The Security Problematic of the Third World by Mohammed Ayoob — A Summary

Ayoob, Mohammed. 1991. “The Security Problematic of the Third World.” World Politics 43 (2). Cambridge University Press: 257-83.


The postwar world has been marked by (a) the doctrine of mutually assured destruction of MAD (thanks to the rise of the “awesome destructive capability” of nuclear weapons) and (b) the entrance of many new members, Third World states, into the system of states (thanks to the decolonisation process). The former has, thanks to MAD, stabilised the global balance of power while the latter has, by spawning a group of “floating” states which were “up for grabs”, introduced instability in to the system of states. In addition, the former has received much attention in international relations literature while the latter has not. Even if the security of Third World states is considered, it is done so from a distinctly Western perspective. This article is a review paper of four volumes which seek to fill this gap in the literature. (Note: There will be no explicit reference in this summary to the books reviewed although the paper draws upon and quotes from them frequently.)

“The[] … issues that … need to be addressed from both historical and comparative perspectives [are] as follows:
(a) How does the concept of security as applied to the Third World context differ from its traditional use in the international relations literature?
(b) What are the factors that inhere within Third World states that can help explain this difference?
(c) In what ways does the interaction of Third World states with the international system affect the security of the former?
(d) Are there specific factors related to technology in the late twentieth century that affect the security of Third World states in ways that are unique to the developing countries?
(e) What is the relationship between the security and developmental concerns of Third World states, and how does the interaction between these two preoccupations of Third World state elites affect the levels of legitimacy enjoyed by Third World states and regimes?”

The following sections will tackle each of these five questions in turn.


(a) How does the concept of security as applied to the Third World context differ from its traditional use in the international relations literature?

The traditional use of the concept of security has assumed the (a) military nature and (b) external origin of threats to state security. These assumptions are upheld even by those who insist on international security and are unwilling to accept the centrality of the state.[2] These assumptions are the natural result of a particular intellectual tradition that grew — from 1648 to 1945, to use symbolic dates — in the context of interaction among sovereign states and the identification of individuals with their respective (sovereign) states. The sovereign state thus became the unit object of security. After 1945, the Western world (“Europe and its offshoots”) was divided into two halves which were stabilised by a mutual balance of terror, i.e., by MAD. Alliance security, established in both halves, became superimposed upon state security. The essential assumptions, however, remained unchanged.

This understanding of security faces problems when applied to the Third World. The idea of security as (a) external, (b) systemic (or international), and (c) alliance-based are “thoroughly diluted” in the Third World.  Firstly, in the Third World, security threats substantially emanate from within states. External threats do exist but often they gain salience precisely from those insecurities that already abound within. Secondly, the Third World is relatively unimportant to the central strategic balance. Conflicts have proliferated in the Third World with the participation and even encouragement of the superpowers but without undermining the overall strategic balance. Thirdly, the notion of alliance security is absent for states in the Third World which, even if they are allied with the superpowers, receive a qualitatively different form of commitment to that accorded to Western states. The security of Third World states is not considered synonymous with the security of the alliance.


(b) What are the factors that inhere within Third World states that can help explain this difference?

Third World states are different from Western states. The mere possession of “juridical statehood” is insufficient ground for treating Third World states on par with Western states. The latter possess features such as strong state structures including rational-bureaucracies, infrastructure and internal cohesion which are largely absent in the former. The relevant factor for this discrepancy is time. The stable Western states are the finished products of centuries of unhappy historical experience. Third World states, on the other hand, are only a few decades old and have not had enough time to mature their institutions and societies.[3] It is this fact, the lack of the “software” of security, that makes recourse to military measures, “hardware” instruments of security, to deal with political challenges attractive for Third World regimes.

The current security predicaments of the Third World are partly explained by their similarity to the Western experience of state-making in its early stages.[4] This similarity is not merely coincidental. As such, the security problems faced by Third World countries today is not that astounding. The rest is explained by the telescoping of the state making process into a drastically shortened time period, and the low level of state power and legitimacy in Third World states.


(c) In what ways does the interaction of Third World states with the international system affect the security of the former?

The contemporary era of international linkages, whether military, economic, political, or technological, have substantial implications for Third World state making enterprises. This is particularly relevant for current technologies of communication and destruction.

In addition, the colonial experience has ensured that external factors have had serious impacts on Third World polities and their security environments. First, the decisions of colonial powers made for administrative purposes have resulted in the ethnic mix that Third World states possess in this day. This has major, often adverse, consequences for internal cohesiveness. Second, colonial legacies are responsible for many postcolonial interstate conflicts (Kashmir, for example).

