Looking at the State-Sponsored Security Inadequacy from an Asian Lens

State cannot meet the required security measures because the State itself at times becomes autocratic and a source of insecurity among people.


Security is a frequently discussed topic in International Relations because of its dynamic nature. Over the years, many scholars have tried to define the term security on four main parameters: the referent, the composition of core value, the nature of threats, and the approach to security. They have also given different referents to security ranging from the State, the people in the State, to human collectivities, and subsequently changing the context of security. Regarding State-sponsored and state-centric security, I firmly agree with the statement mentioned in the title that states very often fail to provide adequate security to their citizens. This essay would touch upon certain vital aspects of the neorealist ideas of security. I will also critique them to show how neorealists need to overhaul their thinking process and address these inadequacies because, security has long been considered as a neorealists’ concern, but now it is losing ground.

To begin with, I will first show how the State is no longer the referent or the traditional provider of security and that the neorealist take has become obsolete in certain ways, although not completely. Second, I shall talk about state-sponsored violence where states arbitrarily misuse their powers to violate the security of their citizens. Third, I would focus on the argument of global issues faced by mankind, like environmental issues such as carbon emissions and climate change that are beyond the State’s mandate. Lastly, I would round off my arguments by indicating that states lack the foresight or expertise to deal with novel problems they might encounter, along with a serious struggle to define the parameters to judge which subjects or issues come under the umbrella of security and which do not. 

Analysis of The State’s Approach to Security 

The State traditionally has been considered as the primary political actor with its internal responsibility of safeguarding and enforcing its citizens’ rights, liberties, and external duty of protecting them from the harmful actions of other nations and non -state entities. Realists are under the belief that despite the unprecedented growth of these other actors, who are curbing the State’s authority on multiple fronts, the State shall continue to be the dominant force that meets the needs of security (Waltz, 1990). I contest the argument on the grounds that the State is too large to tend to an individual’s needs and relatively small to deal with the ever-rising regional and global issues. 

Additionally, the ever-expanding global economy and multinational networks have diminished the State’s autonomy and curtailed its ability to implement its socio-economic welfare schemes effectively. People now hold a range of identities wherein, apart from national, local, and regional identities, have also gained traction. That is something the State no longer holds sway over. Though it has not yet become obsolete, the State has become less relevant to an extent. Its authority is now being challenged and shared with other entities. It is no longer at the forefront of handling agendas like economics, politics, or environmental management because of influential social movements taking charge of it (Alagappa, 1998). Thus, the traditional perspective of state-sponsored security is no longer as prominent as it once used to be. 

Another reason why I believe the State cannot meet the required security measures is that quite frequently, the State itself at times becomes autocratic and a source of insecurity among people. The State has on multiple occasions violated the human rights of its very own citizens in the form of genocides, suppression measures such as censoring rights of expression, which are all under the guise of ‘National Security. A glaring instance of the State acting as an oppressor is The Rohingya Crisis. 200 Rohingyas have been killed, and 150,000 more displaced alone in 2012 from the Rakhine Province in Myanmar. This number of displaced persons was further intensified in 2016 to 600,000 after a series of Myanmar’s military crackdowns, causing them to flee to Bangladesh (Putra, Darwis and Rasyid, 2019). 

In incidents of state-sponsored violence like this, the downtrodden, women, minorities, and children are the most impacted factions. As a result, the afflicted often tend to consider national security as a threat to their security, which gives birth to multiple referents of security that are very often irreconcilable. What one must realize is that the state is just a means to safeguard the people and their rights and not an end in itself. The answer to this issue is that the people must be made the referent of security, though it stems from a partly classical liberalist and Marxist perspective, because while national security may uphold a certain order which benefits a particular class or community but threaten others thereby keeping ends and means in perspective (Dalby, 1992).

Elaborating further on a point made in the beginning, the State no longer has the wherewithal to address issues that go beyond its mandate, like population control, which also, in turn, fuels the contemporary environmental trends. Policymaking and technological progress have a huge role to play in determining the overall impact of population growth, more specifically, the rate of its growth. A state may have the capacity of fulfilling the necessities of life for a population growing at 1% per annum. However, it will be severely shorthanded at a rate higher than 3% as the population would double in 24 years instead of 72 years, not to mention, the working-age population in developing nations alone is projected to be larger than the world’s present total population by 2025 (Mathews, 1989). These kinds of issues also give rise to economic problems of unemployment and add more burden to the State’s already overwhelming responsibilities. 

Rapid changes in climate patterns and rising levels of the oceans have come about due to indiscriminate foresting, shifting agriculture, which is carried out to feed the ever-increasing number of mouths. For example, if the sea levels were to rise by 1.5-2 meters, then 20% of Bangladesh would be flooded and threaten almost half the population of Thailand (Oerlemans, 1989). This environment-generated stress will gradually begin to take on a more political dimension that will be the source of future conflicts with developing nations likely to face the brunt of it because of their severely underdeveloped capabilities to respond to emergencies.

Following the statements, I have made above, it is clear that arguing in favour of the State’s continued relevance in a socio-political setup is not the same as treating the State as a sole referent or considering state-sponsored security on par with national security. In light of these arguments, which are explicitly discussed and debated on various global platforms ad nauseam, the concept of ‘Human Security’ off late has gained a lot of attention. Shaped by Mahbub-Ul-Haq around the 1994 UNDP Development Report and then, later on, picked up by the Canadian Government, Human Development is considered to be the answer to traditionalist approaches to security. According to the Commission on Human Security, it has defined ‘Human Security’ as “protecting the vital core of all human lives in ways that enhance human freedoms and human fulfilment.” 

