In 1994, the United Nations Development Programme articulated a landmark theory or paradigm known as Human Security to provide the global community with a more progressive interpretation of human rights. Indeed, Human Security is described as ‘people centered’ and serves as a valid and needed contrast to realism, which is a dominant theory in international political discourse. Although realism has been a functional operating principle in international relations for centuries, it was popularized in recent years by the academic Hans Morgenthau in the well-known book Politics Among Nations. In this book, two central arguments are advanced: first, political leaders act according to the ‘national interest’ and, second, moral or human rights considerations cannot be applied to the actions of states. Accordingly, realism is often seen in Machiavellian terms as a doctrine of cold calculation and the harsh projection of national interests in the international community.
The United Nations Commission on Human Security provides the following definition of human security: “to protect the vital core of all human lives in ways that enhance human freedoms and human fulfillment”. Human security requires the protection of fundamental freedoms or freedoms that are essential to life. This includes protecting people from critical (severe) and pervasive (widespread) threats and situations (The United Nations Commission on Human Security, 2003). The human security doctrine provides clarity on the enumeration of human rights threats and the most urgent areas for action and identifies “seven specific threats to human security: economic, food-related, health, environmental, personal (including violence and abuse), community, and political.” (The United Nations Development Programme, 1994).
According to United Nations officials, academics and human rights experts, human security is a people-centered approach to human development and protection. In sharp contrast to realism, which emphasizes national power and interests, human security seeks to embrace the individual and respond with humanism to the seven specific threats. Moreover, human security is also an activist theoretical approach that is a call to action for responsive and people-centered humanitarian policies. To address the monumental environmental challenges facing global citizens in the 21st century, valuable insights can be gained by examining these issues through the prism of human security.