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On September 9, 2003, we celebrated the tenth anniversary of the founding of the International Institute. I had the pleasure to offer congratulatory remarks on behalf of Provost Paul Courant and to welcome executive officers and deans from across the university. We also celebrated the special relationship the International Institute (II) enjoys with the Liberal Arts and Sciences (LSA), whose new dean, Terry McDonald, offered his own comments on the Institute‘s progress over the decade. We enjoyed the company of many faculty, staff, students and friends of II, but we also took this time to celebrate the vision of the founding director, David William Cohen, who, with his initial direction and continuing contribution, has made possible the intellectual and institutional conditions for all that we have done.
Anticipating a Decade‘s Assessment
In preparing for this celebration, I had cause to return to the report Professor of Law John H. Jackson wrote in the end of 1989 outlining the need for an institute for international studies. He cautioned that it would take at least 10 years to know whether the university would be “comfortable with its achievement.” That is, of course, for others to judge, but the criteria he set forward suggest that the II has realized most of what was set forward in 1989.
It is difficult to say, as it was said then, that U-M international programs lack visibility, that the university‘s international resources are focused disproportionately on LSA, or that international studies are perceived to be peripheral in the mainstream schools and disciplines of the university. It is as possible today as it was in the end of the 1980s to argue that we don‘t have enough faculty, but over the last decade, several important areas have been rebuilt with II support—most notably in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Chinese studies, while some new areas have been developed, notably Greek, Korean, and European Union studies. At the same time, we have also helped to recruit faculty in new cross-cutting areas, most notably in the internationalization of both psychology and of environmental studies and with strategic appointments in public health.
While one therefore can‘t say that U-M doesn‘t do enough international studies, it is possible to argue that we don‘t do enough of the “right kind” of international studies. That debate should always rage within any university given our commitment to academic freedom and intellectual innovation. In this vein, the II has become a central university-wide advocate not only for extending the link between learning abroad and learning in Ann Arbor and for providing internships for students abroad. It also has become a space for debating the “right internationalism,” and for identifying university-wide interests that schools and colleges can take into account as they develop their own lists of priorities in faculty appointments. One of the most important challenges in this regard centers on how to link major global issues, challenges, and transformations with the university‘s capacities in knowledge production.
To read the list of challenges from 1989 suggests the enormity and enduring challenge of global transformations, including: the debate over a European constitution, still not made; uncertainties of Chinese reforms now looking much more convincing with WTO entry; and NAFTA‘s challenging start, but now quite institutionalized.
Consider these other emphases too: the “remarkable trends” in a country now gone, the USSR, and the "frustrating tensions and violence of the Middle East,” now globalized. Even if we could have anticipated 14 years ago the trajectories of these global issues, we hardly could have imagined that over the last decade of the twentieth century, the Cold War would have ended so easily, public health crises from AIDS to SARS would command a central place in discussions within the United Nations General Assembly, and that globalization‘s centrality in the American imagination would be eclipsed by terrorism only a decade after the Soviet Union‘s implosion.
The II has become a place with the agility and university-wide reach to respond to these changes, and many others. The II has become, in this last decade, an assembly and an infrastructure that enables the university to develop international scholarship, learning and public engagement in tune with the challenges presented by a world transformed. But of course we also need to look beyond our university for examples of how the academy might address these global challenges. Cambridge University offers one good example.
Root Causes of Human Insecurity
I was asked to join a 2003 conference on human insecurity, transnational challenges and the resulting policy dilemmas. This was organized by Cambridge University‘s Programme for Security in International Society in association with a number of government, academic and security professionals. My main job was to facilitate sessions to discuss the “root causes” of human insecurity. I worked with four groups of British faculty, private sector experts, and government officials, with an occasional foreign consultant or NGO official, in four sessions of 90 minutes each, to think “outside the box.”
I suggested that we think of root causes in several ways. Invoking Alex Haley‘s Roots, we considered causes embedded in the past, as long enduring, like genealogies. We also thought of root causes as embedded in systems, whether they are economic, social, cultural, kinship or other enduring patterns of human behavior. Finally, we should also think about root causes in terms that seminar participant Anton Obholzer helped us imagine, as those causes that might be difficult to recognize, acknowledge, or articulate. In this sense, root causes are beneath the surface, hard to see, and hard to describe.
