1.         THE United Nation’s Human Development Report of 1994 sharpened the debate on what should be the focus of regional and national efforts to promote security: Is it the state or the people? Is the pursuit of national security and human security compatible? Which of the two should take precedence? What makes the process of maintaining regional security at odds with defending human security? Are regional institutions today capable of pursuing both goals?

2.         At first glance, the issue seems simple. Both state security and human security should be the objectives of national policy and regional cooperation. In theory, national security creates favorable environment that is conducive to the pursuit of human security. National security enables nation states to pursue long-term national development agenda without fear of being interrupted by conflict and unwanted surprises either from within or outside the country. It allows nation states to allocate resources to productive sectors instead of military hardware acquisitions. National development, in turn, creates opportunities that can improve the lives and conditions of the people.  Such condition provides a strong foundation for national stability.

3.         The issue becomes complicated when more specific questions are asked, such as whether human security should be a universal concern beyond national boundaries and whether the principles of human rights and individual freedom should be integral to human security. If affirmed, is it the responsibility of the international community to intervene when human security is being violated? Will international intervention, particularly in a regional context, threaten regional stability? The rest of this paper will focus on the implications of the human security approach to maintaining regional security.

4.         There are those who consider human security approach as potentially detrimental to promoting national stability and maintaining inter-state peace and co-existence. The adherents to this view believe that, under certain circumstances, the security of the state is paramount. In this regard, respect for national sovereignty in inter-state relations must prevail over the so-called universal concerns.  On the other side of the debate are those who believe in the indivisibility of humanity. To quote United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, “The world cannot stand aside when gross and systematic violation of human rights are taking place with grave humanitarian consequences.”1  He argued that the aim of the United Nations is to protect individual human beings, not to protect those who abuse them.

5.         The question of whether human security is compatible with state and regional security is a function of the interplay of the territoriality of nation states and the non-territoriality of the human being. This situation need not lead to irreconcilably opposing views.

6.         The challenge, therefore, is to forge a new international consensus on balancing the pursuit of state and human security. The Commission on Global Governance, in its 1995 report, stated that, “the security of people must be regarded as a goal as important as the security of states.”2  It has been considered “the most pressing security challenge of the twenty-first century.”

7.         National governments and regional institutions must preserve and extend the progress made in securing states against the external threat of war while finding ways to safeguard people against internal threats of repression and gross deprivation of basic human needs. While the universal concern for human security should not be used as a cover to undermine the political integrity of nation states, particularly the developing world, regional and national security should not be used as an argument to perpetuate gross violation and deprivation of human security and against international intervention.

The Imperative of Regional Security

8.         Human security will always be threatened if there is no inter-state peace and stability. The promotion of regional security must remain a legitimate preoccupation of nation states. As a function of security dilemma, regional security, equilibrium, and harmony do not evolve by themselves. They have to be conscientiously promoted and managed. Deliberate and sustained efforts, through confidence building and cooperation, are essential in promoting inter-state peace and stability. Cooperative security has to evolve gradually, especially when there are sharp differences in threat perceptions among the regional states.

9.         Cooperative security in East Asia is made complicated by interrelated and multiple disputes between and among the regional states. Among the potential threats to peace in the region include the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the overlapping claims in the South China Sea, the China-Taiwan Straits relations, and the situation in the Korean Peninsula.

10.       The constant competition of states for power and influence poses serious implications for national and regional security policy. The division of the world into different power blocks and spheres of influence, particularly during the Cold War years, fueled inter-state tensions. Moreover, relations between the developed and developing countries have not been very smooth in the decades following the period of de-colonization. Powerful and rich countries have dominated policy-making in various councils of the world. In various occasions, unilateral actions made multilateral consensus in vain, not without global consequences. Therefore, the preservation of independence, national sovereignty and territorial integrity is a fundamental and legitimate concern particularly of the weak, small, fragile and newly independent states.

