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Y.S. Song: How Should the East Asian Nations Cooperate and Make Progress in Human Security?

Speech delivered at the International Leadership Conference and Global Peace Festival
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, September 9, 2008

What Is "Human Security"?

After the Cold War was brought to a close, the possibility of a full-scale or a nuclear war brought about by both camps of the US and the Soviet Union gradually decreased, and as the understanding between small and medium countries and NGOs came to be expressed in a more concrete way, for individuals and groups to be protected from such nonmilitary threats as political instability, the gap between the rich and the poor, environmental destruction, riots, terror, and drugs became as important as the traditional defense of territory and sovereignty. In short, for a nation to protect its people from starvation, violence, and poverty became as much a part of security as protecting its national territory.

The UN Development Program (UNDP) report of 1994 defines “human security” as “freedom from fear” and “freedom from deficiency.” However, the definition of and approach to “human security” differs with each scholar, and is too diverse. From this viewpoint, “human security” can include very concrete matters such as freedom from direct and indirect violence such as starvation, poverty, infectious diseases, natural calamities, human rights violations, civil wars, and so on, as well as those wide-ranging and diverse issues necessary to establishing good governance. Therefore, the the concept of “human security” can be expanded from “minimal human security,” which means guaranteeing the minimal factors for human survival, to “maximum human security,” which means that individuals should be given political and social rights so that they can be guaranteed to live life to the maximum. Thus, disputes exist about both the range and definition of “human security.”

However, most Asian governments do not extend and implement “human security” to fields or issues along the lines of political restrictions or financial inclinations. For example, at the time of the financial crisis of 1997-1998, though the many Asian nations saved by the IMF had benefited from its saving grace, they criticized the IMF as being incompatible with Asian culture and values. Because of much prejudice and nationalistic, anti-foreign sentiments, even if the financial system of Western society had liberated their citizens from starvation or poverty, if they had to be subjected to political restrictions because of it, they would have to accept the financial policies centered on Western society, a fact towards which they were very negative. On the other hand, they recognize that it is the duty of the state to protect the physical safety of their citizens, and in this case they positively accept help even from Western society in order to free their citizens from violence and fear, even if there are political restrictions to some degree. Based on this fact, most East Asian countries have a tendency to regard “Human Security” as “freedom from fear”, i.e., being freed physically from fear and terror, rather than “freedom from deficiency”, i.e., being freed from poverty or starvation.

As can be seen, the range of the concept of “Human Security” as accepted by each nation differs according to its historical, geopolitical and financial situation. Therefore, the quickest way to understand “Human Security” would be to examine in detail what anxieties people are facing in the nations of a specific region.

What Are the Threats to “Human Security” Faced by East Asia?

(1) Transnational Threats:
After the ending of the Cold War, nations were vastly exposed to transnational threats that were not restricted by national borders, such as Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), terrorism, multinational organized crime, international drug trafficking and human trafficking, etc.

The first threat is that of nuclear arms and the proliferation of WMD. The proliferation of WMD and the trading of illegal weapons are greatly increasing the possibility of war. Therefore, being freed from them will play a major role in guaranteeing “Human Security.”

Next, there is terrorism. The terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 in New York, USA, did not pose a pressing threat of terror to Asian countries, but the terrorist attack which took place in Bali, Indonesia, on October 12, 2002 became a key factor in causing the East Asian countries to recognize terrorism as an actual issue in regard to “Human Security.” The daily increase in the number of extremists in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore suggests the possibility that East Asia could become another hotbed of terrorism. In order to effect the prevention of illegal weapons trade, and to implement a thorough defense of national borders and an international investigation for the prevention of corruption, regional cooperation should be emphasized foremost.