Our organizers didn‘t tell us what kinds of human insecurity to address. Terrorism was the obvious concern of many, but we also had sessions devoted to other manifestations of insecurity, including how a networked polity of informal economic flows is substituting for conventional forms of development aid. For its resonance with root causes, our focus groups settled relatively easily into terrorism as the main problem. But this provisional consensus only enabled much greater disagreement on how to address its causes.
Of course participants generally recognized that it was important to understand better those value sets and cultural models that motivate terrorists to destroy themselves and others. At the next level, we discussed the values of the communities in which terrorists are embedded—what leads these communities to allow or support terrorists? But it was not clear how we should think of these communities. Are these communities formed around inequalities they perceive to be unjust? What makes inequalities appear particularly unjust? Do the media exaggerate the problem, or just make the inequalities more apparent? While evocative, this discussion was also manageable, especially compared to our discussion around religion.
One participant identified religion per se as the root cause of terrorism. Of course, he quickly corrected himself; religion itself is not a problem. Someone helped him out and offered that dogmatism or inflexibility found in religions, especially when they are traveling across the world imposing their ideas on others, is the real problem. But which religions are so problematic? Certainly he didn‘t consider the Dalai Lama part of the terrorist wave. Nor did he consider Christian missionaries who traveled the world over the last five centuries to be part of the problem. The problem may not be religion, but rather our difficulty in discussing religion, and its diverse expressions, in secular company.
Britain may, in some ways, be more able to carry out this conversation than we are. That, at least, is one impression we might take from Ellen Laipson‘s report that the authors of “Global Trends 2015” shied away from making predictions about rising religiosity and its political implications because they feared such judgments would be controversial and would be misunderstood. The British were not so cautious. Their Joint Doctrine and Concepts Centre strategic trend project noted religion as a key element, identifying not only fundamentalist reaction to Western (particularly U.S.) power and culture but also ever increasing tensions between Islam and the West as likely developments of the future.
Of course this forthright approach is careful too, and it exposes many anxieties buried beneath the surface. One participant demonstrated just that disposition when he expressed frustration at my innocent questions about which religions were the problem. He finally said that “they won‘t be satisfied until there is an Islamic Republic of Great Britain.” This was not politically correct, but it was helpful, for it reflected a broader inexperience in dealing with the challenge of Islam in Britain. But inequality and religion are not the only problems that deserve wider analysis and discussion, for a new, less confident, imperialism looms large, at least from some British viewpoints.
One observer found the U.S.A.‘s hegemony more fragile than older imperialisms. British imperialism knew the world‘s future, and Britain was to be at the core. They may have been wrong, but they were, at least, confident. He doesn‘t find that confidence in the U.S. today. He thought this new world led by the U.S. is based on a profound doubt, worried that the secular, capitalist and liberal order organized around American values could itself be at risk. I hadn‘t considered this uncertainty seriously before, but when one group of respondents argued that imposing democracy was making the world unstable, and another group argued that the failure to impose democracy was at the root of terrorism‘s existence, I saw the problem. It may not be uncertainty about America, but it is certainly an uncertainty about America‘s model for and relationship to the rest of the world that some believe to be a root cause for human insecurity, if not terrorism. And the American problem goes beyond its example.
The conference participants were certainly divided about how to interpret America‘s power in the world. While some celebrated the closeness of American and British intelligence, and others expressed a wish that more Americans could be present at the conference, others openly doubted the commonality of U.S. and U.K. interest. Isn‘t it the U.K.‘s interest to constrain American unilateralism? What about the apparently contradictory interests of the U.S. and the U.K. on genetically modified foods, on the international criminal court, and even on the European Union‘s place in the larger world order? Here, among the academic and policy intellectuals of America‘s closest ally we find a great ambivalence, characterized by a “Yes, but…” attitude toward the alliance.
