Need to Synergize State and Human Security : Lessons for India

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Whether it is because of human nature as reasoned by classical realism or because of the anarchic nature of international relations as argued by neo-realists, the fact of the matter is that wars have been happening since time immemorial, resulting in unspeakable horrors, deaths, displacement, and loss of property. The cold war era, marked by inter-state wars, gave way to the preponderance of intra-state conflicts during the post-cold war period. However, the conventional wars never ceased completely. The Gulf War 1990–1991; the Kargil War 1999; the US invasion of Iraq in 2003; the Russia–Georgia War 2008; the Azerbaijan–Armenia War 2020; and currently the Russia–Ukraine War and the heightened tensions between China and Taiwan are a reminder of the enduring nature of military conflicts between states.

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Human Security Paradigm

During the Cold War, the traditional concept of security was in vogue. It meant defending states’ sovereignty and territorial integrity from external military threats.According to this security concept, the referent object was the state.However, in the post-Cold War and post-Soviet era, it was thought that the nuclear threat had receded and interstate wars were also on the decline. What now plagued the world were intra-state wars marked by genocide, ethnic cleansing, failed states, and migration from conflict-ridden societies. This was coupled with the onset of globalization, the market economy, and an emphasis on socio-economic development, which necessitated a reconceptualization of security. The shift started taking place from a state-centric to a human-centric approach. It was around this time that a paradigm shift occurred with the publication of the Human Development Report, 1994, authored by Mahbub ul Haq. This report systematically presented the seven dimensions of human security: economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community, and political. This report was followed by several others that expanded the concept of human security. The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) focused on aspects of human security, rights, and development.


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Twenty years after the conclusion of the First World War, the Second World War broke out. The bipolar world of politics after 1945 was marked by an era of proxy wars, regional wars, and interference in the domestic politics of the Third World. The military-industrial complex of the developed world flourished. Nuclear disarmament has remained a solemn declaration in Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).Vertical and horizontal nuclear proliferation could not be prevented. Proponents of human security, meanwhile, tried to focus the spotlight on the human-centric aspect of security. In the human security approach, the welfare of human beings is the object of concern rather than the military and strategic interests of a particular state. Human security, if factored properly into the domestic policies of a country, leads to secure and stable foundations for society. Human development is one important means to achieve human security. It is also true that where human rights are observed, human security is bolstered.

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However, human security is one aspect; the other aspect, the enduring question of state security, is equally important. The zeal for human security should not be at the cost of state security. A review of historical and current events demonstrates the universality and persistence of power struggles among nation-states.In fact, various alliance systems, such as balance of power and collective security, have been experimented with to counter the attacks of potential aggressors.

Importance of State Security

We are living in a world where momentous changes are taking place. The international order is being reset by China, and the US is resisting its move. The Russia-Ukraine war is the result of Moscow’s insecurity arising from perceived NATO expansionism. The US National Security Strategy has presented China as a systemic, long-term threat. India too faces a continuing threat from an aggressive China unabashedly bent upon attempting predatory moves at our border, the latest one being the incursion in the Tawang sector of Arunachal Pradesh. In such a scenario, India will neglect its military security at its own peril.

Wars have not been prevented by peace overtures but by matching military capabilities. Many international relations scholars are unanimous in their opinion that the Third World War was prevented because the matching nuclear capabilities of the USA and the former Soviet Union created a deterrent effect because of the fear of mutually assured destruction (MAD). On the contrary, in 2003, the US attacked Iraq precisely because it was convinced that Saddam Hussain did not possess nuclear weapons. Similarly, during the presidency of Donald Trump, despite issuing several threats, the US avoided attacking North Korea as it feared a reprisal attack from an unpredictable authoritarian ruler presiding over a nuclear-armed country. The resurgence of realism has prompted Japan, a country that had adopted a policy of pacifism after the Second World War, to increase defence spending and modernise its military after North Korea’s persistent sabre-rattling. Perhaps Ukraine is suffering today because at some point it was persuaded to relinquish nuclear weapons.

We can easily imagine India’s predicament at the hands of an unyielding Pakistan and a revisionist China if New Delhi had not acquired nuclear capability.The world is poised on the cusp of another revolution in military affairs, with the methods of warfare drastically changing with the introduction of cutting-edge technologies. S. Jaishanker, in his book “The India Way,” has warned against the dangers of strategic complacency. India should change, and in fact, it is changing. As Thiruvalluvar says, “Wisdom is to live in tune with the mode of the changing world.” Preparing for the future while keeping in mind futuristic technologies is unavoidable. Wars are averted when one negotiates from a position of strength. In the introduction to “Strategic Challenges for India in 2030,” Vijay Gokhale warns of slipping into techno-colonialism if India fails to upgrade key defence technologies so essential for national security.

There is no conflict between state security and human security

Ideally, wars should not be fought. However, as long as states operate under the paradigm of national interest and security dilemmas, wars will occur, whether direct, proxy, or military interventions resulting from humanitarian crises or as a cover for some ulterior motives.India should be wary of these factors. The emphasis on the traditional concept of state security does not contradict human security. India is already trying to strike a balance between the security of the state and the requirements of human security. So, what should India’s long-term policy be?India has a tradition of humanism. This aspect needs to be placed alongside pragmatism. The need to have a proactive foreign policy with a state strong enough to take on the adversary when the war is thrust upon us is of paramount importance. India should not be on the offensive but should be positioned to fight, in Michael Walzer’s words, “a just war” if the situation so arises. A just war is nothing more than a Dharma Yudh.We have had this tradition for ages. The teachings of the Mahabharata are instructive in this matter. Our guiding principle should be defensive realism.

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A synergistic security model is required

But people-centric human security is indispensable for laying strong societal foundations. State security assures survival and is an enabler for providing for human needs. Human security ensures a dignified existence. India has already taken several measures to address the human-centric concerns of a prosperous and healthy society. Policies such as the Jal Jeevan Mission, Ayushman Bharat, and Woman Centric Policies, among others, aim to improve people’s quality of life.The New Education Policy 2020 is designed to provide early childcare, education, and equity to all learners. Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojna is another important government scheme for skill enhancement aimed at human development. Human security concerns, when addressed properly, create a contented society. A strong Indian state will augment our bargaining power in the international community.

We live in an imperfect world. Therefore, the compulsions of survival necessitate relentless planning to attain self-reliance in defence technologies and military equipment. Military readiness does not make India a subscriber to Carl von Clausewitz’s dictum that “War is the continuation of policy by other means.” Rather, for India, following the tradition of Kautliya, war is the option of last resort. This goal should always be kept in mind while striking a balance between human-centric and state-centric models. Inadequate investment in the human security domain prepares the ground for intra-state conflicts. Similarly, failure to strengthen the state militarily limits its capability to deal with an external threat. It is therefore incumbent upon India to effect a synergy between state and human security for a comprehensive national security architecture.



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