Greetings and welcome to my blog. This is a place for discussing international events, trends and policies, airing and exploring ideas for how to understand key issues and what to do about them.
This evolving blog
As I have been writing the blog over a bit more than a decade by now, its focus has evolved. I began with four inter-related themes: climate change, conflict and peace, the economic crunch of 2008-9, and power. As the years have gone by, and perhaps because the climate crisis has deepened and the world’s peace-and-conflict balance has deteriorated, I have concentrated increasingly on the first two topics. Perhaps also, taking up my post Director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in September 2015 encouraged me to be a bit more focused than before.
Moving to SIPRI re-engaged me after a break of two-and-a half decades in questions of nuclear weapons and doctrine, disarmament and arms control, and other aspects of what are often called hard security issues – the ones that involves tanks, missile, combat aircraft and warships as well as people. It also brought home to me the importance of understanding the effect of new technologies on security thinking and, vice versa, the effect of security thinking on technological development; this is the world of cyber insecurity, AI and machine learning, satellites and 3D printing. I picked these up, alongside issues I was by then more familiar with, that focus on what are often called the human security issues. Examples of these are the impact of climate change and environmental crisis, the costs of social inequality, and more broadly the relationship between peace and development.
More recently I have started to think the human security / hard security dichotomy can be a bit misleading. In liberal political theory, the responsible state should use hard security means to protect the human security of its citizens, so there is less to the distinction than meets the eye. There is just one security space and when we make that human / hard divide, maybe we miss that today’s human security problems are tomorrow’s hard security issues and humanitarian disasters.
Taking that line of thought further, the crisis in the environment is so multi-dimensional, so deep, and produces so many challenges to human security and to social and political stability, that I have started to think that within a single security space there are three sets of demanding challenges:
- Insecurity arising from political threats, rivalries and clashing ambitions, primarily to be addressed by diplomacy and hard security preparations;
- Insecurity arising from social conditions such as inequality, poverty, arbitrary use of power, criminality, primarily to be addressed by development and peace building;
- Insecurity arising from deterioration in the ecosphere (climate change, loss of biodiversity, pollution of land, water and air), primarily to be addressed long-term change in the economic model and, in the short-term, by building resilience so society adapts to the pressures.
They are more inter-connected than a list makes them sound. A better form of presentation would be a Venn diagram.
Throughout, I have wanted to respect the complexity of the problems, while dealing with them in language and with arguments that are as clear as I can make them, and to keep my arguments as close to known facts as possible. This means I often take a bit of time before leaping out with opinions and positions so I’m sometimes not as immediately topical as I’d otherwise like to be. And I’m afraid it also means that my blog posts are often quite long. If you’re used to snappy tweeting, my posts that come through at between one and three thousand words a time may be something of a change of pace. I hope you might even enjoy that; I feel there’s too much instant comment and too little reflection on a lot of the troubling things in today’s world so I like to lean a bit in the opposite direction. But I do also do a fair amount of shorter blog posts, often built around a short film of me sounding off.
As for me, a bit of background in case you are interested:-
I am Director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Before that, from December 2003 until August 2015 I was Secretary General of International Alert, the London-based international peacebuilding organisation. And from 2013 till 2017 I was also a part-time Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Manchester, where I was affiliated with the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute.
Before International Alert, I was Director of the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO) from 1993 to 2001. I have written books, articles and reports about conflict, peace, security and international politics for 40-plus years and I have worked with divided communities so they could try to enhance their prospects for peaceful relations. I was a member of the UN Peacebuilding Fund‘s Advisory Group from 2007 through 2011, and chair of it in 2010 and 2011.
If you really, really want to know more, PRIO has been interviewing folk from its past and present; my successor as Director, Stein Tønnesson, did a humungous interview of me, which they have now posted online.
I am British, a Londoner by nature and, these days, living in the most London-like part of Stockholm I could find (that’s to say, Södermalm – and what a great area it is). I am of the baby boom generation and, like a reported three-quarters of boomers, I fondly think I look younger than the rest of that generation. You be the judge:
In July 2009 I started out on what a friend called Fatherhood v2.0.It’s one reason why there are intermittent silences on this blog (my verbosity is another – if I were to write shorter blogs, I’d probably write more of them) (and actually my day job takes a fair bit of time and energy). In addition, in August 2014 I became a grandfather. And then in February 2015 I became a grandfather again (if you see what I mean) and again in July 2016.
So: sorry about the blog but from time to time (like most of the time) there is a bigger priority.
And by the way, thanks for asking: while grappling with the realities of parenthood with dodgy knees, and despite my uncertainties, speaking as a septuagenarian father of a teenager, I am still loving Fatherhood v2.0.
The picture at the top of the page is of the main reading room in the Library of Alexandria. Here’s another.
It’s the modern one, obviously, not the ancient one that was founded about 283 BCE and whose destruction remains an unsolved mystery. The building is beautiful and the institution and the way it is run reflect an inclusive, reflective idea about education, learning and civilisation. The more I learned about Egypt under Mubarak, the more extraordinary it seems to me that the library could be founded and run in the way that it was. In the events that overthrew Mubarak in February 2011, the Library emerged unscathed.
In whatever future unfolds for Egypt now, the survival of the Library of Alexandria may be a useful litmus test of freedoms and values in the country.
Visit it if ever you have an opportunity – it really is wonderful.
(Updated January 2023)