Was the recent NATO Summit in Wales a success? As with any such question, the answer depends heavily on the expectations of the respondent as well as the political perspective in which the answer is set. If the most important goal of the summit was to maintain solidarity among NATO members, the meeting was a great success. But the long-term judgment will be determined by the outcomes sought or hoped for in the final decisions of the allied leaders.
Under the co-sponsorship and patronage our colleagues at the Center for Security Studies (CSS), the biennial International Disaster and Risk Conference (IDRC) is making a welcome return to Switzerland. IDRC Davos 2012 will take place from 26 August to 30 August and will bring together the world’s leading risk and disaster experts to discuss a multitude of resiliency-related problems confronting global society.
In particular, IDRC Davos 2012 will provide its participants with expert analyses and opinions from the public and private sectors, international organizations, individual researchers and other risk and disaster practitioners. Plenary sessions will cover a host of topics ranging from urban risks and resilience to risks confronting the agricultural sector. The conference will also host a number of parallel sessions, poster presentations and training courses. Exhibitors include the Swiss Federal Office for Civil Protection, the United Nations Office for Disaster Reduction (UN-ISDR) and the Partnership for Environment and Disaster Reduction (PEDDR).
The event organizers – the Global Risk Forum – expect to attract 1,000 participants from 100 countries. And as the CSS will have a presence at IDRC Davos 2012, we at the ISN thought this would be an ideal opportunity to report on the highlights of this conference and some of the issues shaping risk and disaster management. Accordingly, in early September we will be discussing some of the key findings from IDRC Davos 2012 with Timothy Prior, who is a Senior Researcher within the CSS’s Risk and Resilience Research Group.
Switzerland risked a jumping in at the deep end on Tuesday. Deviating from the agenda, Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter confronted participants at the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit with his call for nuclear disarmament.
Burkhalter emphasized that if the risk of nuclear terrorism was to be minimized – the official aim of the summit – it was necessary “to do everything possible to reduce the sources of such an act”, namely to cut down the number of nuclear warheads and weapons capable material.
Switzerland’s foreign minister has a point. Even though the New START treaty marks a step towards the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons, there are still far too many warheads around.
For years, Swiss diplomats have tried to keep the debate on nuclear disarmament running and have pushed projects and international initiatives. Switzerland leads by example: it has ratified all multilateral disarmament agreements open to it and plays an active part in the work of multilateral bodies related to arms control and disarmament.
However, the country has not always advocated nuclear disarmament. In fact, until the 1960s, Switzerland followed quite the opposite course with its nuclear weapons program. Only after the Cold War it fully embraced a multilateralist approach to disarmament. All this became apparent during a lecture on Swiss security policy, held on 22 March 2012 at the University of Zurich.
Asia’s rise as a locus of international financial and economic power only increases the need to better understand how changes in important structural factors impact security dynamics. In that context, the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses held its 14th annual Asian Security Conference in New Delhi this month. The goal of the gathering, entitled “Nontraditional Security Challenges – Today and Tomorrow,” is “to capture the complex issues involved in Asia’s emergence as the new locus of international affairs in the 21st century and India’s emergence as a factor in the continent’s evolving economic, political and security dynamics.”
The IDSA, an ISN Partner, is an Indian think tank devoted to the study of global strategic and security issues. The organization is funded by the Indian Ministry of Defense, but functions autonomously. It has brought together academics, policy analysts, and officials from government and multilateral organizations, from various Asian countries as well as other parts of the world every year since 1999 to debate upon issues pertaining to Asian affairs.
Opening remarks at the conference were made by IDSA Director General Dr. Arvind Gupta, with a keynote address by Shri Shivshankar Menon, the national Security Advisor to the Indian prime minister. A special address was given by Roza Otunbayeva, former president of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan. This meeting addressed the issues of water security, climate change, natural disasters, energy security, transnational crime, and financial and economic security. Each of these challenges has a related impact on food, water and energy resources, as well as implications for national economies and the movement of people, all of which fall between the short- and long-term and consequently are contributing factors to traditional security threats.
The IDSA is at the forefront of an effort to narrow the perception gap between about the relationship between non-traditional and traditional security issues. The hosting of this conference by an India-based organization is highlighted by the fact that India sits at the cross-roads of several important gateways to global power centers: including for energy, economic and trade hubs, sea lanes of communication, and maritime power. This point was highlighted by Ajit Doval in the closing plenary session of the 2011 ISF here in Zurich. Certainly in the case of Asia, the emergence of new threats and the changing context of regional security issues will increasingly become the centerpiece of policy and research agendas around the world.
In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident in March, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Monday began a five-day Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety in Vienna. The objective, according to Director General Yukiya Amano, is to identify the ‘lessons learned’ from the accident and determine how to improve the Agency’s efforts to increase nuclear safety worldwide. To be sure, public confidence in the safety of nuclear power plants has plummeted in recent months, particularly in Japan and Germany where demonstrators have taken to the streets demanding nuclear energy be phased out.
A glance at the conference‘s stated aims and objectives, and at what the media has thus far reported, suggests that discussion of these ‘lessons learned’ has focused on : 1) safety in nuclear installations, 2) emergency preparedness, and, 3) effective first-response to accidents. While the savvy reader will know that the focus of international conferences can change as unpredictably as the weather, a distinct pattern is emerging.
On Monday, the conference adopted a Declaration on Nuclear Safety which expresses the participants’ resolve to enhance nuclear safety around the world. Among the measures it proposes are : 1) enhancing knowledge about nuclear safety; 2) promoting international cooperation and coordination around the issue; and, perhaps most relevantly to Fukushima, 3) meeting the public expectation to provide “factually correct information and assessments of nuclear accidents.”
But the response to the Fukushima accident must address not just the technical and political issues that have dominated the conference so far but, moreover, how we fundamentally think about nuclear safety. What the Japanese people experienced – an earthquake, followed by a tsunami, followed by a nuclear disaster – should, in this sense, be an urgent wake up call.