Another aspect of the colonial experience is the transfer of the weakness and vulnerability of the colonies in relation to the colonial powers which is reproduced the postcolonial era in the form of the periphery-core dichotomy. The conflicts of the core, the superpower rivalries, are exported to the periphery, the Third World. Third World states are unable to prevent the occurrence of these conflicts or the intrusion of these conflicts into their polities.


(d) Are there specific factors related to technology in the late twentieth century that affect the security of Third World states in ways that are unique to the developing countries?

The propensity to engage in interstate conflict is increased by the transfer of modern weapons and weapons technology from the Western to the Third World. It is not just the instrumental value of weapons but often the mere fact of possession, especially if they are sophisticated weapons, that can increase the prospects of conflict. The transfer of these weapons happens at great economic cost.

Recently, it is transfer of weapons technology which has overtaken the transfer of weapons themselves. This shift could underlie either a movement towards military independence or could simply be replacing one form of dependence by another.  Either way, the effect on the overall security of the Third World is negative. If the former is true, the war-fighting capacity of Third World states in increased. If the latter is true, the feeling of insecurity and vulnerability among Third World elites is intensified.

One dramatic subset of the transfer of sophisticated weapons technology is nuclear proliferation. Emerging Third World states see nuclear weaponry as essential to their promotion to influence in the world stage and there are credible if unacknowledged instances of Third World states developing nuclear weapons. The problem of maintaining security is not just limited to the management of dozen or so nuclear powers but the practical implications of having a number of those powers involved in regional conflicts.


(e) What is the relationship between the security and developmental concerns of Third World states, and how does the interaction between these two preoccupations of Third World state elites affect the levels of legitimacy enjoyed by Third World states and regimes?”

In most Third World states, military spending is dominated by operational costs (mainly salaries for troops) rather than by costs of sophisticated weapons. This indicates the high level of manpower required to maintain internal control (taxation, policing, and warfare for attaining state power). In this context, it is safe to say that development as a serious objective comes only after power accumulation (political legitimacy) and meeting regional threats (securing regime security) in the policy consideration of Third World leaders.


“In the final analysis, however, most of the deep-seated sources of conflict and violence in the Third World … cannot and will not be fundamentally determined by superpower actions and interactions…. Therefore, although changes in superpower relations may continue to affect some of these sources of conflict and insecurity in the Third World, these changes alone are not capable of transforming the basic nature of the security predicament of the Third World states. As it stands, the existing parameters of the security problematic of the Third World can be altered only if Third World states have adequate time to complete the twin tasks of the state making and nation building, plus enough political sagacity on their leaderships’ part to attempt to accomplish these tasks in as humane a manner as possible.”

End Notes

[1] The ideas of Section II and III are more fully argued for in Mohammed Ayoob, “Security in the Third World: The Worm About to Turn?”, International Affairs 60 (1): 41–51.

[2] The system-centric idea of security draws its inspiration from the English School of International Relations which insists on the relevance of the “international society”.

[3] The experience of India in maintaining a robust democracy is an exception.

[4] “Th[e] European experience … cost tremendously in death, suffering, loss of rights, and unwilling surrender of land, goods, or labor…. The fundamental reason for the high cost…. Building differentiated, autonomous, centralized organizations with effective control of territories entailed eliminating or subordinating thousands of semiautonomous authorities…. Most of the European population resisted each phase of the creation of strong states.”



Security in the Third World: The Worm About to Turn? by Mohammed Ayoob — A Summary

Ayoob, Mohammed. 1983. “Security in the Third World: The Worm about to Turn?” International Affairs 60 (1): 41–51.

Security has traditionally been defined as immunity of a state to threats from outside its borders. This is the traditional realist perspective. However, some writers see security in terms of the “international society” as a whole (and not in terms of individual states or nations).[1] They argue that the security of each state is inextricable intertwined with the security of the whole system. Yet, even if these two approaches — the first, state-centric and the second, system-centric — disagree on the relevant object of security, they nevertheless conceptualise security by reference to external threats to the state.

