The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Understanding Human Security

The 2011 Johan Skytte Prize Lecture


Pippa Norris, John F. Kennedy School of Government, 110 Littauer Building, Harvard University, 79 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA. E-mail:


Since the end of the Cold War, security studies have broadened to take into account a wide range of non-military threats ranging from poverty to environmental concerns rather than just national defence. Security scholars, backed by international organizations and a growing number of national governments, have developed the concept of ‘human security’, focusing on the welfare of ordinary people against a broad range of threats. This has aroused vigorous debate. The first part of this article proposes an analytical model of human security. The second part argues that it is important to measure how ordinary people perceive risks, moving beyond state-centric notions of human security. New evidence is examined that draws upon survey items specially designed to monitor perceptions of human security, included for the first time in the sixth wave of the World Values Survey (WVS), with fieldwork conducted in 2010–12. The third part demonstrates that people distinguish three dimensions – national, community and personal security – and then explores some structural determinants driving these perceptions. The fourth part discusses why perceptions of human security matter, particularly for explaining cultural values and value change around the world. The conclusion argues that the shift from a narrow focus on military security toward the broader concept of human security is a natural response to the changing challenges facing developed societies, in which the cost-benefit ratio concerning war has become negative and cultural changes have made war less acceptable. In this setting, valid measures of perceptions of human security have become essential, both to understand the determinants of the concept among ordinary people and to analyze their consequences.