Journal of Human Security | 2014 | Volume 10 | Issue 1 | Pages 76–88
DOI: 10.12924/johs2014.10010076
ISSN: 1835-3800
Research Article
Can the Pragmatic East Asian Approach to Human Security
Offer a Way for the Deepening of the Long Peace of East Asia?
Timo Kivimäki
Department of Political and Economic Studies, University of Helsinki, P.O. Box 54, 00014 Helsinki, Finland;
E-Mail: [email protected]; Tel.: +358 503183966
Submitted: 27 June 2014 | In revised form: 3 October 2014 | Accepted: 27 September 2014 |
Published: 6 December 2014
Abstract: East Asia (including Southeast and Northeast Asia) has witnessed the most
spectacular pacification in the world during the past 30 years. Certain dimensions related to
human security have been perceived as weak points in the long peace of East Asia. Despite
progress, authoritarian violence is still a reality in East Asia. At the same time, certain other
dimensions of human security—most distinctively those elements related to "freedom from
want"—have developed very well during the long peace of East Asia.
This article will study whether the concept of human security constructs realities that are useful
for peace in East Asia. For this, the article will look at how the way in which "human" and
"security" are linked, serve and deepen the existing social realities of peace in the region.
Furthermore, the article will look inside the concepts of "human" and "security" to see how
human security is constructed and whether the construction serves to deepen the long peace of
East Asia. The article will argue that the East Asian human security debate could be an
intellectual adaptation strategy useful for the promotion of the long peace of East Asia in a
deeper sense.
Keywords: constructivism; East Asia; Human Security; long peace of East Asia; post-
structuralism; speech acts
1. Context, Aims and Objectives
East Asia (including Southeast and Northeast Asia)
has witnessed a spectacular pacification in the world
during the past 30 years. If we compare the period
from the end of World War II until the end of the
1970s with the period after that, we can see a virtual
disappearance of battle deaths in traditional interstate
conflicts (decline of over 99%), a drastic reduction in
battle deaths during domestic conflict (almost 40%),
and a substantial reduction in number of conflicts.
Furthermore, violent repression has decreased and
governments have become more constrained in the
use of power on their citizens. As a result, one-sided
© 2014 by the authors; licensee Librello, Switzerland. This open access article was published
under a Creative Commons Attribution License (
violence by armed groups or the state against un-
armed people is also on the decline. Even violent
crime seems to be on the decline [1].
Despite progress, authoritarian violence is still a
reality in East Asia. More than two thirds of the pop-
ulation live under regimes that place only slight to
moderate limitations on executive authority. This is
the main issue where the long peace of East Asia
needs deepening. One could also say that peace in
East Asia should move from negative to positive
peace [2] by establishing institutions that could
ensure a lasting peace and the formation of an East
Asian security community. This prospect is under
investigation in this article. At the same time, certain
other dimensions of human security—most distinc-
tively those elements related to "freedom from
want"—have developed very well during the long
peace of East Asia. Peace in the sense of an absence
of wars (negative peace) has been built upon a eco-
nomic development-oriented conflict management
which, as a by-product, had already lifted over 400
million Chinese out of poverty by the end of the
second decade of the long peace of East Asia [3].
Despite critics that say that freedom from want is still
an unrealistic goal, and that economic development
should be sustainable—which it has not always been
in East Asia—it is important to acknowledge this side
of human security: economic development has been a
huge contribution to human welfare in East Asia, even
if the region should now aim at making economic
development more ecologically sustainable.
The aim of this article is to review the East Asianist
human security debate and see if the concept of hu-
man security could reconcile some of the weaknesses
of the long peace of East Asia. For this the article will
look at a) the contents of the two concepts, "human"
and "security", b) at what kinds of human security
concepts the East Asian concept competes against
(and replaces if successful), and c) at the way in which
"human" and "security" are linked. While looking at
what human security can offer to the long peace of
East Asia, this article will not claim or study the causal
connection between the concept and the long peace.
By East Asianist debate I mean, first, the author-
itative public documents on human security, mainly
authored by the Japanese government and the ASEAN
secretariat; second, the East Asian debate consisting of
writings by Japanese scholars, especially those facil-
itated by the Tokai University, such as Yusuke Dan,
Kazuo Tase, Keizo Takemi, Tatsuro Matsumae, Akira
Enoki and Akiko Fukushima; and third, the East
Asianist debate having been lead by the great Asian
theorists, Amitav Acharya, Surpong Peou, Chung-in
Moon, Mely Caballero-Anthony, Mohamed Jawhar bin
Hassan, Evelyn Goh, Yu-tai Ts'ai, and many others.
2. How Should the Human Security Concept Be
Since the critical security study's introduction, the
concept of human security has spun off very inter-
esting theoretical discussions on security. But these
theoretically interesting debates have not been re-
stricted to the original critical studies or to the newer
Copenhagen School approaches. The East Asian debate
has also been theoretically innovative and interesting.
However, the East Asian debate has not been very
explicit or reflective about the use of theoretical con-
cepts. The debate has not gone back to the foun-
dations that could legitimize a concept. This is why I
think it could be interesting to make an interpretation
of the explicit foundations that could justify the East
Asian usage of the concept of human security.
If we look at what was defined as the East Asian
debate on human security at the beginning of this
paper, one can see a clear commitment to a prag-
matic, empiricist effort to relate concepts to some-
thing real and concrete in East Asia. According to
Peou [4]: "If human security is to stay analytically
useful as a concept that can be operationalized and
relevant in policy terms, we need to prioritize policy
commitment, motivate policy action, and assess policy
outcomes." Thus Peou sees the truth of human se-
curity as crucially dependent on the pragmatic con-
sequences of it as an adaptation strategy to reality, or
even as a conceptual construct of social reality.
