Effective interventions

From hard security to human security – time for a global campaign?

For more information, see the tweets about the event and have a look at our related submissions on civil-military-policy collaboration grouped under #civmilpol. 

International interventions are increasingly shifting from a ‘hard’ to a ‘human’ security approach. At the conference ‘Preparing a New Generation of Civil-Military-Police Coordination for Human Security’, held from 9 to 11 December, participants drafted a strategy that applies classic military planning to push human security to centre stage.

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We live in interesting and contradictory times. For example, this last year has seen two major advances in global collaboration – the adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change. At the same time, there has also been an escalation of the effects of the civil war in Syria, the expansion of Daesh and its salafist allies in MENA, and the continued growth of military expenditure in Russia, China and Saudi Arabia.

The trends seem to be pulling in opposite directions – towards both increased conflict and increased cooperation. Which is why, perhaps, civil society actors and their police and military counterparts are increasingly coming together to seek joint solutions to the complex and interrelated problems of global security. Members of these three communities are increasingly calling for policy-makers to shift their thinking from state-centric or ‘hard’ security to people-centric ‘human’ security.  

Hard security focuses on protecting the territorial, economic and political interests of the nation state, using key state resources such as military and internal security forces. Threats to these interests are often perceived as external or internal ‘enemies’.

Human security focuses on the wellbeing of individuals and communities and their ability to live free from fear, want and indignity. Security and the threats to it are, therefore, seen in much broader and less enemy-centric terms.  

These two ways of framing security are not mutually exclusive. However, whereas human security embraces, and to some degree relies on, hard security, all too often hard security trumps or even destroys human security – as when hard security logic during the Vietnam war determined that the only way to ‘save’ a village from communism was to destroy it. But, faced with violent manifestations of unmet human needs, policy-makers usually grab for the hard security ‘fix’ rather than the human security response. The 2011 uprising in Libya, for instance, prompted a violent hard security reaction from Gadhafi and his forces, which in turn triggered a hard security reaction from the West. Gadhafi was ousted and then… nothing. The human security needs of the Libyan people were neglected and the country fell into ongoing violence.                          

So, has the time come for a concerted campaign to push human security to centre-stage, with hard security playing a secondary supporting role?  While the need for such a change is generally accepted in academic and practitioner circles, many policy-makers and military leaders are still behind the curve. That, at least, was the conclusion of participants at the conference on civil, military and police cooperation organized by the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC), Alliance for Peacebuilding and Kroc Institute in The Hague from 9 to 11 December. So, when a small working group at the conference was tasked with devising ways to disseminate three important new publications on the subject, they decided to borrow from the military toolkit to sketch out an ambitious plan.

Peacebuilders and civil society actors are good when working at the grassroots level, but often less effective at bringing about change at mid and elite levels, and their ability to directly influence policy has been limited. On the other hand, policy-makers tend not to be creative thinkers; they get their ideas from others, who do the thinking for them – think tanks and academics, for example.

So bearing this in mind, and taking the classic military approach of planning at four levels – policy, strategy, operations and tactics – this is what the conference working group produced:

  • The policy goal is to shift the current security discourse towards meeting human security needs and away from hard (national) security. Every action in the campaign must work towards and support this goal.
  • The strategy is the general’s plan. It is the main way in which the goal is reached – the ‘how’ that produces the big result.

In this instance, the suggested strategy is to recruit ‘agents of change’ (aka ‘champions’) in key policy-making ‘centres of gravity’ (government, parliament/legislature, academia, military, practitioner community, think tanks, the media), encourage them to recruit others and, together, advocate for the shift proposed in the policy goal. As opinion in these centres of gravity coalesces the pressure for change will increase, until it reaches a point where policy-makers feel confident enough to make the change.

  • The operational level translatesthe strategy into specific lines of advocacy, which will be different for each centre of gravity. For example, a series of seminars organized by an academic ‘agent of change’ at a number of academic institutions would be one operation; a series of presentations and roundtables at various think tanks and/or military colleges would be another.
  • The tactical level focuses on the specifics of each operational event – whom to invite, how to exploit the particular opportunities it offers, what exact outcome to target, and so on; for example, a briefing for a small group of parliamentarians ahead of a defence debate, which is then reported on various online platforms. 

The conference workshop recognized that a lot of wonderful work is already being done in the area of human security, so the strategic aim is to bring it together under a single banner and give it greater focus and visibility. One measurable outcome might be to count the change in the number of times the term ‘human security’ appears in online usage over a set period of time.

It is a lot easier, of course, to do back-of-the-envelope planning than to organize and sustain the necessary action. So the first step has to be to bring together those who agree with the main policy goal, and then refine the strategy and operational lines of activity that flow from it.

 If the time has come to raise high the banner of human security – well, I am in. Who else will join me?

Photo credit: United Nations Photo via Flickr

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