The Light Under the Bushel — Redefining US National Security by Leveraging Principles of Human Security to Address Underlying Causes of Asymmetric Insurgencies

by Dr. Elisabeth Hope Murray, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University & Dr. Jim Ramsay, University of New Hampshire

UAPI and Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security

10th Anniversary Summit, George Mason Arlington Campus, 2017

The primary purposes of the American institutions of governance are to secure and protect the citizens of the state; the belief that our government has the will and ability to do so is one of the reasons citizens continue to believe in the greatness of America. However, current US national security strategies have struggled to protect individuals from the social, economic, and political chaos incited by the emergence of transnational (asymmetric) challenges such as terrorism and other macro-regional threats such as climate change. If our government is intent on preventing the development of the next radical group, such as Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, or ISIS, the national security dialogue, and consequently the next strategy, must directly and intentionally incorporate principles of human security.  Most insurgent groups have definitive, foundational links to human security crises: food insecurity, water insecurity, increasing fragile livelihoods, inadequate access to economic burden sharing, and limited resource availability.  The US is the global leader in military humanitarian relief and is the only military in the world that has formalized global relief efforts through a separate office: the office of Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster and Civic Aid (OHDACA). OHDACA receives a separate annual budget allocation for three thematic windows: humanitarian mine action, humanitarian assistance, and foreign disaster relief, critical at a time where, from 2001 to 2011, the annual average number of people affected by natural disasters has risen by 232%, compared to 1990 to 2000.  Similarly, increased attention is being paid in the US Military to the cost-benefit of policies supporting the prevention and mitigation of social and ideological radicalization.  We propose that human security principles be integrated more formally into the US national security strategy.

In light of the challenges posed by climate change and the lesser, but still crucial challenges posed by asymmetrical terrorism, we say with certainty that now more than ever before we need the full integration of a human security paradigm to emerge in tandem with the current national security sector present in American policy making. Strategic plans specifically identifying the non-linear nature of wicked threats need to be initiated as soon as possible in order to begin limiting the power of these threats on American security specifically and human security more generally. We believe the Department of Homeland Security to be in a unique position to provide the leadership and structure to institute such critical changes.  With its dual focus on Emergency Management and Counter-terrorism, the foundational ideological and practical structures are already in place. These structures are critical, as without a structured, strategic approach to wicked security threats, a new American human security paradigm will fail. Our paper details specific areas where a greater focus on human security could relate directly to the increased security of the US state and its citizens.

Lead author Elizabeth Hope Murray may be reached at

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