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What is human security?

According to UN Human Development Report 1994[1], there are seven dimensions of human security:

These are economic security, food security, health security environmental security, personal security, community security, and political security.

As such it is a departure from the traditional concept of security which has been driven by the assumption that security was about the territorial integrity of the nation-state, and that its protection was best served by immense investment in militaries and armaments.

In September 2012the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on human security. Resolution 66/290 noted that human security was:

an approach to assist Member States in identifying and addressing widespread and cross-cutting challenges to the survival, livelihood and dignity of their people.

The resolution goes on to explain that the concept of human security includes the right of people to live in freedom and dignity, free from poverty and fear with an equal opportunity to enjoy all their rights and fully develop their human potential; it is defined as people-centred and bottom up, but ownership of the responsibilities lies within each state. It is an approach which stresses the links between development and peace and respect for human, social, economic and political rights.

The Sustainable Development Goals

There are many associated agendas which link to the concept of human security. For example Agenda 2030 on Sustainable Development calls for a “world free of poverty, hunger, disease and want … free of fear and violence … with equitable and universal access to quality education, health care and social protection … to safe drinking water and sanitation … where food is sufficient, safe, affordable and nutritious … where habits are safe, resilient and sustainable … and where there is universal access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy.”

In 2015 the UK Government committed to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals aim to improve peace, prosperity, access to healthcare and education and tackle climate change worldwide. They apply to all countries, not just the developing world.

In June 2019, the UK Government published its report on the implementation of the SDGs so far.

Some MPs argued that the UK’s performance has been inadequate in important policy areas, including tackling hunger and food security at home. They also state the Government has not established effective structures and processes for implementing the goals. There has also been dissatisfaction over how the Government conducted its review of progress—the voluntary national review (VNR) process.

In terms of its performance across the rest of the world, the UK Government stressed in the VNR it had met the UN’s target of spending 0.7 per cent of gross national income (GNI) on aid since 2015. The Government will not meet this target for 2020/21.

The Integrated Review

In the 2019 Queen’s Speech the Government announced it will conduct an integrated security, defence and foreign policy review (hereafter the integrated review or review) that will cover “all aspects of international policy from defence to diplomacy to development

The integrated review is the first time the Government has combined development objectives into a security and defence review. During the course of the review the Government announced the merger of DFID and the FCO into the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

The decision to merge the two departments was widely criticised, including by three former Prime Ministers.[2] David Cameron said more could be done to coordinate aid and foreign policy, including through the National Security Council, but that closing DFID would mean “less expertise, less voice for development at the top table and ultimately less respect for the UK overseas.”[3]

The Prime Minister said the distinctions between diplomacy and development objectives were artificial and outdated and that the FCDO will allow development decisions to be better aligned with foreign policy objectives. He said the “long overdue reform” would ensure “maximum value” for taxpayers.

The Government published the Integrated Review on 16 March 2021. The review itself said that the UK will continue to take a leading role in security, diplomacy and development, conflict resolution and poverty reduction. And that the UK aims to be a model for an integrated approach to tackling global challenges. Whilst not explicitly using the term “human security”, these ideas might reasonably be said to reflect a human security agenda.

The main development objectives of that review are that the UK will remain “a world leading international development donor”, committed to the global fight against poverty and meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

The UK will return to its commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of gross national income on development “when the fiscal situation allows”.

An international development strategy is expected to be published by 2022. This “will ensure close alignment of UK aid from 2022 onwards with the objectives in this Strategic Framework.”

It goes on to say that there will be a trend away from grants, and towards providing UK expertise:

Reflecting the creation of the FCDO, the new strategy will combine our diplomacy and aid with trade, working with our partners to adapt our offer. As governments become able to finance their own development priorities, we will gradually move towards providing UK expertise in place of grants and using a variety of financing models to tackle regional challenges in our mutual interests

The UK will also work with allies, like-minded partners and civil society worldwide to protect democratic values, as part of our force for good agenda. In many instances, this will involve working bilaterally with countries to strengthen their domestic governance and to build their resilience to threats and hazards. In doing so, we will focus our efforts primarily in the wider European neighbourhood, East Africa and the Indo-Pacific, tailoring our approach to meet local needs and combining our diplomacy, development, trade, security and other tools accordingly

Response to the IR

Development commentators have so far been critical of the IR saying that it had effectively de prioritised development and that, coupled with the decrease in ODA, the UK’s previously strong reputation as a development actor is under threat. The review does not mention human security.

The Institute of Development Studies said the Review had missed an opportunity:

The Integrated Review published today has absconded from the vital opportunity to set out a new strategic vision for the three key pillars of development, diplomacy, and defense,” said Melissa Leach, director at the Institute of Development Studies. “Instead, it reiterates a narrow focus on defense spending and fails to deliver the rounded vision needed to tackle the most pressing challenges that affect us all: climate change, poverty and inequality, conflict, and disease.

The Defence Studies Department at Kings College London explored the implications of the stance of the review for tackling the challenge of climate change:

In the first instance, the content of the Integrated Review highlights a continued preference for framing climate and biodiversity issues in relation to more traditional security challenges, in comparison to human security challenges.

In relation to governance issues, Bond, the network of development NGOs, commented:

The attention given by the Integrated Review to open societies and human rights is good, particularly the acknowledgement that they are central to a sustainable international order and the fact that they are under threat. 

At the same time, there are reports that the open societies and human rights work of FCDO is facing funding cuts of up to 80%. 

Speaking about the implications of the review for the UK’s status as a “development superpower”, Sarah Champion, chair of the International Development Committee, said:

With little more than a passing mention of development, the Integrated Review has done little to alleviate fears that this is the beginning of the end for the U.K.’s development superpower status. The Integrated Review appears to be more centered towards rubbing shoulders with trading partners than creating a level playing field for the global community to prosper.

[1] Human Development Report 1994, “New Dimensions of Human Security“.

[2]Leadership of merged DFID evidence of ‘hostile takeover’ by FCO, say critics”, The Guardian, 25 August 2020

[3]UK will lose respect overseas”, The Independent, 16 June 2020

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