From Territorial Security to Human Security


It’s not for sure! Whether COVID-19 impact could be narrated as that of re-arrangements of European powers in Peace Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, 1814-15 of Vienna Congress, Versailles Treaty of 1919, Sans Francisco meetings of 1945 (creating United Nations after WWII) and of End of Cold War in 1991. Like that of Westphalia broken by the rise of Napoleon, Vienna Congress by WWI, Treaty of Versailles by WWII and Potsdam Conference by the end of Cold War. The concept of security has really changed in these powerful historical events from War, negotiations and institutions. UNDP in its 1994 Human Development Report had quoted “From nuclear security to human security”. In 1995, UN Secretary General had called in “conceptual break through going beyond armed territorial security(as in the institutions of 1945) towards enhancing or protecting the security of people in their homes, jobs and communities”(Rothschild, 1995). [1]

After 25 years of UN official recognition of human security; Humanity has itself stuck in the great pandemic of COVID-19. The powerful countries around the world are spending heavily on the security and defense comparing to the health system. The notion is: still 18-19th century of “territorial security” is must. For example: In 2019, the US has proposed R&D defense budget of $57,156 million from $43,616 in 2018 while 2019 budget proposed on the R&D of the health and human services was $24,742 million from $33,772 million. R&D on defense has been increased from 2018 to 2019 whereas on health system it has been decreased making country preparing for war rather for great pandemic like COVID-19.

COVID-19 is affecting in 5 core fundamental aspects: Individual, Society, Economy, Politics,  Technology. In these frontiers, Education and Health is a cross-cutting issues. In individual level, peoples psychological aspects, productivity, learning, doing and inventing seems to have been greatly affected. The continuous lock down measures adopted in many countries of the world has forced people to live inside home. This has generated ‘new wave’ of adjustment features among people. Contrary to this, every adjustment is bringing new challenges to the people. There are reported cases of increasing Gender Based Violence in Nepal, Italy, India( listed can be longer) around the world. As women have to live with their perpetrator with no choice making the violence escalates. Secondly, probability of unintended pregnancies around the world are in incremental mode due to lockdown as women are unable to take services of family planning. UNFPA had reported of 1 million unintended pregnancies for high health service disruption for 3 months(due to lock down), up to 15 million unintended pregnancies if it continues for 12 months lockdown.

Economic downfall from the COVID-19 pandemic could push half a billion more people into poverty unless a urgent action is taken to bail out developing countries as reported by Oxfam. World Travel and Tourism council has warned the COVID-19 pandemic could cut 50 million job worldwide-one of the high end affected sectors of COVID-19. Tourism which count for 10% global GDP could take more than 10 months to recover. Even  after the immediate effect of this virus will be flattened, there are continuous of risk of politicians giving up the stimulus package( after changes of new government) rising the country to “W shaped” recession—a previous crises have shown. We have seen this after 2008 financial crisis.

Underlining several reports, the western power center will become more hostile to China for blaming the COVID-19. There are growing probabilities of nationalist and populist may have enough room to fan the blames and China may become the target of Western aggression. This put the relationship of China, US  and Europe under profound transformation characterized by mistrust and in some cases open hostility.  Germany, France, UK and Australia has been raising the questions of virus originality in China and ask Beijing to respond making relationship of these countries with China on hot mode. Even one of the oped published in Germany’s largest tabloid newspaper, Bild has asked Beijing for GBP 130 Billion bill of COVID-19 damages.

Society would also possibilities to see greater transformation. One of the transformation area could be urban settlements from “closed habitation to open”.  Separating populations from closed compact is one of key tools that has been applied currently to hold back infection transmission. The open spaces in future could be plan for environmental sustainability.  However, the culture of the tele-working can’t be applied across the sectors after the pandemic. Presence of children, poor working environment and in particular lack of private rooms specifically designed for work is serious constraint on tele working.  Some people emphasized the loss of the valuable, quick communication that is only possible through face-face interactions with their colleges, consistent with the result in Battiston et al.(2017). Societal transformation is slow and steady. It is evolution rather mutation. So, assumption on changes at the fundamental attributes of society may not be taken granted.

Technology has played key roles in curbing the COVID-19 and possibility of integrated technology-health system in future. Particularly South Korea has developed fast testing kits, smart quarantine information system, mobile technology data for contract tracing, AI for improving diagnosis efficiency and patients classification and mobile app for information sharing. Including this, South Korean didn’t applied nationwide lock down but had installed thermal imaging camera at the city and contract tracing conducted effectively to curb virus.  In China; satellite monitoring, Robotics, Health Sensor and Apps, Drones,  Big data and facial recognition, Artificial intelligence, Autonomous vehicles, mobile tracking/mass surveillance. But advanced countries of the West has failed in using tech tools for flattening virus.

Way Forward

All above 5 core fundamental aspects where possible impact of COVID-19 is being felt; it needs a re-configuration. It needs re-configuration from a centralizing concept of capital and wisdom to nationalizing concept of capital and wisdom. Cross cutting issues like Heath and Education is now better to be prioritized much more comprehensive way than before( beyond political stunt). The above developments summarizing us the consequences of diverting from the human security to the territorial security. Even a virus; who is “invisible” is challenging 10 thousand years old human civilization. We have given much more preference to the state in safeguarding its citizen from wars since 1648 but less in pandemic and disease. Even the UN, has been limited around managing global wars and high end political diplomacy but has outperformed in pandemic and disease.  

So, re-arrangements of European/global powers from 1648 to 1991( from Treaty of Westphalia to End of Cold War) has an epigram of setting territorial security is must guarded by the state. But in 2020, we need a “totalitarian human security”  idea retreat from old European/western security notions. And, COVID-19 scenario is the best.

[1] The United Nations was founded 50 years ago to ensure the territorial security of member states… .What is now under siege is something different,” or “personal security”?Boutros Boutros-Ghali, “Let’s get together to halt the unravelling of society.” International Herald Tribune, 10 February 1995.

Saurav Raj Pant
Saurav Raj Pant
PhD. Student of International Relations & Diplomacy of Tribhuvan University, Nepal