A critical Human Security based policy recommendation for current Sri Lankan Security policies and practices by Priyanka Moonesinghe
The following paper was presented at the Strategic Forum on "Meeting the Challenges of Extremism by Advancing Human Security Centred Policies" organised by the NESA Centre for Strategic Studies and the Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka (INSSSL) held from 6th - 7th September 2017 in Colombo.
The central argument that this policy paper intends to establish is that Human Security can enhance our understanding of current Sri Lankan security dynamics, when it is evaluated through a Critical Human Security lens. I will first define the traditional concept of “Human Security”, arguing that it is limited in utility because it serves as a policy agenda or problem-solving method; operating within the framework of State Security. I will suggest that Human Security needs to be deconstructed as a theoretical approach as well as a policy practice. In doing so, I advocate a Critical Human Security Discourse which combines the de-construction and normative elements of Critical Security with the practical problem-solving aspect of traditional Human Security studies. This Critical Human Security Discourse will then be applied to countering violent extremism (CVE) in Sri Lanka.
The argument will advance by performing a theoretical critique on the provenance of security; raising questions about the sources of insecurity, the nature of the institutions which provide security and the process of securitization that currently occurs as “security politics” within the CVE context. I will suggest that Critical Human Security acts as a conduit for promoting human-centered security thinking from a theoretical stance as well as in public policy.
What is the concept of “Human Security”?
Newman identifies two strands of defining Human Security as either ‘“freedom from want” and/or “freedom from fear”’. The former connotes a positive freedom and the latter implies a negative freedom. Bajpai, on the other hand, proposes the inclusion of “bodily safety” and “personal freedom”, as he argues that ‘threats to safety and freedom are the most important’ elements of Human Security. Notably, all of these references pertain to physical, socio-economic and psychological security of individuals. Newman’s definition goes on to argue that ‘there is an ethical responsibility to re-orient security around the individual’. Therefore, we can establish that the traditional definition of Human Security claims to be oriented towards safeguarding the individual.
However, the counter argument states that it may be ‘impractical’ to employ such a broad definition of Human Security as this serves the purpose of securitizing any threat to the individual’s well-being. Human Security conceived in such a manner also makes it susceptible to the State ascribing the agenda of the significance of threats. Moreover, the above definitions; although referring to the individual in their conceptions; discuss normative concepts such as “freedom from want” and/or “freedom from fear” and suggest an increase or decline in Human Security as the solution. Such definitions are in-and-of-themselves contributing to a measure of security as well as giving a value judgment on what “freedoms” can be ascribed to Human Security. In order to ascertain an inclusive and non-quantifiable definition that can be applied to CVE, we need to theoretically analyze the critical potential of Human Security.
The current literature on the traditional Human Security discourse establishes four different approaches to the theoretical conception of Human Security.The first three operate within the State framework by fitting into the current Sri Lankan policy agenda and only the fourth definition fits the “critical” aspect of the type of theoretical discourse that this policy paper advocates. The first and most commonly cited concept of Human Security is in the 1994 UNDP Human Development Report which delineates Human Security as a development issue [citing threats from hunger, disease, poverty etc.] The limitation of such a concept is that it is susceptible to a State’s manipulation of the security agenda as it allows for processes of ‘interventionism to alleviate poverty and resolve the causes of conflict’. In the CVE context, the State can stoke ethnic or religious based poverty grievences in communities to gain or maintain power. Christie expands on this argument by stating that ‘broader conceptualizations of security have further entrenched the role of the State and justified the expansion of the State’s governance’.
The second approach to Human Security is narrower, and focuses on the ‘human consequences of armed conﬂict and the dangers posed to civilians by repressive governments and situations of State failure’. Although narrower in its conception, I argue that this type of Human Security still operates within the Statist paradigm, as it is concerned with situations of “State-failure”. An example here would be the US intervention in Afghanistan, in which it attempted to ressurect the failing state of Afghanistan by entrenching the US security forces within the country, which led to the complete collapse of the State itself. Therefore, this discourse problematizes the State-apparatus but offers no solution to the coercive elements of State-control and as result remains a non-critical approach to Human Security. It also does not add any conceptual insight to the CVE discussion at hand.
The third approach is the most policy orientated amongst the four as it ‘uses human security as an umbrella concept for approaching a range of “non-traditional” security issues’ (such as HIV/AIDS, dengue, climate security, food security etc.). This definition is the most conducive to to enhancing our understanding of CVE. This is because violent extremism is at its core a human security issue of this nature.
However, the limited utility of this type of Human Security is twofold. First, securitizing threats such as CVE or HIV/AIDS may have a negative impact on how the issue is dealt with, within the Human Security paradigm. This is because it provokes a military as well as State response to health issues or extremism issues. This therefore denigrates individuals who have HIV/AIDS, for example, or centres the discussion around a use of force response by the State – in the case of CVE. A current example of this would be the securtization of the virus Ebola and how the West’s conception of this as a threat led to strict airport controls and the osterizing of those eminating from the affected parts of Africa. Such an approach to Human Security, not only places issues outside the conventional security realm on the agenda, but “securitization” of non-traditional issues delegitimizes the Critical Security approach to Human Security.
Finally, this policy paper recommends adopting the fourth concept of Human Security because it is the most critical in its orientation and employs a combination of both the broad and narrow approaches. This approach will best enahance our understading of CVE in Sri Lanka as it aims to ‘integrate human security into security studies’ from a theoretical as well as a practical basis. In this context, Human Security can be utilized as a reflective theory that critiques the sources of security threats and their nature, the institutions which provide security, as well as the responses to insecurity. Especially in Sri Lanka, there needs to be a re-orientation of who securitizes and for whom when it comes to countering violent extremism. With regard to CVE, people or individuals must be the referent object of security and the State does not always have to be the one securitizing.
