Rethinking Human Security


Gary King and Christopher J.L. Murray. 2002. “Rethinking Human Security.” Political Science Quarterly, 116: 585–610. Copy at
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Rethinking Human Security


In the last two decades, the international community has begun to conclude that attempts to ensure the territorial security of nation-states through military power have failed to improve the human condition. Despite astronomical levels of military spending, deaths due to military conflict have not declined. Moreover, even when the borders of some states are secure from foreign threats, the people within those states do not necessarily have freedom from crime, enough food, proper health care, education, or political freedom. In response to these developments, the international community has gradually moved to combine economic development with military security and other basic human rights to form a new concept of "human security". Unfortunately, by common assent the concept lacks both a clear definition, consistent with the aims of the international community, and any agreed upon measure of it. In this paper, we propose a simple, rigorous, and measurable definition of human security: the expected number of years of future life spent outside the state of "generalized poverty". Generalized poverty occurs when an individual falls below the threshold in any key domain of human well-being. We consider improvements in data collection and methods of forecasting that are necessary to measure human security and then introduce an agenda for research and action to enhance human security that follows logically in the areas of risk assessment, prevention, protection, and compensation.

Last updated on 03/25/2017