To elucidate further, Human Security puts forward two major tenets of security- First, the individual becomes the referent of security rather than on abstract entities like the State or nation; Second, it bases security on common values like an individual’s quality of life and dignity. As mentioned before, protecting only our territorial sovereignty will not guarantee absolute security from unconventional and transnational threats. Human Security offers an alternative to the traditionalist approach and has been taken up by various global civil societies and NGOs that were otherwise quite disconnected. Two examples are The International Campaign to Ban Landmines and The Coalition for the International Criminal Court. Human Security has also been frequently used to consolidate single-issue concerns, thus creating a comprehensive framework of action (Oberleitner, 2005). As is the case with any theory of security, even this is not without its flaws. 

Scholars and critics have deemed it to be too universalistic with nothing new to offer. They have also pointed at some conceptual flaws present in it by saying that securitizing problems and the people don’t necessarily deal with insecurity rather create false hopes and priorities. Some have echoed Human Security as becoming an ideological instrument (Acharya, 2001). The reason for going into human security at length was to show that some schools of thought have gone beyond the scope of restricting security solely to the State and that they are trying to address the variety of issues that we are facing, and we will face over many years.


To sum up my arguments, I’d say that several observations can be made to show as to why the state is not an adequate provider of security to its citizens but based on the points, I’ve listed out there are a few things one can further infer which I would like to enunciate.

Firstly, states very often lack the foresight to prepare or the required expertise to deal with novel and unusual problems or crises. One example that can be aptly made in this situation is the Coronavirus that is rampant across the world. It is one of the few threats that has managed to break past every precaution, every barrier of defense that has been in place for decades in countries all over the world. Every single nation out there is still struggling even after containing the pandemic to a certain extent. 

For argument’s sake, if one were to look at economic damages done to nations in the Asia-Pacific region, there has been a significant fall in production levels in the People’s Republic of China by about 50-60% from normal rates while the rest of developing Asia would experience a loss of maybe $22 billion under a moderate-case scenario (Abiad, Arao and Dagli, 2020). Crises with impacts on an unimaginable scale like these are very often unprecedented. Due to a serious lack of information and research, these problems have lingering effects under which the State might continue to reel from for a long time. 

Secondly, states very often struggle to define and decide the scope of security, i.e., the parameters of judging what issues are to be brought under its security mandate. For instance, neorealists do not believe internal or intra-state security to be a part of the national security mandate, although it is responsible for some of the most glaring security concerns. This is because of the assumption that states are cohesive, unified, and sovereign; hence internal security need not be considered seriously. 

Drawing from the point of states creating insecurity, citizens living within the boundaries of a nation may not necessarily identify with the constitutionally recognized State and thereby plunge a country into becoming a failed state. Thus, by limiting the scope of security to purely international competition and state sovereignty against other nations, states might induce counter-productive outcomes in terms of safeguarding its citizens. (Alagappa, 1998). 

The various assumptions and governing bodies that were set up to oversee the changing political landscape of international relations post World War 2 are now obsolete with these contemporary times. Environmental concerns, as repeated time and again, have transcended traditional state sovereignty which was already penetrated by the rapidly evolving phenomenon of globalization that has resulted in the movement of financial capital across the world. International developments have called for the need to broaden the definition of security to inculcate environmental, demographic and resource issues.


1. Abiad, A., Arao, R.M. and Dagli, S., 2020. The economic impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on developing Asia. 

2. Acharya, A., 2001. Human security: East versus West. International Journal56(3), pp.442-460. 

3. Barry Buzan, People, States and Fear: An Agenda for International Security Studies in the Post-Cold War Era. Harlow: Pearson Longman 1991 

4. Dalby, S., 1992. Security, modernity, ecology: The dilemmas of post-cold war security discourse. Alternatives17(1), pp.95-134 

5. Mathews, J.T., 1989. Redefining security. Foreign affairs68(2), pp.162-177. 

6. Muthiah Alagappa, ‘Rethinking Security’ in Muthiah Alagappa (ed), Asian Security: Theory and Practice. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998 

7. Putra, Bama Andika, Darwis, & Burhanuddin. (2019). ASEAN Political-Security Community: Challenges of establishing regional security in Southeast Asia. Journal of International Studies, 12(1), 33-49. 

8. Oberleitner, G., 2005. Human security: a challenge to international law? Global Governance: A Review of Multilateralism and International Organizations11(2), pp.185-203. 

9. Oerlemans, J., 1989. A projection of future sea level. Climatic change15(1-2), pp.151-174. 

10. Waltz, K.N., 1990. Realist thought and neorealist theory. Journal of International Affairs, pp.21-37. 

Aniruddha Venugopal is a third year Politics and International Relations student at the University of Manchester. With a passion for Public Policy and Political Economy, he aspires to be a career diplomat and enjoys writing research-intensive articles and papers on subjects that he believes people need to hear about and become more aware of in current affairs. With respect to selecting the topic of citizen participation, the reason for selecting it is primarily because there seems to be an increased need for governments to realize that only when they include the public in their policymaking processes can they make sound decisions that will benefit the country. One also must be aware of the various pitfalls that are also involved when bringing the subjects of a nation into the legislative mechanisms which the author has also highlighted. Thus, attaining the right balance between inclusivity and authority between the government and the governed is what this essay aims to address.

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