Furthermore, Peou [4] also assesses the concept of
human security from the point of view of whether or
not it can be "sold" to the policy community: "My hope
is that the concept can be better accepted and
applied if we succeed in building a concept that is
neither too elastic nor too restrictive, combining
theoretical insights into one that is neither too parochial
nor too eclectic." While it would be possible to say that
the concept has already been adopted by the policy
community—in 2014 the concept turned 20 years old
and it has been adopted and used in agencies of the
UN, EU and other political organizations—the practice
of human security is always dependent on how much it
has been socialized in societies and how high priority it
gets in policy-making [5].
In addition, the merits of considering something as
a security issue area are thought of in the East
Asianist debate as a matter of practicality. The original
ideas of the securitization theory [6] have been
criticized in the East Asian debate for their lack of
empirical focus, for the disinterest in real policy conse-
quences and the unintended effects of securitization
All this sounds much like the teachings of the
pragmatists [10,11] who rejected concepts and theo-
ries as explanations of reality, and truths as mirror
images of reality. Instead, they saw knowledge as a
pragmatic strategy of adaptation to and manipulation
of the surrounding world [12,13]. If we take the idea
that knowledge is a building block of the social reality
we live in (as constructivist say) seriously, pragmatic
attitude to this truth makes the articulation of
interpretations strategic activity. As Chalk said, prag-
matic research should therefore study knowledge
production, such as the introduction of the concept of
human security, as strategic symbolic creation of
social realities in interaction between articulators of
interpretations and their audiences. Symbolic inter-
actionalism [14] that studies this interaction does not
just analyse which constructs, created by symbolic
interaction, exist; it is also interested in studying the
actual "symboling", the manipulation of symbols by
active persons, defining and redefining their social
realities [15]. Thus the articulation of "human
security" can be judged as a rhetorical strategy on the
basis of how it advises us to adjust to the social and
material realities that surround us and to change
conflict-prone structures and processes. In this article
the criterion is how successful it is in creating realities
that help the long peace of East Asia. From the point
of view of an intellectual, the question is also whether
it is realistic to expect that the concept will be
accepted among the policy community.
According to Chaim Perelman, Olbrechts-Tyteca
[16] and the theorists of the new rhetoric [17],
political argumentation is based on the effort to
associate the policies one tries to promote with some
policies about which one's audience already feels
generally positive, and to dissociate one's projects
from those of which one's audience disapproves. Enos
puts it thus: "To create one's rhetorical structure of
reality is to make use of a structure to establish a
solidarity between accepted judgments and others
which one wishes to promote [18]." This is what the
proponents of human security are doing by concretely
linking "human" and "security" in one concept. They
are creating a rhetorical association between human
well-being (survival in tolerable conditions in absence
of want and fear [19,20]), and security, often the
dominant security concept; that of national security.
This is done in order to associate human well-being
(something that one wants to promote) with national
security, which, in our pre-agreements of argumen-
tation (something that the audience already accepts
as truth or as a norm), is undeniably regarded as
something crucially valuable. Thus, the priority on the
survival of national sovereignty is also claimed as vital
to human survival/well-being.
How the association between human welfare and
security is made is crucial for the pragmatic value of
the reality of "human rights" (association): does the
introduction of human welfare into the security realm
affect the way in which traditional security is con-
structed or does it just change the way in which hu-
man welfare is seen. Since human security concept is
a discursive/argumentative strategy, what kind of
conceptualization East Asian human security is in-
tended to replace needs to be studied strategically.
Furthermore, the type of human values included in
the issue area to be securitized is important. What is
inside the concept of human security (human rights or
economic development, for example) is also highly
relevant, as is the political context in which the East
Asian concept of human security is articulated. Thus I
will now move on to the examination of the pragmatic
value for the long peace of East Asia by investigating
the implications of the content of "human" and "secu-
rity," the role of the East Asian concept as a substitute
of the European idea of human security, and the
implications of the way in which the two concepts are
3. The Content of East Asian Concept of Human
and Security
While the idea of human security can be traced far
back into the history of Western thought [21] the
actual term was launched into political terminology by
an Asian intellectual, Mahbub ul Haq, in the UNDP's
Human Development Report of 1994. The concept was
first introduced in an extensive, development-empha-
sizing form that now is seen as "the Asian version" of
the concept. The concept presents five new commonly
accepted elements to security thinking.
First, all human security thinking is based on the
concerns of human beings; either as individuals or as
a humanity. As the Japanese government puts it, any
policy guided by a concern for human security "puts
people at the center of concerns" (the "human" part)
and "emphasizes benefiting people who are exposed
to threats" (the "security" part) [22,23]. Putting value
on human survival and well-being is the first nor-
mative basic premise of the concept of human se-
curity. The types of human values seen as belonging
to the scope of security are debated. While survival is
accepted by all proponents of human security, the
East Asian debate often also defines a wide variety of
values related to human well-being and freedom as
security concerns [24,25]. Instead of going into the
debate on whether the concept loses its normative
relevance if it distances itself too much from its
survivalist core, I will simply focus on those definitions
that do indeed stay close to this core.
