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An Analysis Of The Human Need Theory Politics Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 3793 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This statement has been adapted from ‘Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology – Reducing Direct and Structural Violence: the Human Needs Theory’ by Daniel J Christie. Prof. Daniel J Christie is a Professor of Psychology at the Ohio State University. He is the former head and President of the Division of Peace Psychology of the American Psychology Association. He has served as President of Psychologists for social responsibility, and undertakes work on both local and international programs that enhance the educational and economic opportunities of minorities and Indigenous ethnic groups.

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The above mentioned statement has a profound and deep meaning and stresses on the importance of Human needs for the management of Peace in the society. I would like to agree with the author’s statement and in my opinion, in order for peace to prevail in the community, society and the world; the basic human needs like security, identity, well-being and self-determination have to be satisfied. Human needs act as very deterrent force in the description of Human behaviour and in their communication with other beings in the society. Every human being irrespective of origin, race, colour, caste has individual needs that are of great significance to him/her and which he tries to fulfil and satisfy throughout his life through his actions and deeds.

In this essay I’ am mainly going to deal with these needs which act as a driving force in every human beings life and how these needs affect conflict and its resolution & management. I will also be looking at the importance of the Human Needs theory and criticism towards it, the role human needs play in Conflict formation, the birth of a conflict, its prevention and analysis. In my opinion, the infringement or denial of Human needs and wants leads to torment, agony and social deprivation which eventually leads to conflict.

Significance of Human Needs Theory

The Human needs theory is significant and important as it shows us how conflicts can be managed and resolved through the satisfaction of basic human needs. Human Needs can be defined as ‘State of felt deprivation and necessity which have to satisfied.’ (Burton, 1990)

Burton in his book ‘Conflict: Resolution & Provention’ states that the nature of human needs remain constant and find their air under the changing environment. An example for this is the Human need for safety, which remains constant and is only visible when there is a perceived threat towards it. Needs form an integral part of a human being and actions are directed towards the satisfaction of these needs. According to Daniel J Christie, Human Needs policy is critical of the policy of deterrence, which relies on the assumption that a would-be aggressor will refrain from committing violence against an opponent because of threat of retaliation (Christie, 1997). Human Needs theory is an alternate to the theory of power politics. Human needs theory lays stress on the satisfaction of needs essential for human beings, required for his survival, which when compromised act as a major source of conflict. An example in this regard is the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict, which has been going on for so long now. This conflict is centred towards the unsatisfied security and identity needs of the countries. The Palestinians are of the opinion that their identity, their land is being denied to them whereas the Israelis lack the sense of security because of the numerous killings and suicide attacks as their land is also unrecognised by its harbouring countries. Therefore, the only viable solution to this conflict is when the identity needs of the Palestinians and the security needs of the Israelis are addressed to and worked at. One of the main advantages about the Human Needs theory is its wide applicability and coverage.

The Human Needs theory can be used in all the strata of community, for intergroup and intra-group disputes, and even conflicts which are international in nature. The Needs theory stresses on the source or the origin of the dispute and looks towards resolution by satisfying the needs of the parties involved. Another reason why the Human needs theory is treated as an asset is because it works towards uniting human beings, makes us understand how the other party feels when their needs are deprived and provides us with a platform to aid in Conflict Resolution and Management.

Criticism towards the Human Needs Theory

Even though the utility of the Human needs theory has been widely discussed, I would just like to bring to the reader’s attention that there are some fallacies and criticism regarding these theories. The most apparent and major criticism comes in the way ‘Needs’ are identified. Is there any concrete or stable way of mapping or identifying Human needs? In a conflict situation it would be difficult to judge which needs of the parties have been unmet and not satisfied. Another major criticism this theory faces is regarding the prioritising of the interests. The question raised here is how some needs can be prioritised over others? For ex: How can we prioritise need for well being over the need for security? These are all important questions, to which the researchers have not been able to provide answers.

Another censure to this theory is the fact that it is not practical that parties in conflict would sit down together and try to identify self and the other’s needs. These facts all suggest more research and work into the Human needs theory but there have been many real life cases, where the application of this theory, have bought successful results, and this makes the theory favourable to mediators and negotiators across the world.