11.       The establishment of the ASEAN Regional Forum is aimed at consolidating the relative inter-state stability in East Asia at the end of the Cold War. It strives to promote confidence and trust among its 23 members that include countries in the broader Asia-Pacific. The ARF undertakes confidence building measures, such as regular dialogue and consultations at the ministerial and senior officials levels, publication of defense white papers, promotion of a regional arms registry, promotion of joint military exercises, disaster relief and search and rescue cooperation between civilian and military personnel, training for peacekeeping operations in support of the United Nations, and cooperation among defense colleges. The ARF, with its diverse membership, is yet to forge a consensus on the principles of security cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region.

12.       The increasing closer relations between Southeast and Northeast Asian countries through the ASEAN+3 process are complementing the ARF. No less than the heads of state or government and several ministerial level bodies are participating in this most recent regional arrangement. This recent development is fueled by the increasing economic interdependence of East Asia.

13.       For their part, the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have entered into the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia and the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone. The former binds the contracting parties to a set of fundamental principles in their relations with one another, including an adherence to the processes of pacific settlement of disputes, while the latter constitutes the member states rejection of weapons of mass destruction. ASEAN has , been an effective mechanism for maintaining regional stability in Southeast Asia in the sense that none of its members has ever gone into war with another member since its establishment more than three decades ago. At the same time, ASEAN is fully aware that this state of affairs is not irreversible. It has to be constantly nurtured.

14.       To a great extent, regional security in East Asia depends on the state of relations among the major powers in the region, particularly between China and Japan. Russia and the United States also have legitimate interests in the region and have maintained their networks of alliances. Managing the major power relations is one of the most important tasks of security multilateralism in the Asia-Pacific.

The Exigency of Human Security

15.       East Asia has achieved a remarkable record of high and sustained economic growth. From 1965 to 1990 the 23 economies of East Asia grew faster than all other regions of the world. The number of poor people in the East Asian region fell by 27 percent between 1975 and 1985 and 34 percent between 1985 and 1995 – the fastest pace of poverty reduction in all of  the developing world. Social indicators, such as life expectancy, infant mortality, and education enrollment improved significantly in the past two decades.

16.       Despite these economic achievements, threats to human security remain. More than 900 million people in Asia remain poor, such as those who survive on less than $1 a day. Non-traditional sources of insecurity persist. For many people, a feeling of insecurity arises more from worries about daily life than from potential regional or global war. Job security, income security, health security, environmental security and security from crime have become the emerging human security concerns in the region.

17.       Many of these concerns are becoming global in scope, such as drug abuse and trafficking, spread of AIDS and other communicable diseases, international terrorism, transboundary pollution and threats to the earth’s life support systems, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and small arms, trafficking in persons, and the social impact of global economic competition and restructuring.

Political repression and disenfranchisement and gross violation of human rights continue to threaten human security. In an annual survey, which measures individual country’s freedom in terms of political rights and civil liberties, only one-third of the 15 East Asian countries is considered free, while two-thirds is either partly or not free at all.3

18.       The 1994 Human Development Report noted that for too long, the concept of security has been shaped by the potential for conflict between states. It has always been equated with the threats to a country’s borders. Arms build up and competition have been traced to this traditional concept of security.  In the midst of the financial crisis in 1997, military expenditures of East Asia and Australia decreased only by 5 percent from $149 billion in 1996 to $142 billion in 1997.  Taiwan the world’s second biggest arms importer spent $6.3 billion in 1998. Japan’s arm imports were worth $2.1 billion, South Korea $1.4. billion, and Singapore $900 million. Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea are the three largest arms buying countries in the region and rank third through fifth world wide, behind Saudi Arabia and Turkey, respectively.

19.       At the global level, military spending is equal the combined income of one-half of humanity each year. The Third World spends two to three times as much on arms as on the education and health of their people. While engaged in lip service to the widespread call for disarmament, industrial countries lead the global trade in arms. The United States leads as the world’s biggest arms exporter, with deliveries of arms and military services in 1998 worth $26.5 billion, a 49 percent global market share. France overtook Britain in the second place with sales of $9.8 billion, while British exports fell to $9 billion in 1998 from their peak of $10,9 billion the previous year.

20.       Indeed, the pursuit of human security must find its place in a world where the traditional concept of national security is entrenched even when the locus of most conflict and insecurity has shifted to the community and individual levels.