Second, threats to and the aim for human security
are not only national, as is the case with national
security, but transnational [26]. The assumption that
the sender and the target of threats can be not only
national, but also transnational or sub-national, is the
first common ontological premise of all human se-
curity thinking. The transnational nature of human
security means, on the one hand, that the source of a
threat is not always an intentional, national agent.
While national security challenges are posed by
intentional actors—mostly nation-states, but some-
times also alliances of several nations—human secu-
rity challenges can be posed by non-actors, such as
climate change or viruses. These kinds of threats
exist in absence of "enemies." In some cases, human
security threats are posed by actors that the inter-
national community refuses to consider legitimate,
such as criminals and terrorists. This is problematic for
security theory, which often creates models that as-
sume bargaining between the sender and the target of
a security threat. Security actors never negotiate with
viruses or the ozone layer, and rarely with criminals or
Furthermore, the transnational nature of human
security means that while national security in its clas-
sical form means the absence of a threat to one nation
from another (and is therefore inter-national), human
security challenges such as environmental degradation,
hunger or authoritarian violence can be local ones
(such as flooding in a river delta), national ones (such
as human rights violations), transnational ones (such
as drought in a region covering parts of several states),
or global ones (such as climate change).
Third, human security thinking also assumes that
threats may be of a different sort from those pre-
viously seen. While traditional security thinking has
focused on military threats, human security thinking
complements this thought by pointing out non-
military, soft threats, such as the problems of nation-
building, famine, antagonistic feelings between ethnic
entities, etc. Chung-in Moon and Edward Azar gave
form to theories based on this difference, linking it to
the realities of the third world. They criticize the
traditional military view for its overexposure to the
realities of the developed world [27]. According to
Azar and Moon, the "software" side of the security
problematic in the Third World is more important "as
opposed to the traditional Western analyses of
security, which tend to concentrate on the 'hardware'
side of the problem." This broad view of the soft
versus hard nature of threats is the second common
ontological premise on which human security thinking
Fourth, some theorists also say that the logic of
human security is fundamentally different from that of
national security. In the latter, self-help is the main
mode of action, while the former is concerned with
helping others "other-help", [4]. The need to go
beyond the partisan principles of self-help is the first
common praxiological premise of the human security
concept. A focus on the well-being of the weakest
individuals in national development cooperation policies
would make it difficult to reduce human security
operations to the traditional logic of self-help. Alter-
natively, if one thinks of the referent object of human
security as all of humankind, one could conceive of
human security as humanity's self-help.
Finally, while traditional security threats can be
seen as being tackled by military response (however,
many traditional security threats nowadays are tackled
by what is now being called civilian crisis man-
agement), the remedy for human security threats
might not be military, but can, as the Human Devel-
opment Report of 1994 suggests, be development.
The broader approach to tackling security threats is
the second common strategic principle of human
security. The inter-departmental, multi-agency nature
of responses to human security challenges has played
a central role in putting human security into effect in
the Japanese government's evaluation of the UN Trust
Fund for Human Security. According to the eval-
uation’s definition, the Trust Fund "promotes main-
streaming the human security concept in UN agencies,
and it stimulates multi-sector and multi-agency activ-
ities of the UN agencies based on issues beyond the
mandate of each agency. This leads to mainstreaming
the concept of human security not only in the UN
agencies, but also in the member countries and civil
society." [28,29].
However, in addition to concepts in common, the
interpretation of human security has many differ-
ences. Many of these differences cut across the divide
between the "West" and East Asia. For some (mostly
Western) theorists, the focus on human beings re-
places the focus on national security while for others
(mostly East Asian scholars), national security is
instrumental to human security. The role of the state
as a threat to or an instrument of human security is a
fundamental alternative ontological premise of human
Many Western approaches to the enlargement of
the security concept—such as critical security studies
and human security—are contrasted with the narrow
national security view. Booth, , Krause, Williams and
Betts & Eagleton-Pierce [30], for example, frame
human security more in alternative than comple-
mentary terms, emphasizing how often states kill their
own people instead of defending themselves [30–33].
Rudolph Rummel shows conclusive data for this by
pointing to the fact that governments kill more than
six times as many of their own citizens as do intra-
state and interstate wars put together [34]. According
to Andrew Mack "the realist paradigm is incapable of
dealing with the threat states pose to their own
citizens. This is the primary reason why proponents of
human security argue that the individual should be
the referent object of security." [35].
On the level of policy debate, Canada represents
the extreme end of the spectrum at which the human
security concept is mainly reserved for intrusive inter-
ventions for the sake of the well-being of individuals
against states that cannot or will not secure them.
According to a Senior Policy Advisor in the Peace-
building and Human Security Division of the Canadian
Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
[36], the two main proofs of the effects on policy of
the concept of human security are the banning of
landmines and the establishment of the International
Criminal Court, both acts that went against states'
In the East Asian debate on human security, the
instrumentalist concept is the mainstream one. Ac-
cording to this view, states are instruments (but not
the only ones) of human security and thus national
security is also important for human security [4,37,38].
Barry Buzan echoes East Asian logic by criticizing the
reductionist notion of human security [39].
This is why in the East Asian debate human se-
curity is seen as threatened especially in the context
of state collapse [37,38]. The Japanese sponsored UN
Council for Human Security reveals its pro-state
orientation by placing a special focus on people on
the move, that is, people who cannot attain security
via the protection of their own states. With the con-
cept of human security, national security also receives
new justifications: "when we focus on the security of
the human persons, of the individuals, we're making
sure that state security and state sovereignty are
effectively implemented to help, to protect, to
promote the welfare, the well-being and the dignity
security of their own people …" [40].
