XIV ECPD International Conference A NEW HUMAN CONCEPT OF SECURITY Belgrade City Hall, 26 October 2018


 XIV ECPD International Conference


Belgrade City Hall, 26 October 2018










After a decade in which the European Center for Peace and Development (ECPD), established by the United Nations University for Peace, placed considerable effort and resources on systematic research into the general topic “Reconciliation, Tolerance and Human Security in the Balkans”, including annual international conferences, it was decided to focus more specifically on human security within a new thematic framework on the Future of the World between Globalization and Regionalization. With continuing regional instability, real, practical and legally guaranteed measures are necessary to ensure human security within and between countries. Building on its success in assembling many partners and friends both from the region and around the world, across many fields and the political, religious, academic and development domains, ECPD now needs to project its efforts forward to achieve a deeper and wider understanding of the next essential directions to reinforce human security in the region.

One step in this process is to reconsider the concept of human security itself in a broader framework that integrates the many interrelated problems that the world is facing. Political issues can no longer be treated separately from economic, social and environmental challenges. Security needs to be raised above its narrow political or military definition to put humans back at the centre. This is the theme to be explored in this conference, from various perspectives, in the search for ways forward towards a new human concept of security.


A new definition of human security

ECPD is able to draw on its long experience in political, religious, cultural, economic and academic discourses to explore an expanded definition of human security.

Security has too often been described only in political or military terms as the protection of national borders and the ability to prevent or counter attacks on the nation and its people. The result has generally led to an arms race as each side tries to gain an advantage over the other, with the ultimate extreme being mutually assured destruction by nuclear weapons which, if used, would exterminate most of the human race. In fact, this has only led to increasing insecurity in the name of "national security".

At the root of this insecurity is a lack of trust between nations and peoples, often justified by a general lack of trustworthiness. States cannot be relied upon to respect their agreements, leaders blatantly lie and manipulate, and there is no mechanism of enforcement for these failures of trust. Even at its most basic level, security can only be improved by increasing trust, and creating supporting mechanisms of governance that can ensure that agreements are respected and defaulters are punished. Without trust, peace is impossible.

Beyond this, we need a much broader definition of human security, one that puts "human" at the centre. Each human being needs to be secure in the expectation that her or his basic needs will be met, health and well-being ensured, potentials developed through education, meaningful work provided, opportunities to raise a family enabled, social and cultural environment enriched, and spiritual development facilitated. Each person has a right to a life of dignity and respect, and to opportunities for service. Much of this is encompassed it what is now referred to as sustainable development.

The UN 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), founded on a commitment to leave no one behind, provide a detailed inventory of the dimensions that should be included in human security. The agenda calls for a fundamental transformation in human society and its institutions, with the SDGs representing a paradigm shift for people and planet. Every effort to support this transformation will increase human security.

The world is changing at an accelerating pace. Despite rapid technological progress and levels of wealth unheard of in the past, many negative trends underline the forces of disintegration that are tearing down outmoded institutions and patterns of thought, while in the shadows still-embryonic innovations show that counterbalancing forces of integration are also at work.


Forces of disintegration

With the renewed polarization in the world, we again see rising arms expenditures draining resources that could be used to meet social needs. Many countries are experiencing a resurgent nationalism and xenophobia as nativist politicians cultivate fear based on ignorance of the "other". Those in Europe with a long memory see parallels with the 1930s. There is a lack of constructive political leadership.

As the Balkans struggle to heal the wounds of their relatively recent conflicts, it seems as if much of the world is going in the other direction. The United States government has turned inward, rejected multilateralism and become unpredictable. Europe is struggling to maintain some semblance of unity despite Brexit, while Russian nationalism and expansionism are growing, with the Balkans region pulled between the two. China is extending its influence around the world, including to the Balkans. Political insecurity is increasing, while the United Nations seems paralysed by its basic flaws.

The present economic system, especially in its neoliberal form, leads naturally to the increasing concentration of wealth and power in fewer and fewer hands, with return on capital favoured over labour, giant multinationals more powerful than governments and escaping from national regulation, increasing levels of government debt and reduction in social services, and an inability to create employment for all those who need it. It is a system by and for the rich. A few countries have helped significant segments to rise out of extreme poverty, but half the world population still struggles to meet basic needs. The resulting increasing economic instability since the last financial crisis is another source of insecurity.

The modern economy is driven by the rape and pillage of the planet's natural resources, increasing food insecurity and water shortages. Our addiction to the cheap energy from fossil fuels is driving accelerating climate change with rapidly rising costs of natural disasters and the threat of mass migrations, setting back development efforts and threatening social chaos. A mass extinction of the planet's biodiversity is underway, reducing at the same time its capacity to support a human population.

The information and communications revolution has created marvellous tools for human exchange, the advancement of knowledge and improved understanding, but we see instead addiction to social networks, the manipulation of public opinion, "alternative facts" repeated until they are accepted as truth, the general invasion of privacy, the privatization of science and knowledge, and new forms of criminality and cyberwarfare.

In all these ways, the world is increasing its levels of economic, social and environmental debt to unsustainable levels, threatening present society and leaving a heavy burden for future generations. For many of today's youth, it is a future without hope. The Balkans, trapped as they are between political conflicts, religious tensions, ethnic divides, tragic histories and long memories, have been a prominent victim of these forces of disintegration.


Forces of integration

Fortunately, all is not negative in today's world. Alongside these forces of disintegration that are attacking the world order of sovereign nations, there are premisses of a new world being born. The forces of globalization have revealed the oneness of humankind in all its diversity. Experiments with alternative forms of social and economic organization are thriving. Young people full of hope are devoting their lives to acts of service. These efforts are still small scale and often go unnoticed, but they have the potential to expand rapidly as the old world weakens and disintegrates.