This view of security can be traced back at least to Westphalia. The evolution of the European system of states, from 1648 to 1945 to use symbolic dates, was marked by (a) the interaction among sovereign states and (b) the identification of individuals with their own states (thanks in no small part to the correspondence of state and national boundaries). These two processes laid the foundation for the intellectual tradition that came to see security as synonymous with the protection of the state from external threats.[2]

The division and stabilisation of the Western world into two blocs since 1945 has only strengthened this connotation of security. In fact, the superimposition of alliance security (whether the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation or the Warsaw Pact) has increasingly obliterated even the difference between state-centric and system-centric approaches to security.

“The three major characteristics of the concept of state or national security in Western states … are (a) its external orientation, (b) its strong linkage with systemic security and (c) its binding ties with the security of the two major alliance blocs … [However,] in the Third World,[3] [they are,] if not totally absent, so thoroughly diluted as to be hardly recognizable. The primary aim of this paper is to analyse how and why they are radically different in the context of the Third World and what are the implications for the international system as a whole that follow from these differences.”

Third World “Insecurity”: The Worm Within

Threats to Third World states emanate substantially from within. External threats exist but they remain marginal.[4] These external threats serve to augment internal problems and would not be effective without the latter.

Security problems in Third World states are largely internal mainly due to (a) their history of state formation and (b) the pattern of elite recruitment, regime establishment and maintenance.  Both of these differ starkly from Western states.

Firstly, Western states have achieved a level of “unconditional legitimacy” thanks to centuries of political and institutional development. Western societies have, through centuries of conflict and upheaval, reached a high level of consensus on fundamental issues of social and political organisation. They are thus strong as states.[5] In contrast, Third World states are extremely young and have not had time to develop strong state structures. In addition, in Third World societies, issues of political, social and economic organisation are matters of life and death contested at every level. There is no consensus. As such, they are weak as states.[6]

Secondly, as a natural consequence of the lack of consensus on fundamental issues, most Third World states are ruled by regimes with narrow support bases which hold on to power tenaciously and which are prone to disallow political debate. Security, naturally, comes to be defined in terms of maintaining the regime. This does not preclude disagreements in Western states. It means simply that the difference in scale and intensity is what makes disagreements critical to security in the Third World. In addition, the operation of the international economy which increases economic disparities has compounded the problem in Third World states by alienating the masses from the elite who rule. This poses a threat not just to the legitimacy of the rulers of these states but also the state structures through which the working of the international economy is translated.

The International Context: War by Proxy?

The link between the security of Third World states and the security of the world as a whole is “very fragile, if not totally non-existent”.[7] Conflict within and among Third World states is permitted or very often even encouraged. It is the fragility of political institutions and state structures in Third World states that enables this encouragement. Fragile polities facilitate intervention. Third World states serve as theatres where the drama of superpower rivalry can be safely acted out without drawing the superpowers into direct confrontation. The result is the exacerbation of the security problem in the Third World.

Other factors contribute to this state of affairs. Conflicts in the Third World (a) keep the arms industry in the developed world in business, (b) provide grounds for weapons testing, (c) enable superpowers to test each other’s tolerance, (d) serve as linkages between issues that superpowers can exploit, (e) provide opportunities to superpowers to demonstrate their credibility to allies, and (f) provide a way of ensuring access to strategic raw materials. In short, systemic inputs diminish security in Third World states whereas they augment security in Western states.

Given the fragile link between security of Third World states and the central issues of global security, war as an instrument of policy remains attractive to many Third World regimes. Not only that, proxy wars in the Third World remains a realistic option for the superpowers. A corollary of all these is that both superpowers have a vested interest in maintaining insecure regimes. However, the commitment towards Third World regimes are rather thin and extends greatly in terms of political and military investments but fall short of final commitment to save regimes (which would not be the case for “core” allies). Regimes, mistaken about the commitment of the superpowers, tend to be reckless, more repressive and less flexible. This adds to the problem of insecurity.

Implications of a Shifting Balance

The insulation of the Third World conflicts has been largely due to the stability of the strategic Cold War balance. This stability, maintained by the equilibrium of military technology, seems likely to enter into disequilibrium. The Soviet Union may with spirited military investment and political initiative make serious inroads into Western Europe or the United States may gain a strategic edge due to its technological and economic superiority. In any case, uncertainty would be introduced into superpower calculations making perceptions of situations as important as, if not more important than, actual situations. It is easy then to imagine that a period of transition — which the world seems to be moving towards at the moment — from the equilibrium would involve a “state of nerves” in which conflicts in the Third World which would otherwise be considered by the superpowers as routine would come to be treated as significant. This could be an entry point through which hitherto insulated Third World security concerns could affect the dominant stability of the strategic Cold War balance.

