Keeping humanity secure?

The new focus on ‘human security’ in the debate about international relations suggests there should be an even more meddlesome form of policing of other states’ affairs. No thanks.

David Chandler

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Mary Kaldor’s Human Security: Reflections on Globalization and Intervention and Mark Duffield’s Development, Security and Unending War: Governing the World of Peoples are two important new books.

They focus on the changing nature of the security problematic, from state security (the inter-state threat of war) to human insecurity (the multi-faceted threats held to risk global instability). For Kaldor, globalisation has led to the internationalisation of risks and threats, creating the need for cosmopolitan solutions to the problem of ‘human’ insecurity. For Duffield, the permanent war on insecurity is a product of a neo-colonial division of the world between the haves and have-nots.

Understanding ‘human insecurity’

Mary Kaldor has long been a leading advocate of reconceptualising state-based security in terms of human insecurity. Her new book is a collection of essays which brings together much of her analysis on ‘New Wars’, ‘Global Civil Society’ and ‘Cosmopolitanism’, under the broader needs of ‘Human Security’ (1).

Kaldor notes that there had been a decline in the number of conflicts and the number of people killed in conflict in the first five years of the new century. Security is not threatened by international conflict as much as by ‘the underlying conditions that lead to “new wars” and which are the sources of human insecurity’. ‘Moreover’, she argues, ‘“new wars” are increasingly intertwined with other global risks – the spread of disease, vulnerability to natural disasters, poverty and homelessness’.

In these essays, Kaldor sets out her distinct approach to understanding and addressing human insecurity. The displacement of old wars by ‘new wars’ is crucial to this framework. For Kaldor, the political and legal categories of inter-state security frameworks no longer make much sense today, where there has been a ‘blurring of the distinction between war and peace’: ‘“New wars” do not have decisive beginnings or endings. Nor are they clearly delineated in geographical space; they spread through refugees and displaced persons, organised crime, diaspora groups and so on.’

The global security problematic is framed by the need to deal with the threat posed by the fact that ‘millions of people in the world still live in situations of intolerable insecurity, especially in zones of conflict – West, Central and the Horn of Africa, the Balkans, the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia’. This is not a problem that can be ignored because ‘insecurity can no longer be contained – violence has a tendency to cross borders not in the form of attacks by foreign enemies but through terrorism, organised crime or extreme ideologies’.

A key change for Kaldor is the lack of effectiveness of military force in a globalised world. Liberal internationalist approaches which argue for a new right of military intervention, such as those taken by Tony Blair and the Bush administration, place too much emphasis on military solutions, geopolitical control over territorial space, and waging war against an ‘enemy’. Kaldor sees Afghanistan and Iraq as demonstrating the limits of military firepower, which may be useful for domestic consumption – as ‘spectacle war’, manipulating public opinion to support the moral cause of domestic political elites – but cannot enable the US to impose control over territory or defeat asymmetrical insurgencies. The limited usefulness of military force means that ‘compellance no longer works, the only alternative is containment’.

For Kaldor, ‘containment’ involves global cosmopolitan approaches of inclusion, not ‘spectacle war’, which mobilises military force from a distance; ‘containment’ requires committed global engagement around a programme of global social justice. The solution to global insecurity is human security, defined by Kaldor as being ‘about the security of individuals and communities rather than the security of states, and it combines both human rights and human development’. Kaldor argues that the essence of human security is ‘crisis management’ and that the principles of putting individual needs first should guide international intervention to secure the vulnerable whether the emergency is caused by a natural disaster or armed conflict.

The human security agenda of ‘global social justice’ involves a broad flexible range of policy interventions, from military to administrative. On the military side, the protection of the vulnerable involves ‘robust’ rules of engagement, but the commitment is to civilian protection rather than military victory. Kaldor is keen to distinguish human security interventions from ‘war’ and argues that they should be seen as more akin to domestic law enforcement or policing – preventing crimes against civilians and seeing perpetrators as criminals rather than legitimising them as the ‘enemy’.

