New security challenges - global and regional priorities

Seminar organised by the International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global Responsibility (INES) in co-operation with SGR and Dept of Peace Studies, Bradford University

Bradford University; 23-24 May 2002

Summary by Stuart Parkinson


This seminar was arranged so that member groups of INES could discuss security issues in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. In particular it was focussed on discussing alternatives to militarisation, including conflict prevention, disarmament and peace in the context of sustainable development.

The seminar began with a presentation by Prof. Paul Rogers, former Director of the Dept. of Peace Studies, which highlighted the importance of addressing the causes of conflict, especially poverty. He pointed out the short-sightedness of increasing spending on arms (which globally stands at about $800 billion a year) while doing little to tackle, e.g., third world debt.

Two talks followed on efforts to control weapons of mass destruction. The first by Dr David Krieger (Nuclear Age Peace Foundation) reviewed the threat of nuclear weapons. It drew attention to the new US-Russian nuclear weapons (SORT) treaty, and argued that it will do little to reduce the threat of nuclear conflict (see lead article). The second talk, by Dr Simon Whitby, looked at biological weapons, in particular the collapse of the negotiations to tighten up the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention following the withdrawal of the US last year.

The next session focussed on civil security policies. SGR's Vice Chair, Dr Phil Webber, argued that serious pursuit of sustainable development was a necessary route to peace and security, through the technologies and policies which prioritised social and environmental goals. Dr Chitralekha Marie Massey of the UK then spoke about the importance of human rights agreements and the International Criminal Court.

The first session of the second day focussed on regional security issues. Dr Philip Smith of the Netherlands discussed the difficulties of deploying peace-keeping forces in trouble spots around the world. He highlighted the problems of using soldiers for these activities when they have been trained for conflict, but pointed out that civilian peace-keepers are very vulnerable to attack. Dr Alla Yaroshinskaya presented a Russian perspective on disarmament issues. She pointed out the currently inadequate security of Russian nuclear materials. She also argued that the former Soviet countries had gone much further than NATO countries in nuclear disarmament. Two speakers from Dept of Peace Studies then discussed non-violent conflict resolution, using two case studies, Sri Lanka and Lebanon, to highlight the issues. One issue they highlighted was the problems that aid agencies have in working in these areas, and discussed how these organisations have developed their approach over the years.

The next session discussed ways of improving international security. Dr Owen Greene of the Dept of Peace Studies discussed the role of international bodies in three areas: conflict prevention; reaction to conflicts; and post-conflict peace building. He argued that international security bodies need to streamline their procedures for monitoring and preventing conflict. He also argued that in some cases, where prevention had failed and a conflict was threatening human rights, than proportionate military intervention can be justified. Prof. Jiri Matousek then outlined the challenges in trying to stop international terrorists. He highlighted the possibility of such people gaining access to weapons of mass destruction, and pointed out that attacks on infrastructure (e.g. water and energy supplies) can have major consequences.

The seminar concluded with discussion of the main issues and priorities for action. It was highlighted that Sept 11th has done very little to change conventional attitudes to conflict. The 'respond to violence with violence' edict is still very strong, and few still understand the importance of tackling root causes such as poverty and racial intolerance.

On the final evening, we were treated to a rare presentation by Prof. Sir Joseph Rotblat, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (and now 93!), who outlined the history of nuclear weapons (including his involvement and subsequent resignation from the Manhatten Project) and the very real danger that these weapons still pose.