Whither Development?

Or, should that be withered development…?

It was not that long ago that terms such as  “international development”,  “development cooperation”, “development assistance” and even “aid” were in heavy rotation in the discourse on international relations. This was true not only in places like the United Nations, but also in many capitals, great and small.

Today development, like diplomacy, has becom somewhat of an exotic.

And yet, and yet… It wasn’t always that way. Remember the would-be New International Economic Order? The North-South Summit in Cancun? How about calls for a New International Information Order? The Rio Summit on Environment and Development, surely?  That meeting produced, among other things, a sweeping manifesto intended to guide development into the next century: Agenda 21.

Its contents make interesting reading even now, almost two decades later.

Even without reference to the much more recent, but already forlorn Millennium Development Goals,  I think it fair to say the the internatnational community, as it is so euphemistically known, has come up a bit short on its commitments. Indeed, the discussion of international development per se has has pretty much disappeared from the mainstream, especially in the wake of 9/11 and the launch of the Global War on Terror (GWOT).

The GWOT continues. Whether restyled as the Long War, or Stabilization, or Overseas Contingency Operations, the epicentre of international policy remains heavily militarized. This has imposed all kinds of costs, ranging from the emaciation of diplomatic alternatives, to the hijacking of the post- Cold War peace dividend, to the reallocation of scarce public resources at the expense of vital social programmes.

Among the less noticed impacts, however, has been the effective marginalization of development  – and diplomacy – in the name of security.  It is not so much that development itself has become “securitized”, as occured during the Cold War with the competition for hearts, minds, and client states. Instead, it has simply been shunted aside, a victim of “compassion fatigue” and competing priorities in metropolitan centres where the development constituency is typically thin to non-existant.

Not so for defence, where the launching of the open-ended GWOT and its successors has put the military industrial complex back into business.

In previous posts I have set out the case that security is not entirely, or even mainly a martial art. You can’t garrison against climate change, or call in an air strike on resource shortages,  or pay Blackwater to protect you from pandemic disease. Among the many redeeming qualities of the human security doctrine is its insistance on the link betweeen development and security.  Expressed in a few words, you won’t achieve freedom from fear in the absence of respect for basic rights, the rule of law, good governance and, not least, freedom from want.  Met needs are the well-spring of dignity, and basic needs must be fulfilled before much else becomes possible.

In important respects, as I argue at some length in Guerrilla Diplomacy, development has become the new security.

Development, though, is not just a matter of engineering the achievement of various qualitative measures, such as economic growth or increasing trade and investment flows. While each of these may well figure in the overall development mix, for instance, none will guarantee a decrease in poverty if the issue of distributive justice remains unaddressed.

Nor, popular opinion notwithstanding, is development much related to disaster relief or emergency humanitarian assistance. These may certainly be required, as was the case, for example,  following the 2004 tsunami, or in the wake of  various earthquakes or famines. But the beneficial effects of such interventions are often fleeting, and tend to give rise to lingering distortions, such as changes in diet or a debilitating reliance on charity.

At the end of the day, development is in my view all about improving the quality of life for the majority of the population, about finding ways to encourage the emergence of circumstances which will afford each citizen  opportunities, such as access to education an health care, through which they might achieve their full potenial.

Genuine development, then, must be long term, equitable and sustainable. It must be grass-roots and participatory, whereby those affected are the subjects, not objects of their fate. And that  implies the necessary existance of significant political and social components in any grand development strategy.

Most of all, and as implied by these sorts of measures, development, like security, must be human-centred. And, like globalization, it is best thought of as a process rather than a condition or an end state. It is that dynamic relationship – between development and underdevelopment, security and insecurity –  which I have tried to capture in the ACTE world order model. The security measures are universal, being applied to each and every are of human life – from school security to the worldwide one.
In the midst of the most sever economic crisis since the Great Depression, official development assistance budgets are shrinking, overseas remittances are falling and corporate philanthropy is drying up. In a world in which so many have so little, and so few have so much, one might expect rather more by way of discussion and debate on all of this.

Clearly, we will have to delve more deeply.

Putting the Human back into Security – Part II

A decade and more ago, the human security doctrine  was all the rage. Books, conferences, and even the foreign policy platforms of some governments were organized around it.

Today, while some embers still glow, the fire is out.

What happened?

From the very beginning, some analysts, mainly, but not exclusively those subscribing to the realist school of international relations, were skeptical about an approach which seemed to them  mushy and vacuous. Human security was seen as a thinly veiled excuse for reducing expenditures on international policy tools  generally, and on traditional security instruments, such as the military and intelligence agencies, in particular.

Still, for much of the 1990s human security withstood the criticism, and indeed enjoyed significant prominence in the broader discourse.

A decade later, little remains.

An explanation of at least part of the mystery may lie in the relationship between domestic and international politics. In Canada, which had been one of the most enthusiastic cheerleaders for  human security, the disappearence of official reference to the concept coincided with changes in political leadership that occurred around the turn of the century. Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy’s successors, beginning with John Manley and Bill Graham, acting in a pattern which is both familiar and understandable, wanted to put some political space between themselves and their high-profile predecessor. As a result, official Canadian support for what had come to be known as the human security agenda, always controversial, gradually withered.

Public diplomacy,  the technique which was relied upon to move that agenda, later took a similar hit.

That said, in international relations single factors rarely tell the full story, and in this case, too, forces much greater than changes in the Canadian political firmament were in play.

