Human Security = Enhanced Collective Capacity = State Interest

April 29, 2009

I was reminded of our many discussions about why it is in a state’s self interest to adhere to the human security road map when reading this blog post by Dan Drezner discussing the role of global governance in responding to the Swine Flu outbreak.  In it, he quotes John Ikenberry’s defense of the need for global collective action by states.

National governments need to strengthen their capacities to monitor and respond. International capacities – at least the sorts that I propose – are meant to reinforce and assist national governments. This international capacity is particularly important in cases where nations have weak capacities to respond on their own or where coordinated action is the only way to tackle the threat. When it comes to transnational threats like health pandemics, everyone everywhere is vulnerable to the weakest link (i.e. weakest nation) in the system, and so no nation can be left behind.

Human security calls upon states to recognize and act upon this need for global cooperative endeavors to protect and enhance individual security in our most vulnerable communities around the world.  Again, not simply because we should do the right thing by helping those in need, but also because it will serve to enhance our shared collective capacity and as Ikenberry emphasizes, “states need collective capacities so they can make good on their own national obligations to respond.”

That said, as one commenter to Dresner’s blog points out, in our current global community of nations states, this is easier said then done.

There’s a natural tension here between a caste of international mandarins, largely unaccountable, who are supposed to put global concerns over their individual national ones, and the basic accountability that comes from representative national governments.  In the first case, it’s questionable whether international mandarins would adhere to the rules during a true crisis if it meant sacrificing their nation’s vital interests. In the latter case, the accountability that comes from representative governments is supposed to insure that government puts the good of the individual nation’s people above others… and it becomes difficult for these governments to mandate sacrifices, because they can then be replaced through the ballot.

While I acknowledge these tensions, I don’t think they have proven or will prove to be insurmountable obstacles to effective global cooperation. Why?  Because publics around the world recognize their futures will be in part determined by the effectiveness of our global governance architecture — the failure of it in the case of the global financial crisis, the success of it (we like the WHO in HK) in grappling with health pandemics.   People will select their political leaders based on that leader’s abilities to effectively manage and respond to these global realities.  A recent example — the US public elected Obama, despite his clear message of shared sacrifice.

— LMC

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