Human security’s future in regional cooperation and governance?

This research discusses the complexity of the human security concept. How is it defined and how has it been accepted or rejected in the East Asian region, and ASEAN in particular?


Melissa Curley


Senior Lecturer

Faculty of Social Sciences

University of Queensland

Melissa is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Political Science and International Studies. Her research and teaching interests include Southeast Asian politics and international relations, Cambodian politics and post-conflict reconstruction, and non-traditional security in East Asia.

This research discusses the complexity of the human security concept. How is it defined and how has it been accepted or rejected in the East Asian region, and ASEAN in particular?

Key Takeaways

  • [to be added by the author]

How To Apply Insights

  • ASEAN’s policymakers should communicate in clear wording how the concept of human security relates to ASEAN decisions. How is the concept being implemented in the organization’s policies?

Why This Research Matters

The human security concept, as it emerged in the late 1990s, was perceived as a very broad concept, and has been criticized for a lack of methodological rigor. How has the concept been accepted and internalized by the East Asian region’s elites, and Southeast Asian elites in particular? The article discusses the potential usage of the human security concept in ASEAN – and some of the problems with the lack of clarity around it – through a retrospective analysis of how the concept was incorporated into ASEAN’s own policy over the first decade of the 21st Century.

Findings & Research Conclusions

What is the future of the human security concept in regional governance? In the case of ASEAN, this research concludes that the human security concept is too broad to function as the UN originally envisaged it. As South East Asian states have been struggling with the democratization project, and the human security concept embraces human rights within its framework, non-traditional security seems to be far more acceptable to regional leads, as the latter concept has limited its inclusion of democratization and human rights aspects. With respect to the contemporary situation (2022), the last decade’s development towards increasing regional rivalry and a regression of democracy in the region has only underscored the relevance of the conclusion in this article.

About Case Study

The article includes a case study that tracks how the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP) has implemented R2P, the right to protect concept. The case highlights the way in which the human security concept has been debated in an East Asian regional forum.

Research's methodology

For this research, I analyzed primary and secondary documents, drawing on evidence of what policymakers in the region have said, and which initiatives were undertaken.

It could be interesting to compare the findings in this research with findings from research on other regional organizations, for example African regional organizations. It could be useful for these regional organizations to learn from each other. As the concept of human security allows for a holistic perception of human well-being, this article may also be relevant for research that investigates how regional organizations are facing global health crises like Covid-19.


The research operates at a general ASEAN level, and so within-region individual country differences may not be accounted for here.

human security (UNDP definition)Firstly, safety from such chronic threats as hunger, disease and repression. And secondly, it means protection from sudden and hurtful disruptions in the patterns of daily life  whether in homes, in jobs, or in communities. Such threats can exist at all levels of national income and development (UNDP 1994: 23)
non-traditional security (NTS)[to be added by author]

Reference this research

Curley, M. (2012) Human security’s future in regional cooperation and governance?, Australian Journal of International Affairs, 66:5, 527-541, DOI: 10.1080/10357718.2011.570242

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