End Notes

[1] Reference to an international “society” is most obvious in what is known as the English School of International Relations.

[2] Put in a different way, the “external-directedness” of the concept of security — which, in one sense, is the fundamental attribute of the Western concept of security — is a corollary of the doctrine of state sovereignty in its pure and pristine form.

[3] “The term “Third World” is used in this article in a generic sense, and deliberately so. It is undoubtedly true that there are diverse elements within the Third World; it is also true that there are intramural problems, conflicts and antagonisms within it. However, these countries share enough in terms of their colonial past and their unequal encounter with the European powers following the Industrial Revolution to set them apart from the European states which have traditionally formed the “core” of the modern system of states.”

[4] “Any perceptive observer of the South Asian scene in 1970-1 would have realized that the Indian ‘threat’ to Pakistan was very secondary to that posed by East Bengali nationalists; also that the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971 would either not have been fought, or, if fought, would have had a very different outcome if the bulk of the East Bengali population had not been disenchanted with the then existing structure of the Pakistani state.”

[5] This does not imply that they are necessarily powerful states. Here, the emphasis is on the strength of the structures of state.

[6] Again, this does not imply that they are powerless states.

[7] The exceptions to this are the major oil exporters and Israel which even if it is “physically located in the Third World it is not of the Third World”.


Security and Emancipation by Ken Booth — A Summary

Booth, Ken. 1991. “Security and Emancipation.” Review of International Studies 17 (4). Cambridge University Press: 313–26.

The fun lies in reading the paper. It is not often that the dour topic of Security receives such entertaining treatment.

Word Problems and World Problems

The words we use to talk about International Politics — itself a “misleading label” — are becoming worn. But words are all we have. We need sharp words and sharp concepts to deal with sharp subjects. “We cannot expect to deal successfully with world problems if we cannot sort out our word problems.”

The Interregnum

Long standing patterns are declining and giving way to a more complicated global order where there is a simultaneous development of both local and global identities which overlap each other. Statist categories are breaking down.

How do we describe the current stage of world affairs [the period after the “fall” of the USSR; this paper was written in 1991] We need to name things correctly. Perhaps this is an interregnum. How we go beyond this interregnum will depend on our “images and vision”. In order to make a new future, old “images” will have to be discarded.

A Turning Point for Inter-State War

A “350-year span of history dominated by … military competition” is coming to an end. Military questions are no longer the main agenda of international politics. What new security game shall be played from now on?

Security in Our Times

The new security game can be characterised as a “utopian realism”. This perspective is, unlike the traditional realist perspective, holistic in character and non-statist in approach. Such a perspective is necessary because of the grave limitations of traditional thought about security. Its narrow military focus is highly problematic. Simply consider, to name but one example, the security dilemma. Also, it is apparent that issue areas like economic collapse, scarcity, overpopulation, environmental degradation etc. which lie outside the scope of traditional security thinking must be included in the new security agenda.

What we are seeing today is the recession of war among “communities that are wealthy and have a significant level of social justice”, loosely democratic societies. Unlike the centuries that preceded it, there has been no war among the “44 richest countries since 1945”. This points to a correlation between democracy and warlessness. Order, then, might lie in ensuring at least minimal levels of political and social justice.

Emancipation vs Power and Order

Order and power come at somebody’s expense. Hence, they are unstable. For this reason, emancipation must take precedence.

“‘Security’ means the absence of threats. Emancipation is the freeing of people (as individuals and groups) from those physical and human constraints which stop them carrying out what they would freely choose to do. War and the threat of war is one of those constraints, together with poverty, poor education, political oppression and so on. Security and emancipation are two sides of the same coin. Emancipation, not power or order, produces true security. Emancipation, theoretically, is security.”

People should be treated as ends and states as means. Individual humans, not states, are the ultimate referent. States are “unreliable, illogical and too diverse in their character” to be uses as the primary referents. Unreliable because some states are in the business of security while others (those of Hitler, Stalin, Saddam) are not. Illogical because states are only means and not the ends of security. Also, the historical variety of states makes a theory of state misplaced.

Consider the confrontation between the women of Greenham Common and Margaret Thatcher in the early 1980s. While the former saw nuclearization as a threat to their security and protested the building of the Greenham missile base, the latter saw the Soviet Union as a threat and the missiles as the guarantors of security. The utopian realism of the former can be contrasted with the neo-realism of the latter. The Greenham women were right. It is not that denuclearization will be easy or guaranteed. But it is rational to act as though it is.