A derivative of the debate on the relationship
between national and human security is the question
of the relationship between sovereignty and the
principle of non-interference on the one hand, and
human security on the other. If states, especially
authoritarian ones, present threats to human security,
most Western approaches claim that sovereignty
should not be allowed to restrict activity (especially by
democracies) to guarantee human security. However,
if states are a crucial instrument of human security as
is often believed in East Asia, sovereignty should not
be compromised. These two views are the first main
alternative strategic premises of human security. The
fact that an intrusive Western interpretation was
perhaps more prominent originally meant that the
concept of human security got a slow start in East
Asia. Despite the activity of the Japanese (and Korean
and Philippine) government and the former Thai
foreign minister and former ASEAN Secretary General,
Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, accepting the concept of human
security, it has not been easy for East Asian intel-
lectuals, let alone for governments [40]. According to
Paul Evans, "East Asia is resistant to concepts of
security that, in normative terms, have the potential
to erode traditional concepts of sovereignty" [41].
The human security concept that East Asia sym-
pathizes with the most is one where sovereignty
cannot be compromised, as it is an instrument of
national security and thus an important element in
human security: "the human security concept is a
rather comprehensive concept, but it will not be in
competition with the issue of state sovereignty. In
fact, it is making the state sovereignty more
meaningful" [40]. This deviation from the Western
discourse is understandable taken the differences in
historical experiences of East Asia and the West.
While the last big war in Europe was diagnosed as a
result of extreme nationalism and thus security was
associated with lowering state borders, in East Asia,
the two biggest wars (Vietnam and Korea) were
experiences where intervention and interference mag-
nified the impact on humans of the war. In these
differing historical contexts it is understandable that
the Western concept of peace and human security
prescribes the lowering of borders, while the East
Asian prescription is to the opposite [42]. If we go
further back in history, we also encounter the impact
of colonialism on the East Asian interest in the pro-
tection of sovereignty. The hesitance of East Asian
countries to accept Western concepts that could
legitimize Western interference in the domestic affairs
of East Asian nations is understandable against this
historical background. To some extent also Japan has
in some countries been perceived as a "semi-colonial"
power due to the history of colonialism and expan-
sionism during the Second World War, and as such
Japan has not been a perfect advocate for the
concept of human security.
While the disagreement on the role of the state as
an instrument of or as a threat to human security is
most distinct in political security issues, such as the
question of human rights, it is a relevant divide also in
questions related to economic human security.
However the divide between supporters and
opponents of income-distribution-sensitive develop-
ment strategies does not cut across the divide
between the West and East Asia. East Asian capitalist
as well as socialist discourse often criticizes Western
approaches that are not interested in the economic
security of the state or individual poor people, but
instead, are driven by individual greed. A good ex-
ample of the capitalist critique can be found in the
recent discourse on moderation in world affairs by
Malaysia's prime minister Najib Razak [43,44]. This
discourse does not emphasize only economic human
security of individuals, but that of the nation. Lee
Jones interprets this emphasis, not only in Malaysia,
but in the entire Southeast Asia, as an emphasis of
the interests of the class of capital owners. The
emphasis on the interests of the "national economy",
rather than economic human security of the poor,
simply shows the class foundation of the Southeast
Asian states [45]. Radical [46] and developmental
[47] socialist critique of the Western economic pol-
icies, again, criticizes both the class-based capitalist
economic prioritization as well as the neglect of the
economic human security of the poor in the West.
While in the former the subject of economic human
security was the class of the proletariat, in the latter,
despite of the original rhetoric (by Deng, for ex-
ample), not the worker, but the entire national
economy. In reality, however, the collectivist approach
to economic human security has made it easy for the
East Asian states occasionally also to neglect their
Another important divide between East Asian and
Western concepts of human security is the greater
focus of East Asian (and, actually, Northern European)
concepts on economic security. The view that human
security can mainly be preserved through political and
developmental means is the second main alternative
strategic premise of human security. While the Western
human security concept has often been focused on
political freedoms [21,36], the Asian concept is more
closely tied to development. The Unit for Human Se-
curity at the UN Office for the Coordination of Human-
itarian Affairs takes a middle road including both
political and developmental means in the menu of
strategic choices for human security. "Human security
threats cannot be tackled through conventional mech-
anisms alone. Instead, they require a new consensus
that acknowledges the linkages and the interde-
pendencies between development, human rights and
national security" (emphasis added).
The link between development and security in the
East Asian debate is sometimes seen as a causal
association from development to security [19]: that is
to say, without development it is not possible to
achieve security. This is very much the view that is
repeated in the inaugural documents of ASEAN [48].
Sometimes the association is seen to go in the other
direction. President Beningno S. Aquino III sum-
marized this view in the 13th ASEAN Summit as
follows: "The Philippines views regional security as a
valuable element in the evolving Asian architecture.
The preservation of peace and stability in our region is
an imperative if we are to continue to prosper and
develop." [49]. Finally, the concepts of human security
and comprehensive security have conceptually bound
security and development together as one complex
approach. According to the blueprint of the ASEAN
Political-Security Community: "The APSC subscribes to
a comprehensive approach to security, which acknowl-
edges the interwoven relationships of political, eco-
nomic, social-cultural and environmental dimensions
of development." [50]. This conception is increasingly
common in East Asian rationalization of peace; peace
is needed for investments, which again are needed for
prosperity. It is not possible to speak of positive peace
in the absence of development.