Building a Consensus on State and Human Security

21.       Maintaining state security is as important as promoting human security. The former is an essential prerequisite of the latter, which in turn provides the foundation for national and regional stability.  Human security needs regional security in the sense that the former can only be promoted in an environment of inter-state peace and stability. At the same time, regional security can only be sustained if the constituent states experience domestic peace built on secured communities – except when the sources of threats to regional security are policy driven.

22.       The interconnections between the factors of human and regional security call for a new consensus toward a more balance regional agenda. National and regional security shall remain legitimate concerns of states. State formation and nation building continue to be important preoccupation in the light of the persistence of underdevelopment and prevalence of “soft states.” But they should not be pursued at the expense of universal humanitarian values and democratic governance.

23.       At the same time, the practice of double standard in humanitarian intervention must stop. In various instances, humanitarian interventions were undertaken primarily in pursuit of certain strategic considerations or hidden political agenda of foreign powers. The international community must remain vigilant because, almost always, only the major powers have the capacity and resources to mount international intervention.

24.       Some of those opposed to the concept of human security point to the differences in the objective conditions and circumstances of individual states. The diversity in terms, for example, of geography, population, resources, levels of development, security concerns and threat perceptions is supposed to demand different sequencing of national priorities.

25.       But there is more to this debate than about differences in sequencing of priorities. It is essentially a function of the tension between the forces for political change, on one hand, and the defenders of the status quo, on the other, specifically between the democratic movement and authoritarianism.

26.       The human security approach becomes incompatible with regional security when it challenges certain patterns of resource allocation that favour military security and obsession with defending national frontiers. It becomes objectionable when it threatens power structures that entrench the dominance of a few. Human security is incompatible with regional security when the concerns and priorities of regional civil society are not shared by the political and bureaucratic elites. They are incompatible when regional alliance building of the civil society is threatening the narrow and self-serving interpretation of the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of states. Incompatibility arises when greed, corruption and the threat or use of force characterize national and regional governance.

27.       Global and regional institutions must be responsive to the challenge of balancing the need for state security with human security. Clear rules and criteria for humanitarian intervention must be agreed upon and accepted widely. Security multilateralism should mitigate the tendencies for unilateralism. An acceptable ratio of military to social spending must be found.

Relationship Between Economic and Political Systems

28.       The most controversial aspect of the human security approach is its inclusion of political factors, such as human rights and liberal democratic governance. In recent years, the question of “Asian values” became to an extent a screen or an ideological front for the more down-to-earth view according to which the introduction of liberal democracy in East Asia is incompatible with sustained economic development. Some leaders have perfunctorily affirmed, more or less convinced but clearly conveniently for themselves, that liberal democracy is detrimental to the economic well being of their citizens.

29.       Many of those who are suspicious of the concept of human security believe that liberal democracy is a threat to economic growth. They maintain this mindset even in the light of empirical research proving otherwise.

30.       For example, an interesting case study of eleven countries in East Asia reveals a striking correlation, though with exceptions to be sure, that generally those countries with low levels of economic development tend to have autocratic governments, those with high levels of economic growth tend to have democratic form, and those at more moderate levels seem to blend or waver between the two.4

31.       Another major research addressed a more specific question of whether democratization affects economic performance negatively. The eight-country research undertaken by the United Nations University has shown no manifest evidence that liberal democracy is directly and obviously detrimental to economic development. There is at least enough support for the view that economic performance has flourished under liberal democratic regimes in East and Southeast Asia, even if authoritarian rule can also do so.5

32.       Until 1997, East Asia was the region of the globe in which economic growth was the highest. Over the 25 years between 1965 and 1990, the area grew by an average 6.5 percent a year, as against 2 percent or less in the rest of the developing world and in the West. This same trend continued into the 1990s. Japan’s economy was characterized until the early 1990s by a rate of economic growth, which was of the order of magnitude of the rate achieved by East Asian countries. This shows that liberal democracy is fully compatible with a high rate of economic growth.

