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Human Needs, Humanitarian Intervention, Human Security -
By Johan Galtung, dr hc mult, Professor of Peace Studies
1. Human needs and the life expectancy of concepts and words
Concepts come and go; they do not stay around forever. "Human security" is in, "humanitarian intervention" is on its way out.
This applies to science, to politics in general, and to world politics and the UN community in particular. The total human condition has many facets and they all have a justified claim on our attention. A human condition, like the plight of misery, stays on, but "poverty elimination" may retire from the front stage like "community development", "self-reliance", "new economic world order" did, and even "women in development" will do. Cruel, but such is the life cycle of concepts. Why?
In science there is Thomas Kuhn's(1) epistemological answer: because the paradigm underlying the concept has been exhausted. The paradigm has been squeezed for whatever it is worth, all permutations of sub-concepts have been explored, What is left are permutations, Kuhn's "puzzles", little new comes up. Time for a "scientific revolution", new concepts, new paradigms.
To this a sociological/political answer can be added: the old paradigm has probably become the entry card to power in the scientific establishment, with apprenticeship, assistantship, and patient work in some corner of the paradigm as stations on the way. And a younger generation may have wanted more rapid access to the top, identifying a quick bypass superior to the time tested techniques of challenging the person on the top through superior mastery of his own paradigm.(2) And that bypass was, and is, of course, a new paradigm, unknown to the top; a fresh paradigm with not only new answers, but new problems.(3)
Thus, there is a Kuhnian epistemology of cognitive fatigue leading to paradigm shifts. But there is also a Khaldunian(4) politics of new generations--or groups in general, like gender, classes, nations--crushing the gates, evicting the exhausted managers of exhausted paradigms, installing themselves, basking in the glory of the new insights and practices till their lights also gets dim and their claim to power is reduced to flawless repetition of their favorite deductions from old axioms, with old answers to old problems, incapable of new answers, let alone new problems. Outside the gates the rumblings of new concepts are already audible to those not deafened by dementia praecox.(5)
Thus, in the 1970s a highly successful paradigm under the heading of basic human needs (BHN) made its round through the members of the UN family. It came with basic human rights; not only the Universal Declaration of 10 December 1948 but also the Social, Economic and Cultural Covenant of 16 December 1966, yet to be ratified by the USA and closer to such basic needs as for food, clothing, housing, health and education. This author, as consultant to about a dozen members of the UN family was, and still is, dedicated to that paradigm and its efforts to establish the sine qua non, the non-negotiable conditions not only for a being, for life, but for a human being.
Intellectually the paradigm challenged the researcher to develop a theory of human needs, and a method to identify them. The present author's answer was to ask people of all kinds around the world, in a dialogue, what they cannot live without, giving survival, wellness, freedom and identity as answers.(6)
And politically the paradigm challenged politicians (in democracies we all are) to implement basic needs for all.
The basic needs paradigm has not been exhausted, neither intellectually, nor politically. Politically it placed the human being in the center of the State-Capital-Civil Society triangle of modernity. The State was often seen as a guarantor of survival, "security" in the narrow sense, and freedom; Capital as the supplier of goods, for wellness, for those who could afford the price demanded; and the Civil Society network of human associations and organizations, and local authorities, for all four, including the informal economy of non-monetized exchange and production for own consumption. The division of labor of these three pillars of modern society became, and still are, basic paradigm problems to explore, or hard nuts to crack.
According to this model the state, and also capital, had a strong competitor in civil society, the NGOs/NPOs, and the local authorities, LAs, municipalities. If people knew their basic needs and could have them satisfied locally, and/or through networks spun by themselves in an ever expanding and deepening global civil society, also leaning on traditional or even more ancient wisdom, then what happens to State and Capital?
Whether the state should be an actor in markets, let alone have the ultimate power over economic transactions, was a major 20th century controversy. The pendulum was ultimately swinging toward private capitalist monopoly, and away from public state-capitalist/socialist monopoly. But extremes are no good resting points. The middle, in media res, offers better pendular rest.
But the basic needs/civil society orientation was not much interested in that ideology pendulum. Increasingly the demands on State and Capital became less Do-this/Do-that, and much more Don't-do-this/Don't do that. Do not stand in the way. Get out.
They did not like it. Capital hit back with globalization: borderless markets first for financial, then for the productive economies, destroying local markets and informal economies, even patenting old wisdom; monetizing the goods and services also for basic needs in a world with billions unable to pay the price.
And the State hit back with humanitarian intervention and human security, making the governments and the military the indispensable sine qua non for the sine qua non of security.
They had a very good argument, insufficiently explored by the human needs paradigm: state, government violence against its own citizens, protected by the doctrines of state sovereignty, and of state security. There was no need to use cases from the past. The 1990s witnessed state violence, even of a genocidal nature, in East Timor, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq. The solution was formulated in terms of counter-violence from the outside, in other words intervention, for humanitarian ends, in other words humanitarian intervention. And the problem was how to make "humanitarian" and "intervention" compatible.
Human needs, including the need to survive, are felt inside human beings, hence people-oriented. But human security is also state-oriented as only states can deliver that counter-violence. That state ultimate violence monopoly, the ultima ratio regis has been protected by consensus. Controversies have raged over how much, and which, means of violence should be available to the state, from the realist maximum to the pacifist minimum positions; and over how much control civil society must exercise over that state exercise of violence, from the fascist 0% to the democratic 100% positions. These two dimensions may well come to define much of the political spectrum of the 21st century. NEXT>>
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