Aspects of Human and National Security


The historical paradigm of civilizational development clearly shows that the center of any agglomerations and settlements was the state administration, on whose resources many expectations were placed. Even before the end of the Cold War, which divided the world into two poles, most countries lived according to the principles of absolute governmental power, guaranteeing the safety of the population. In this context, it is worth noting that under the guise of security for the population, national security was served in the first place, guaranteeing above all the territorial protection of the state’s sovereign borders. However, times have changed, and the expectations of security rapidly abandoned the model of military governance, choosing a progressive civilian path of development. Since then, security has become more closely associated with a human, personal one, which includes but is not limited to the preservation of the integrity of state borders against external interference. This bifurcation of perception has naturally led to a heated debate about whether national or human security is more morally acceptable. In turn, this dictates the problem of defining the boundaries of morality and ethics concerning societal development. This essay seeks to answer the question of whether human security outweighs human security in a dilemma presented and to identify the possible consequences to which a change of model might lead.

The Concept of National Security

In the perception of most individuals, the term “national security” is inextricably linked to associations such as “military service,” “army,” or “armed forces.” This is not surprising since human society has always sought to build a reliable defense against external enemies even at the earliest development stages. Thus, primitive people gave their lives to ensure the complete safety of their cave-dwelling relatives. Many thousands of years have passed since then, but there has been no radical change in the perception of security: the first point to be protected is one’s own borders. This model is also characteristic of human psycho-consciousness since, as a rule, individuals do not tolerate the violation of boundaries by strangers. Authoritarian and communist states, which guarantee the protection of the population from external and internal threats, but do not provide them with social, and civic guarantees, continue to develop along with this principle.

Nevertheless, it is not fair to single out only the outer side of national security without mentioning the presence of internal protective mechanisms. In fact, the national security model is characterized by the implementation of essential state functions that determine the smooth and unhindered existence of the population. This refers to the protection of social order, the protection of public one, and the fight against crime. The interests of national security also include taking care of the health of the nation.

The seeming ambiguity in the interpretation of this term is fully justified by the existing diversity of views on the definition of national security. According to the Oxford Dictionary, this concept is defined as the overall security of a nation against terrorism, war, or espionage (LEXICO 2020). It is easy to see that the emphasis in this interpretation, as is typical of most archival sources, is on the protection of the nation from an external enemy. The New Zealand government provides a more elaborate definition, including additional resident security criteria abroad, quality of life, and economic security (DPMC 2017). This definition tends to broaden the scope of national security to a level that covers the basic needs of civil society. The scaling of the term’s interpretation was also discussed when discussing the implications of COVID-19 (Aspen Ministers Forum 2020). It was shown that a military-ideological interpretation is not enough since national security must also respond to society’s health needs.

On the other hand, for a complete understanding of the framework of national security, it is advisable to refer to the state’s main characteristics. Internal criteria are designed to assess the quality of national security and include the unemployment rate, the decile ratio, the growth rate of consumer prices, the provision of health care, culture, education, and science as a percentage of the gross domestic product. In other words, the numerical characteristics of quality of life determine how secure a nation’s life is. For example, estimates of federal spending on education show that Austria spent more on primary and secondary education than the US in 2018 (OECD 2018). From this perspective, such data may indicate a higher level of an educational criterion for national security. Nevertheless, while the quantitative approach supplies useful data, it does not answer the question of the individual’s priority in the government agenda. There is no guarantee that high spending on education is not related to Austria’s desire to create a highly developed nation that develops new defense strategies for the state. In this case, the role of human security is significantly devalued.

Human Security

In contrast to the national security model, which focuses primarily on the protection of the community, the nation, and the state, the concept of human security refers to categories such as “civil liberties,” “constitutional guarantors,” and “individual rights.” In retrospect, society’s gradual shift toward this model seems entirely justified. State-centered governments have long prevailed in many countries, but the opening of borders, which has catalyzed globalization processes, has shown local populations new cultures and development ways. Previously isolated societies began to integrate and unite, erasing the fragile cultural boundaries of states. In today’s world, it is not surprising to find not only Americans living in the United States but people from every possible ethnic group. Ultimately, this has led to a combination of humanity’s accumulated experience and the progression of civil society, and thus a shift in priority from the state to the individual.

Nor does the term human security have an unambiguous term that summarizes all aspects of the phenomenon. According to general assembly resolution 66/290, adopted back in 2005, this type of security implies a human-centered paradigm of protection, designed to ensure the protection of rights and opportunities for all people (General Assembly 2012). There is no indication of state attachment in this interpretation, and thus this approach is cosmopolitan. This ideology places the interests of humanity as a whole above those of a single nation or state. On the other hand, Flores (2018) has shown that the very concept of human security violates state sovereignty and raises criteria for protection that were not relevant during the bipolar world order. The emphasis on achieving two goals, freedom from fear and freedom from want, as the core of human security, has been described by Watson and Wadhwa (2020). In this interpretation, it is easy to see that the overriding principles of the new approach are human dignity and the right to an independent, proper existence, not just survival. As a result, the academic definitions cited in this paragraph have only confirmed that although the model of human security is complicated, its core is the supremacy of human life over the nation.

