Within the international system there is a disagreement on whether security should focus on the individual, national or international basis. In this essay the concept of security from some of the different perspectives within International Relations will be discussed.
The hegemonic theory of International Relations is realism, it is also central in the debate about security. Throughout the Cold War the concept of security was dominated by national security, and mainly concerned with military capabilities. Since the end of the cold war the notion of security has begun to change, with many other security issues coming to the for front such as human security which encourages policy makers to think about international security as more than the military defence of a states interests and territory.(Paris 2001) The idea of human security is to shift the central argument to the debate on security away from states and to focus on threats to humans within the states. Outlined will be some of the threats facing human security but also the debates that surround its concept, and whether it should be a part of the International Relations discipline. Also within this essay environmental change as a security issue will be discussed. There is mounting evidence that suggests that we are in danger of undermining all of our own individual security and also on the larger scale that of national security, and international or global security
“Security is a relative freedom from war, coupled with a relative high expectation that defeat will not be a consequence of any war that should occur.”(Bellany 1981)
This traditionally defines a realist perspective on what security is. Realism has its foundations in philosophies of Thucydides and Machiavelli “the strong do as they will, the weak accept as they must”. Realist theory is based on the state of anarchy within the international system. States are independent units in a power struggle against other states. With no overriding authority the state is the main actor in the international realm, therefore states have to gain power. For most realists power is the defining feature.(Collins 2007) Power is gained by building up the military and securing your land and the threat of from other states. States are rational actors also and will only make decisions on the basis of their own capabilities of achieving the best outcome for the state. Realists assess other states power relative to the statement of their military capabilities. Realists want to keep a status quo and a balance of power, during the Cold War the nuclear weapons face off between the USA and USSR was realism working in the system. Although there was proxy wars in Asia during this time it was relatively stable otherwise on the international scale because of the balance of power being exercised. Security has been seen as a priority obligation to the state governments.(Baylis Smith &Owen, 2011)
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The introduction of neo/structural realism and that of Kenneth Waltz’s “Theory of International Politics” (1979) sees a real shift in the realist theory. Waltz argues that states have two options of acquiring power and defending itself from attack, one is to balance the state with others and forming alliances with states also so they have more resources to draw on, this is known as external balancing. Two is that of internal balancing of the state’s economic capabilities and formation of bigger military forces. (Waltz 1979)This competition between states, which is a source of a lot of conflict, is known as the “security dilemma” (Baylis, Smith and Owen2011). The fact that some states may cheat limits cooperation because realist believe that states are fearful that others won’t engage honestly and that cheating is always a possibility. States are only concerned with relative gains rather than absolute. Relative gains are gains that are higher than that of the state you are cooperating with. With absolute gains there are only the benefits of cooperation and mutuality between states. Realism does not see this so much as an advantage, as mentioned before the chance of other states cheating to maximise their own gains is high this can lead to a mistrust between states . States are sovereign political units and are not prepared to engage in long term accommodation or co-operation.(TTSRL,2007) Realism as explained is state centric, and believes in the idea of self help in the struggle for power and survival in the international system. This is a narrow concept of security as most security issues happen within state instead of between states; realism does not take responsibility of securing the people within the state. This opens up the realm of human security.
‘The objective of human security is to safe guard the “vital core of all human lives in ways that enhance human freedoms and human fulfilment” ‘.(UN Commission on Human security 2003)
Human security is a concept that emerged in the early 1990’s with the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin wall a new era for international relations had begun. Human security wanted to engage and broaden the security agenda. After the cold war the emphasis on human rights and humanitarian intervention was seen because of the spread of democratisation. (Baylis, Smith and Owen 2011) This meant that if a state was violating human rights the international community could intervene. This was a huge step that allowed to the idea of human security to really unravel, it showed that threats could come in a variety of ways and we needed new ways to “combat” them. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) reveals that there are four features to human security. One is that it is a universal concern, that it affects everybody, two the components of the concept are interdependent, three human security can be ensured through early prevention and four as already mentioned the referent object has changed from states to people/individuals.(UNDP 1994) The types of threats that human security engages are quite broad from the physical safety of an individual to their psychological well-being.(Paris,2001)
Freedom from want or freedom from fear, this has been part of the debate surrounding the concept human security. Freedom from want is refers to a non-military threat more to the point of poverty, environmental degradation and disease. Freedom of fear refers to the more traditional types of insecurity like that of armed conflicts. Within these conflicts the insecurity of child soldiers, landmines, or any other violence against the individual. What is its primary focus? According to the Human Security Report 2005 it is both, they overlap. The report recognises development as a necessary condition for human security and that security is a condition for human development. (Human security report, 2005:155) The direct consequence of armed conflict is that of death and injury. The cost of life associated with the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo let it be direct or indirect surpasses the casualties sustained by Britain in the first and second world wars combined.(UNDP 2005:A12) The outrage at this is that the victims of these recent wars are mostly civilians and many of these victims are women ,children, elderly and the sick.(gendering human secuity2001:18) Child soldiers are still a major issue in armed conflicts today. In one study 75% of armed conflicts involve child soldiers (human security report, 2005:35). This is quite alarming and is against the human rights of the child. Also the fear of landmines a cause of great insecurity, there are 80 million that still have not been detected and that someone steps on a landmine every 28 seconds, and 80% of those injured or killed are civilians (Keohler.S 2007). These are very serious threats against humans and leaves populations living in fear of conflicts that can have devastating results. Wars affect women in a different way. Women become the victims of rape torture and sexual slavery. Recent conflicts use rape and torture as an instrument of war to measure fear and control. During the 1994 genocide in Rwanda estimates of 250,000 and 500.000 women were raped, nowadays this crime is recognised as one against humanity. (Rhen.E & Sirleaf.E.J 2002:9) Women also get caught up in human trafficking, or forced to work in the sex trade and this can result in women being degraded and exploited during times of conflict.
