Mutual benefit: International security, US national security
A new administration in Washington may mean new thinking on international affairs, but a leading authority on the United Nations and international security policy contends the United States still lacks a coherent strategy to deal with a world of transnational threats.

In a recent presentation to the International Development Research Centre in Ottawa, Bruce Jones, director of the New York University Center on International Cooperation and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, suggested the United States “has yet to begin to come to terms with the fact of a changing balance of power in the international system.”

However, while threats may be increasing and new powers are certainly emerging, the U.S. remains the only state with the military and diplomatic muscle – and more importantly, the interest – to lead the international security system.

Whatever the nature of the threats – nuclear, chemical, biological, terrorist, climate or global poverty – all have the potential to deeply affect American lives and policy. U.S. national security is interdependent with international security. So, while its leadership may be essential, the U.S response must be multilateral, Jones said.

Together with co-researchers Carlos Pascual and Stephen Stedman, Jones has argued for a new cooperative approach to international security. Initial signals from Washington are positive, but while the Obama administration may be emphasizing “global interconnectedness” in its initial diplomatic deals, obstacles such as the financial crisis, Congress, Iran and very weak international institutions could all help to derail progress.

Jones is the co-author of Power and Responsibility: Building International Order in an Era of Transnational Threats, published this year.

For the full IDRC presentation, see:

Too many secrets
As scholars ponder the recent rulings by Federal Court justices on the lack of candour provided by CSIS in secret hearings in the cases of Mohamed Harkat and Hassan Almre, Craig Forcese has some timely recommendations on the dilemma of balancing transparency with information secrecy.

In a paper for the Institute for Research on Public Policy, Forcese, an associate professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa, assesses Canada’s information and secrecy laws and practices and finds “much to be desired.”

He argues secrecy laws are broader than is necessary and suffer from a lack of coherence. Among other recommendations, he calls on government to standardize its definition of “national security” across the statute book, and to provide “better resourcing of the information commissioner’s office to permit the expeditious review of complaints.” In part because of the institutional failings of the access regime, he also urges Parliament to demonstrate a healthy skepticism of government secrecy claims. “At core, changing government attitudes are ultimately at the heart of a renewed culture of openness.”

For the paper, see

Reinvigorating security sector reform
Since the term was first coined a decade ago, “security sector reform” (SSR) has been a much debated if rarely practiced concept.

In early May, the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) attempted to understand how the idea has evolved through a novel e-conference in partnership with Governance Village.

The five-day online event drew over 300 policy makers, practitioners, analysts and observers from over 50 countries. Rather than evaluate the application of SSR in its many guises, the conference set out to “take stock of the evolution of the process – identifying successes, failures and challenges – and contemplate its future.”

What participants uncovered was a growing concept that is “widely recognized to be a lynchpin for statebuilding and peace-building processes in fragile, developing and post-conflict states.” However, the framework has rarely been applied and has yet to stimulate innovation in effective approaches.

If the conference were reduced to one finding, “it would be the need to launch a new and reinvigorated research agenda for SSR, capable of distilling the lessons learned from a decade of case studies to form a new SSR implementation framework more attuned to contemporary issues and challenges,” wrote Mark Sedra, the project leader and a senior fellow with CIGI’s Global and Human Security program.

For the conference report, see

NATO needs new Afghan strategy
The addition of 30,000 more American troops in southern Afghanistan with a considerably more aggressive mandate may be a sign that the U.S. administration is taking the conflict more seriously. But unless that brute force is backed with innovative strategic thinking, “what can accurately be described as the first NATO war could be lost in a few years,” argues Gilles Dorronsoro, a professor of political science at the Institut d’études politiques in Rennes, France, and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

In a paper co-produced by the Centre for International Policy Studies at the University of Ottawa and the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo titled “Running out of time: Arguments for a new strategy in Afghanistan,” Professor Dorronsoro suggests “large-scale mismanagement and disinterest from 2001 to 2007” has placed a successful outcome almost beyond reach.

Momentum now resides with the Taliban, which has become more audacious in its actions as a growing percentage of the population assumes the campaign will fail much as the Soviets did 20 years ago. That mounting pressure on the international coalition comes as countries like Canada, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic ponder their withdrawal options. “If the dynamics are not radically altered in the next two or three years, it will be practically impossible to stop the insurgency,” he claims.

With time at a premium, he proposes a strategy focused on “concentrating troops in order to avoid fighting in places where fighting will not make a difference.” Rather, the focus should be on areas in which the insurgency is relatively weak and government support is evident, allowing for the more rapid growth of Afghan institutions. Kabul and its intersecting roads, he adds, should become a priority.

For the full briefing paper, see