Third, human trafficking is another major threat to “Human Security.” As Asia was slowly starting to forget the evil effects of World War II, immigrants from Asia pioneered the way to Europe in hopes of a better financial life. Therefore, human trafficking in the Asian region was first begun in the 1960s when Thai women left their homelands and travelled to Europe to escape from poverty. As a matter of fact, human trafficking is widespread in the Asian region, and it is prevalent in the Mekong Region in particular due to poverty. The East Asian region including Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand is famous for its sex industry. Massive supply gives rise to demand, and demand brings about even greater supply. Although an anti-human trafficking initiative has been put in force in this region to eradicate the sex industry, because the destination of human trafficking is usually not an East Asian country but some other region, it continues to be very difficult to resolve this problem on a fundamental level without international cooperation going beyond Asia.

A fourth threat is HIV/AIDS infection. Until now, the ratio of population that has been infected with AIDS in East Asia has been relatively low compared to Africa but, because the attitude of the governments in the region towards AIDS infection has been rather passive, there is the possibility that the region may emerge as an AIDS-infected region following Africa. Every day, about 1,200 Asians die from AIDS-related illnesses and 2,600 are infected with it. Calculations show that this means more than a million people are infected with AIDS yearly. Since the population in the Asian region is much greater than that of Africa, it is very important to recognize this problem and to immediately come up with effective defensive measures.

Last, environmental instability is emerging as another threat to “Human Security.” Due to human beings, the ecosystem is becoming stressed out. Lack of land, reduction in water supply, destruction of forests, desertification, pollution of the atmosphere, water and soil, decrease in the ozone layer, changes in the climate and natural calamities, etc., are all concrete examples of how critical balance in the environment is breaking down, generating increasing instability. Japan, Korea, Taiwan and, most recently, China have all gone through an unprecedented economic growth, due to which there has been an over-consumption of resources and energy and a tremendous increase in the amount of waste matter and industrial pollution which, in turn, brought about continuous environmental destruction. In particular, China has shown the fastest growth rate in the last two decades and it is estimated that by the year 2010, the capacity for electricity production in China will be four times that of 1995. Acid rain is already considered a serious destructive factor of the environment both at home and abroad. Ocean pollution is also another transnational environmental problem faced by the countries of this region. The West Sea, being polluted with industrial waste water, domestic sewage, and massive oil leakage, has long been known as one of the seven “Dying Seas” of the world.

(2) Internal Threats: No less than the threats to “Human Security” transcending national boundaries, the instability of several factors within the nation also works against “Human Security”. In sovereign nations, the security of their citizens is challenged by such internal threats as the poverty of the citizens, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, drug abuse, illegal weapons trade, general social corruption, and so forth. In order to protect “Human Security” within a nation, one of the very first things that should be done is to establish legal regulations. Making a legal framework through which all can receive equal treatment amounts to laying the foundation for “Human Security”.

First, let us examine political insecurity and racial/national conflicts. In 2006, the US Freedom House ranked as “free” only six countries out of the 15 East Asian countries, and adjudicated that seven countries were “not free.” Notably, of the 15 East Asian countries, not one country was ranked “most free.” This could be interpreted as: “Not one country among the 15 East Asian countries has established a mature and solid democracy.” It may be that such a result was obtained because the political rights and civil liberties of Asian countries were gauged using Western democracy as the standard. To an Eastern nation that follows a Western democratic model, Western democracy may act as an obstacle for the Eastern nation attempting to create a ruling system suited to its own individual culture and society. Therefore, even if Western democracy has satisfactorily taken root in an East Asian country, it might be declared that “Human Security” has not been fully realized in that country. In other words, even if a nation is “free from fear of terrorism and WMD,” it could not be said that the citizens of that nation were “free from deficiency like starvation, poverty, diseases, and so on.”

Next, the problems of poverty and financial inequality must be addressed. Poverty is a major factor of human security. The growth of the economy and the decrease in the poor usually depend on internal politics but, for a poor nation to grow economically, it needs support from rich nations. For a long time, a great number of East Asian countries have considered economic growth as not directly related to “Human Security,” and so such issues as human rights and environmental problems have failed to attract the direct attention of those countries leading economic growth. However, as they have become aware in recent times that economic growth is directly connected to "Human Security," they have come to recognize that terrorism and diseases are closely related to economic growth and, in the course of pursuing economic growth, they have also begun to worry about these issues. This is a very desirable phenomenon.