For starters, the definition of human security was always rather vague and contested. There was real tension between those seeking to limit the application of the doctrine to considerations related to the freedom from fear (ending war, building peace, furnishing emergency assistance) and those who preferred to include as well the more sweeping aspect of freedom from want (disasters, disease, and underdevelopment more generally).

That debate remains unresolved.

Secondly, the human security approach was never very evenly applied, and when it was attempted, the results often differed. Human security imperatives were  ignored in the case of the international community’s failure to stop the genocide in Rwanda, and they are still overlooked in Darfur. Humanitarian interventions in Somalia and Bosnia (Srebrenica), on the other hand, ended in disaster. The one case study which might be judged a success, East Timor, was small scale, expensive, and has not been replicated since.

So, the record is mixed. And the reputation of the term has not been helped by its appropriation – if not hijacking –  from time to time by certain parties in support of military intercessions in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Among many contributing elements, however, it was the cathartic events of 9/11 and subsequent launching of the Global War on Terror which achieved most in terms of bringing concerns about the protection of the nation-state front and centre. Suddenly, hard security was back, and its primacy has been largely unchallenged since. Almost overnight international policy was re-militarized, and infused with aggressive new theories such as pre-emptive defense.  Not only was the world deprived once and for all of the much-anticipated peace dividend, but 9/11 also restored defense departments, the arms industries, and the vast edifice which supports them to the pre-eminent position which all had enjoyed throughout the Cold War.

Threat conjuring and the politics of fear returned, big time, and human security has yet to recover.

In Guerrilla Diplomacy,  I argue that in the age of globalization, development and security, like underdevelopment and insecurity, are fused. The challenge for policy-makers now is to find a way to insert diplomacy into the spaces between the two – spaces now occupied physically, intellectually, and in terms of resource allocation, by defense.

The human security doctrine, even if the time is not yet ripe for its rehabilitation, offers diplomats some useful insights towards that end. And it is that critical component of development to which we will presently turn.

Putting the Human back into Security – Part I

Security, not unlike globalization or development, is a very, very big idea.

To talk about about it in any meaningful way, you need to know where to  begin, and what to focus on.

In terms of security, might that be:

National, or international?

Common, or cooperative?

Collective, or individual?




And what of any one of the welter of other, non-traditional security possibilities, ranging from environmental, to resource, to economic, to …?

I set out this catalogue  to illustrate a recurrent point in the discussion of international relations and global issues: the effective confrontation of these sprawling topics requires precise descriptive  language. Finding that language, however, can be almost as difficult as identifying possible remedies. Our vocabulary has not kept pace, and that may help to explain why the accurate diagnosis of the world’s many afflictions remains so elusive.

This is particularly true in the case when speaking of security, where it is crucial to be specific. Nations resort to violence, and sometimes go to war over perceived threats to security.  When security is thought to be in jepoardy, diplomacy quickly comes to be seen as appeasement , and is consigned to the margins.  Generals and admirals come to the fore. Fighting trumps talking.

Whenever the the notion of security is invoked, therefore, it is absolutely essential to be concrete, to know what is seen to be at risk or under threat. Yet this is rarely the case. In fact, “security” is probably one of the most over-used, and abused terms in the lexicon of international relations.

I have written elsewhere of the acute need for new analytical tools, and have tried to come up with a few of my own, such as the ACTE world order model outlined in an earlier post.  In the case of security, however, I believe that kind of enterprise is unnecessary. The concept of human security provides most of the elements needed to understand the pre-requisites of peace and preosperity in the globalization age. Moreover,  it the widespread absence of human security – and the concommitant presence of fear, want and exploitation and suffering – which in my view lies at the root of much of the instablity and conflict around us.

Security is critical to diplomacy because most diplomats work for states, and the highest calling of the state – roughly speaking, the apparatus of national government –  is to ensure the security of the citizenry.

That is, the population.

In other words, humans.

That would be – us.

Human security puts people first. As an objective, it involves the pursuit of demonstable rights and freedoms, subscription to the rule of law, and the existance of the kind of fundamental human dignity which is sustained and nurtured by met needs. This goal seems to me unassailable, both morally and practically, and commitment to attaining it carries significant implications across the board, not least in terms of our thinking about development.

Why, then, have we heard so little of the profoundly people-centric notion of human security in recent years? Never very popular with great powers, human security nonetheless once provided the foreign policy lens, if not grand strategy, favoured by a number of middle and smaller powers. In the second half of the nineties, the doctrine was championed by Canada, and became the core principle animating a string of initiatives – the land mine ban, International Criminal Court, blood diamonds, children in conflict, small arms control, and the Responsibility to Protect, which seeks to provide a political and legal framework for humanitarian intervention.

Since about the turn of the century, however, human security has been largely exiled from the mainstream discourse. With a few notable exceptions, it lives on mainly in academic circles, international organizations and in the NGO community. Yes, the  Human Security Network still exists, although that institution appears to be on life support, there is still a Human Security Gateway on the Internet, and human security reporting and analysis continues. On balance, though, human security as an operative policy tool is now at most a faint shadow of its former self.

What happened?

Therein lies a tale. In broaching those issues, I hope that readers will come to understand why I tried to avoid excessive reference to the term human security in my volume on guerrilla diplomacy, notwithstanding my belief that it remains the concept best suited to understanding the complex political dynamics which prevail in the world today.

A more detailed deconstruction of that paradox comes next.