“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

Albert Einstein

‘Sustainable human safety’[1] recognise that human safety cannot be realised without taking a holistic approach to overcome threats to collective ‘human security’, which may include

    • Economic security (basic income and public services for individuals)
    • Food sovereignty (physical and economic access to a healthy nutritious diet)
    • Health security (protection from diseases)
    • Environmental security (protection from man-made and natural threats in nature)
    • Personal security (protection from physical violence)
    • Community security (protection from sectarian and ethnic violence)
    • Political security (protection of human rights).

Sustainable human safety’ builds on the concept of ‘human security’ (introduced by UNDP in 1994)[2] and differs from the traditional notion of defence in that it does not put ‘national security’ over all other concerns of human safety:

    • A nation pursuing ‘sustainable human safety’ will not erode environmental, economic, community or political security of its citizens (and immigrants) in the name of ‘national security.’
    • A nation pursuing ‘sustainable human safety’ to ensure ‘national security’ will not sacrifice economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community and political security of people of other nationalities.

Sustainable human safety’ focuses on the interconnected, long-term threats to collective human safety:

    • Economy. Unequal and unfair distribution/allocation of (increasingly scarce) resources, including wealth, land, food, water and energy. Neoliberalism/capitalism — commodification of ever more aspects of ordinary life. Tax evasion. Monopolies and rent seeking. Economic growth beyond planetary limits.
    • Environment / Climate change. Habitat destruction. Mass species extinction. Pollution. Loss of infrastructure, resource scarcity and the mass displacement of peoples, leading to civil unrest, inter-communal violence and international instability. Overcoming vested interests to cut carbon emissions from every source (i.e. militaries) to achieve climate (including carbon) neutrality. Absence of well-funded disaster risk reduction.
    • Health (Epidemic). Bio-hazards and pandemic. The worrying trend of privatisation and monopolisation of medicine and healthcare. ‘The War On Drugs’ — redirect government funds into pro-poor polices; capture revenue in same way as alcohol and tobacco; put an end to the ‘Prison-Industrial Complex’. Vested interests against establishment of public healthcare for all around the world. Health inequities: social, environmental, or economic factors that worsen disease — health in all policies.
    • Defence. The increased use of military force as a security measure and the further spread of military technologies. Excessive military spending. Wars/conflicts and refugees. The pervasive and perverse influence of the military-industrial complex. Militarisation of civilian agencies, ie the police. Absence of properly funded conflict prevention & peace-building. Remote warfare and killer robots. Nuclear proliferation. Colonial/imperial mindset. Geopolitical hypermuscular power projection.

Oxford Research Group (ORG) argued emphatically that “a new way of approaching security is needed, one that addresses the drivers of conflict: ‘curing the disease’ rather than ‘fighting the symptoms’.”[3] This was true then and still true now, probably even more so, considering the world is in much worse condition than just a few years ago. Therefore, a clear distinction between sustainable human safety and the traditional notion of defence is that sustainable human safety focuses on fundamental causes of threats rather than on their symptoms. Threats normally regarded as severe threats to ‘national security’, such as terrorism and organised crimes, are symptoms rather than root causes. ‘Fighting the symptoms’ will not make people safe — safe from poverty, homelessness and economic exploitation; safe from pollution and climate emergency; safe from malnutrition, noncommunicable diseases and pandemic; safe from oppression; safe from conflict and violence; safe from racism (whether based on colour, religion, or whatever other social construct) — we must ‘cure the disease’ instead.

By emphasising the interwoven linkage between economy, environment, health and defence, it forces us to take a comprehensive and systemic approach to formulate defence policies fit for the 21st century. All four quarters together, not one fewer, make a circle. Sustainable human safety ensures defence policies take care of all areas of human safety, not just looking at ‘national security’ in isolation (the 20th century way).

In fact, all government policies should have sustainable human safety in mind when formulated and implemented. After all, what good is any policy if it does not ensure human safety for all.

Sustainable human safety is proactive and preventive, rather than reactive. We have had too many reactive failures, the War on Terror and War on Drug, to name just two recent examples.

And most importantly, the principle of non-offensive defence is firmly embedded in the sustainable human safety.


[1] see also The Five Percent Campaign: Full Report (2013), specifically section https://thefivepercentcampaign.org/the-five-percent-campaign/full-report-the-five-percent-campaign/the-campaign-why/#2123

[2] Human Development Report 1994: New Dimensions of Human Security, http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/human-development-report-1994

[3] https://www.oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk/marginalisation-of-the-majority-world-drivers-of-insecurity-and-the-global-south