Statements of the Director General

29 September 2006 | Bari, Italy
Libera Università Mediterranea

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In Search of Human Security

by Director General Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei

I am deeply honoured to receive this "Laurea Honoris Causa" degree from the Libera Università Mediterranea "Jean Monnet". In particular, I would like to thank President Degennaro and his colleagues at LUM, as well as the entire Bari community, for their warm reception and kind hospitality.

The Russian poet, Boris Pasternak, once said, "In this era of world wars, in this atomic age, values have changed. We have learned that we are guests of existence, travelers between two stations. We must discover security within ourselves."

Half a century later, the search for security is still the overriding concern for many people and nations. At the same time, the definition of what constitutes security, and the strategies for attaining it, are also changing. Circumstances are forcing us to think beyond conventional concepts of national security to concepts of human security - security that is people-centered. I will begin by reviewing the current picture, and then try to explain how we can do better to enhance our security.

The Picture

The current security picture is paradoxical. As a writer in the Financial Times aptly put it, "The world has rarely been more peaceful or felt so insecure."

The world is more peaceful because - according to the Human Security Report, published in 2005 by the Human Security Centre - there has been a sharp decline since the early 1990s in civil wars and other forms of armed conflict. From 1992 to 2003, the number of refugees also went down by 45 per cent, and human rights abuses have decreased in most parts of the developing world.

But what is just as clear is that the global sense of insecurity is higher than at any time before, because the forces that drive insecurity remain persistent and pervasive, and our hope for a secure world, at peace with itself, remains elusive. What are these drivers? One can fit them into a number of categories:

What we should recognize is that these drivers of insecurity are inter-related; one often exacerbates the effects of another. It is no coincidence that, of the 13 million deaths from armed conflict over the past ten years, 9 million have occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, where many of these drivers coexist.

In a few regions - such as in South Asia or the Middle East - conflicts arising from a host of insecurities have been left to fester for decades. The longer these conflicts and insecurities remain unaddressed, the greater the sense of injustice and humiliation. Ultimately, it is in these very regions where we have seen the rise of extremism and the constant threat of internal strife, interstate wars and the temptation by States to seek weapons of mass destruction.

Extremism itself is both an outcome and a driver of insecurity. In the post-Cold-War period, international terrorism is reported to be the only form of political violence that is on the rise. The September 2001 attacks in the United States served as a watershed in global awareness of terrorist activities. But from the perspective of five years later, a tragic consequence is that we seem to have been so focused on retribution and addressing the problem through the use of force that we have paid little attention to the obvious need of dealing with the root causes that fuel extremist ideologies.

The security picture would not be complete without acknowledging the impact of globalization. Modern society is interdependent as never before. This interdependence is a double-edged sword; it provides opportunities to address these problems more effectively, but in some ways can also accentuate them. Consider this example: according to the World Bank, as a side effect of the September 11 attacks and their impact on the global economy, millions of people in the developing world were pushed into poverty.

The tools of globalization, such as television and the Internet, have also made the imbalance in wealth and living standards more glaringly visible, and thereby even less sustainable in the long run. And attributes of globalization such as ease of travel, interlinking of financial institutions, and greater access to advanced technology have arguably made it easier for extremist groups to operate and spread their ideology.

Against this backdrop, it should be apparent why conventional concepts of security - rooted in the protection of national borders - are no longer adequate. As you have noticed, most of the drivers of insecurity I have mentioned are without borders. If a new extremist group emerges in the Middle East, it makes me insecure. If a new strain of bird flu appears in Burma, I become seriously concerned. If a new civil war breaks out in an African state, I should be disturbed. Because the probability is that all these could affect me sooner or later.

In short, the modern age requires that we think in terms of human security - a concept without borders that acknowledges the inherent linkages between development, human rights and peace. While national security is just as relevant as before, the strategies to achieve it must be much more global than in the past, and our remedies must be centred around the welfare of the individual and not simply focused on the security of the state. The concept of human security is straightforward: every individual has the right to live in peace, freedom and dignity. And unless we understand this and set it as our goal, we will not have either national or international security.

The Institutions and Mechanisms

If human security is our goal, then perhaps it should not be surprising that many of our national and international institutions - particularly those dealing with more conventional security concepts - seem inadequate at times when coping with modern threats.

In the broadest sense, the United Nations and its system of organizations have a remarkable record of achievement. We have had no world wars in more than 60 years. UN bodies have succeeded in setting norms and overseeing many important aspects of our life - such as labour relations, global health, civil aviation, food and agriculture, and trade. In the case of the peaceful and safe use of nuclear technology, it is the IAEA who has been working to ensure that the technology is made available to all who want to make us of it, and to set in place the required regulatory infrastructure.

On the other hand, and despite these achievements, I believe it is not an exaggeration to say that the system falls quite short in addressing threats to international peace and security. When faced with such threats, the outcomes are neither certain nor consistent.

The United Nations Security Council is the body entrusted under the UN Charter with the primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security. The Council can point to some success stories as a peacemaker in terms of conflict prevention and conflict resolution, and as a peacekeeper in the aftermath of conflicts. In the case of Namibia, for example, sustained and active UN engagement led to the country´s transition from occupation to independence. In the case of East Timor, similar UN involvement led to its rebirth as a free and independent nation. These and other cases have highlighted the importance of not only peacemaking and peacekeeping but also peace-building; it is essential that conflict prevention and containment be followed by sustained efforts to build the infrastructure that can support an enduring peace.

That said, to understand the urgency and scope of the need for Security Council reform - as well as the reform of the overall structure for maintaining international peace and security - we must look critically at situations where it has not been able to adequately fulfil its function. I would mention four aspects in that regard:

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