The Human Needs theory revolves around the satisfaction of Human Needs and so now, let us studies in detail what exactly a need is and how its deprivation can lead to conflict.

Need- Fundamental Element of the Human Needs Theory

Needs are defined as an integral part of the Human Being.

Burton, J. (1990). Human Needs Theory. In J. Burton (Ed.), Conflict: Resolution and Provention

It is defined as a state of felt deprivation which needs to be satisfied. It is something which is needed by Human beings to lead a healthy and secure life. Needs are different from wants as these are required by the human beings to lead their normal life. Needs are non-negotiable and irreplaceable whereas wants are desires which arise out of needs.

For example: Need for food- Anything to satisfy hunger

Want Tandoori Chicken for food.

To make the concept of needs clear, let us have a look at Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. The hierarchy of needs, as suggested by Maslow is a linear progression of needs which have to be satisfied by the Human being.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs


The above illustrated diagram is the pictorial representation of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is illustrated using a pyramid. The lowest or the bottom most level of the pyramid consist of the basic survival essential needs such as need for water, food, shelter etc, whereas the more complex needs are placed at the top of the pyramid such as self actualization – need for development, creativity. Maslow suggests that once the basic or the lower level needs of the pyramid are satisfied and met, the human being can move up to higher needs which are more complex in nature.

Thus needs are non-negotiable and have o be met and satisfied. It is when these needs are not met, when conflict occurs and the Human Needs theory acts as a tool for mediators and negotiators to use the needs of the parties towards the resolution of conflict.

Now, let us look back at the original statement made by the author. The author says that in order for peace to prevail or be created, at least the human needs of security, identity, well-being and self-determination have to be satisfied. Let us now look at these individual elements and study how they contribute towards the formation of a conflict, violence and eventually how peace can be attained through the attainment of these needs;

Need for Security

There has always existed an adverse relationship between the need for security & conflict/violence. The need for security is a basic need for a human being which he experiences at all times and places irrespective of environment or situation. But, this need for security is not always apparently visible and it only comes into the open or the light when it is threatened or when fear is instilled. Thus, fear always acts as a prominent inhibitor of the security and safety needs of the Human being. As long as the human being does not feel safe or secure, there will be no peace prevailing over him, in his family and in the society. Thus, the feeling of security is of utmost importance and this need must be satisfied in order to maintain peace and harmony in the society. Now, let me illustrate with the help of an example the result of need for security not being met;

Ex: The Serbian invasion into Bosnia (1996), Pakistan invading India (1971).

Need for Identity

The need for identity is very important and required in every human beings life. The need to distinguish oneself from others, be identified in a group, have a unique piece of resource or asset which no outsider has access to or can share with, all these are attributes resulting from the need for identity. The example I had mentioned before about the ongoing fiasco between the Palestinians and the Israeli’s is a result of unmet need for identity on the part of the Palestinian government and people. The Palestinians feel that by taking the land, the Israelis are trying to invade their identity and try to rob it off them.

Ex: Israel- Palestinian Conflict.

Need for Well-being

The need for well-being refers to the needs which are to be met by the human being to ensure development and sustainable growth. These refer to the acquirement of materialistic and immaterialist resources which are required by the human being to attain self-growth and development. If these needs are not met, they can result in disturbances and eventually lead to a conflict. By ‘well being’ the author refers to those people who live above the poverty line and are well to do. The need for well-being arises out of the basic needs and in order for the human being to lead a happy and healthy life; these needs have to be met.

For Example: The Government of India issued a new relief package for the people in its population who were below the poverty line. The relief package ensures every family a house built of concrete and enough ration and resources to last them for every month. This plan was deployed by the former President of India, Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam and was a huge success as the government was successful in alleviating the condition of the impoverished section of the population to some extent.

Need for Self-Determination

The need for self-development is similar to a self-actualization role portrayed in the Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. The need for self-development stresses on the need for providing equal opportunities to all human beings to improve the standards of their living. This level of need helps the human being to establish or estimate his potential and shows him how he can reach or attain that potential. This need when unmet can result in a dispute which can be intra-personal, interpersonal, Intra-group or intergroup conflicts and disputes.