Finally, we need to consider the problem of food security. A number of East Asian countries have attained great results in regard to food security during the last three to four decades. In spite of such excellent achievements, the lack of food security in parts of East Asia is still rather serious. Though it is true that many children in the African nations south of the Sahara Desert are even as we speak suffering from severe starvation, when we consider the total population suffering from chronic starvation, we can see immediately that the sum of the starving people in East and South Asia is greater than any other region. Due to several situations where natural calamities befell populations in 2001, the number of people suffering from malnutrition has topped 35 million, and in parts of Cambodia, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam in East Asia, and India, Nepal, etc. in South Asia, there are “regions on the verge of death from starvation.”

What About Cooperation Among Countries in the Region for “Human Security”?

(1) The Question of “Human Security” as seen by the UN:
After it was founded in 1945, the UN made a declaration of human rights in 1948 that proclaimed worldwide that all humanity has a right to lead their lives in security and dignity. Afterwards, “Human Security” became the most important part of UN rights and interests.

Begun with the New Millennium address given by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2000, the UN, in regard to security, has placed more importance on the protection of human beings rather than the protection of a nation’s territory. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan insisted that the new task of the UN should be closely linked to “freedom from fear, freedom from deficiency, and guaranteeing the freedom of the future generations to inherit a healthy and natural environment.” Furthermore, he emphasized that, in order for “Human Security” to be closely connected to national security, nations should endeavor to guarantee “freedom from fear” and “freedom from deficiency” for their citizens. Finally, in July 2000, the UN Security Council included “Human Security” as a part of security. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) can be considered as the leading organizations that have made efforts for “Human Security.” These two organizations have taken the initiative in dealing with human rights and humanitarian issues. The UNHCR has aided more than 50 million refugees (i.e., those defined as refugees by treaties). It has worked with the aim of providing international protection to refugees, and helping them to return voluntarily to their native lands. After the conclusion of the Cold War, the UNHCR has broadened its scope of activity, working in cooperation with not only those organizations under the UN like the World Food Program (WFP), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organization (WHO), and UN Development Program (UNDP), but also with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), International Organization for Migration (IOM), and 500 other NGOs as well.

Ever since the UN reform program (1997) of the UN Secretary-General was begun with the concept that “human rights is an essential factor in advancing peace and security,” respect for human rights and prevention of humanitarian evils have been the top priority of the UN. Such efforts on the part of the UN have worked as an effective stimulus in advancing “Human Security” in East Asia. For instance, to mitigate North Korea’s food shortage crisis, the WFP has provided a total of 4 million tons of food aid worth 1.7 billion dollars to North Korea from 1995 to 2005, from which 23 million people have benefited. The WFP, together with WHO, UNICEF, and OCHA, has also endeavored in diverse ways to resolve the problems involving hygiene, children, and human welfare, and to alleviate starvation in North Korea. In return for the aid from the UN, East Asian nations have approved or ratified UN treaties related to human rights or humanitarian issues, or have given financial and administrative support to UN humanitarian and development organizations. For example, after Former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi of Japan gave a first donation of 500 million yen (about 4.2 million dollars) in May 1998 and advocated the foundation of the UN Trust Fund for Human Security, up to April 2003, Japan has donated a total sum of 18.8 billion yen (about 173 million dollars).

(2) Cooperative Organizations among Countries of the Region: The Asian financial crisis of 1997 – 1998 became a turning point which made the East Asian nations realize that, to maintain regional peace and pursue development and prosperity, inter-regional cooperation between nations was very important. Therefore, in order to advance cooperation between nations of the region and institutionalize cooperative organizations, East Asian nations are actively participating in dialogues not only between governments but also between non-governmental organizations. Transnational organizations like ASEAN, ASEAN+3, ARF, and APEC are good examples of regional cooperative organizations actively participating in Track-I dialogues on the governmental level.