Development also has to be seen as key to human security. By development, she is very clear that she means ‘the primacy of human development as opposed to the growth of national economies’; development is understood as individual security, not in state-based, territorial terms of GDP, economic growth or macro-economic stabilisation; this is an approach which emphasises ‘partnership, local ownership, engagement with civil society and gender sensitivity’.

Geopolitical, territorial, state-based approaches are not capable of dealing with the problems of human insecurity, says Kaldor. States can no longer secure their own citizens or successfully pursue old-fashioned approaches based on militarism and narrow conceptions of national interests. Globalisation has fundamentally undermined the power and authority of states, reducing the role of state leaders ‘less to rule than to manage complex relationships with international institutions, other states, international companies and NGOs, as well as domestic interests and the wider public’.

States are no longer the measure of security or the mechanism for achieving this. The state’s declining importance in terms of traditional economic and military roles, means that ‘the notion of a vertically organised, territorially based community congruent to the state is greatly weakened’, as citizens increasingly have multiple loyalties.

For Kaldor, ‘new types of global risk that break down spatial boundaries between peace and war’ are seen as a vital spur to new forms of global governance and global cooperation, capable of domesticating the international sphere. Attempts to ‘reimpose international relations’ and ‘recreate state power’, such as through the Bush administration’s ‘war on terror’ response to the 9/11 attacks, can only feed global insecurities. Globalisation, in weakening territorial state-based approaches to security and creating global forms of insecurity, is seen to be the potential harbinger of progress, but only if the cosmopolitan approaches advocated by global civil society are successful in developing new multilateral interventionist frameworks for human security.

Development and insecurity

Mark Duffield has also been a leading theorist of the shift from security to insecurity. His new book, Development, Security and Unending Wars, pursues and develops the themes of his earlier work, especially that of his 2001 book Global Governance and the New Wars, which focused on the shift from inter-state war to the perception of underdevelopment as a source of international insecurity (2).

For Duffield, the discourse of ‘human insecurity’ is one of permanent emergency and unending war. He argues that human security is a key reflection of the dominance of biopolitical framings of international relations – interconnecting security and development concerns – through having ‘life’ or the population as a reference point rather than the state. Human insecurity discourse seeks to universalise or globalise security problems of instability by positing the responsibilities of the West to intervene and manage insecurity at the same time as seeking to contain the risks of instability through a focus on non-material development, in terms of the technologies of community-based self-reliance.

Duffield argues that the threat of terrorism is not a direct replacement for the threat of communism. The management of Cold War threats of inter-state conflict relegated the importance of the post-colonial world; where there was intervention this was at arm’s length, mediated politically through inter-state relations, where selected states would be supported and provided with aid, often against the will and needs of their populations. Duffield states that, today, the West seeks to intervene ‘bio politically’ to reconstruct ‘ineffective’ or ‘failing’ states on the basis of satisfying the unmet needs of their populations.

For Duffield, there is nothing progressive in the biopolitical framing of security in terms of permanent instability. The human security approach, advocated by Kaldor, is seen to blur the divisions and power relations shaping security discourse at the same time as instituting a racial discourse of biopolitical division between the secure and the insecure – those living under effective and ineffective governance; those developed and those deserving of development. This biurfication is captured in the descriptive and contingent division between the ‘insured’ – those living in mass consumer society with social welfare protections – and the ‘uninsured’ – those living in underdeveloped societies where instability is an ever-present threat and where the development solution is self-reliance and containment through the social engineering of community support mechanisms.

Human security, under the aegis of the ‘human’ offers a divisive vision of the world, where the West has both a security ‘interest’ and a ‘values-based’ desire to ‘secure’, to ‘develop’, to ‘protect’ and to ‘better’ the Other, whose insecurity threatens the security of Western consumer society as the instabilities associated with conflict, poverty and alienation threaten to spill over into and to destabilise the West. The desire to contain instability is understood as the need to address the threatening unmet needs of the unsecured, uninsured and insecure non-Western Other.

For Duffield, because the development solution of self-reliance and sustainable development does not offer to bridge the development gap with the West, but instead to contain it, the limitations of self-reliance are continually coming to the fore, promising an unending war where interventionist development techniques are continually being reinvented and perfected.