Critical Human Security in Practice
I shall now consider how the Critical Human Security Discourse serves the dual purpose of being a satisfactory normative concept as well as being applicable to violent extremism issues in Sri Lanka. In this regard, my research methodology focuses on analyzing the emancipatory aspect of the Critical Human Security Discourse and contrasting it with the “Securitization Theory” of traditional security politics. My research design looks at two schools of thought with regards to the Critical Human Security Discourse – that of the Copenhagen School and that of the Welsh School.
The Copenhagen School of “securitization theory” puts forth the moving of issues from “normal” (accountable/democratic) politics to “emergency politics”’ to justify immediate and often military responses to perceived threats. In this context, the national threat perception justifies the State’s recourse to countering violent extremism only through the State actor and often with force.
Currently, Sri Lanka is seeing influences from different religious ideolgies that are taking root in the Nothern and Eastern parts of the country. A major lack of education on Wahhabi and Salafi ideologies is the resason for why these ideologies gain prominence. Sri Lanka also faces ideological extremism in the form of the main religion practiced in the country – that of Buddhism. Radicalized Buddhists have galvanized political, religious and ideological support and this has resulted in violent attacks on minorities in the country. However, the biggest threat of violent extremism to Sri Lanka currently stems from the Maldives – through the influx of foreign terrorist fighters reutrining from Syria to the Maldives who are then radicalized and in turn propegate their ideolgy in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan - Maldivian Corridor is also used for the illcit flow of drugs in order to finance violent extremism.
The above two examples of violent religious extremism, and terrorism and radicalization as violent extremism in the country, or in any coutnry, would justify the State’s response to be often immediate, emergency politcs to counter them. In fact, if you look at the U.S. right now you can see that the mere threat of radicalized indivudals entering the country has promoted a host of State responses. This policy paper does not intend to argue that the State is not justified in securing its citzens. However, research has shown that the State having the monopoly on the use of force and using such force in instances of CVE does not actually remedy the problem and is possibly only a short term solution.
In conducting my research I found that the current trend of violent extremism in South Asia is caused by States operating in the interests of a coalition of subnational and ethnic groups, thereby politicizing the distribution of resources among these groups. This has led to gross inequality and uneven development patterns among the different sub-classes and has therefore resulted in violence in the region.This shows that rather than ensuring the security of its citizens, sometimes the State is the catalyst for violent extremism to occur.
Political culture has also led to ethnic solidarities and identification with religion and culture. This is perhaps a domestic cause of violent extremism in Sri Lanka. The politicization of ethnic and religious groups is apparent across all fronts, as previosuly mentioned, from the radicalization of Buddhism to the Islamic religion. This is the new trend of violent extremism in the country yet it is built on the bedrock of violent extremism perpetuated by the Tamil insurgency for over twenty five years of the civil war. In addition to this, Sri Lanka has also recently seen social violent extremism in the form of youth and student protests with regards to education rights.
The Critical Human Security Discourse that this policy paper advocates, approaches the “securitization” of violent extremism (illustrated in the above Sri Lankan case study) from the Welsh School’s theoretical perspective. The Welsh school’s approach sees Human Security as a means to emancipation, i.e. - freeing people, as individuals and collectivities, from contingent and structural oppressions’. This concept must be readily applied to the Sri Lankan case when approaching violent extremism in the country.
As I have discussed so far, violent extremism in Sri Lanka is multi-faceted, combining a traditional terrorism threat aspect with that of new human security issues. As drivers of violent extremism are varied and context-specific, the countering mechanism needs to be context specific as well. There needs to be contextual analysis of the relevant push and pull factors that contribute to the propelling of violent ideologies and practices. My research has shown that the human security centered policies that need to be put into practice in Sri Lanka must take the form of a multi-pronged strategy that covers religious and societal elements.
One such iniative is that major community engagement projects are required. This is because minority populations in the country often live in isolated communities. So there must be a move to promote inter-communal living, so that the different groups can integrate. This is the biggest challenge in Sri Lanka, as with the minorities there is hardly any national sentiment because of past grievances and a strong Sinhalese vocal majority voice. National sentiment must not be imposed top-down by the State but must start at a grass-roots level and build communities that are centered around inter-faith and inter-communal living.
In tandem with this policy, there must be education policies that allow for children from a young age to mix with people from different religious and ethnic backgrounds. Segregated schools are catalysts for promoting extremism. Once again, the critical human security discourse would emphasize that local community leaders or non-state actors implement such policies.
Finally, this paper does not call for a broad based reform of the Sri Lankan education system or for the State to implement broad based religious or cultural programmes. Rather, it emphasizes small community projects that start from the grass-roots levels. The most important thing that the Critical Human Security Discourse advocates is the emancipatory aspect of security. People in Sri Lanka to be enlighted about security that is not imposed by the State. There must be an understanding that every individual has a right to freedom from fear and freedom of want. Such a mindset does not exist in the country as we have had an almost thirty year civil war based on ethnic solidarities and prior to this the country experienced three eras of colonization and imposition of security by our colonizers. Thus, it is only natural for our country to think of security as relative to the State structure and not that of individuals or collectives.
The social re-orientation of security in Sri Lanka will ensure that violent extremism can be curbed in the long-term and it is for this trajectory that this policy paper ultimately advocates.