Ultimately, however, this uncertainty redounds to the British homeland itself, and not only with anxiety over immigrants‘ place in the British way. Some openly worried that foreign policy had become too democratic. Indeed, Tony Blair‘s troubles, one person suggested, rested in the requirement that he be absolutely certain that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction; he couldn‘t be just reasonably sure, and the public could not simply trust him. Some were prepared to conclude expecting infallibility and certainty of one‘s political leaders is a recipe for political failure, and a symptom of democracy‘s overextension.
The root causes of terrorism and human insecurity can therefore run very deep—not only from the motivations of terrorists and their communities‘ support for their path, but into much broader and systematic features of the world in which we live. Are these root causes additionally found in religion‘s awkward place in a secular globalization, or might they be rooted in the global information infrastructure‘s broadcast of the wealth of some communities in the face of others‘ poverty? Perhaps the problem rests in American imperialism itself, or in America‘s lack of confidence, or in the uncertainty about whether democracy is good for everyone, or even good for making foreign policy. As the list indicates, we don‘t have good answers for what the root causes really are, and we don‘t have adequate methods for even addressing the question. Many would prefer, therefore, to focus only on the terrorists themselves, but given the anxieties and uncertainties facing the world and the consequences of violence in shaping global trajectories, it hardly seems wise to focus only on what is apparent and relatively simple.
The Point of Discussion in Global Transformations
To write in 2003 in the shadow of reports written in 1989 is certainly humbling. Many of the principal challenges before us 14 years ago are still before us, and even those challenges that seem historical—the causes for communism‘s end in Europe—still deserve more scholarly attention. But the challenge of global transformations today has a different edge than those around the Cold War‘s end. The optimism and confidence of 1989-91 have been displaced by the fear and anxiety of 2001-03.
The anxieties our British colleagues observed in the Western alliance have two possible directions of resolution, and I see evidence of both directions. On the one hand, one can imagine the extension of engagements like I saw in Cambridge, where those responsible for developing security strategies for Britain engage their colleagues from academia in a search of “out of the box” answers to ambitious questions that go well beyond assessing the effects of particular strategic deployments into larger questions of how power should be organized in the world, and the conditions that enable democracy and geopolitical stability to be assured and extended.
On the other hand, these anxieties could move those uncomfortable with doubt and open discussion to develop methods to simulate confidence and assurance, and to channel debate into politicized categories that reduce the value of scholarly review and open discussion. I have observed over the course of the last few months several efforts designed to politicize U.S. academia, and to turn complicated discussions of history, empire, terrorism, and American responsibility in the world into debates with pro and anti-American dispositions. Clearly that trivializes academia, and even worse, minimizes the challenges our nation faces.
Consider, for example, just how seriously the new security system motivated by terrorism‘s challenge has led, in its excesses and in its malfunctions, to undermining the nation‘s interest in assuring that America might recruit the best students from across the world to its universities, the best scientists to its conferences, and the greatest artists to its galleries and concert halls. In the last month, people have told me about the leader of China‘s space agency, a pianist from Israel, Muslim scholars for a conference on tolerance in Islam, and an art historian from Russia being turned away from America for failing to meet one or another criterion for entry. To be sure we need to assure security, but America‘s greatness was based on its openness to ideas, talent, and people from abroad. Are we risking our long term security by turning away these individuals and many more like them? Do I risk inviting the assignment of an anti-American label by asking the question?
I worry that, in the course of war abroad and in the mobilization of political and cultural conflict within the U.S., movement toward ideological positions in the search for root causes for human insecurity will become ever more appealing. But if the practice of our British colleagues is any example, we all have much more to gain by posing the most difficult questions, in an atmosphere that sheds public political commitments in the search for a responsibility that goes beyond ideology, to engage the deepest challenges posed by global transformations. Universities must remain open, and they need organizations like the International Institute to focus on the major challenges facing our world.
Errata: The print version of this issue was incorrectly designated as Vol. 10, No. 4.
For additional information on this initiative, see http://www.intstudies.cam.ac.uk/research/security.html , http://www.infowar-monitor.net and http://www.cambridge-security.net/index2.html.
For additional information, see “Global Trends 2015” http://www.africa2000.com/indx/trends2015.html.
For additional information, see “Strategic Trends”, Joint Doctrine and Concepts Centre, Ministry of Defence http://www.mod.uk/jdcc/trends.htm.