The biopolitics of human insecurity is fundamentally distinct from the politics of state-based security. Duffield traces a genealogy of the links between security and development through the biopolitical framing of human needs. Interesting insights are provided into the use of development under the native administration strategy of the colonial Dual Mandate, where social engineering attempted to strengthen community self-reliance and legitimise external rule on the basis of the protection of the poor and marginal rural population from the machinations of nationalist urban liberal elites. Duffield also traces the development of the ‘petty sovereign power’ of interventionist humanitarian and development NGOs during the Cold War and the ‘governmentalisation’ of this power in the interventionist 1990s, where human-centred intervention set itself as above and outside the sphere of politics.

For Duffield, one crucial distinction between biopolitics and traditional inter-state relations is at the level of sovereignty: he highlights how the focus on ‘life’, or the population, makes sovereignty contingent on state ‘effectiveness’. The blurring of the political distinctions between the inside and outside, the sovereign post-colonial state and international institutions and NGOs, are most clear in the case of ‘governance states’, where the donors and international financial institutions operate inside the institutions of the fragile state under the aegis of shared partnership to achieve poverty reduction. Duffield argues that while the state is brought back into interventionist frameworks with the merging of development and security, this is a very different entity from the post-colonial state, which sought to defend its sovereign rights and to lead the development process; for the governance state, ‘while its territorial integrity is respected, sovereignty over life is internationalised, negotiable and contingent’.


As an engaged and empirically-grounded critique of Kaldor’s idealised view of the progressive nature of new forms of global governance, conditional sovereignty, and human development, Duffield’s book is certainly compelling reading. He argues in the book’s preface that the ‘most important departure… relates to the application of the Foucaldian concept of biopolitics’. It is the biopolitical angle that Duffield suggests distinguishes this book from his earlier work, which equally sought to understand Western interventionist frameworks as techniques of stabilisation, containment and counter-insurgency in the post-colonial world. This is an interesting point, but it is not quite true. His 2001 book, Global Governance and the New Wars, stresses the point that:

‘The ultimate goal of liberal peace is stability. In achieving this aim, liberal peace is different from imperial peace. The latter was based on, or at least aspired to, direct territorial control where populations were ruled through juridical and bureaucratic means of authority… Liberal peace is different; it is a non-territorial, mutable and networked relation of governance… ideally liberal power is based on the management and regulation of economic, political and social processes.’ (3)

Already implicitly, if not explicitly, Duffield is employing a Foucaldian framework distinguishing biopower over processes from disciplinary sovereign power over territory. In my view, rather than adding anything, Duffield’s use of Foucault’s concept of biopower has held his work back. Without drawing explicitly on Foucault he was able to highlight the depoliticising effects of the new discourses of development and security, and note how the defeat of the post-colonial project facilitated the problematisation of the non-Western state and the securitisation of underdevelopment (4). The weak point in his analysis was theorising the processes of intervention and the blurring of security and development, which he was so insightfully describing.

In focusing on biopower, Duffield is evading the task of explanation and setting up something of a red herring. Foucault himself stated that his analysis of biopower was ‘not in any way a general theory of what power is. It is not a part or even the start of such a theory’, merely the study of the effects of liberal governance practices, which posit as their goal the interests of society – the population – rather than government (5).

For Foucault, biopolitics describes government in the age of liberal modernity, where the state is no longer alien and external to society. The population is no longer an alien mass to be coerced or manipulated, as in the pre-modern time of Machiavelli; instead, the needs of society as a whole ‘offer a surface on which [power] can get a hold’, or ‘secure’ itself (6). Rather than the disciplinary sovereign power of external rule, the state operates on the basis of ‘governmentality’ of the liberal freedoms of the political and the economic sphere, where society (capitalist social relations) internally generates the need for regulatory governance (7).