(3) Efforts of NGOs for Human Security:
There are also the unofficial and less traditional cooperative channels included in the Track-II process. The Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP) has largely acted as the channel for advancing security and building trust between governments (Track-I), and non-governmental organizations (Track-II and Track-III). In particular, in utilizing Track-II and Track-III channels, CSCAP has gradually included in the security agenda of various regions such nontraditional security issues as environmental destruction, economic inequality, and absence of human rights. Similar cases can also be found in Asia. Environmentalists of Korea and Taiwan, antinuclear organizations and women’s organizations of Japan, civil society organizations of Thailand and the Philippines, and the Farmers’ Federation in China all function in ways similar to the Track-III activities of CSCAP. Actually, after the end of the Cold War, in dealing with problems between nations, the role played by the “unofficial” activists, including NGOs, became as important as that played by intergovernmental organizations (IGOs). Whereas IGOs are sometimes restricted in promptly resolving an issue due to bureaucratic procedures and diplomatic protocols, NGOs have an advantage over them in their own way in that they are more flexible, independent, and dedicated in resolving international problems and coping with crises. Because the general public, but no governments, are given the capacity to influence public policies through NGOs, these organizations can represent civil society organizations and also play the role of spokespersons for the public including the “Minority.” Moreover, they have the advantage of being able to work by transcending national borders regardless of political systems.

What Should Leaders Do Now?

Having entered the 21st century, the interest of many IGOs and even NGOs in “Human Security” is ever widening and deepening. This can be seen as springing from an awareness of the fact that protecting the security of citizens is important on a different level from the traditional notion of security that deals primarily with military threats. The East Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998 made nations realize that protecting their citizens from starvation and poverty going beyond the borderlines of their territories was as important as protecting the borders of these territories. It is true that East Asian countries have rather avoided holding frank and open discussions on the subject of “human rights” and “democratization,” but after the financial crisis, they are including human rights and humanitarian matters in their discussions of "Human Security." Japan’s Diet passing a bill for the protection of North Korean human rights is a concrete example of this.

Moreover, it is also true that these nations are making great efforts to establish their position and seek out strategies in order to resolve the various problems related to “Human Security.” This is partly because the actual interest of states and NGOs in “Human Security” has deepened, but is also partly due to their utilitarian calculations that advancing “Human Security” will raise their reputation in the global society and put them on a more profitable footing in diplomatic affairs. For example, Japan is taking the lead in supporting “Human Security” in order to become a member nation of the UN Security Council.

The truth of the matter is that UN and international, multilateral organizations are still rather hesitant in deciding what position the UN should take and what leading role it should play to enhance the awareness of nations regarding threats to “Human Security” and to resolve those threats effectively. This is because the UN and other international organizations have as yet failed to clarify their positions in regard to what standards should be implemented for sovereign nations in the cases where human rights (should) take precedence over the sovereignty of a nation. Therefore, although all nations, the UN and international, multilateral organizations all agree that regional, national and global efforts should be jointly undertaken to resolve “Human Security”-related matters, there are many situations where the interests of nations or regions conflict with each other in regard to the methodology, and so it is very difficult to reach an agreement and requires a lot of time and concessions on all sides.

In the Post Cold War, where possibilities of confrontations or military wars between countries are gradually lessening and, on the other hand, internal conflicts are becoming more diverse and radicalized, individual security is emerging as a critical security consideration over against the more traditional security issue of the inviolability of sovereign nations. (One example of this is the attitude of the Korean people in regard to the import of American beef into Korea versus the relationship between Korea and the US.) In other words, there is an increasing demand to reinterpret the sovereignty and security of a nation as including both the internal security/people’s security as well as the traditional concept of security of the protection of national territory. Faced with such a challenge, what the leaders should do is to find a solution by harmoniously reconciling the traditional concept of security with the citizens’ security. If a leader leans too much towards the protection of the citizens’ security rather than the inviolability of a sovereign nation, he may be degraded into a populist leader. On the other hand, if he does not open his ears and heart to the call for “Human Security” from his people, and places absolute importance on the traditional protection of security, he may be seen as a dictator. Leading a nation without breaking the balance between these two aspects of traditional security and “Human Security,” similar to maintaining the balance of power between nations, characterizes the ability of a true leader with open eyes, ears and heart.