by Barbara von Tigerstrom. Oxford and Portland: Hart Publishing, 2007. 256pp. Hardback. £40.00/$84.00. ISBN: 9781841136103.

Reviewed by Aparicio Caicedo, Research Fellow at the Gertrude Ryan Law Observatory and Academic Researcher at the Garrigues Chair on Global Law of the University of Navarra. Pamplona, Spain. Email: acaicedo [at]

(Also available en Español)


The Chinese journalist, Shi Tao, is serving a 10-year prison sentence for e-mailing a Communist Party document about the Tiananmen Square massacre to a pro-democracy group in the United States. According to Amnesty International, 62 prisoners of conscience continued to be held in Cuba for their non-violent political views or activities. The Colombian army killed, a few months ago, 17 members of the terrorist group FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), bombing their camp while they were sleeping in Ecuadorian territory, a few meters from the international border. During the seventies, several military dictatorships of Latin America, led by the Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, implemented the international operation known as “Plan Condor.” That strategy resulted in the killing of hundreds of persons who opposed and denounced the abuses perpetrated by their governments. What do all these acts and incidents have in common? They were executed in the name of “national security.” The survival of the state was the supposed source of legitimacy for all these abuses. Virtually every country in the world has invoked “national security,” in some moment of their history, to kill, capture or silence its citizens. On the great majority of these opportunities, no real human lives were directly threatened by the activities targeted by the governments involved. And, maybe, the worst part is that the law, both international and domestic, has been shaped to let this happen. An incredible need to change the security paradigm, that is the leif motif behind HUMAN SECURITY AND INTERNATIONAL LAW by Barbara von Tigerstrom. The work presents a challenge to the traditional “national security” concept, an academic backgrounder to undercut the nation-state as the center of the security universe in international law.

The book soon engages in attacking the philosophical foundations of the state-centered approach that characterizes the national security issue on both the political and academic debate. The idea is to focus the discussion and, hence, the institutional frameworks of the international order, on a “people-centered paradigm:” (p.7). “Human security was developed in reaction to views of security dominated by realist and neorealist perspectives, which, . . . focus on states as the primary actors in the international system and define interests of states in terms of power, especially military power” (p.50). As von Tigerstrom states, this approach has been criticized because it takes national security “as an end in itself rather than merely an instrument for the protections of the individual” (p.50). That is completely true. The realist conception [*680] of national security, as deeply embedded in our mind most of the time, is taken for granted. Whose security was defended on the bombing of 17 FARC members in the middle of the night by the Colombian army across the border in Ecuador? Most of the people say it was a matter of self-defense for the Colombian state. So, when you ask if any real person was at direct threat of been killed that night, they will tell you that it was state security what was at immediate risk and had to be defended. So, the killing of 17 persons, not in combat, is justified to save a non-existent being, the state, rather than to save real human beings. Something is missing here.

Von Tigerstrom defines the concept of human security based on the Human Development Report of 1994. That document, from the United Nations Human Development Program, seeks to introduce a new concept of human security, “which equates security with people rather than territories, with development rather than arms,” according to its own text. It examines both the national and the global concerns of human security. The report defines human security as “safety from such chronic threats as hunger, disease and repression and protection from sudden and hurtful disruptions in the patterns of daily life.” The document delivered to the World Conference of Social Development in 1995, outlines seven main categories of human security: economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community and political. The book analyzes the potential of the new concept on many areas of international law such as human rights and health.

Von Tigerstrom warns about the possibility of legal opportunism in over-expanding the concept of human security: “Part of the rationale for introducing the concept of human security was that it would shift attention and resources away from military concerns toward other areas important to human survival and well-being. To designate something as a security issue lent it a degree of importance and urgency that may be useful from an advocate´s perspective. . . . The term ‘securitisation’ has been coined to refer to this process . . . Securitisation presents an issue ‘as so important that it should be dealt with decisively by top leaders prior to other issues’. . . . However, it has also negative connotations and consequence [if it] justify emergency actions, . . . such things as secrecy, rights violations, and a lack of democratic accountability” (p.43).

HUMAN SECURITY AND INTERNATIONAL LAW elaborates a strong theoretical argument to change the state-centered approach. As many scholars of international relations will find, it is an attempt that seeks to ameliorate the role of the state on the institutional design of the world order. There is a lot of road to travel yet. Like Professor Rafael Domingo, the academic pioneer of Global Law, has stated: the International law, as we know it, is based on the consolidated principle of self-determination conceived as an exclusive right of nation-states. In this context, human beings are given the status of secondary actors. Security, as many other fields of human activity, needs a more sophisticated approach, new answers which the actual international regime cannot find anymore.

© Copyright 2008 by the author, Aparicio Caicedo.