33.       As it turned out in 1997, the economic performance of the countries concerned was seriously affected, not by democratization, but by the globalization of the world economy and in particular by the financial consequences of this globalization. Thus, the financial turmoil hit more a country such as Indonesia, which had not democratized, than a country such as Taiwan, which had fully democratized.
Indeed, economic growth is a function of many factors, one of which is the political system. Liberal democracy could add dynamism and synergy to other essential ingredients that should be in place, but it would not be sufficient if these other factors are either missing or misdirected.

Implications of Human Security for Regional Governance

34.       The pursuit of human security means that regional institutions must be change agents. They must have the political will to challenge the status quo. They must be given sufficient resources and the necessary mandate to alter situations. To pursue human security means to enhance the capability of regional organizations to advance universal values effectively and with greater autonomy from its dominant members and local interest groups.

35.       First, Regional institutions must work with other change agents, particularly with the civil society. In recent years, transnational social forces have been providing an alternative orientation to globalization, which they call “globalization from below.”6   The possibility of upholding human security will require a much stronger and more focused campaign within global civil society — a strengthening of globalization-from-below that balances the globalization-from-above and opposes adverse impacts of the latter.

36.       Second, regional institutions must be publicly accountable. They must adopt democratic decision-making processes. Regional institutions, their organs, officials, and information must be accessible to the public. Bridging the digital divide, not only among nations but also within societies, can contribute greatly to building participative governance.

37.       Finally, regional cooperation must be in synch with the global human security agenda. They must contribute to facilitating inter-civilizational dialogue and understanding. They should not fuel division among the regions of the world.  At the same time, regional institutions must collaborate with global institutions to mitigate the negative impact of globalization on one hand, and ensure that all nations, particularly the developing countries, benefit from the seamless world.   In this regard, a United Nations Human Security Council has been proposed to defend the new frontiers of global human security.7

38.       The pursuit of human security requires changes in the nature and structure of the existing regional mechanisms in East Asia. The ASEAN Regional Forum must balance its current state-centric security agenda with people-centric security concerns.  It must develop and put into practice the policy of comprehensive security as contained in the Chairman’s Statement of the first meeting of the ARF in 1994.

39.       The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation must find equilibrium between trade liberalization and development cooperation in favour of its less developed and economically vulnerable members. It must heed the danger of an excessively rapid liberalization pace without commensurate institutional checks and accountability at the global, regional and national levels. It must address vigorously the social impact of economic globalization.

40.       The Association of Southeast Asian Nations should become a political community. ASEAN should build on its successes in managing inter-state peace and stability by aiming to establish a community of democracies that promotes human security. It should provide assistance and incentives to its members towards achieving certain standards in political governance.

41.       ASEAN must agree on a road map to become a community of open societies as envisaged in the ASEAN Vision 2020. It should not renege on its commitment to establish a regional mechanism for the protection and promotion of human rights. In the light of the increasing regional interdependence and interconnections, ASEAN must forge a consensus on the broader meaning and application of the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of one another.

42.       A balance pursuit of state and human security can create an environment favourable for each other’s mutual reinforcement and advancement.  No less than fundamental changes in the political structures and mind-sets at the national level are required to achieve such regional imperative.




  1. Kofi Annan, “Two Concepts of Sovereignty,” The Economist, 18 September 1999, 49.
  2. 0ur Global Neighbourhood. Report of the Commission on Global Governance (New York: Oxford University Press, 1_995), 81.
  3. Freedom in the World: The Annual Survey of Political Rights and Civil Liberties, 1999-2000 (Washington, D.C.: Freedom House, 2000).
  4. James W. Morley (ed.), Driven by Growth: Political Change in the Asia-Pacific Region (New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1999), 31.
  5. Ian Marsh, Jean Blondel and Takashi Inogu- chi (cds.), Democracy, Governance, and Economic Performance (Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 1999), 356.
  6. Richard Falk, “Pursuing the Quest for Human Security,” in Majid Tehranian (ed.), Worlds Apart: Human Security and Global Governance (New York: I.B. Tauris Publishers, 1999), 1-22.
  7. Mahbub ul-Haq, “Global Governance for Human Security,” in Majid Tehranian (ed.), Worlds Apart: Human Security and Global Governance (New York: I.B. Tauris Publishers, 1999), 91.