For Example: The Racism/Apartheid regime is a good example. The minority, that is the blacks, were not awarded the same facilities awarded to the whites which eventually led to their oppression, slavery, and this went on for many years before they attained the need for self-development through inspirational leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela..Etc, who finally broke the apartheid regime.

If the need for security, identity, well-being and self-determination are met, then conflict can be avoided and peace will prevail as the human being will not fell threatened or under pressure by any external force. Now that we have seen the how each individual element mentioned by the author contributes to the formation of conflict, Let us have a brief look at how conflicts are formed when these needs are not met or satisfied…..

Formation of Conflicts/ Conflict Evolution

Even though there are many steps in the formation of conflict, there are always some common factors which lead to the conflict or which are responsible for the conflict evolution. Mainly, conflicts are characterized by the emergence of aggressive positions and their eventual resolution and settlement through determining the underlying causes of the conflict and employing problem solving tactics (Jeong H.W, 2010). Unmet needs are one important source of conflict and they mostly lead to conflict evolution or conflict formation. Lack of feeling of security, identity, well-being and self-determination can result in misunderstandings between the parties and can eventually lead to conflict. The Human Needs theory provides parties with strategies to deal with conflicts and resolve them in a mutually peaceful manner without the use of violence or shed of blood.

Prof. John Burton is renowned for his work with the theory of human needs. In Prof. Burton’s view, the needs most salient to an understanding of the dynamics of destructive social conflicts are those for security, identity, recognition and personal development

(John Burton: Deviance, Terrorism and war; the process of solving unsolved social and political problems, Oxford: Martin Robertson, 1979).

Human Needs theory supports the integrative approach to conflict resolution and aims at a win-win solution for all the parties involved in the conflict. Conflicts are analysed by studying and identifying the needs of the parties involved in the conflict. The unmet or the unsatisfied needs which are contributing to the conflict are identified and using the integrative approach a negotiated settlement is sought after for all the parties in the dispute. This is one of the main advantages of the Human Needs Theory and this integrative approach is the undermining factor of this theories success towards conflict resolution and management, when compared to other conflict resolution theories.

Dealing with a conflict using Human Needs Theory

Now that we have seen how conflicts evolve when needs are unsatisfied or unmet, let us now approach the Human Needs Theory with a practical approach. I am going to demonstrate this with the help of an example. The example I have select is the ongoing tension and conflict between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir issue, which has been now going on for almost 6 decades. I will give a brief explanation about the conflict and then we will approach the conflict and map it using the Human Needs theory approach.

India & Pakistan-

The Kashmir Issue refers to a territorial dispute over the state of Kashmir, a state in Northern India. The main parties involved in this issue are the nations of India, Pakistan and the people of the state of Kashmir. China is also a stakeholder in this issue but we will ignore it for the sake of simplicity of the exercise.

India claims that the northern state of Kashmir is an integral part of India and approximately administers around 45% of the region which is constituted by most of the Kashmir valley, Jammu, Ladakh and the Siachen glacier. On the other hand, Pakistan claims that Kashmir should be a part of Pakistan and it holds around 37% of Kashmir including areas of Azad Kashmir, northern areas of Gilgit and Baltistan. The conflict is mainly between India and Pakistan with India claiming that Kashmir was, is and will always remain an integral part of India, whereas Pakistan refute this claim and maintain that Kashmir is a disputed territory whose fate must be decided by the people of Kashmir Many wars have been fought between the two nations, millions of lives have been lost to this conflict and a lot of blood has been she, with the conflict showing no signs of being resolved.

This is the case and we will just try to map this case with the help of the Human needs theory. This is just a practical example and in no way should the result be assumed to be accurate.

So, now let us try to approach this conflict using the Human Needs theory and let us examine the sources behind the conflict and look at ways possible for conflict resolution.