In short, the main positions of the Western and
East Asian human security debates are summarized as
follows (Table 1).
Differences in definitions of human security persist.
The two main differing points at which the East Asian
debate needs to defend its position are related to the
way in which national and human security relate to
each other, and to the role of economic well-being in
the content of human security.
Table 1. Common and Differing Positions on Human Security.
Western debate East Asian debate
Normative premise The concept of national security is
insufficient, as the security of human
beings is valuable as such, too.
The concept of national security is
insufficient, as the security of human
beings is valuable as such, too.
Nature of threat Senders and targets of security threats
are not only national, but also sub-
national, transnational and global.
Senders and targets of security threats
are not only national, but also sub-
national, transnational and global.
Nature of threat In addition to military threats, soft
non-military threats, such as famine or
lacking governance can threaten
In addition to military threats, soft non-
military threats, such as famine or
lacking governance can threaten
Nature of threat States are often threats to, rather than
instruments of, human security.
Generally, nations are an instrument of
human security. Thus national security is
an instrument of human security.
Approach to security The narrow concept of self-help has to
be broadened when dealing with
threats to human security.
The narrow concept of self-help has to
be broadened when dealing with threats
to human security.
Approach to security Military means are insufficient in the
promotion of human security.
Military means are insufficient in the
promotion of human security.
Approach to security Human security needs to be tackled
mainly as a political issue.
Human security should be tackled mainly
as a developmental issue.
4. The Battle between Alternative Contents of
Human Security
The main debate in terms of the definition of human
security between East Asia and the West is related to
the balance between political and economic values as
issue areas to be securitized. While the UNDP defines
human security as freedom from fear and freedom
from want, the East Asian consensus can only be
found relating to the latter [37]. To some degree, the
Asian association of human security with development
is historically determined. The first time an East Asian
government endorsed the concept was right after the
Asian economic crisis. At that time, Foreign Minister
(later Prime Minister) Keizo Obushi emphasized com-
passion in the aftermath of an economic crisis and
called it an important element in the development of
"human safety". Later, his terminology changed and he
integrated his thinking with the human security
terminology of the UNDP [51].
However, the most prominent explanation for the
economy-based definition of human security is related
to the overall "developmentalist" security thinking in
the East Asian security debate [52]. "National security
is often perceived to include the security and welfare
of the state and the people" [53]. Development in
general has been seen as central to the prevention of
conflicts since the time of President Magsaysay in the
Philippines, and as the theoretical basis of devel-
opmental security thinking within the spheres of
traditional security in Indonesia's President Suharto's
concepts of national resilience, Deng Xiaoping's con-
cept of security though the four modernizations,
Korea's Prime Minister Lee's administration
Korea Vision
and Japan's Prime Minister Masayoshi
Ohira's doctrine on
Comprehensive Security
[54]. If
traditional national security has already been asso-
ciated with development, then it is no miracle that the
same is true of human security.
In general, a developmentalist orientation to hu-
man security is in line with the overall East Asian
orientation to security and the purpose of states. I
have shown this by first defining criteria for a devel-
opmentalist orientation and ranking East Asian
regimes according to these criteria into three cate-
gories. Then I looked at how a developmentalist orien-
tation has been associated with success in conflict
prevention (through examining conflict fatalities). Ac-
cording to my findings it seems that the discourse on
development is significantly associated with peace
[52]. Rather than claiming a causal association be-
tween exogenous variables, this shows that peace-
fulness and a developmental orientation are part of
one approach or discourse which values peace and
sees the promotion of economic development as an
important task and identifying quality of states.
In some East Asian countries, the foundation for a
regime's legitimacy has consisted of development,
rather than democratic credentials. In this setting,
one might think that an emphasis on "freedom from
want" as a matter of security would downgrade the
priority of democracy. For example, demonstrations
are sometimes suppressed in China, Singapore,
Vietnam, and previously in Suharto's Indonesia; seen
as something harmful to foreign investments and thus
economic development—and security. In this way,
economic human security could serve repression in
the name of overall security. However, if one looks at
associations between democracy, developmentalism
and peace, it seems that developmentalism is no
longer part of a discursive package that is seen as an
alternative to the discourse of democracy. On the
contrary, a regression analysis of democracy (as per
measures from the Polity IV data), developmentalism,
and conflict fatalities show that developmentalism,
rather than being an alternative foundation for a
regime's legitimacy, has recently become part of a
"modern package" in which democracy and develop-
mentalism are positively associated [52,55]. The role
of the state has become the promotion of modernity
along with economic development and democracy. The
discourse on modernity has thus linked freedom from
want with democracy, instead of seeing developmental
needs as security issues that can be used against
democracy as justifications of authoritarian violence.
This is especially clear in the debate on human security,
while the debate on "non-traditional security" as an
alternative to human security often tends to see the
realization of development goals, rather than individ-
ualistic democratic principles, as legitimizing for East
Asian states [56]. Thus, economic human security
serves the political purpose of promoting the long
peace of East Asia without seriously increasing the
risk of authoritarian violence, even though "non-tradi-
tional security" has a more dubious relationship with
While democracy and developmentalist human
security concepts are associated today, the total lack
of a priority on development/security tends to be the
case in countries that are the least democratic and
that have the most authoritarian violence. Of all East
Asian countries, only in North Korea and in Burma/
Myanmar is the priority on security clearly separated
from developmental priorities. In these countries,
national security interests can thus justify policies that
are suicidal from the point of view of development.