The Case for Emancipation

The struggle for emancipation is concurrent with the spirit our times. It is necessary to go beyond the important but limited insights of neo-realism. Politics is open-ended and based in ethics. The preoccupation with technological variables must be superseded by an engagement with moral philosophy. Critical theory helps in achieving this movement from the neo-realist framework to critical philosophy.

This requires a rethinking of traditional ideas about liberty. Emancipation implies liberty but of an egalitarian character. “[L]iberty without economic status is propaganda.” Emancipation also requires the integration of reciprocal rights — the idea that ‘I am not truly free until everyone is free’. This will result in the breaking down of the barriers between the domestic and the foreign. The distinction between the two although convenient is an “unhelpful dichotomy”.

Teaching and Practice: What is to be Done?

Freedom eradicates violence. There is an inverse correlation between the political rights and civil liberties in nations, and both internal violence and war. “Emancipation, empirically, is security.”

Traditional thinking about security in so far as it is characterised by superpower nuclearism is a “non-returnable timebound curiosity”. In its stead, a new breed of students trained in defence, of course, but also in human rights, environmental issues, economic development, and comparative politics.

In practice, emancipation enables community building upon the debris of the barriers between “us” and “them”. With it as the “utopian” goal, the processes practiced and implemented towards attaining it, in a very real sense, become significant achievements themselves. In other words, the means become the ends. The aim is not so much on distant utopian goals but on reformist steps and processes. Such processes have already been underway not just in governments but also in non-state actors. The outlook is encouraging.

Critical theory falls short when it comes to policy recommendations. But so does realism. In any case, it should not be expected to guide action in all circumstances.

Conclusion as Prologue

“The implementation of an emancipatory strategy through process utopian steps is, to a greater or lesser extent, in the hands of all those who want it to be — the embryonic global civil society. In a world of global communications few should feel entirely helpless. Even in small and private decisions it is possible to make choices which help rather than hinder the building of a world community. Some developments depend on governments, but some do not. …[I]n pursuing emancipation, the bases of real security are being established.


International Migration, Border Controls and Human Rights by Antoine Pécoud and Paul de Guchteneire — A Summary

Pécoud, Antoine, and Paul de Guchteneire. 2006. “International Migration, Border Controls and Human Rights: Assessing the Relevance of a Right to Mobility.” Journal of Borderlands Studies 21 (1). Routledge: 69–86.

This is actually not a summary. Barring the small additions to improve grammatical flow which have been put in square brackets, the rest are extracts.


Is it possible to envisage a right to mobility?

Trends in Contemporary Border Controls

International migration has become one of the central issues of our time.[1] As a consequence, international migration is now high on the agenda of the international community and of many countries.

A largely shared feature of contemporary migration policies is their restrictive nature. Migration is commonly understood, in security terms, as a “problem” and many countries feel the need to protect against this “threat.”

[As such,] the borders between Western countries and their less-rich neighbours have become fortified. External controls at the border are accompanied by internal controls meant to identify undocumented migrants after entry. Another way of controlling migration lies in co-operation between countries.[2]

Controlling migration is costly.[3] [But] although it is difficult to measure their deterrence effect on potential migrants, the persistence of undocumented migration illustrates how even sophisticated forms of controls do not really stop people. [This is because] migration is now structurally embedded in the economies and societies of most countries whether in the form of remittances, cheap labour, or domestic services. Moreover, migratory movements, once started, become self-sustaining.[4] Controlling immigration is particularly difficult for liberal democracies [as they are constrained by] market forces and the philosophy of human rights. In practice, this means that civil society, human rights groups, and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) can contest government measures and sometimes have them opposed by courts.

Border Controls and Human Rights

Contemporary border policies are accompanied by several challenges to human rights.

First, the measures meant to stop irregular migration have direct consequences on the asylum principle.[5] The confusion between asylum-seekers and economic migrants[6] leads not only to endless and unmanageable procedures to “prove” the existence of persecution, but also to human rights abuses and suffering for both “genuine” and “fake” refugees.

The second human rights challenge involves trafficking and human smuggling. The more difficult it is to enter a country, the more necessary the reliance on smugglers and the more profitable the business. This [not only] fuels human rights violations [but also amplifies calls for] strict border control policies.

The third challenge relates to the human cost of migration controls for the migrants themselves. The most tragic and obvious illustration of this cost lies in the number of people who die on their way to receiving countries.

