It is not just that seeking to placate the public at home with braggadocio overseas will make it harder still for China to garner allies and respect. There is a deeper problem. Many countries around the world admire, and would like to emulate, the undemocratic but effective way that China has managed its decades of growth. If China’s domestic politics look less stable, some of that admiration will wane. And even if things can be held together, for the time being, admiration for China does not translate into affection for it, or into a sense of common cause. Economically and militarily, China has come a long way towards regaining the centrality in Asia it enjoyed through much of history. Intellectually and morally, it has not. In the old days it held a “soft power” so strong, according to William Kirby of Harvard University, that “neighbours converted themselves” to it. Now, Mr Xi may know how to assert himself and how to be feared, at home and abroad. But without the ability to exert a greater power of attraction, too, such strength will always tend to destabilise.
Furthermore, valuing human security requires addressing “threats to life, health, livelihood, personal safety and human dignity” without regard to the sources of these threats, whether governmental, man-made, or natural. The United Nations Development Program has adopted a similarly broad definition. With respect to threshold conditions for humanitarian interventions, using the broad concept of human security has some advantages. It eliminates the need to establish target state culpability for its peoples’ suffering; and, in fact, often some government action or inaction at least partially explains even famines, and the effects of droughts or earthquakes. Determining whether threshold conditions are satisfied is also simpler without the need to apply specific legal or moral categories such as basic human rights or genocide. Furthermore, it is argued, the concept calls attention to preventing humanitarian emergencies from emerging, instead of focusing so much on armed interventions as reactions to emergencies. But the breadth and scope of the concept also is challenging for use as a threshold condition for humanitarian interventions. Virtually any kind of widespread, systematic suffering or threat to people becomes a security issue possibly addressed by an armed intervention: many situations around the world thereby satisfy a requisite condition for justifiable intervention. The concept’s breadth erases or postpones justifying priorities, both by states trying to address their own peoples’ needs and by states or organizations readying to rescue those not secure under their own governments. As a threshold condition, the breadth of the concept of human security only make more common problems with properly selecting which of many humanitarian emergencies warrant others’ use of armed force to alleviate human suffering (see IV. C. below). For these and other reasons, the concept of human security is not often invoked in articulating threshold conditions for interventions.