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'Security'implies the state of being free from danger. Therefore, national security should mean that the nation state is free from any danger or threat. However, the state is not only the physical manifestation of land borders, but comprises of its people, for whom the state exists. Hence security of the society, groups and individuals from both military and non-military threats is paramount. Hence, the components of national security such as military, political, economic, environmental, strategic and so on are not an end in itself, but are a means to an end and should focus on ‘people’.  One of the definitions which resonates this concept is the following: “Our national security is a state or condition where our most cherished values and beliefs, our democratic way of life, our institutions of governance and our unity, welfare and well-being as a nation and people are permanently protected and continuously enhanced.”


National Security and Human Development


In the traditional security architecture, one of the components of national security is ‘Human Security’, which focuses on the right of people to live with 'freedom and dignity’, ‘free from poverty and despair’, ‘freedom from fear and want’  having equal opportunity to enjoy all rights in order to fully develop their human potential. While human development and human security are inextricably linked, the former is a broader concept.  In the words of Mahbub ul Haq, the founder of the Human Development Report, “The objective of development is to create an enabling environment for people to enjoy long, healthy and creative lives” and to “expand the choices people have”. The human capability approach was also echoed by the Nobel laureate, Professor Amartya Sen who highlighted that fundamental to enlarging these choices is to build human ‘capabilities’, in which capabilities are defined as  “the substantive freedoms [a person] enjoys to lead the kind of life [they have] reason to value.” Thus, all forms of development for a country such as economic, social, infrastructure, political and so on are only intermediate steps in meeting the end goal of human development.


The conflicts and the challenges


As human well-being is the end goal of all nation states, building human capabilities which can enlarge people’s choices should be at the core of any decision which a state makes. However, in principle, these choices can be infinite and can change over time. Secondly, there are multiple goals, all of which may be important at the same time, but to different levels. Thirdly, human wants are unlimited, while the resources are limited. In the face of these inherent conflicts, there are certain challenges.


The first challenge for the nation is to establish a multidimensional framework that intends to measure the current state of human well-being and the intended future state, in order to identify the gap which needs to be bridged. The second challenge is to clearly identify the minimum acceptable level of well-being in multiple dimensions. The third is to measure the attainment of these goals by collecting appropriate data, which itself is a surmountable challenge due to the large volume and spatial coverage involved apart from measurement biases. The final challenge is to design policies which help in the attainment of defined targets, under resource constraints. This process is to be continuously monitored and corrective action is to be implemented by the state for the well-being of the citizens.


A control system framework


                                                     Figure 1 Closed loop control system


We can attempt to design such a system for attaining well-being of the society by borrowing some concepts from ‘Control System Theory’, a branch of Electrical Engineering. A closed loop control system is a system which uses a feedback loop to automatically change the output based on the difference between the input and the feedback signal. Such a closed loop system which is used in most of the automatic equipment is shown in figure 1. The society is analogous to the plant, where various processes are taking place and whose output is to be controlled. Government policies are analogous to the controller whose function is to apply a corrective action which results in the desired system output. An appropriate variable has to be selected, measured and fed back to the comparator where it is compared with the set point to generate the error signal for the controller. The controller then continuously applies a corrective signal in order to drive the system to its desired output. The response of the system depends on various factors such as system characteristics, the quality of the measurement for feedback and the effectiveness of the control strategy.


Complexities in the design


Analogous to a physical system, there are various complexities which are encountered in implementing this design. The first issue is that the society is a ‘non-linear, time variant system’ as its characteristics is ever changing and therefore its mathematical modeling is difficult. Second, the society as a system may not be ‘observable’ and ‘controllable’ and hence there may be a difficulty in selecting and measuring the process variable. Third, there are various ‘disturbances’ acting on the society which implies that the government policies should be robust in the face of uncertainties. Fourth, the system is very sluggish due to inertia which results in a long delay time between the implementation of the policies and their impact on the society. Lastly there is a possibility of system instability as the corrective signal is applied on a functional system, which implies that the process of testing the response of the system and its tuning has to be carefully executed on a complex system whose characteristics are virtually unknown.   Fortunately Control System Engineering has a solution to these problems and hence this framework is a good candidate for application in real world problems to help attain human well-being.


Focusing on measuring well-being


The most important factor is to select ‘what is of value’ which is targeted to be attained. Unfortunately, countries are obsessed with measuring higher per capita GDP as the measure of development while neglecting social and environmental aspects of sustainable development. But economic development is only one component of a society’s well-being and does not give a complete picture. Human Development Index (HDI), Better Life Index , Gross National Happiness Index, Genuine Progress Indicator, Happy Planet Index , ONS Wheel, National Accounts of Well-being indicators are some of the alternate attempts which go beyond valuing and measuring economic progress.


With the increasing acceptance of the overall concept of well-being, we can adopt some of the recently proposed indicators for measuring human well-being. The process of implementing the attainment framework is simpler if the goals are quantifiable, as has been undertaken in Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the UN or it may be difficult if the targets are not amicable to measurement such as determining the psychological well being and satisfaction level of people. Selection of proxy variables and appropriately designed surveys can help overcome this hurdle.




Human Development directly impinges on National Security and they are mutually self-enforcing. As the relationship is causal in both directions, it is essential that countries pay attention to both these aspects.  The challenge is to establish a framework, and design and implement a system which automatically corrects itself in order to achieve the end goal of human well–being. Till the time the well–being of each and every citizen is not achieved (at least to a minimum accepted level), the security of a country will continue to be threatened and the goals of the Nation will not be met.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.