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A Response to S. Neil MacFarlane: Why Human Security Is a New Concept with Global Origins

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In his essay 'The Pre-History of Human Security,' S. Neil MacFarlane argues that 'there is very little that is new in this effort to reconceptualise security.' He proceeds to offer an impressively thorough and persuasive overview of how the concept of human security is rooted in both Western political philosophy and the evolution of the nation-state. Acknowledging the disciplinary 'lens' through which the author derives his conclusions, I nevertheless submit that human security is, indeed, highly innovative and draws its influence from the context-specific nature of this modern, integrative and universal concept. Admittedly, all concepts are moulded from precursors or antecedents, but human security's wide international currency in a range of policy and academic fields today stems from its origins in, for example, Islam, Eastern thought and various indigenous traditions, and not solely in Occidental civilisation. This helps to explain why no less than forty-five National Human Development Reports have afforded attention to the concept, including in countries as diverse as Afghanistan (2004), Chile (1998), Moldova (1999) and Sierra Leone (1998), in addition to the forthcoming report on Human Development in South Asia 2005. It is unnecessary, inaccurate and debilitating to posit an exclusively euro-centric origin to a concept the strength of which, in part, derives from its universality. ...

Document Type: Discussion

Publication date: 2005-11-01

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  • The St Antony's International Review (STAIR) is the only peer-reviewed journal of international affairs at the University of Oxford. Set up by graduate students of St Antony's College in 2005, the Review has carved out a distinctive niche as a cross-disciplinary outlet for research on the most pressing contemporary global issues, providing a forum in which emerging scholars can publish their work alongside established academics and policymakers. Past contributors include Robert O. Keohane, James N. Rosenau, and Alfred Stepan.
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