the State at the centre of security consideration.

The proliferation of efforts to connect public health and security reveals both the emergence of the political importance of public health and the lack of consensus about what security should mean in international relations and foreign policy. Some experts support only a narrow connection between security and health that flows from the threat of violence from biological weapons. Other commentators would also include virulent, fast-moving communicable disease pandemics, such as pandemic influenza, as security threats. More broadly, human security proponents would expand the range of health threats to individuals that count as security issues beyond contagious pandemics. Security-based arguments and rhetoric have become commonplace in the world politics of public health.

During the 1990s and early 2000s, health has been increasingly connected with different concepts of security. Experts have referred to this process as the "securitisation" of public health. The diversity of ways in which public health has been securitised is impressive. Threats of biological weapons proliferation among state and non-state actors led many countries, especially the United States, to see national and international public health capabilities as critical national security assets should responses to biological violence be required.

The UN Security Council considers HIV/AIDS a threat to international peace and security. Strategic visions of reforming the United Nations prominently emphasised the importance of public health to the concept of "comprehensive collective security." The World Health Organization (WHO) presented its new strategy against the global threat of communicable diseases as one that would strengthen "global health security." Finally, the increasing threats individuals and populations face from different disease problems directly connected public health with the human security concept. (WHR2007).

Many in the world of public health are not enthusiastic about the link between security and health because they perceive it undermines, intentionally or not, the ethos that health is a fundamental human right and should be pursued for that reason. With a security approach, the sceptical position holds, comes the tainted baggage of state self-interest and the willingness of the strong to ignore or bully the weak.

Useful Web Sites

Useful Publications

Return to Europe and Human Security

Additional information