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Beyond Realism: Human Security in India and Pakistan in the Twenty-First Century

Beyond Realism: Human Security in India and Pakistan in the Twenty-First Century by Rekha Datta. Rowman & Littlefield, 2008, 153 pp.

Rekha Datta, an associate professor at Monmouth University, has written a slender volume that aims at highlighting the state of “human security” in India and Pakistan. She seeks to supplement, and not supplant, traditional understandings of security (as pertaining to a state and its “vital” interests) by developing a “people-centred approach” (p. 3). Unfortunately, the nine essays that make up the book are of uneven quality, and the overarching arguments neither illuminate the connection between traditional and human security nor demonstrate the causal mechanisms that perpetuate the severe regional tensions between the two states.

Human security, claims Datta, “involves a holistic approach to human welfare” (ibid.). She draws, often implicitly, on the conceptual framework of the “Capability Approach” in defining that welfare; it is correspondingly expansive, taking in prosperity (chap. 5), education (chap. 6), public health (chap. 7), and dignity for women (chap. 8).

Unpacking the manifold components of security is, in theory, a promising avenue of research (albeit “critical” in orientation and so not to the intellectual taste of all). But there is a reason why high politics is so named; certain affairs of state—those concerning its relationship with external actors perceived to be a threat—are perceived to assume an existential quality by leaders of states. Human security does not have this quality. It does not ask the Schmittian questions of friendship or enmity. Datta is correct to argue that security cannot be a priori attributed exclusively to abstract state institutions, at least not without considerable normative myopia. But unless her broad notion of human security can conceptually couple the welfare of its human subjects with the tokens to which modern states have ascribed existential salience—capital cities, national borders, shipping routes, energy sources—then it will be of little practical relevance to the neo-Hobbesian polity that persists to this day.

Take the following exhortation: “the age-old focus on interstate security needs to look beyond the countries’ borders” (p. 19). Aside from the grammatical mess, what is this “needs”? From where does this imperative stem? That—and not “how does one implement such a concept?” (p. 20)—is the unanswered question of Datta’s study. She concedes that it is an “underlying assumption” (p. 27) but then treats it as though it were an actual significant motivational factor in politics. There is no commentary on the relationship between war-fighting capacity and economic development, none on the link between demography and military power, none on the way in which the contemporary Revolution in Military Affairs is a post-industrial phenomenon closely dependent on modernization, and nothing on the ways in which the dangers of large-scale migratory flows from underdeveloped regions can threaten the integrity of the tokens mentioned above. If her argument is normative, then why are her developmental “aims” so disjoint from those of national security?

Many states place great store on increasing the economic welfare of their citizens (Philip Bobbitt has argued that this is the raison d’être of the emergent “market-state”), and some states do so at least rhetorically on the freedoms and welfare of others’ citizens (such a belief undergirds liberal interventionism). But a large and nontrivial number of states act as though their primary task is to hold in check the ever-latent bellum omnium contra omnes; Datta’s account does not persuade that human security is a prerequisite to preserving a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. Contemporary North Korea is an extreme example, India less so—feeding hungry people is not as important as defense of the border to political leaders because, presumably, the latter is perceived to be a prerequisite of the former. Datta’s argument withers on this objection. She sacrifices descriptive traction for lofty normative schemes, claiming that “the gap between realists and human security advocates is in the prioritization” (p. 23), which will come as a shock to both offensive realists in the field of international relations and South Asian statesmen who see absolutely no connection between a territorial dispute and violence against women.

Because the security-development nexus is so poorly theorized, the book effectively comprises two essays on traditional security (the territorial dispute over the province of Kashmir and the development of nuclear weapons) followed by four wholly disconnected essays on public policy and development. But the former chapters are woefully simplistic (remarkably, there is no mention of A. Q. Khan’s illegal proliferation activities over many decades, Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorist groups and its fractious relationship with Afghanistan, and the threats to India’s security from civil conflict), and the latter ones read like cursory policy briefs replete with faulty logic. Datta confidently states that “a democratic government cannot ignore public opinion for long” (p. 5) but offers no supporting evidence. She later insinuates that economic liberalization will support democracy and stability (p. 62). On both counts, the exceptions are so stark as to scarcely need articulation. Elsewhere, we are told that Pakistan is “the lackey of the United States” (p. 130), despite the enormous bilateral tensions over the latter’s activities in the tribal regions and Afghanistan and the former’s incursions across the border. It is suggested that the “impending [US-India nuclear] pact . . . can have a positive impact on the region if Pakistan and India can both benefit by such shared technology” (p. 126). This is either astonishingly naïve or deeply ignorant; it is wildly implausible both that India would share such technology or that the United States would consent to such an agreement with a deeply unstable state wracked by radical Islamic groups. Pakistan is predictably opposed to the pact, and no amount of benefits from “economic cooperation” regarding nuclear energy would assuage the fear of upsetting what Sumit Ganguly has called the “fearful symmetry” (what makes this so fearful is a question that Datta completely fails to address in anything other than clichéd terms, such as the “faultlines of history”).

This is neither a very good account of geopolitics, nor of development (each chapter is too short to do more than recite troubling statistics and repeat some exhortations about the pressing need for education, or health, or mutual understanding), nor the complex ways in which they interact. That is unfortunate, because a more nuanced understanding of that interaction could indeed induce the Indian and Pakistani strategic calculus to incorporate development as one tactic for reducing national security threats. Datta suffers less from conceptual stretch than conceptual bifurcation. As such, students of strategy will find the discussion of strategic interaction too simplistic and the discussion of human security largely irrelevant to their disciplinary needs

Shashank Joshi

Harvard University

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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