Human security’s future in regional cooperation and governance?


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?

The human security concept, as it emerged in the late 1990s, was perceived as a very broad concept, and has been criticised for a lack of methodological rigor. How has the concept been accepted and internalised 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.

My research 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.

Key Findings

The human security concept is too broad to function as the UN originally envisaged

    How to apply research

    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?
    It could be interesting to compare the findings in this research with findings from research on other regional organisations, for example African regional organisations. It could be useful for these regional organisations 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 organisations are facing global health crises like Covid-19.

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      About this research

      This research was independently conducted and did not receive funding from outside of the university.

      Recommended for

      UN Sustainable Development Goals

      This research contributes to the following SDGs

      What findings means

      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 democratisation 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 democratisation 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.


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

      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)

      The full paper is not available open access

      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

      Thank you to

      for helping to prepare this research