Today, security is everywhere
Security is a pervasive topic. But let’s travel a bit back in time – not merely before Covid-19, but in 1986 precisely. With the changing international security situation, the Swiss Government recognized the need to bring the knowledge of experts and experience of practitioners together. These were the roots of what is now the Master of Advanced Studies (MAS) in International Security, currently in its 15th edition, jointly run by the Global Studies Institute (GSI) of the University of Geneva and the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GSCP).
A training course designed initially for Swiss officials, it quickly expanded both in the number and geographical diversity of the participants, integrating into the GCSP in 1995. While initially for Swiss officials, the course expanded very quickly both in the number and geographical diversity of the participants. And in 2006 it evolved into the MAS in International Security bringing together the rich academic resources of UNIGE as well as the internationally recognised executive education expertise of GCSP. This opened it to a new audience beyond government officials to include practitioners from IOs, NGOs, the private sector, and academia. Considering that security remains today a very masculine field of expertise, the MAS is also proud to have reached an equal gender participation.
Throughout this history, international security has changed immensely. Security is now understood in a much broader way including traditional security issues such as conflicts, arms proliferation, terrorism but also climate change, health, water security to name but a few. The lens we use to analyze all of these issues has also widened beyond the state to include a human security perspective, and 120 expert speakers address the group each year representing the multitude of actors involved in peace and security. While each module may address a new topic, it is never in isolation, as all issues today are interconnected. Violent extremism, for example, has economic, legal, human rights, cyber and many other dimensions that all need to be discussed.
And the approach to learning is not only in concepts and policies but in how the different stakeholders cooperate and communicate. A military officer and civil society representative will not have the same approach to an issue. Bringing them together in the classroom builds their understanding not just of the issues, but each other. This is also why we emphasize skills and networks as much as knowledge, so our participants enhance their leadership capacity in how they work collaboratively towards sustainable peace. And now, with the COVID-19 crisis, this is even more critical.
Health in times of a pandemic: a security challenge
The security challenges posed by COVID-19 pandemic are multidimensional, interconnected and intersectoral.
The virus has indeed no borders, and in a globalized world, has travelled at high speed. The measures taken to contain the pandemic are having heavy consequences on the economic and societal level worldwide. Indeed, inequalities, unemployment, poverty and domestic violence – to name a few – are being exacerbated. And now the unequal access to the vaccine is likely to accentuate the North-South divide and seriously undermine global efforts against the pandemic.
While national governments are responsible for protecting their citizens, and we have seen inwardlooking responses emerge in many states, a purely national management is neither sustainable nor efficient considering the complexity and interconnectivity of the issues at stake. An inclusive approach involving governments, transnational actors (NGOs, civil society) regional and the international level is therefore essential.
The role of expert health related IOs, such as WHO, is absolutely paramount to set principles, guidelines and recommendations, to improve information sharing and dialogue, and to set common goals.
This global crisis needs to be tackled through a multilateral and comprehensive approach, and this has shed new light on the urgency to implement the transversal UN 2030 Agenda Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 3” Good Health and Wellbeing” – with its important focus on preparedness, and SDG 16 “Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions” – which lays the core targets of an effective multilateral security agenda.
The MAS doesn’t just focus on international peace and security challenges but analyses current responses and assesses what needs to change to implement more sustainable policies. In this respect, COVID-19 is now a core dimension of the conversations we have on all topics in the programme.
Learning in times of a pandemic
The disruption caused by the pandemic has been too widespread for us to be able to go back to the ‘old normal’. Within this context, education is more important than ever, to enable practitioners to effectively deal with what’s next. But this doesn’t just mean content, as COVID-19 has not only impacted what we teach, but also how we teach. From an educational perspective, it constitutes both a challenge and an opportunity. Thus, since last year, our programme has been profoundly transformed to address, in a very short period of time, questions such as: how do we maintain interactive learning in a digital context? And how do we build a community fostering leadership in international peace and security in such disruptive times? While we all hope for a return to face-to-face learning as soon as possible, the current digital environment has also taught us new tools and approaches that can enhance face-to-face learning and this integrated approach will ensure our participants have the most effective learning experience.
While we are still navigating this new environment, lifelong learning is essential to shape our capacity to effectively navigate a constantly evolving security landscape. After all, we cannot change the challenges we face, but we can (and must) change how we think about them. We cannot think about international security without looking at the past, present and future, and without looking at how other stakeholders consider it. And understanding this, depends on how we educate and how we learn.
This article has also been published in the newSpecial magazine (March 2021).