The concept of Non-Traditional Security

THE CONCEPT of Non-Traditional Security (NTS) in Southeast Asia revolves around such crucial challenges and issues as climate change, resources scarcity, infectious diseases, natural disasters, irregular migration, food shortages, people smuggling, drug trafficking, and transnational crime. According to scholars, NTS as a concept, refers to the “challenges and threats to the survival and well-being of peoples and states that arise primarily out of non-military sources”.

These challenges have beset the region beginning from the late 1990s through the following occurrences:

i) Devastating impact of the Asian financial crises crippling the economies of the region which in turn led to: a) the political downfall of President Suharto paving the way for democratization in Indonesia; b) political backlash in Thailand that saw the replacement of one government leader by another; c) crack within Malaysia’s dominant political party; d) outbreaks of ethnic conflicts in Indonesia between the Muslim and Chinese communities; e) massive displacements of labour migrants forcing host countries like Malaysia to send back migrant workers to their home countries;

ii) Trans-border pollution caused by forest fires in Indonesian provinces;

iii) Transnational impact of infectious diseases like the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome  or SARS, H5N1, and Zika;

iv) Human trafficking/smuggling;

v) Drug Trafficking;

vi) Scarcity of water, food, and energy;

vii) Natural disasters like Typhoon Haiyan which battered the Philippines on November 8, 2013;

viii) Climate change impact; among others.

All these NTS threats confront human security of Southeast Asia. 

Scholar Mely Caballero-Anthony further explains that NTS threats do not stem from competition between states or shifts in balance of power; they are often caused by human-induced disturbances that upset the fragile balance of nature distressing states and societies. Furthermore, NTS consequences are difficult to reverse or repair owing to their trans-boundary impact. The latter makes it crucial for ASEAN member states to collectively work together to contain or mitigate the impact of NTS challenges.

These dangers defy unilateral remedies and need comprehensive – political, economic, social – responses, as well as humanitarian use of military force since they are often transnational in scope, said Caballero. 


The crux of the matter is the region’s recognition and acceptance that NTS issues are real; that their grave consequence are directed at people weakening human security.

With this realization follows the shared commitment to strengthen ASEAN institutions like the ASEAN Political-Security Community, the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children, the ASEAN Centre for Humanitarian Action for Disasters, the ASEAN Initiatives on Climate Change, and other regional human security frameworks, and ensure that these respond proactively, appropriately, and dynamically to NTS threats, including the immediate operability of mechanisms through agreements with bigger powers like the U.S., Japan, Australia, partner agencies in humanitarian operations, and international organizations like the UN, International Red Cross, among others, to urgently respond to the needs of victims.

More importantly, ASEAN should now look outside the box and discard the old notion of “comprehensive security and regional resilience based mainly on economic development and regime security”. The new trend is multi-level security governance that recognizes the role of other non-state actors in the management of regional security.

Caballero-Anthony was precise when she said, “since the object of security is no longer just the state (state sovereignty or territorial integrity), but also people (their survival, well-being, dignity), both at individual and communal levels”, effectively giving premium to people through multi-sectoral approaches, and lesser on traditional state-centric approach, the active involvement of non-state actors from local communities, civil society organizations, the private sector, regional organizations, and other international agencies, is both critical and indispensable. Governments certainly can’t do it alone.

With the 2007 ASEAN Charter professing “to place the well-being, livelihood, and welfare of the peoples at the center of the ASEAN community building process” and “to strengthen existing bonds of regional solidarity to realize an ASEAN Community that is politically cohesive, economically integrated, and socially responsible in order to effectively respond to current and future challenges and opportunities”, among other provisions, all the key elements, pertinent factors, and relevant areas, as earlier discussed, should be integrated into a pro-active ASEAN response to NTS threats, thus genuinely fleshing out the declarations of the 2007 ASEAN Charter. 


For comments, you may reach the writer at [email protected]./PN


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