Professors Reflect on Global Security in the Modern World
By Saba Aziz
BU News Service
As the United States goes on the offensive against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, there has been plenty of debate about the effectiveness of President Obama’s plan to arm and train Syrian rebels. With yet another war waging in the Middle East and political commentary at the forefront, the question of the changing face of global security was addressed in one particular scholarly set up last weekend.
In an engaging panel discussion at Boston University’s new Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, professors and alumnus Matt Trevithick offered different perspectives on security in the modern era. While national security was at the top of the agenda, the importance of the more non-traditional economic and environmental security was also highlighted.
Professor Robert G. Loftis, who served in the State Department and Foreign Service for 32 years and teaches International Relations (IR) at BU, was one of the four panelists. He dismissed the notion that we live in a less secure world today than 50 or 60 years ago.
“We face serious issues, don’t get me wrong, but the risk of the United States, or in most of the rest of the world, being wiped out is pretty much gone and that’s a major improvement,” said Loftis after the discussion. “When I was a kid we had to do exercises crawling under our desks for an air raid, we don’t do that anymore.”
In Loftis’s view, many of the current political challenges are not different in kind to those in the past, with the break-up of empires, wars over resources and guerrilla insurgencies. However, the intensity and the accelerated pace of today’s events are what make headlines and grab people’s attention, in his opinion.
Winner of the distinguished young BU alumni award for 2014, Trevithick worked as the director of communications at the American University of Afghanistan and as assistant to the provost at the American University in Iraq, after graduation in 2008. As the youngest panelist in the seminar room, Trevithick, used his six years of on-the-ground experience to assert that a better understanding of other cultures, religions and languages can solve many of the world’s problems.
“We need to understand how the world works, and not the way it should be, not the way you wish it was, but actually how it functions, right there on the ground,” said Trevithick to the audience.
From an economical standpoint, IR professor Cornel Ban alluded to the fact that human insecurity is presented in the form of spiking poverty, especially among the youth. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the youth unemployment rate is more than twice the current national unemployment rate of 6.3 percent. Ban, who joined BU’s IR department in 2012 and specializes in International Economic Organizations, is an optimist however. He believes that scholars and academics, while limited in their authority to make decisions, can play an important role in addressing some of the problems that confront the global economy.
“We have to become a lot less arrogant about our achievements, saying there’s more peace, and the international organizations are very strong, they make sure we don’t have another world war,” said Ban after the discussion. “We have to be a lot more careful about the new challenges that are becoming equally vicious.”
With human intervention at the heart of global warming, the panelists agreed that there’s an unprecedented environmental challenge facing the world today. While there hasn’t been a case of environmental deterioration triggering violent conflict, IR professor Henrik Selin of BU, said ecological issues and competition over resources could potentially influence countries to take up arms against others. The Israeli-Palestine conflict and the Indo-Pak water dispute are modern day examples.
According to Selin, environmental cooperation can be a useful tool for peacebuilding.
“If you take representatives or heads of state who are trying to build collaborative institutions around water management, for instance, or natural resources, this is one way that you can start building trust,” said Selin.