Vol: 2020-22

Humane Security1): nature as a sovereign subject

Jeju Peace Institute2)

As we are well aware, the traditional concept of security covers mainly security among states. The international community could not fully deny the natural state of anarchy, which was characterized by Thomas Hobbes. Many believed that weak countries allying with the strong is the best way to secure weak countries’ national security.

However, since the end of the Second World War in 1945, there has been no serious war among states. Furthermore, after the end of the Cold War, non-state threats such as terrorism, climate change, and pandemic are threatening the lives of people, replacing war among states.3) Against this backdrop, the concept of human security emerged to cover those non-traditional threats to human lives.4) It epitomized ‘freedom from fear and want.’

However, the human security concept created controversy among the members of the United Nations (UN). It underlined the importance of human rights and the need to limit the scope of sovereign rights of the UN member states, leading major powers to interfere in smaller countries’ domestic realm in the name of humanitarian intervention. Thus, smaller countries could not get on board with this concept and even opposed it.

Under the leadership of 8th UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the UN issued two reports5) to reassure the member states that protecting individuals and respecting state sovereignty can be achieved at the same time, emphasizing that the two elements do not conflict with one another. Instead, the reports claim that the human security concept can reinforce state sovereignty because it seeks to improve government capacities required to address the newly emerging challenges to individuals. The reports were issued to narrow down the differences in the UN members’ views on limiting their sovereignty. However, the international community still does not fully uphold the human security concept. As a result, the function of the Commission on Human Security is in a stalemate.

Under such a circumstance, the Jeju Peace Institute (JPI) would like to present the concept of Humane Security. Although the concept sounds similar to human security, it is entirely different because it deals with a separate realm and suggests a new approach emphasizing the need for harmony among humans and nature to address the pending phenomenon. Traditional security and human security concepts treated states and individuals as subjects, respectively. However, the recent COVID-19 crisis has revealed that we also need to focus on the relationship between humans and nature for humans’ survival. It is obvious that the current COVID-19 crisis occurred not because of conflict between states or individual humans but because of disharmony between humans and nature. Therefore, with their limited analytical frameworks, traditional and human security concepts cannot fully capture and explain the ongoing phenomenon. In other words, the recent crisis has taught us to shift our worldview and incorporate nature as the new subject in the security discourse. With this new security concept, we will be able to understand the underlying causes of the newly emerging crisis and find solutions to it.

Specifically, while the emergence of the human security concept has shifted our focus from states’ security to that of individuals, Humane Security shifts our focus once more toward nature. Thus, Humane Security highlights the importance of an equal and fair relationship between humans and nature, while also paying attention to nature’s character in generating the sources of new threats such as climate change and pandemic. In short, the Humane Security concept claims that securing nature’s security is an essential precondition for the security of both humans and nature.

This new concept of Humane Security starts from the question regarding whether human beings are the sole sovereign subjects who have the inalienable right and authority to use and exploit nature, which they consider as the object, to their own benefits. However, the benefits humans obtained through such a high-handed attitude against nature came with a price as nature gradually began to lose its viability and sustainability. Consequently, nature started to respond to humans’ overuse and exploitation in the form of environmental degradation and pandemics. That is why we are experiencing challenges such as climate change and frequent outbreaks of epidemics and pandemics that threaten human lives.

Under such circumstances, the traditional and human security concepts have limits in explaining the ongoing phenomenon when they only deal with issues occurring between states or non-state violent groups or individual humans. To fill in the gap between the concept and the real world, an expanded and comprehensive concept of security is necessary. To fulfill this need, we should accept nature as a sovereign subject, not as an object. In other words, humans and nature should form a relationship that mutually respects each other as equal subjects. Only when such a relationship is established can humans refrain from over-exploiting nature and seek a harmonious and sustainable relationship with it.

Such a relationship between humans and nature will reduce and eventually bring an end to crises such as climate change and pandemic that we experience today. Refusing to accept nature as an equal partner, which shares this earth with us as equal beings, will only worsen the ongoing conflict between nature and humans.

We would like to remind you that the Jeju Forum 2019 addressed ‘resilience’ as part of the Main Theme. Humans can use nature for their benefits, but we should also secure nature’s resilience, which enables it to bounce back to its normal state. In short, we will be able to find ways to live in peace with nature and secure the safety of human lives only when we view nature as a sovereign subject and secure nature’s resilience. Such a concept will usher us into a new world of peace and prosperity. In this regard, we offer a terminology of “Humane Security” to encapsulate this new concept.

Under this concept, all nations need to foster multilateralism to nourish a cooperative relationship and establish global governance for the international community. What the international community should do to achieve Humane Security is not an alliance among nations but an alliance among humans and nature as equal sovereign subjects.

We suggest to intellectuals to further evolve the concept of Humane Security and expect the Jeju Forum 2020 to be a venue to discuss and elaborate on the concept.


1) Humane Security is different from Human Security. The differences are emphasized in paragraphs 5 and 6.

2) Bong-hyun KIM, President of the Jeju Peace Institute, suggested this idea of “Humane Security.” This manuscript is written by Seung-chul CHUNG based on President KIM’s idea.

3) According to Yuval Harari’s book “Homo Deus,” about 56 million people died throughout the world in 2012; 620,000 of them died due to human violence (war killed 120,000 people, while crime killed another 500,000). In contrast, 800,000 committed suicide, and 1.5 million died of diabetes.

4) Human Development Report (1994) United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

5) Human Security Report of the Secretary-General (2010); Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 10 September 2012 (2012) United Nations.


기획: 정승철 연구위원
편집: 장훈필 연구원