The lifting of the priority on human economic survival
to a par with national security priorities could there-
fore greatly reduce human suffering, but whether it
would increase East Asian peace, is, of course, a
matter of definition. A true example from Burma's
Chin State illustrates the potential effects.
During the time of famine in the Chin State of
Burma/Myanmar in 2007‒2008, villages with stock-
piles of rice could not effectively offer their surplus
rice to villages in areas where rice had been destroyed
by rats, due to troop movements in the area which
had forced villagers to help with transportation of
ammunition. Furthermore, due to the risk of exter-
nally instigated subversion and espionage, foreign
organizations could not be allowed to move freely in
the area to help the starving people [57). If Burma/
Myanmar's government had framed famine as a hu-
man security threat—if it had securitized human well-
being—the argument that the overriding threat to
national security was a justification for inaction in the
face of famine could not have been presented. If
famine was also a security matter, the Burmese army
could not have been insensitive to the human costs of
securing the border by means of ammunition deliv-
eries to prevent foreign intrusion into its territory.
While promoting the political side of human security
could be useful for East Asia, it is the promotion of
the economic side that is more likely to bear fruit
there. Governments that have a poor human rights
record can be brutal to their challengers, while gov-
ernments where national security enables economically
suicidal policies are murderous to all citizens.
The emphasis on freedom from want in the East
Asian concept of human security and comprehensive
security also has political power implications. On the
one hand, the centrality of development has given
rise to economic technocrats, who are no longer
considered to be ordinary members of the bureauc-
racy, but instead to be experts central to security. At
least in Indonesia, the role of the "Berkeley Mafia"
became central under Suharto's rule and something
similar could be seen from the 1960s in Thailand.
Economic technocrats have also become central in the
Chinese administration after Deng Xiaoping's consol-
idation of power. Furthermore, due to the centrality of
development for security, the Indonesian military had
to assume a central role in the economy: if economy
was central to stability and only the army could be
trusted, the army had to be a strong control over the
economy, too. The dual (military and economic) roles
of the militaries and the centrality of military officials
in big companies in authoritarian regimes in East Asia
have often been unintended consequences of the
securitization of development. In the long run, it has
meant that, especially in Indonesia, the military has
received only a small fraction of its income from the
public sector, while the majority of its funding has
come from military businesses. This meant that until
the collapse of 1998, the economy had to be highly
regulated by licenses and permits so that the military-
controlled public sector could exercise control over
economic development. Only in this way could the
military force its share out of companies and keep it
meaningful for bigger companies to keep military men
on their boards in order to ensure that the licenses
necessary for business would be forthcoming [58,59].
While this has not helped economic development, it
has made it impossible for the Indonesian bureauc-
racy and politicians to make economically suicidal
decisions; development and the economic interests of
the military always had to be a factor in all policies.
The lack of political substance in the East Asian
human security concept relates to the authoritarian
history of East Asian states. It would be difficult for
countries that use repression of citizens' political
rights as a political power strategy to accept a security
concept that could bring political rights on a par with
urgent national security priorities. Yet one could claim
that in an area where the world's most genocidal
regimes in absolute (Cultural Revolution China, and
China during the Great Leap Forward) and relative
(fatalities/population) terms (Pol Pot's Cambodia) can
be found [34], one could assume that raising the
priority on the political rights of citizens could prove a
significant contribution to the long peace of East Asia.
If one looks at the political debate on human se-
curity [60], it seems clear that the Japanese offensive
in the promotion of human security did not only
intend and manage to promote economic human se-
curity thinking in East Asia, but that it also contributed
to the pre-emption of the much more radical Canadian
concept of human-rights-focused human security. In
this sense, the contribution of East Asian human
securitization could be framed against other possi-
bilities. A realist might perhaps say that the Japanese
initiative was more realistic as there could never be
political support among East Asian authoritarian
regimes for a politically oriented human security con-
cept. Successful securitization of a politically loaded
human security concept would perhaps have been un-
realistic. Yet, if such a concept were more fruitful from
the point of view of pragmatism, there would be no
excuse for governments to challenge it.
5. How are "Human" and "Security" Linked in
the East Asian Debate?
The association between human well-being and na-
tional security can be made in several ways. The new
issue area that is being introduced into the security
realm can be seen as the authentic origin of all secu-
rities. Alternatively, it can be seen as something equal
to national security. Finally, it can also be introduced
as something that is important, but instrumentally
subordinate to, national security.
In critical security studies of Booth [32], Smith [31]
and Betts & Eagleton-Pierce [30] the state is implicitly
seen as valuable only through its effect on the
security of its citizens. In these writings human
security is used as the yardstick, and since many
states are seen as poor instruments of human well-
being, national security is not a valuable concept, and
human security is presented as an alternative.
However, this is not the way that human and
national security concepts are linked in the East Asian
debate. Peou [4] expresses his East Asian view
perhaps most clearly by saying that human security
gives national security a new dimension: national
security is also important for the safety of citizens.
This means that only a certain dimension of national
security can be reduced to human priorities. In this
way of thinking, national security and human welfare
are linked, but in a way that allows some indepen-
dence for both. There can be national security that is
neutral to human security, and there can be human
security separate from national security.