Borders have thus become the site of major ethical challenges, and four observations can be made about them.

First, a tension between security and human rights preoccupations pervades the response to these phenomena. Migration has increasingly been understood as a security threat. This leaves little space for human rights. Indeed, the most frequent concern seems to be the difficulty of conciliating the trade-based openness of borders with their security-based closure, a debate in which people’s rights and dignity hardly play a role.

Second, these different phenomena attract various levels of attention and are treated in a differentiated and isolated manner. Human trafficking has been clearly acknowledged as a human rights’ violation and combating it has become a priority for many governments. Asylum also draws substantial attention but is treated in a largely national manner. By contrast, “deaths at the border” are largely ignored; even though they regularly make headlines in the media and draw the attention of a few NGOs. The connections between restrictive asylum policies, human smuggling, and migrants’ vulnerability are not recognized.

Third, addressing the relationships between border controls, migration policies, and human rights is difficult because of the moral complexity at stake and the ambiguous set of causalities between governments, policies, and human agency. Who, for example, is responsible for the death of migrants?

Fourth, the question is not simply what is happening at borders. Current migration and border policies may ultimately represent a threat, not only for migrants, but also for the human rights and democratic principles that lie at the core of Western states. Tough border control measures may not be compatible with the harmonious functioning of democracies. The values that guide societies cannot stop at their borders.

Toward a Right to Mobility

With governments unable to match their proclaimed ambition of controlling their borders, restrictive policies are not credible. A right to mobility may usefully reinforce an ethical and rights-based approach to migration and border controls. Having the right to leave one’s country is meaningless as long as one cannot enter another country. Emigration and immigration inextricably complement each other.

A right to mobility would counterbalance the uneven access to mobility[7] among peoples and nations. Restrictions on mobility are difficult to reconcile with the liberal egalitarian perspective according to which people should have equal opportunities. The issue of mobility opportunities is particularly relevant in an era of globalization, at the heart of which lies issues of circulation and international border crossing.

[Besides,] elaborating a right to mobility is not about adding one more right to a long list of rights; rather, it is about fostering respect for existing human rights. In a world of economic globalization and gross socioeconomic inequalities, the human right to free choice of employment (Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) and to an adequate standard of living (Article 25) are hard to achieve in the absence of migration opportunities.

World Justice

Critics of neo-liberalism argue that if people flows were deregulated and exclusively market driven, the absence of state intervention would not lead to more equality but to the exact opposite. The only fair policy is development aid, foreign investment and trade.

[But] so far, they have not proved able to reduce the gap between rich and poor countries and, therefore, it may be time to try something else. [In fact,] migration might not only be the most efficient way of reducing inequalities between countries but also, and contrary to widespread perceptions, the most acceptable solution. Development also encourages migration rather than substitutes for it.[8]

Social Cohesion

Migration is often described as a threat to social cohesion. The arrival of newcomers destabilizes receiving societies and jeopardizes the sense of belonging and common identity that lies at the core of community life. [This argument] should be discussed with a particular focus on the institutions and mechanisms that ground social cohesion (welfare states, citizenship, and democracy)

 Mobility is a major challenge to the welfare state. [Their] logics are contradictory: a right to mobility is about openness and circulation, whereas welfare systems are based on closure. [But] the correlation between increased migration and the deterioration of welfare schemes is not straightforward. Moreover, far from being the main challenge to welfare states, migration is only one factor among many.

Along with welfare, citizenship, and democratic participation constitute key features of social cohesion. [There is a need to] unpack citizenship and distribute its different components (political, civil, social, family and cultural rights, notably) in a differentiated way. Migrants would initially receive a first set of rights (civil rights and fundamental social rights), and only later would they receive, in a step-by-step manner, full welfare entitlements or political rights. By avoiding the binary logic of inclusion/exclusion, this approach ensures that migrants are not “rightless” (as undocumented migrants tend to be) while enabling high mobility and addressing the reluctance of nationals and long-term residents to share their privileges with newcomers.

From a cultural perspective, migrants are often believed to integrate imperfectly, thus threatening the socio-cultural foundations of destination countries, creating tensions with the native population, and fostering racism and xenophobia. [The argument therefore goes:] if states do not control migration, people will do it themselves through more-or-less violent rejections of foreigners. [But] fundamentally, border controls indirectly feed racism by reinforcing the idea that foreigners and foreign-looking people are undesirable. [Also], control policies absorb funds and energy to the detriment of integration.

