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Security and development have traditionally formed distinct discourses in international studies. Development has in the past been defined as economic growth and well-being, and recently it has expanded to include capabilities, opportunities and choice. Meanwhile, within the international relations discourse, security has been interpreted in a variety of ways: as individual, human and state security. These policy domains concern different actors and focus on different threats—internal and external, existential and otherwise. The focus of each threat often differs in time horizon: development threats are a generational endeavour, while security threats are often immediate.
Nonetheless, in an increasingly interconnected and complex world, it has become clear that security and development are inextricably linked, especially in least-developed countries. Threats to security can have socio-economic roots, including contests over natural resources, spillover effects of environmental degradation, economic and social inequalities, economic and political migration, and natural disasters, among others. For over 20 years, development has been linked to security through the concept of human security. The relationship can be complex: lagging development can lead to grievance, and conflict can threaten development. The 2000 United Nations Millennium Declaration emphasized peace and security as prerequisites for poverty reduction and recent stocktaking on the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) reaffirms that the countries most affected by conflict, instability and displacement have fallen farthest behind in poverty reduction. This often becomes a vicious cycle as economic shocks—including those associated with environmental pressures, migration and food price shocks—may reduce security.
As the world sets a new global agenda for sustainable development, security and development research bridges these two domains. The intersection of security and development in fragile systems (both in less-developed and, increasingly, middle-income countries) is complex. One example of such complexity is the affect that violence against healthcare workers has on service delivery and public trust.
One way to understand fragility is through a systems framework. Unlike a state-centric model, systems thinking facilitates a deeper analysis of the linkages between the symptoms and causes of fragility, as well as the impact of various processes on one another. Fragile systems are settings where low security and low development interact to form complex challenges for both development and security.
Incorporating a gender perspective within a systems framework, helps to identify structural inequalities based on social norms. Gender analysis, for instance, can illustrate how men and women experience insecurity and fragility differently, thereby informing more effective policy. In this way, an improved understanding of the relationship between structural inequalities and security and development processes could contribute to increased peace and security.