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Armed conflict may be the cause of horrific acts of violence on individuals but it can also create bigger problems in non-violent threat to human security. Poverty, hunger and outbreaks of disease in recent times have become the bigger part of the problem and are much harder to combat. These indirect consequences of conflict can undermine nutrition and public health and also has huge implications on the livelihoods, education and the prospects of economic growth (UDNP 2005:12). Diseases that include AIDS/HIV, avian flu, malaria, and tuberculosis have enormous effect human security. AIDS is the leading cause of death in Africa and forth worldwide, this daunting detail signifies the need to incorporate pandemics into our thinking of freedom against want. The displacement of people during conflict may also give rise to such pandemics. The security issue then becomes borderless and can result in more conflict and more loss of life.
War also can cause detrimental effects on the environment causing large scale pollution of the land or air. The consequence of this can link disease and malnutrition straight to armed conflict, the UNDP declare that most of the 3.9 million people who have died in the Democratic republic of Congo is due to disease, spread by the desecration of the environment during the conflict (UNDP, 2005:45). This effect can be felt in areas for years after a conflict (e.g. The use of Agent Orange by the USA during the Vietnam war). Environmental degradation can also lead to a scarce amount of resources such as food or water consequently resulting in some sort of conflict. Human security as discussed is an array of concepts under the one heading, it’s hard to pinpoint yet when you are in the face of it the security issue is unmistakable. To try and secure everybody is ridiculous but the need to understand where the most vulnerable people are and try to help and secure them in the international realm is most important.
We need to revamp our entire concept of “national security” and “economic growth” if we are to solve the problems of environmental decay. Falk 1971:185
Environmental security is one that over shadows all issues of security from national security to that of individual security. Climate change, the roots of it in human activities, is a fundamental challenge to all and the proportions of the security threat are essentially affecting everyone and everything. Climate change may lead to the aggravation of state conflicts due to the lack of non- renewable resources such as oil and gas. The affect that environmental change has on weather is another faction to be taken into consideration it can affect crop growth whether through drought or extensive rainfall. This can lead to food shortages and has become a global issue for leaders worldwide. There is no part of international relations the environmental problems do not potentially affect and has become a subject of high politics and has been discussed at G8 summits and meetings of political leaders (Baylis, Smith and Owen,2011) . Globalisation has been associated with the important issue of environmental security and how the international system will contend to deal with it has brought the approach of cooperation between governments back to the attention of international politics. Globalisation has also been to blame due to the strain on earth’s capacity to sustain the consumption levels, rising greenhouse gases and resource depletion. This global environment predicament posed to international theory will create a different view of international cooperation and another concept of security.
The conclusion reiterates security is a contested concept and that a new wave of interpreting it is here. Security in the international realm is something of a challenge and really depends on what perspective you relate it to. For realism it’s all about national security of the state, power, self help and survival in the international system. Whereas for human security and environmental security the concept can be quite intertwined with conflict causing danger to human security and in turn affecting the environment which becomes cyclical and returns to affect individuals again. The same can be said for climate change as it is predominately us who are to blame and it is us who will have to deal with the consequences. In short we have to try and secure this planet for future generations otherwise all our other security issues are a farce in the face of what could escalate to a mammoth security problem.
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