Given the bankruptcy of the materialistic economic and social system, new values are emerging. The design principles for a new economic system are that it should be socially just, altruistic and cooperative, create meaningful employment for everyone, and eliminate poverty. Each person is entitled to a place in society with dignity, leaving no one behind. Fulfilment will be seen to come not from material acquisitions and wealth, but from refinement of character and a life of service to society. Education should enable everyone to develop their potential, with gender balance and an appreciation of diversity. Science and religion will come to recognize their complementarity and collaborate.


The place of the Balkans

The Balkans have a unique role to play in this emerging new society. The potential is there to show that even the deepest wounds from the past can be healed. Its diversity of cultures and religions should be seen as an asset, a strength at a time of rapid change. It may not be possible to control or even influence what is happening in the larger world, but within the Balkans, learning communities can foster a culture of change, building unity and solidarity across that rich heritage of cultures and peoples. The best insurance against crises from outside is community solidarity. For the older generations, this means going beyond tolerance and reconciliation to an appreciation of differences as contributions to a larger whole, able to create new solutions to age-old problems. For the younger generation  that did not experience the traumas of the past, their creativity knows no bounds. Together, all can build a new sense of community from the bottom up, with innovative forms of participative governance, and experiments in just economic relationships drawing on all the wealth-creating potential in the community. The best way to resist the forces of disintegration is to create stronger forces for integration.

For ECPD with its academic and educational mandate, the challenge is to continue to develop a new curriculum for the Balkans integrated within regional, continental and global contexts. What training is needed for a new generation of Balkan leaders? What neutral retelling of Balkan history will help to overcome past misunderstanding and prejudices? How can education in the region rise above its ideologically burden of ethnocentric myths and  exclusive nationalisms to become truly pluralistic? What research is need on institutional and economic transformation? What interdisciplinary approaches will help to break down barriers between disciplines and social functions?

For the youth in particular, the need is for exchanges that cross national, religious and cultural barriers, discovering that there is really no difference from the "others". Youth can build ties of friendship and trust that can last, and can work together for unity in their countries and communities.


Themes for strengthening human security

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can provide one useful framework for identifying the themes that contribute collectively to human security. Eliminating poverty and hunger, providing for good health and well-being, ensuring quality education and gender equality, providing for clean water and sanitation and affordable and clean energy, creating a sustainable economy with decent work for all, reducing inequalities, innovating in industry and urbanization with sustainable infrastructure and communities, moving to responsible consumption and production, acting on climate change, protecting life below water and on land, and ensuring peace, justice and strong institutions supported by partnerships, all form a comprehensive package of measures for human security. Sustainability could even be seen as the long-term definition of human security for present and future generations.

Within the Balkans, there are some specific challenges to human security that need to be addressed.

The region is a cross-roads that is particularly subject to the dynamics of migration in and out of the region. With the collapse of communism, many people emigrated, creating a Balkan diaspora that could be turned into a useful asset. Instability elsewhere has produced a flow of refugees and migrants into and through the region. Despite popular opinion, most studies show that immigrants, properly received, become an economic and social asset.

For economic security, priority should be given to creating employment for everyone, to use all the wealth-creating capacity in each country, correcting the bias in the western system where capital investment is privileged. There is great potential in the region for scientific and technological innovation, but this means creating enabling conditions for startups and appropriate accompaniment. This may require balancing the openness of the economy with some protection of local activity. People will accept a just system of taxation if they receive services in return. Provision also needs to be made for the poor, the elderly and the disadvantaged, since human security should be for everyone.

Particularly important in the region is ensuring cultural security. Each group, whether majority or minority, should be encouraged to maintain their culture and traditions as a heritage to be both preserved and shared, with an openness to learning from others as well. Those of mixed heritage can draw on the strengths of all their traditions in creative new ways. Again, diversity should be seen as a strength, not a threat.

Underlying all this is the need for the security of shared values. Within the diverse religious traditions and intellectual frameworks of the region there is a common ethics of humanity behind the concept of human security. The focus should be on what unites, not divides.  Much can be done to encourage interfaith sharing, such as devotional gatherings in local communities to discover common approaches to spirituality. Interfaith dialogues could also explore responses to the rise of materialism and the loss of spiritual values on the one hand, and the dangers of religious radicalization on the other.

Reflection is also needed on the appropriate levels of governance to optimize the different elements of human security. A framework of multi-level governance can help to determine which issues are best addressed in each local community, by a national government, regionally such as in the European Union, or globally in the United Nations. Often empowering sub-national or local levels of governance can ensure that decisions reflect peoples' own needs and priorities.

One support to the strengthening of human security in the region would be for ECPD and other partners to engage in a foresight process, exploring emerging issues and visions of the future. This could include preparing scenarios of alternative possible futures. These possible futures would take into account food, water, energy and land security, consumption of natural resources, over-population and both national and global governance systems. Such tools can make choices clearer for decision-makers in government and the economy.

As the above illustrates, a new human concept of security can open the door to creative reflection on a brighter future for the Balkans region. The ECPD conference is one place to foster this, and to spread this new thinking across the region.


26 October 2018







 XIV ECPD International Conference


Belgrade City Hall, 26 October 2018








European Center for Peace and Development (ECPD)  
University for Peace established by the United Nations

ECPD Headquarters
Terazije 41
11000 Belgrade
+381 11 3246-041;
+381 11 3246-042;
+381 11 3240-673;

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