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Volume 5 Number 4
10 August 1996

The end of the Cold War has released international relations from the straitjacket of global bipolarity. With its newly found freedom, world politics seems on a turbulent trajectory. This is evinced in the scope and magnitude of the new security agenda. By the end of 1994, 31 major armed conflicts were being waged in 27 countries around the world.1 Together with these traditional sources of insecurity, other newer forms of insecurity have emerged: global warming, the scourge of AIDS and other diseases, ethnic conflict, narco-trafficking, water and food insecurity, and a plethora of other non-military threats.

The current global strategic landscape has had a profound impact, on the one hand at the conceptual or theoretical level, and on the other at a more practical level.


Firstly, it has challenged traditional conceptions of security. Traditional state and militaristic responses to threats to security are increasingly inadequate to deal with the transnational, non-military nature of threats facing the planet`s population. The concept of security is being widened to include human security issues as opposed to that which simply affect state survival. In sum, key aspects of the new thinking on security includes the following:

  • Security is concerned not only with defence, but with the pursuit of democracy, sustainable economic development, social justice and the protection of the environment.

  • Threats to security arise not only from armed forces or challenges to sovereignty and territorial integrity, but also from poverty, oppression, injustice and ecological degradation.

  • Since threats are primarily political, social, economic and environmental, and since they derive from global and regional rather than strictly internal sources, policies should be less state-centric and more attuned to meet the basic needs of people.2

This holistic approach to security is critical, since it reveals the intrinsic links between peace, development and regional insecurity. For instance, economic decline that results in the emiseration of the population will inevitably fuel political and social unrest, which itself may ‘spill over` across borders.

Secondly, the changing strategic landscape has a more pressing impact: millions of people have been forced to flee from their homes, and in many instances, from their countries. This was most recently seen in the killing fields of Bosnia and Rwanda, when millions of refugees fled to neighbouring countries. It is estimated that one in every one hundred and fourteen people is displaced in the world today. For many of these, the impulse to migrate is sharpened by the fear of violence. For others the impulse is much more mundane: hunger, unemployment and the search for a better life motivate people to cross international frontiers.


Recognising the importance of these twin impacts, the Institute for Defence Policy has recently launched the Human Security Project (HSP) with the endorsement of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and with the financial assistance of the Hanns Seidel Foundation of Germany and the Foundation for Global Dialogue (FGD). As the name suggests, the HSP lies firmly within the theoretical parameters of human security as explained above. More specifically, the project aims to serve the following purposes:

  • to conduct and publish research in Southern Africa on the status of regional insecurity with particular focus on the movement of people and its associated effects as a source of insecurity;

  • to analyse the impact of such movement at local, national and regional level;

  • to liaise with researchers and government and non-government agencies in Southern Africa

  • to exchange information and results of fieldwork;
  • to analyse the international and comparative dimensions of population movements, insecurity and regional integration, and to draw lessons for Southern Africa;

  • to provide policy options and propose practical measures to deal with the problem of population movement and the associated regional insecurity in Southern Africa;

  • to enhance the local research capacity within the region through internships; and

  • to liaise internationally to share relevant information with other regions and with specific researchers, institutes and non-government actors with an interest in population movement, regional insecurity and integration in Southern Africa.

The objective of the project would be to provide in-depth research results and policy options to the national, regional and international communities on the issue of population movements, the associated status of insecurity and regional integration in Southern Africa, and on socio-economic, security, political and environmental consequences of such movements. By doing so the project in itself becomes a confidence-building measure between countries in the region. By sharing in the research and through interaction, the Southern African scholars and practitioners that participate in the project will be in a position to disseminate information and influence policy formulation. Furthermore, the project will generate collaborative mechanisms between the countries in the region and with different sectors in each country.

The underlying rationale for viewing regional insecurity through the prism of population movements lies in the intrinsic relationship between security and mass migrations. Population movement remains one of the barometers to analyse the level of security within a region or a country. Consider, in this regard, the mass refugee exodus from Liberia. However, population movement is not simply a product of regional insecurity. In many instances, it can become an independent source of insecurity and can thus exacerbate regional tensions. Examples are the role of Afghans in Pakistan with regard to small arms proliferation and drug-trafficking, or the souring of relations between Zimbabwe and South Africa due to the latter`s policy of enforced repatriation of illegal Zimbabwean immigrants in South Africa.


The Human Security Project is led by Hussein Solomon, previously of the Centre for Southern African Studies, University of the Western Cape.

  1. M Sollenberg & P Wallensteen, Major Armed Conflicts, SIPRI 1995 Yearbook: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security, Stockholm Peace Research Institute, Stockholm, 1995, p. 21.

  2. L Nathan, Towards a Conference on Security, Stability, Development and Co-operation in Africa, Southern African Perspectives: A Working Paper Series, 13, Centre for Southern African Studies, University of the Western Cape, Bellville, 1992.

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