Human security eclipsed by state security


US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

As could have been expected, no less a person than Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has broached the issue of the possible high costs of the world’s present lop-sided preoccupation with economic growth, at the expense of human security. Taking India as an example he is on record that India has taken ‘a quantum jump in the wrong direction since 2014’; that is, with the advent of the Modi administration.

Elaborating on this observation Sen said that while India has embarked on this fast growth track, human welfare has suffered considerably in India in the process (Please refer to page 3 of ‘The Island’ of July 9, 2018). He referred in particular to the deprivations and indignities the more disadvantaged of India, such as the Dalits, are continuing to be subjected to, several decades into political independence. In other words, the country has made little progress towards equity and social justice, the marked growth rate notwithstanding. However, even on the issue of growth, Sen noted, India was in a backslide since 2014. ‘We are getting backwards, in the fastest growing economy’, he said.

Sen made it clear that he was not talking in partisan-political terms. He was not aligning with India’s political opposition against the Modi government by making this critique of the Indian polity. By way of clarifying, he said that the continued deprivations suffered by the more disadvantaged sections in India were central to the issue of the true identity of India. ‘It is an issue of what India is’, Sen said. From 1947, the Indian state has stood for equality and social justice. These are some of the foundational principles of the Indian state. But, in practice, things have gone awry somewhat and the noble aims enunciated by the state have not been fully fulfilled. Hence, the question:’What is India?’

Such soul-searching by some of India’s most eminent persons is most welcome and exemplary. It is such questioning that keeps the democratic process alive and ticking. Sri Lanka’s ‘public figures’ and ‘intelligentsia’ please take note. Sen has set the standard for our opinion-makers and ‘intellectuals’. Will they take the cue from him? Alas, it is very rarely that these categories of persons referred to in Sri Lanka raise pertinent questions that go to the heart of nation-building.

Moreover, the issues posed by Sen are of immense relevance to the rest of South Asia. Let not the rest of South Asia derive any malicious pleasure in reference to India, from Sen’s comments. In terms of ensuring human security no country in South Asia could claim to be doing any better than India. For example, how far has Sri Lanka traversed on the path of social equity and justice? Isn’t Sri Lanka continuing to be bogged-down in identity politics, which is a bane of the global South?

However, the impression is inescapable that at present it is state security that takes precedence over human security the world over. The deprivations and disadvantages suffered by the poor, for example, in any country testify to low human security provision in the country concerned. In contrast to the latter, we have state security which is ensured, among other things, by fulfilled defence requirements. But the latter conditions do not necessarily equate with human security which is met with the provision of the essential needs of the ‘ordinary people’, such as, food, shelter, protection against adverse environmental conditions, health and education facilities.

Unfortunately, there is no international discussion worth speaking of on the need for providing and consolidating human security by states. What we have, instead, is a lopsided stress on state security and economic growth. But it should be plain to see that the non-provision or the decreasing provision of human security requirements leads to social disaffection, which in turn has serious implications for state security. Human security complements state security and vice versa.

Seen from this viewpoint, the UN has done right by faulting North Korea for ‘side-lining’ human rights questions within its territory, although it is seemingly forging ahead with denuclearizing talks with the US. A few days back, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in North Korea to further this dialogue for which the path was apparently paved by the ‘historic’ summit last month between North Korean leader Kim Jong UN and US President Donald Trump.

State security was uppermost in the minds of both leaders because the countries concerned harboured threat perceptions with regard to each other. Accordingly, North Korea’s nuclear capability took centre stage in the talks. But the UN is hardly pleased with North Korea’s human rights record, and human rights are at the heart of human security.

Such preoccupations with state security will likely be the hall mark of the present international political order, considering that world tensions have heightened over the past two decades in the teeth of global economic uncertainties. This fixation will be further aggravated by the US’ trade war with China which is bound to have repercussions almost world wide. Besides, the US has made it abundantly clear that America will be ‘First’ come what may. This marked chauvinistic bent in US foreign policy coupled with its penchant for a policy of isolationism will help in further side-lining human security questions in international discourse.

Accordingly, the world’s simmering ‘trouble spots’, the Middle East, Syria and Afghanistan, to take just three such war zones, will be allowed to remain embroiled in blood shed. Needless to say, almost nothing would be forthcoming by way of relief for human suffering from the major powers in relation to these zones of chronic conflict. State security will likely be allowed to eclipse human security. But neglected human suffering will eventually contribute toward state instability and intra-state conflicts.

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