Tuesday, October 18, 2005

National Security vs Human Security

The Globe and Mail ran an article on Monday by the Senior Vice Rector of the United Nations University by the name of Ramesh Thakur. In the article, "National Security, It's time to think about human security," he noted the publication of a "major new report" by the UN called the Human Security Report. According to Mr. Thakur the report notes that conflicts are reduced by 40% since 1992. The most lethal conflicts (more than 1,000 battle deaths) are down by 80%.

The thrust of the report appears to be the assertion that today's wars are, for the most part, undertaken in impoverished third-world countries using small arms and light weapons in places like Darfur or Indonesia. These wars are driven by weak governments, poorly trained rebels, declining GDP, pervasive poverty and an abundance of cheap weaponry left over from earlier larger conflicts. The report says that the underlying factors leading to conflicts are not being addressed.

All of this is interesting, and no doubt true, but that is not what caught my eye. Rather it was the manner in which Thakur used the aftermath of hurricane Katrina in New Orleans to draw a distinction between the demand for "national security" and the need for "human security" as though the former had little or nothing to do with the latter.
Three years in the making, the Human Security Report will be widely welcomed as the most authoritatively compilation of data and analysis of key trends . As proven by the shifting of funds from building levees in New Orleans to bridges in Alaska , and the redeployment [of] National Guards (sic) to Iraq, policy choices can have deadly consequences.
Perhaps they can, but they didn't. The US Army Corps of Engineers was rebuilding the levees to withstand a maximum hurricane strength of category three. Katrina was a category five and when it hit New Orleans had declined to a category four. Some of the refurbished levees broke, thereby flooding New Orleans. Had levee rebuilding funds been increased, instead of reduced, New Orleans still would have flooded.

And the redeployment of elements of the Louisiana National Guard to Iraq did not effect the outcome either. Over eighty percent of the Guard remained at home. It was the failure of the governor of the state to call out the guard, prior to Katrina's landfall, that led to an initial shortage of troops.

So the proof ain't any proof at all. It's just another cheap shot at American homeland security policy and George W. Bush.

Now I happen to agree with Mr. Thakur when he writes that:
The reality of human insecurity cannot be wished away. To many poor people in the world's poorest countries, the risk of being attacked by terrorists or with weapons of mass destruction is far removed from the pervasive reality of the "soft threats" - hunger, lack of safe drinking water, and sanitation and endemic diseases. These threats are neither unconnected to peace and security, nor can they be ignored until the hard threats have been taken care of.
It's just that these two concepts are not mutually exclusive. They can, and must, be addressed contemporaneously.


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