Traditionally, State Security has primarily been focusing on protection of the State’s territorial area from external threats, securing the State´s power over its national interests, resources and people. This is making State Security primarily an issue formed by military capacity and by diplomatic power with focus on the ability of a centralized power to secure its borders against external enemies. In this way, State Security is to a large extent a political issue, defined by a state-centric view formed by military capacity over territorial claims and state survival.

The key element in State Security is state sovereignty. The concept of state sovereignty can be traced back as far as to the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 together with the rise of the modern state. The notion of the sovereignty of each individual State has been widely articulated in international relations since then. For instance, the early UN charters were emphasizing that sovereign States are primarily responsible for protecting its territory and its population. With the focus on state sovereignty in international politics, the concept of non-intervention became the general approach and even if moral aspects on human security were raised earlier, it was not until the 1994 UN Human Development Report that focused on Human Security was put together in an international document that Human Security was clearly and explicitly articulated as a concept for future vision and as an agenda for action, with a more people-centred view on security than the strictly state-centred view that had been dominating international political agenda until then.

The main turning point for this switch was the ending of the Cold War which broke way for a new sort of political era and a broader view on security. Earlier international politics had mainly focused on the State as the core unit of analysis with state security as the centre of attention on how States could survive in an anarchic world order.

With the concept of Human Security, aspects of morality are introduced into the State’s priorities, making it one of the primary responsibilities of States, to actually take responsibility for protecting civilians and maintaining security over humans. The Human Security approach broadens the scope from territorial security to the security of people. The concept of Human Security is in this way a move away from a state-centric view. If State Security is about prioritizing state interest over civil interest, the concept of Human Security is the opposite. However, State Security is tightly associated with state sovereignty that is morally derived from the people, which by extension actually makes State Security dependent on the Human Security of its people. In democracies governments are established by the consent of the people and if the people will not be assured of their basic requirements for human dignity and survival, then the security of the State itself may be subject to serious threat. Nevertheless, there is a contest between the two concepts where one is derived from a state-centric view and the other from a human-centric view.

However, despite this contest, the concepts of State Security and Human Security are interlinked as long as we are talking about democratic States with high grades of state capacity. The contest between State Security’s strict focus on State sovereignty and the moral focus of Human Security is not tangible as long as it is about States with high grades of state capacity. It is when the States lack such capacity to fulfil their obligations as sovereign States that the contest between the two concepts becomes clear. It is among weak States and failed States that the moral values of the Human Security concept take over and challenge the sovereignty norm that governs States’ abilities to fulfil their security responsibilities. Increasingly tangible challenges, such as climate change, natural disasters, refugee disasters, etc. has also laid an increasing focus on the need for humanitarian efforts that ignore the territorial boundaries of the States.

The human-centric view of Human Security is based on the idea of States having a fundamental responsibility to protect their own citizens from flagrant human right violations and other sorts of brutalities. But Human Security goes beyond the security of a State’s own people. Briefly, Human Security knows no borders because a State’s responsibility to react according to violations on human security goes outside its internal borders. If a State flagrantly violates its people’s human rights, other States have a moral responsibility to react, to secure Human Security even for people outside its own territorial area.

In this way, one can say that Human Security threatens the state sovereignty. Nevertheless, Human Security is larger than State Security. Human Security relates to much more than security from violence and crime. It is also about security of people’s livelihoods such as economy, food and water, environment or health security, as well as aspects on personal, community and political security. In short, it is about all kinds of threats people face in their daily lives. Human Security is tightly associated with universal human rights as Human Security recognizes the interlinkages between peace, development and human rights, and equally considers civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights – thus Human Security forms part of the family of human concepts (including human rights, human needs, and human development).

However, even if there is a unanimous international agreement that Human Security goes beyond State Security, there are huge difficulties in making this happen in reality. The international understanding is that it is the UN Security Council that decides when it is okay to violate the right of state sovereignty in the name of Human Security. However, history has shown that the vetoing power of the permanent members of the Security Council makes the Security Council pretty toothless. As long as issues regarding Human Security is not widely accepted to be above all national interest on the international political agenda, we could not speak of security for all humans on earth. The international community has made tremendous progress, but there is a long way until we have secured an international human security.


Janzekovic, John & Silander, Daniel (2014). Responsibility to Protect and
Prevent – Principles, Promises and Practicalities.
London: Anthem Press