Libya: Human Security Challenges

BY PROF. ALAN HUNTER** | 11.09.2011

LibyaMapHuman Security conceptualisation analyses the interface between security, development and intervention. Traditionally, ‘security’ mostly referred to the security of nation-states in the context of military conflicts with foreign powers. Traditional concepts of security, protection of national borders, are certainly still relevant and legally enforceable, but more sophisticated concepts are needed to respond to security dilemmas in today’s globalised world. Global events and trends, particularly since the late 1980s, have to a great extent transformed the security agenda. One impetus was the changing nature of violent conflict, with more evident militarized intra-state, ethnic and religious conflicts. In the past two decades it became increasingly apparent that communities are also threatened by environmental destruction – induced both by climate change and direct human impacts – forced migration, epidemics including HIV/AIDS, and other issues.

In the 1990s, institutions and researchers began to propose alternatives to the conventional security agenda. In 1994, the UNDP extended policy debate using the then new concept of Human Security. The report set out a broad definition of Human Security, including seven core values: economic security, food security, health security, environmental security, personal security (freedom from fear of violence, crime and drugs), community security (freedom to participate in family life and cultural activities) and political security (freedom to exercise one’s basic human rights) (United Nations Development Programme 1990-). The main benefit from the conceptualisation should be that by considering these various aspects in a coherent way, as interactive and synergistic, interventions would be more effective than dealing with security on an issue-by-issue basis. Hopefully new leaders in Libya will be able to address many of these security dimensions: this paper highlights some of the challenges they will face.

In the 2011 conflict in Libya, many security dilemmas were apparent: the protection of Libyan civilians, the security of the regime, whether and how the UN or NATO should intervene, how to protect or evacuate foreign citizens and refugees, how to protect food and medical supplies in the midst of armed conflict. The was became one of those ‘complex emergencies’ which often raise legal, military and humanitarian issues simultaneously. International law and practice do not provide clear guidelines on such situations, and responses can be random, contingent on a variety of factors.

Political elites are faced with many challenges, but from the above brief discussion we can highlight three: threats to national existence, which most likely emanate from hostile foreign countries, typically neighbouring ones, who threaten invasion, occupation or annexation; threats to the regime (a change of government) or to the political system (for example a communist insurgency against a pluralist market economy); and threats to the well-being of the population especially vulnerable sectors. The emerging political apparatus in post-Gaddafi Libya will face all these challenges, and they are closely related to each other. The new Libya needs to survive in a ‘tough neighbourhood’ where there is always potential for cross-border military action; the new regime may face internal challenges for example from Islamists; and it needs to deliver welfare improvements to its population. Moreover, it needs to construct a new constitutional and human rights framework, and to rapidly expand the technical skills and knowledge base of its population. Evidently the various aspects of security are synergistic: a population which supports the political system and which has a relatively high level of education and health is better able to contribute to regime stability and national security.


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*Published in Political Reflection Magazine (PR) Vol. 2 | No. 3

** Prof. Alan Hunter is Director of Centre for Peace & Reconciliation Studies at Coventry University.

© Copyright 2011 by CESRAN


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