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Published: 09.11.2006, 06:00
Modified: 08.11.2006, 22:45
7th International Security Forum in Zurich
New answers to new risks

500 experts from research, politics, diplomacy and the armed forces exchanged views about current security policy questions at the 7th International Security Forum in Zurich. In an interview with “ETH Life”, ISF organiser Andreas Wenger expressed the opinion that the security policy challenges had increased in view of the threat situation characterised by “privatised” violence. Wenger is ETH Professor for Security Policy.

Norbert Staub

In an interview with “ETH Life”, Andreas Wenger, ETH Professor for Security Policy said that “Since the end of the Cold War and the unequivocal competitive situation between East and West, it has become increasingly clear that state structures are no longer a guarantee that the safety and security of a population is assured.” As Director of the Center for Security Studies of ETH Zurich, he was the overall co-ordinating organiser of the 7th International Security Forum (ISF) which took place in Zurich from 26 to 28 October. (1) It is Switzerland’s most important security policy event, and for three days it brought together about 500 experts from the whole world for discussions about the central challenges of our time in the area of international security policy.

Dangers that are hard to define

Nowadays the international agenda is determined to a very large extent by the phenomenon of terrorism with its innumerable variants, armed conflicts in structurally weak or disintegrating nations turn people into refugees even within a single country, governments respond rather helplessly to an abrupt rise in South-North migration, and regular attacks against electronic data networks resulting in enormous economic damage show that the complex infrastructure of industrial societies is extremely vulnerable.

Against this background, the experts from politics, science, the diplomatic world and the armed forces discussed the central challenges in the security policy area at the ISF under the title “New Risks and Threats: The Challenge of Securing State and Society”. Andreas Wenger explained that “We describe as a threat the dangers that emanate from states and which have reasonably clearly defined players, intentions and potentials.” He added that the importance of this traditional threat scenario was decreasing whereas the new risks were increasing.

He said that their perpetrators were identifiable with difficulty or not at all. The same was true for the forces they had at their disposal and the aims they pursued. Wenger’s opinion is that “In view of ‘privatised’ violence, it is necessary for security policy considerations to be directed increasingly at societies and associations in addition to state structures. This is because their aim is to protect against new dangers such as bio-terror or info-terror.”

Government versus private reconstruction aid

Another important discussion point at the ISF was the interface between government and non-governmental players in crisis zones. According to Wenger: “NGOs are playing an increasingly large role in the reconstruction of war and catastrophe zones. The role of non-governmental players requires better definition to ensure fruitful co-operation.”


They provided insights into the central themes of current security policy (l. to r.): Sir Hilary Synnott, Gary Hart und Ronald D. Asmus.

Sir Hilary Synnott, one of the keynote speakers, gave an impression at the ISF of the gigantic tasks being faced in the Iraq crucible. He was the Coalition Provisional Authority’s Regional Coordinator for Southern Iraq. This was responsible for the entire civil reconstruction in this region. It was clear from Synnott’s remarks how little time had been devoted in the run-up to the invasion to planning the post-war civilian organisation. The disastrous consequences are well known. According to Wenger, “On the part of the USA there was hardly any knowledge about Iraqi society and culture.” He said one now found oneself in a situation resembling civil war in which this process had to be caught up with painfully and at great expense. With regard to weak and crumbling nations, Jacques Pitteloud, Director of the Centre for International Security Policy in the Foreign Ministry in Berne, also discussed the (lack of) importance for international security policy attributed to local matters.

Strengthening international relations

Another key speaker was Ronald D. Asmus, Director of the Transatlantic Center of the German Marshall Fund in Brussels. Asmus pleaded for a strengthening of the international and above all western institutions, which might be possible from 2008 onwards, after the era shaped by Bush, Blair and Chirac. Andreas Wenger says that “His lecture under the motto 'Reconstituting the West’ was an exciting reflection of the current American internal debate.” In Asmus, a member of the Democratic Party, there are the first indications of the outlines of a policy that offers future alternatives to the unilateralism of George W. Bush’s administration. Gary Hart, former US Senator and presidential candidate, argued in a similar way to Asmus. Neither individual nations nor military power on their own would be able to bring about long-term security. Hart suggested that global security should be understood as a “global social contract”.

Web site of the International Security Forum:

(1) The conference, which takes place at two-year intervals, is sponsored by the departments of Samuel Schmid (Swiss Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sports) and Micheline Calmy-Rey (Swiss Federal Foreign Ministry). Other partners include the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP), the Geneva Centre for Democratic Control of the Armed Forces (DCAF), the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD), the Graduate Institute of International Studies (HEI) in Geneva, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Partnership for Peace of NATO and 20 partner nations, including Switzerland.

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