In short, social cohesion is about far more than migration; the role of migrants should not be ignored but neither should it be overwhelmingly emphasized to the detriment of other major challenges to social cohesion.

Economic Wealth

A frequent argument in favour of unrestricted mobility is of an economic nature. Free movement is advocated on the grounds that restrictions on the mobility of people are counterproductive. Free migration would [actually] reduce inequalities at the world level, hence, diminishing the necessity to migrate.

However, comparing flows of people to flows of capital, information, or commodities neglects the social complexity of migration. (see above)

Security and the Governance of Migration and Borders

A third way between open and closed borders could be a system of multilateral governance of migration flows whereby states would coordinate their migration policies for their mutual benefit, just as they do with flows of capital, commodities, and goods.

[However,] security arguments mitigate against such interstate co-operation. Today, faced with terrorism-related threats, states respond with a “rebordering” process. Internationalization of most national economies implies heavy cross-border movements of people, vehicles, and shipments. To truly control these flows would be so costly and time-consuming that it would harm economic growth.

The need to go beyond strictly national policies cannot be contested, [but] the issue is the nature of these goals: states can and should co-operate, but with what aims in mind? Migration can be “managed” in a very repressive way and it is easy to imagine a situation in which interstate co-operation would merely perpetuate current restrictive policies.

Tight control policies, whether nationally or multilaterally implemented, create situations of illegality and mistrust that make co-operative border management even more difficult.

[Also,] border controls do not really stop people but rather incite them to go underground [providing] smugglers and traffickers with enhanced business opportunities. Tight migration policies generate undocumented migration, smuggling, and trafficking, which then prompt calls for more control. In the meantime, the values of control policies impact social relations and people’s attitudes, not only creating a perceived need for increased control but also undermining the cross-border human ties that would make interstate co-operation possible. In this context, a right to mobility may be a way to break this vicious circle by helping to shed a critical perspective on the notion of “management” or “governance” in fields such as migration or security.


A right to mobility is ethically defensible and usefully complements the human right to emigration. It can serve as a stimulus, not only to elaborate fairer migration policies, but also to question the moral, cultural, and political foundations of contemporary practices. A right to mobility may appear as a naïve utopia. However, it is equally utopian and naïve to believe that minor arrangements of contemporary policies will provide sustainable answers to the challenges raised by international migration.


[1] In 2005, the number of migrants worldwide was estimated at 185 to 192 million, representing approximately 3 percent of the world population.

[2] Sending states frequently resent the way in which their illegally migrating citizens are treated by destination countries, but they are nevertheless incited (and financially supported) to contribute to migration controls by stopping their outflow of undocumented migrants or reaccepting those who have been expelled. Transit countries are also asked to better control their borders.

[3] According to an International Organization for Migration (IOM) report, the twenty-five richest countries spend 25 to 30 billion dollars per year on the enforcement of immigration laws.

[4] Through migration, countries are connected via networks that span the globe and facilitate more migration. Lobby groups, such as employers, can also impose domestic constraints on governments to allow migration for labour-market reasons.

[5] The asylum principle upholds the idea that all human beings are entitled to seek protection from persecution.

[6] Economic migrants posing as asylum seekers.

[7] Citizens from developed countries may travel and settle down almost anywhere in the world, while their fellow human beings from less-developed countries depend upon the uncertain issuance of visas and residence permits to migrate. Trained workers are sought and enjoy a greater level of mobility than their unskilled compatriots.

[8] The development process leads to economic restructuring, which forces people to find new jobs and creates incentives to move, from rural to urban regions or abroad.


Human Security: Paradigm Shift or Hot Air? by Roland Paris — A Summary

Paris, Roland. 2001. “Human Security: Paradigm Shift or Hot Air?” International Security 26 (2). The MIT Press: 87–102.

Human security is being hailed as a new paradigm for thinking about international security beyond its realist preoccupation with the military. However, the concept is not precisely defined. And its proponents seem to be interested in keeping it that way.

The term, in short, appears to be slippery by design. Cultivated ambiguity renders human security an effective campaign slogan, but it also diminishes the concept’s usefulness as a guide for academic research or policy-making.

What is Human Security?

Human security can be said to have two main aspects. It means, first, safety from such chronic threats as hunger, disease and repression. And second, it means protection from sudden and hurtful disruptions in the patterns of daily life — whether in homes, in jobs or in communities.

