Human Insecurities: The Seven Deadly Sins of States


By: Gerald F. Witherspoon, Sr.

Traditional Security

     Traditional security centered on the realist construct that states were the most important actors on the world’s stage. States existed within a world order of anarchy. Consequently, the existence of anarchy mandated states to take measures to ensure survival (including military force) and produced a desire for sovereignty. Further, states bore the responsibility to protect their citizens from outside invasions. Threats to security consisted of armed conflicts and nuclear arms races. National wealth was eagerly spent on national defense. Military progress took priority and advanced beyond health care, education, and population stability (United Nations Development Programme 1994). Later, a different framework advanced leading to another sequitur.

An Expiring Logic

     Through the leans of realism, logic followed that human security would be scored through the accomplishment of state security. After the cold war, however, it became vividly apparent that the absence of war did not guarantee individual security as humans continued to face various insecurities worldwide irrespective of military aggression. Thus, a more expansive or inclusive way of looking at threats was mounted. The following quotes contained in the Human Development Report (1994) spotlight a change in thinking regarding security:

  •  “Human security is not a concern with weapons—it is a concern with human life and dignity.”
  • “The world will never be secure from war if men and women have no security in their homes and on their jobs.”
  • “So, when human security is under threat anywhere, it can affect people everywhere” (United Nations Development Programme 1994).


The Human Security Paradigm

     “The goal of national security is the defense of the state from external threats. The focus of human security, by contrast, is the protection of individuals” (Human Security Report Project 2010). The movement toward human security, then, is a true paradigm shift. For more than a decade, a range of academicians and field practitioners have concluded that separating the complex threats experienced around the world is not the best way to approach security. Additionally, in a globalized system interconnectedness causes threats to spread faster and wider. Insecurities vary, challenge governments and people, and exist in both developed and developing countries. Among these threats are droughts, floods, conflicts, diseases, hunger, climate change, financial crises, and others (United Nations, 2013). Some threats have been considered more dangerous than genocide. Furthermore, individuals voluntarily or involuntarily crossing state lines pose a challenge to the traditional notion of state-centric security. Migrations force governments to deal with individuals that may or may not fall under their jurisdcition of protective responsibility. Human rights violations oft-times occur under these circumstances and force governments to deal with each other appropriating the relevence of individuals and their influence on national security.

An Expansive Paradigm

     Human Security does not attempt to invalidate the realities of military aggression, but to legitmate seven other types of security that humans should be afforded. Namely, economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community, and political (United Nations Development Programme 1994, 24-25). Economic security is achieved when an individual is free from a lack of basic income. Economic security is essentially the same and sometimes referred to as income security. Achieiving economic security requires the ability to become and remain gainfully employed. Constant change in industry structures and lack of work opportunities leave many people unemployed or underemployed leading to economic insecurity in developed and developing countries. These conditions exarcebate poverty and create a dominoe effect leading to food and other insecurities. Food security is achieved when individuals have access to basic food. Therefore, when individuals cannot afford food they face food insecurity that is directly related to economic security. Former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, says “Chronic hunger retards growth, lowers resistance to disease, and destroys lives” (Robinson 2013). Health security is achieved when individuals have access to basic healthcare. Approximately 20 million people die annually from respiratory infections, diarrhoeal diseases, tuberculosis, diseases of the circulatory system, cancer, HIV, AIDS, childbirth, and more often initiated by an unhealthy environment. Environmental security is achieved when individuals have access to a healthy environment. Unclean water or water scarcity are immediate contributors of insecurity. Unclean water obviously leads to health problems and water scarcity increases the risk of water wars (Arsenault 2012). Other enviromental insecurities arise from land degradation, deforestation (intensifies droughts and floods), and desertification. Natural disasters, sometimes multiplied by human contributions or negligence, claim millions of lives. Personal security is achieved when individuals live free from physical violence such as war, ethnic tensions, crime, torture, rape, domestic abuse, child abuse, and more. Community security is achieved when individuals are allowed membership in a support group. These groups offer a source of protection, provision, and comfort. Lastly, political security is achieved when individuals enjoy the protection of their basic human rights (United Nations Development Programme 1994).


     Traditional security concerns still have their place and many are reluctant to adopt the human security approach. However, the naysayers have not met the task of erasing the underlying threats to national security. Professor Mary Kaldor offers this reminder, “It was, after all, the combination of international law (the Helsinki Agreement) and civil society that ended the Cold War, not American military power” (Kaldor 2012). Undeniably, each threat to human security overlaps another and threats in one country spiral into others. States should work to eliminate the seven threats to human security with no less devotion than individuals avoiding the seven deadly sins. No state can secure effectively the protection of its people without removing the insecurities experienced at the individual level. Therefore, states that claim a right to soverienty but fail to ensure the security of their people expose the shrewdness of their character and legitimate themselves as a threat to the international community. More than a decade ago the UN press kit stated, “Around the world, millions of people are still denied food, shelter, access to medical care, education and work, and too many live in extreme poverty. Their inherent humanity and dignity are not recognized” (United Nations 1997). Finally, the human security paradigm requires cooperation, collective security efforts, and commitments to uphold human rights across the globe. It is people-centric, not state-centric. Remove militaries and weapons from the earth and human lives are still threatened by at least seven more threats. For states to ignore these threats would be irresponsible, shameful, gravely sinful, and warrant their own damnation.


Arsenault, Chris. Risk of water wars rises with scarcity. Last modified August 26, 2012. (accessed November 30, 2013)

Human Security Report Project. The miniAtlas of Human Security. 2010. (accessed November 30, 2013).

Human Security – A New Response to Complex Threats. Directed by United Nations. 2013.

Kaldor, Mary. Forum. July 2, 2012. (accessed November 30, 2013)

Robinson, Mary. Mary Robinson – Global Food Systems. September 30, 2013. (accessed November 30, 2013).

United Nations. A Magna Carta for all humanity. 1997. (accessed November 30, 2013).

United Nations Development Programme. Human Development Reports. 1994. (accessed November 30, 2013).

United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security. About Human Security. 2013. (accessed November 30, 2013).


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