Protecting each and every person in the world from threats to survival

"Human Security" was coined in contrast to the concept of national security. While the latter concerns the prevention of invasion and attack from other countries and preservation of national independence, human security contains the idea of realizing the security of each and every person in the world. It covers, for example, extreme poverty and hunger, lack of education, armed conflict and refugees, terrorism and genocide, large-scale disasters and infectious diseases - all problems that threaten people’s survival.

Having long studied this normative concept, which was adopted by the UN in 2012, Professor KURUSU Kaoru of Kobe University's Graduate School of Law analyzes the phenomenon from the perspective of an international political scientist: Why was this idea born, and how did it spread and become influential?

Professor KURUSU Kaoru
Human Security

For Human Security, in addition to “freedom from want” and “freedom from fear,” “freedom to live in dignity,” including identity and personhood, is crucial. These are not necessarily guaranteed just because a country is secure. Authoritarian governments such as in China and Myanmar have emerged oppressing their citizens instead of protecting them as they are supposed to, and in Japan, as in the case of the Okinawa base issue, there is a situation where there is a disconnect between national security and human security.

“Recently the COVID-19 pandemic has caused approximately 6.6 million deaths worldwide, and Russia's invasion of Ukraine has left 14 million refugees and 6.6 million internally displaced people. It was thought that in the 21st century, society would progress and relations between nations would improve, but the reality is that this is not the case. I think now is the time for a fresh look at the concept of human security.”

The SDGs were set out in 2015, three years after the Human Security Resolution was adopted by the UN. The SDGs are now more widely known and have become a global initiative, but the 17 goals have many overlaps with the concept of human security and there is a close relationship between the two.

SDGs and Human Security (Based on: Daisaku Higashi and Yoichi Mine, “Chapter 1: Theoretical Framework of Human Security and Peacebuilding”, in “Human Security and Peacebuilding”, Nippon Hyoronsha, 2017).

The SDGs are growth-oriented, setting targets and working towards them, while human security is risk-responsive, setting a threshold, a line below which there is no room for error. The SDGs were preceded by the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals, set in 2001 with 2015 as the target year), which aimed to solve the problems of developing countries, and this relationship is similar.

However, they are not completely separate, but overlap in some respects, as they are all aiming in the same direction. For example, the SDGs often refer to the principle of “No one will be left behind”. This was an expression in human security, and it is said that it was adopted into the SDGs after persistent negotiations by Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which wanted to see the term included.

Reasons for Japan's advocacy and leadership and historical background

According to Kurusu, it was Japan that advocated Human Security in the first place and played a central role in the drive towards a UN resolution. This was due to the fact that, since the 1990s, Japan's international contribution as an economic superpower had been questioned.

Kurusu explains: “Japan's ODA (Official Development Assistance) was criticized for its lack of guiding philosophy and the fact that it only built dams and other huge boxes, and Japan was also traumatized by the experience of not being thanked for its massive aid to the multinational forces during the 1990 Gulf War. The Japanese Government was faced with a major challenge as to what form international contributions should take in the future. Then came the Asian financial crisis of 1997, and people in Thailand, South Korea, Indonesia and other countries had their social security cut or were unable to buy medical supplies. Japan came up with the concept of human security as a name for assisting the needy. It was an attempt to lead the international community not by the amount of money, but by its philosophy, and to show its presence."

A key figure for this was OBUCHI Keizo, then Foreign Minister and Prime Minister the following year, 1998. Leading parliamentarians were enthusiastic about the initiative, which was eventually passed on to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) and other bureaucratic bodies. In 2003, OGATA Sadako, who had served as UN High Commissioner for Refugees, became President of JICA, while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs intensified its efforts to lobby the UN.

In this way, the process of establishing an idea or goal in the international community and creating a flow or pathway involves a variety of countries, people and organizations, and is also complicated by political considerations and tactics. Kurusu's specialty is international relations theory, which seeks to clarify the process of such policy-making and consensus-building, but the subject matter has changed over time.

“In the past, international relations theory was mostly concerned with the study of diplomacy and security between countries such as Japan and the US or the US and China, but with the advance of globalization and the shuttling of people and information across borders, the actors have become much more diverse. This includes companies, NGOs, international organizations and terrorist organizations. Each one of them operates on a daily basis in various fields and at various levels, which collectively affect international relations,” says Kurusu. “The SDGs are just like that. Even though they were adopted by the UN, they are not treaties or international law, and the fact that the goals have spread to many countries, and that companies, schools and other organizations are working on them voluntarily, is something that has never happened before."

The actions and messages of individual people spread, accumulate and relate to each other, and may eventually have an impact on the world. Whether SDGs or human security, this is the reality and dynamism of the international community in the 21st century.


1991Graduated from Faculty of Foreign Studies, Sophia University (Jochi Daigaku)
1993Completed master's program in International Relations, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, The University of Tokyo
1997completed coursework of doctoral program without a degree in International Relations, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, The University of Tokyo (2006 PhD, Osaka University)
1997Research Assistant, Kyushu University
1999Lecturer, Faculty of International Cultural Studies, Kobe University
2002Assistant Professor (Associate Professor), Graduate School of International Public Policy, Osaka University
2009Professor, Graduate School of Law, Kobe University



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