Furthermore, human security, especially its eco-
nomic dimension, can be instrumental to national se-
curity. After the East Asian states assumed a state-
identity that emphasized the role of the state in the
promotion of prosperity and development, national
security apparatuses of East Asia started promoting
the idea of pro-poor economic policies as a way to
secure regime legitimacy and fight violence chal-
lenges to the state. This was already the strategy of
the Philippine military under president Ramon
Magsaysay in the 1950s [61,62], while it became a
strategy more widely accepted within the ASEAN after
the establishment of the organization [63–65], Devel-
opment became a way to pacify the people in China
after the ending of the cultural revolution: as in
ASEAN, economic grievances were tackled head-on,
instead of using military means as the first option.
The obsession to develop, rather than tackling polit-
ical grievances is obvious in the Chinese documents
of their policies in the restless provinces of Tibet and
Xinjiang [66,67].
In the East Asian human security debate the value
of national security is partly independent from the
value of the nation, and since the nation is a vital in-
strument of human security, one cannot readily justify
compromising national security in the name of human
security. This way of linking "human" and "security" in
East Asia has avoided making the concept a justi-
fication for rebellions or for intrusive humanitarian
intervention. The strong Japanese role in the artic-
ulation of the concept of human security must have
been partly motivated by this East Asian desire to
divert the concept from its radical roots [60]. According
to the progressive input of the Commission for a New
Asia, a group of 16 respected Asian intellectuals,
humanitarian concerns can justify intervention, but
only as a last resort, for purely humanitarian purposes,
under a UN mandate, with the acceptance of the
population of the country, and only if there is an
extreme threat to human security and legality [53].
The fact that intervention can be possible only in
extreme cases of threat to human security and legality
is justified by the fact that national security and
sovereignty are values in themselves.
Another way of avoiding reductionism is to see
national security as a vital instrument of human
security, although in certain countries and certain his-
torical periods the nation might seem a poor instru-
ment of human security. An international normative
construction in which strong nations are not allowed to
interfere in the domestic affairs of smaller nations
could be valuable for human security, since it is a con-
vention that generally yields value for human survival.
The latter interpretation is often present in the East
Asian human security debate. According to the former
Japanese prime minister: "both threats to a sovereign
nation and the international system also clearly
threaten humanity and therefore the individual" [25].
The overall East Asian diagnosis of the relationship
between national and human securities is more
positive to the state, and this is understandable, taken
the historical context of East Asia. East Asia's last
great conflicts before the peaceful period after 1979
multiplied due to the lack of respect for sovereignty
and the principle of non-interference. In terms of
human lives lost, two of these conflicts—the Korean
War and the Vietnam War—were the world's most
serious conflicts after World War II. In Southeast Asia,
President Sukarno's radical thinking in the 1960s
about the new emerging forces (communists and third
world nationalists) opposed by the old established
forces (imperialists and neo-colonialists) also con-
structed a world with little respect for national sover-
eignty. Sukarno's disrespect for the sovereignty of
neighboring countries also caused insecurity for
Malaysians and Singaporeans. These mistakes were
formative for the East Asian emphasis on peaceful
respect for sovereignty, as were the experiences of
ultra-nationalist authoritarianism for European inte-
gration-based peace. In addition to inter-state conflict,
an insufficient level of nation-building has also caused
intra-state wars, and thus many Asian intellectuals
feel that Asia needs a strict primacy of national
security. According to ([53] p. 53) "Security is still
seen very much in terms of national security (this
is) felt keenly in Asia because nation-building is still in
progress and national consciousness is high in most if
not all countries." Thus it is understandable that the
principle that human security does not in normal
circumstances justify intervention supports the
normative and interpretative construct on which the
long peace of East Asia after 1979 and ASEAN peace
have been based.
On the level of rhetoric, the Treaty of Amity and
Cooperation [48] could be considered the founding
document of both peace periods. Three out of the six
main principles of this document emphasize non-
interference and respect for sovereignty as common
rules of interaction between signatory nations. Ac-
cording to the Uppsala conflict data, Southeast Asian
countries had supported each other's insurrections
militarily 29 times before they joined ASEAN, while
during the peaceful period after joining ASEAN, this
has not happened once. Clearly, a concept of security
that gives little excuse for threats to national security
rules the long peace of ASEAN. The same is true for
East Asia. During the Cultural Revolution and prole-
tarian internationalism in China (and in Pol Pot's
Cambodia), respect for sovereignty was not part of
the normative construct, and thus, states extensively
supported each others insurrections—they were
sometimes seen as necessary for human welfare,
liberation and justice. The area witnessed 35 cases of
intervention in support of insurgents that fellow
Asians felt represented a better concept of justice and
security. However, once the long peace of East Asia
started in 1979, all this stopped. Non-interference
therefore seems to belong to the successful East
Asian peace strategy. Even though one could say that
non-interference also offers political elites an oppor-
tunity to repress their populations in impunity, it is also
the case that in the peaceful period when East Asian
states respected national security objectives by avoid-
ing military intervention into each other’s internal
disputes, pacification has also lead to a decline in
authoritarian violence [68]. Thus, non-interference has
not increased the authoritarian threat to human
Then, if military non-interference has clearly been
part of the successful normative construction of the
long peace of ASEAN and the long peace of East Asia
since 1979, it might be tempting to say that the
association between security and human survival,
well-being and freedom should have such a rela-
tionship to the concept of national security, that there
could be no justification for military interference in
domestic governance. Of course, non-interference is
not a necessary objective condition for peace, and the
current normative, identity-based and interpretational
constellation behind the relative peace in East Asia is
not unchanging, nor is it the only possible construc-
tion that can succeed in preserving peace. The long
peace of East Asia is not perfect. But still, it seems
that East Asian history has taught us some lessons
about the value of sovereignty for human security.