UNDP Human Development Report 1994

The report also identifies seven specific elements that comprise human security: a) economic security; b) food security; c) health security; d) environmental security; e) personal security; f) community security; and g) political security.

This definition remains the most cited and most authoritative. However, the definition and the elements specified are so comprehensive that it is difficult to see anything that could be excluded. The meaning and boundaries of human security are thus extremely vague.

Definitions offered by academics are no less vague and are often in the “laundry-list” format of the UNDP. Jorge Nef suggests five constituents of human security while Laura Reed and Majid Tehranian offer ten constituent elements. Those that choose not to give lists offer equally comprehensive definitions. Caroine Thomas talks about “basic material needs” and “human dignity” while Robert Bedeski sees human security as encompassing the totality of knowledge, technology, institutions and activities” which enable and enhance human life.

If human security is all these things, what is it not?

A Guide for Research and Policymaking?

Given the range of values that human security encompasses within its vast “inclusive” and “holistic” sweep and the reluctance in ranking these values, policy makers have little use for the concept.

A similar problem lies for academics as human security, with its hodgepodge of principles, seems to be capable of supporting virtually any hypothesis along with its opposite! The holism of the concept also makes analytical interventions difficult as it is impossible to talk of, let’s say, socio-economic factors causing an increase or decrease in human security as these they are themselves implicated within the definition of human security.

To illustrate, consider John Cockell’s efforts to apply the concept of human security to international peacebuilding operations in disturbed countries. He states that “peacebuilding is a sustained process of preventing internal threats to human security from causing protracted, violent conflict.” Since, safety from violence is a part of the definition of human security itself, Cockell is effectively saying that peacebuilding tries to reduce threats to human security by reducing threats to human security!

Attempts to Narrow the Concept

Gary King and Christopher Murray seek to incorporate only “essential” elements in the concept of human security, elements that are “important enough for human beings to fight over or to put their lives or property at great risk”. These indicators of well-being are identified as poverty, health, education, political freedom and democracy. Kanti Bajpai proposes construction of a “human security audit” that would include measures of “direct and indirect threats to individual bodily safety and freedom”.

The problem with projects like these is the identification of certain values, which are chosen, as more important than others without justification. Why, for example, are “threats to safety and freedom the most important”? What about, say, education? Why should the “essential” elements comprise of “poverty, health, education, political freedom and democracy”? Is a rich, healthy, and educated area of London necessarily secure? The challenge is to narrow the definition but give compelling reasons as to why certain values are preferred.

Narrowing down human security also creates another problem. The ambiguity of the concept unites a diverse and often fractious coalition of states and organisations. Making human security more specific would run the risk of aggravating certain groups and alienating them.

What is the merit, then, in narrowing the concept of security?

Human Security as a Category of Research

“Human security may serve as a label for a broad category of research in the field of security studies that is primarily concerned with non-military threats to the safety of societies, groups, and individuals, in contrast to more traditional approaches to security studies that focus on protecting states from external threats.”

The point of this suggestion is that despite the vagueness of the concept, human security could still play a useful “taxonomical” role. This would be well-aligned to the slippery and volatile nature of the concept itself.

Security studies has broadened and deepened since the Cold War. Broadened in that it has moved beyond the conventional military understanding to include a host of non-military threats. Deepened in that it is now willing to consider individuals and groups as referent objects rather than states alone.

Using the notions of deepening and broadening, it is possible to construct a matrix to situate the literature in the field of security studies.

Roland Paris Matrix Security Studies

Cell 1 contains works that concentrate on military threats to the security of states. Cell 2 contains works addressing non-military threats (instead of or in addition to military threats) to states. Cell 3 focuses on military threats to non-state actors like societies, groups and individuals. Cell 4 is concerned with military and non-military threats, or both, to the security of societies, groups, and individuals. This last area of literature is what would be called “human security”.

Using human security to describe this category of research is intuitive as the issues covered echo many of the concerns of human security. It avoids the problem of framing precise hypotheses about human security — a problem that has turned out to be an unsurmountable one. Using human security as a descriptive label frees it from presupposing any normative agenda.

This exercise also helps differentiate the principal approaches to security studies. It is no longer sufficient nor reasonable to define security studies in dualistic terms — the state-centric realist approaches as opposed to the “disorderly bazaar” of alternative approaches. It could also help draw attention to existing works through the very “fashionability” of security studies.

This is not to assert that these compartments are watertight. They are permeable.