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Supreme Court Decisions Put Human Security at Risk

July 06, 2022
Michael Barnett


In analysis for Political Violence At A Glance, an IGCC-supported blog dedicated to political violence and its alternatives, Michael Barnett, professor of political science and international relations at George Washington University, analyzes how U.S. Supreme Court rulings on abortion, gun control, and environmental regulation will harm human security.

The recent US Supreme Court decisions to strike down New York’s century-old gun control law, nullify the constitutional right to abortion, and disarm the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) represent a grave threat to the security of Americans. The media sometimes portray these decisions as part of the “culture wars.” But this framing misses that at stake is not just whether Americans can live together but whether many will live at all. The Supreme Court’s decision has major implications for the physical security of Americans. So-called culture wars can kill.

These decisions go to the heart of what is called human security. In the aftermath of the Cold War, the international community revisited many of its orienting concepts to see if they were fit for purpose. This was a moment when the international community awoke to the fact that threats to peoples’ lives and well-being were not coming from a conventional military attack from another state. Instead, people were dying and at risk from civil wars, genocide and ethnic cleansing, state repression and indifference, paramilitary and terrorist organizations, extreme poverty, pandemics, climate change, and discrimination and violations of basic human rights. Building on Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s four freedoms speech and other international precedents, the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights divided human security into economic, food, health, political, environmental, community, and personal security. Conventional military threats remained, but these other threats were killing in much greater numbers.

Nontraditional threats, the thinking went, could not be addressed by traditional military means. States should develop and strengthen democracy, the rule of law, and access to markets. It was especially important that the most marginalized and vulnerable benefit from these reforms. Rather than relying on deterrence, states should reform existing and build new international institutions that best served all states and peoples. Policies that aligned with human security could bring peaceful order at home and abroad.

Read the full blog post at Political Violence At A Glance.