Foucault is, in fact, describing the dynamic of liberal modernity, understood as a society-orientated process, with a social, collective purpose or goal, rather than a process of narrow regulatory governance by the disciplinary techniques of the sovereign. Foucault states: ‘I think this marks an important break. Whereas the end of sovereignty is internal to itself and gets its instruments from itself in the form of law, the end of government is internal to the things it directs; it is to be sought in the perfection, maximisation, or intensification of the processes it directs.’ (8)

Duffield is grappling with how to explain the apparently ‘post-territorial’ and ‘post-political’ dynamics of international regulation and seeks to locate the explanation in the post-colonial world itself and the threat it allegedly poses to the security of the mass consumption societies of the West. He argues that there is a Western projection of the problems of the inequalities and inclusions and exclusions of the world market as a problem of the underdevelopment of weak, fragile and failing states that are then the subject of new forms of global techniques of intervention and governance. While this appears to be a radical point of critique, there is nothing here which offers a way into understanding why such a radical shift from the politics of security to the ‘biopolitics’ of insecurity should have taken place.

Ironically, while Foucault himself understood his work on biopower as a correction to the reading of his work on disciplinarity, which created the impression of merely asserting ‘the monotonous assertion of power’ (9), Duffield, in effect, reads biopower ahistorically, as a fait à compli, suggesting that the only alternative is to assert that we are all victims of governmentalism: ‘We are all governed and therefore in solidarity.’ Apparently, we should focus on what we share with post-colonial societies, not offering the hierarchical ‘solidarity’ of development or political autonomy but instead the solidarity of learning from the poor and of being marginalised as equals; once humbled, ‘through a practical politics based on the solidarity of the governed we can aspire to opening ourselves to the spontaneity of unpredictable encounters’.

In rejecting the West’s therapeutic, homeostatic, non-material approaches to the post-colonial world, Duffield argues instead that we should engage in our own therapy, developing a ‘global consciousness’ at one with the marginal and dispossessed in seeking to escape the reach of biopolitical techniques of global governmentality.


Despite the descriptive strength of Duffield’s critique of Western regulatory mechanisms, especially the degraded promotion of development in non-material terms, he has no substantial critique or alternative to offer. In fact, he ends up marginalising the importance of overcoming the divide between developed and underdeveloped societies. Duffield’s critique is a counsel of despair revealing merely the deterministic power of biopolitical neoliberal governmental regulation, which allegedly turns human aspirations for betterment into new instruments of control and constraint.

Kaldor at least demonstrates the contingent nature of the power and authority of Western political elites. In highlighting the attenuation of state-society relations, Kaldor suggests that modern governments are in a similar situation to Foucault’s pre-modern Machiavellian Prince, who lacked a sense of a ‘fundamental, essential, natural’ connection with society and therefore, correctly, perceived the relationship as ‘fragile and constantly under threat’ (10). It is this fragility which Kaldor sees as essential for explaining the shift away from traditional instrumental approaches to the risk-averse ‘spectacle war’ of Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, Kaldor employs her own form of determinism, tending to treat the breakdown of territorial forms of community and political agency as an inevitable (and welcome) product of globalisation. Ironically, despite his intentions, Duffield’s dismissal of collective human agency is in danger of making even Kaldor’s degraded views of humanity – needing policing through international protectorates and therapeutic approaches to community-based development – seem progressive.

David Chandler is professor of international relations at the Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster, and editor of the Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding. Visit his website here.

Human Security: Reflections on Globalization and Intervention, by Mary Kaldor is published by Polity. (Buy this book from Amazon(UK).)

Development, Security and unending War, by Mark Duffield is published by Polity. (Buy this book from Amazon(UK).)

(1) See, for example, Mary Kaldor, New and Old Wars: Organized Violence in a Global Era (Cambridge: Polity, 1999); Global Civil Society: An Answer to War (Cambridge; Polity, 2003).

(2) Mark Duffield, Global Governance and the New Wars: The Merging of Development and Security (London: Zed Books, 2001).

(3) Duffield, p.34.

(4) Duffield, p.23.

(5) Michel Foucault, Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège de France 1977-1978 (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2007), p.1

(6) Foucault, p.75

(7) Foucault, pp.91-99.

(8) Foucault, p.99.

(9) Foucault, p.56; see also Jean Baudrillard’s assertion that for Foucault, power always wins, at issue is merely its modulation, Forget Foucault (New York: Semiotext(e), 1987 (1977)), p.33.

(10) Foucault, p.91.

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