Nevertheless, this approach to interpretation compels to provide some additional clarification regarding the connection between human security and national security. To the untrained reader, it may erroneously appear that the actions of the authorities in contradiction to individual rights correspond to the framework of national security and oppress the protection of human dignity. Indeed, this is not entirely consistent with reality since national security is still concerned with respect for the constitutional guarantees of civil society. Provocations by authorities, illegal law enforcement actions, or illegal harassment are not permissible national security measures. Nevertheless, excessive security controls at airports, harsh suppression of rallies, or censorship on social media can be tools to suppress human security in order to protect the nation. Thus, the fundamental difference between the two concepts under discussion lies only in whether the emphasis is on the state or the individual.

Moral Positions of Security

The detailed analysis of the terminological difference between the two terms under discussion has led to the need to clarify the moral framework characteristic of a developed society. Ultimately, the marked gradual shift from national security to human security is determined by the degree of morality and justice specific to a particular state or region. This section provides a brief summary of the basic principles of ethics and morality necessary for the formation of civil society. Setting moral criteria in advance will make it possible to determine whether human security is more morally justifiable.

Central to any state is the recognition of the value of human life: this is true of any ideology. Even the most authoritarian and militarized governments understand that a nation’s population is an essential resource guaranteeing power, tax revenues, and the existence of the nation. Nevertheless, there are substantial differences: on the one hand, the individual can be perceived as a faceless member of society, and on the other, as a full-fledged individual with interests, rights, and social guarantees. The second approach defines more developed states in which human security is already a daily practice (Tanaka 2018). Citizens of such countries can expect that their political voice, personal interests, and social needs will be heard and fulfilled by the current government. Thus, the second crucial moral imperative is government accountability. If the government accepts full responsibility for government actions, including unlawful ones, then such a society can be called progressive. For instance, while in Britain, an ordinary police officer is sentenced to five years in prison for selling intelligence, the Russian president refuses to comment on a high-profile investigation exposing him to the grand corruption act (Merseyside Police 2020; Levchenko 2021). The scenarios described determine where human security has a better chance of adapting.

A third important category of ethics relevant to modern states is the strict distinction between private and public life. Human security policies recognize the resident’s privacy as an absolute that cannot be violated. In this regard, situations of seizure of personal equipment or violation of residential boundaries are permissible only in case of judicial necessity. In states with a pronounced national security stance — China, Russia, or North Korea — constitutional bases can be violated by law enforcement without good reason. Thus, the recognition of the value of human life, the responsibility of the state, and the inviolability of private property are determinants of the degree of development of a society.

More Moral Security

Summarizing all the information presented earlier makes it possible to define what type of security is more morally acceptable. The answer to this question is human security, which guarantees, in addition to preserving state sovereignty and protection from outside interference, care for the individual’s personal interests and social needs. In fact, human security regards the state not as a referent but as one of the aspects that ensure the protection of human dignity and rights. It is difficult to overestimate the role of human security philosophy in creating a favorable environment for humanity. Thus, world practice shows that in states with the priority of protecting national wealth, society is oppressed and socially insecure.

Meanwhile, the moral superiority of human security can be determined by the identification of people’s needs. As a rule, any society member is interested in high quality of life, low taxes, efficient resource management, personal security, quality medicine, and education. In other words, the individual seeks to create an environment in which their life is not oppressed. However, the state cannot keep up with all of society’s needs, which causes more rallies and uprisings (McPhee 2019). National leaders should reconsider defense policies and pay attention to the population’s interests rather than public displays of military achievement in the geopolitical arena.


To summarize, it is crucial to recognize that the unstoppable development of society and human consciousness leads to a shift in security policy. National security, which guarantees state sovereignty preservation above all, is rapidly losing ground, while human security is becoming increasingly popular. The concept of human security comes down to the protection of human dignity, rights, and interests. Given the moral expectations towards the modern state, it is worth recognizing that human security is more moral than national security.


Aspen Ministers Forum. 2020. “We Must Expand the Definition of National Security.” Web.

DPMC. 2017. “Defining National Security.” Fact Sheets. Web.

Flores, Ygnacio. 2018. “Human Security.” In Handbook of Security Science, edited by Anthony Masys, 1-20. Cham: Springer.

General Assembly. 2012. “Resolution Adopted by the General Assembly on 10 September 2012.” UN. OpenElement. Web.

Levchenko, Grigory. 2021. “Putin’s Palace Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation Investigates the Russian President’s Billion-Dollar Residence on the Black Sea.” Meduza. Web.

LEXICO. 2020. “National Security.” UK English. Web.

McPhee, Peter. 2019. “We Live in a World of Upheaval. So Why Aren’t Today’s Protests Leading to Revolutions?” The Conversation. Web.

Merseyside Police. 2020. “Former Officer Jailed for Corruption.” Web.

OECD. 2018. “Education at a Glance 2018 OECD Indicators.” Web.

Tanaka, Akihiko. 2018. “Toward a Theory of Human Security.” In Human Security and Cross-Border, edited by Carolina G. Hernandez, Eun Mee Kim, Yoichi Mine, and Ren Xiao, 21-40. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.

Watson, Hayley and Kush Wadhwa. 2020. “Why is Human Security Important?” Trilateral Research. Web.

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