In the Human Needs theory the essence is to identify the needs which have not been met and try to work on them. It is always better when dealing with such complex conflicts to deal with a single party at a time. The Indian Government doesn’t want to let go of Kashmir as it feels that Kashmir has always been an integral part of India and should remain so. For the Indian government it is a need for identity which makes Kashmir so valuable for them, as Kashmir was once known as the gem of Northern India. There is also a need for security which the Indian Government is looking for because if Pakistan occupies the whole of Kashmir, the Pakistan militants can easily infiltrate into Indian land, which will be a cause for great concern.

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Whereas for Pakistan, they have always felt that they have got the raw end of the bargain after the partition in 1947, and it is their need for identity, well being and self-determination, which is driving them to occupy the whole of Kashmir. Thus Pakistan is looking to occupy the whole of Kashmir to make it a totally Muslim state under the control of its government, as the majority of the population in the state is of Muslims The major reason for the conflict is the lack of trust between the two parties because of the various wars that have been fought and the unhealthy tricks that have been employed by both the nations to gain the state of Kashmir. Now, that we have identified the major issues and the need deprivations relating to both the parties, let us put it in a table for better understanding and analysis.



Status/ Tactics to be employed

Underlying Need

Status/Tactics to be employed

Underlying Need

Integral part

Identity, security, respect

Want to own Kashmir fully

Identity, Recognition, Autonomy

Insurgency and Terrorism by Pakistan


India not adhere to two-nation theory

Recognition, Identity, consideration



Status/Tactics to be employed

Underlying Need

Status/Tactics to be employed

Underlying Need

Offer compromise

Trust, peace, security

Assist aid of United Nation

Respect, trust, subsistence.

Hold Peace talks

Trust, Identity

Reduce infiltration

Security, Trust

International Assistance

Wellbeing, self-determination, respect

Offer the whole of Kashmir in return for proposals

Peace, trust, well being, security.

Thus, we have managed to map to some extent using the Human Needs Theory the India-Pakistan conflict by identifying the needs which are relevant to the conflict and then formulating strategies to resolve these issues. The aim is to reach a win-win solution for both the parties in the conflict, as this is the essence of Human Needs theory.

Solving the Conflict

As said earlier, the key to Human needs theory is the identification of the needs that are unmet which would lead to the conflict. The Human Needs model states that in order for resolution both the parties must sit together and acknowledge each other and their views, opinions regarding the issue. This mode of acknowledging and stepping into the other party’s shoe is called as ‘Empathy.’ Empathy is essential in the process of conflict resolution and analysis. The major issue between the two nations is the lack of trust due to the number of wars and tactics that have been employed by the nations over the decades, and thus in order for the conflict to be resolved, trust building exercises are a must between the nations, and sitting together and empathising with each other is surely a start. Other examples of trust building exercises can include bringing troops back from tense areas and cooling the tense environment between the armed forces of the two nations.

Human Needs Strategies aims at the integrative approach and tries to make the situation win-win for both the parties, thus any solution which encompasses the issues relating to both the nation shall be considered and eventually the conflict would cool down and be resolved. If all the needs of the parties are satisfied, then it is probable o find a win-win solution.

Now we have seen the impact Human Needs theory makes on Conflict formation, analysis and finally resolution. Thus we can say that Human needs theory makes a profound impact and positive contribution to Conflict analysis.


The best thing about the Human Needs theory is that it would provide objective platform, transforming local political and cultural differences, making it relatively easier to understand the various sources of conflict and the whole process of conflict resolution. By focussing on the underlying issues and needs such as security, identity, well-being and self-determination, and their satisfaction, it becomes viable to attain the favourable win-win situation for all the parties involved in the conflict. Through this paper, I have tried to highlight in the importance of the Human needs theory and its contribution towards the process of conflict analysis, I have identified the various key fundamental elements of the human need theory and how their deprival can lead to conflict. We have also studied how conflicts are evolved and we have seen through the example of the India-Pakistan Conflict, how Human needs theory can be useful and significant in conflict analysis, management and resolution.

Thus, to conclude I will agree once again with the authors statement that “A just and sustainable peace will require, at a minimum, the equitable satisfaction of human needs for security, identity, well-being, and self-determination.”


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