These lessons have given rise to local ownership of
the norms of non-interference. Thus, one should
probably not insist on interpretations of the rela-
tionship between national and human security which
give easy justification for inter-state military inter-
vention. An articulation of the values of human
security and national security as independent entities
and the assessment of the value of national security
for human security, both typical to the East Asian
human security debate, can therefore lead to a useful
increase in East Asian relative peace.
While the consequences of East Asian relationship
between "human" and "security" can be assessed from
the point of view of peace and war, it is also possible to
assess it from the point of view of power politics. If
human security does not facilitate legitimate human-
itarian intervention, it means that citizens cannot
expect military assistance from outside the country
against their rulers. The East Asian concept of human
security has been criticized for elitism: an Asia-
specific cultural context has been used to legitimize
the sanctity of even brutal elites against international
power. Protected by cultural diversity and the natural
acceptance of a nation-based international system,
authoritarian power interests legitimize oppression
against their citizens [45]. At the same time, taken
that the international system is no more democratic
than that of the authoritarian countries, more intru-
sive human security concepts may lend support to
international authoritarianism, as was experienced
during the "colonial protection of East Asian subjects"
or during the international occupation of Iraq and
Afghanistan. This is why most East Asianist voices
against the intrusive human security concept see such
concepts "as part of a 'West against the Rest' effort to
impose individualistic and culturally inappropriate
Western notions of human rights and humanitarian
intervention on the developing world" [35].
Even if the East Asian concept of human security
does not dominate national security, neither does it
constitute a reality within which national security can
dominate human security. The economic survival of
citizens was already a security matter at the time
when several East Asian countries were seeking
"comprehensive security". In these regimes (Thailand
since Prime Minister General Prem Tinsulanonda, post-
WWII Japan, South Korea since the 1970s, Suharto's
Indonesia, Magsaysay's Philippines and the Philippines
after 1986, and Deng Xiaoping's China) where devel-
opment was seen as a security issue, economic sui-
cides (like President Sukarno's trade embargo against
Singapore in 1965, the Burmese military's decision to
abolish the value of some legal tenders, and Pol Pot's
decision to demonetize the Cambodian economy)
could not have been committed in the name of na-
tional security. Later regimes that subscribe to the
principles of human security have had difficulties in
using national security as an argument for political
repression. Thus, even a weak concept of human
security (one that does not dominate national se-
curity) can create a reality where the survival of
citizens takes on a greater priority. Internal security
acts and authoritarian control in the name of national
security mostly take place in countries where human
security does not belong to the political vocabulary.
Yet even in those countries where human security has
some value, the treatment of conflict areas often lacks
sensitivity to human security, and especially to the
political freedom aspects of it.
6. Conclusions
East Asian human security does not justify rebellion or
uninvited humanitarian interventions, due to the fact
that human security does not take priority over na-
tional security. The normative orientation that the East
Asian human security concept constitutes in relation
to humanitarian intervention seems useful for the long
peace of East Asia.
East Asian human security has a developmentalist
core: it is the developmental concerns of human sur-
vival that get the priority in terms of security issues.
This can present two problems. On the one hand, if
military security and development are the core func-
tions of states, these priorities can easily justify
compromises in competition with democracy. Economic
efficiency could be seen as a reason for not opening
the political system up for greater participation. How-
ever, development in East Asia is increasingly seen as a
twin value to democracy within the context of modern-
ization [55]. The modern missions of states include
both the provision of development and an interest in
democratic governance. Thus, the economic content of
human security is likely to further the long peace of
East Asia, and also in the sense that it reduces author-
itarian violence. Still, a greater political content for the
concept could be useful in light of the historical
challenges that authoritarian violence has posed to
East Asian human security.
On the other hand, the emphasis on the concept
"economic" in East Asian developmentalism still poses
a challenge to human security, unless economic pri-
orities cannot be considered on the long term and
reconciled with the priorities of the environment. Fo-
cusing on environmental human security could offer a
great new potential for East Asian human security
debate. Such a focus would not stir the sensitivities
related to the norm of non-interference in East Asia,
and yet a focus on environmental security could be a
significant contribution to positive regional cooper-
ation for human well-being.
In conclusion, therefore, the East Asian debate on
human security could create realities that strengthen
regional peace and well-being. Thus, if a concept pro-
motes progressive political realities, scholars ought to
endorse it regardless of the analytical implications.
Most of the complaints about the analytical value of
human security are related to the search for a mirror
image of reality. Yet, even as such, the problems of
the concept have been exaggerated. Andrew Mack,
for example, claims that if one wishes to examine the
interconnections between war, poverty and gover-
nance, then these variables should be defined in an
analytically independent manner [35]. However, the
concept of human security does not prevent catego-
ries that cut across or disaggregate the concept of
human security. Conceptual categories that reveal
similarities in one dimension do not imply similarity in
all dimensions. If the concept of human security
lumps issues with different causal dynamics together,
then we will have to create concepts underneath the
conceptual umbrella of security that make it possible
to develop models that differentiate, for example,
between security threats generated by an intentional
enemy (such as a neighboring country or an ethnic
group), and threats that arise from non-intentional
sources (such as the environment). If different se-
curity elements have causal connections with one an-
other (such as poverty and conflict), human security,
which covers both, does not, as a concept, prevent
analysis on the relationship between the two. Human
security does not make the sentence "poverty causes
conflict" a tautology, just as the concept "universe"
has so far not prevented us from studying relation-
ships between various, analytically separate elements
of the universe.
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