Ideas drive political action. They come from the deep well of philosophical and religious belief. They are disciplined by science, and flourish through the medium of literature and the arts.
And through UN resolutions.
Once upon a time, like the past 5,000 years, the safety of the individual was taken to be dependent on a ruler’s benign protection. Virtually to this day the notion of national security, even in the age of nuclear deterrence, has rested on protection of the individual from a 20-megaton punch by means of the massive apparatus of the state in the form of retaliatory or pre-emptive ICBMs, and ballistic missile shields. How safe we all felt.
Now, slowly, and with painstaking deliberation, we are starting to civilise ourselves.
We are beginning to realise that human security is less atavistic, more existential. It has to do with the individual and the children – the survival and dignity of the person – food security, clean water, adequate sanitation, educational opportunity, minimal crime, effective health services.
And, perhaps most startling of all, that the state is there to serve the security of the individual, not the other way around as it has been since The Beginning.
All this is quite revolutionary. There are revolutionaries, intellectual ones, in and around the United Nations. Mahbub ul-Huq and Inge Kaul conceived the idea of Human Development Index, back in 1990. Amartya Sen conceived the idea of human security a decade later. The Millennium Summit launched an Independent Commission in 2000 to develop the idea. The result was the report ‘Human Security Now’ in 2003.
In its World Summit Outcome Document of 2005, the UN stressed the right of people to live in freedom and dignity, free from poverty and despair. Governments recognised that all individuals are entitled to freedom from fear and from want, and to develop their human potential. The General Assembly undertook to discuss and define the notion of ‘human security’ (resolution 60/1, para. 143). Thus a global idea is born.
Five years later in May ‘10, the General Assembly convened a formal debate, taking note of the ‘on-going efforts’ to define the notion of human security. It asked the Secretary-General to seek the views of member states.
So the UNSG duly did this, submitting his report to the Assembly in April ’12, identifying the ‘core values’ of human security and a ‘common understanding’ of the concept. First up is climate change. Next are peace-building, poverty alleviation and health. The Assembly is invited to endorse the common understanding, the ways the UN can strengthen human security, and for governments to bank-roll its realisation.
On 6th of this month, the Assembly did just that, in resolution A/66/L.55Rev. 1. And so an idea grows into maturity. Over a decade after conception.
The same month leading scientists warn of a looming global disaster in the form of final collapse of the Arctic ice cap within four years, with ‘terrible implications’ for potential methane release that could accelerate global warming.
Ideas, human ideas, are conceived too late, born too painfully, struggle to develop too late.
And we race against time.