Civil society plays a smaller role than it did in the past
The work of the IFSH combines two strands of research which are often at odds with each other, namely security or strategic research on the one hand and peace research on the other. This implies that the institute’s work is marked by both internal and external dialogue between a wide range of views on issues including the ones dealt with in the EU Non-Proliferation Consortium. To give a recent example: when in the spring of 2013 the question of the procurement of armed drones was hotly debated, an internal study group was assembled which included both civilian and military experts, with backgrounds in technical and political issues. Another characteristic is the combination of policy-oriented and academic research. Like many other institutions we are basing our policy-oriented work on academic research, which implies that as a small institute we have to focus on certain topics. Traditionally we have focused on three such topics, namely European security, the work of the OSCE, and arms control and disarmament. I would argue that we have strong reputation in these fields of research. More recent successful additions to our research portfolio are research on terrorism and research on Central Asia.The European Union Strategy against the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction was endorsed by the European Council in December 2003. Ten years later, would you say that the EU has become a global leader in the field of non-proliferation?
I have a mixed impression. The European Union is quite active, both as an organisation and through its member states, in some areas, such as the support of the destruction of WMD and of activities to stop proliferation in some countries. The EU recently has also become a leader in proliferation-related sanctions, particularly in the case of Iran. However, I also see problems and limitations. The Iran case comes to mind as an example of the latter. Even though the EU and some member states are sitting at the negotiating table with the Iranians, they are of lesser importance than other states, particularly the United States. Another problem is related to the nuclear status of some member states, which, in my view, affect the EU’s credibility in at least some parts of the world. In summary, there is gap between ambitions, as expressed in the question, and reality, as seen in the current crisis in important areas of non-proliferation.What role does the European civil society play regarding non-proliferation and disarmament?
Unfortunately a smaller role than it could and had in the past. In the 1980s, civil society, both in terms of mass movements and non-government experts with knowledge about relevant issues, pushed hard for global changes particularly in nuclear policies, but not only for nuclear disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation. The achievements on various types of nuclear weapons, but also chemical weapons, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, are, in my view, at least partly a result of civil society activities in the East and the West. However, with these achievements, civil society interest has waned. And even though nuclear weapons are still in place in large numbers, advances in biology present new dangers of biological weapons and the non-proliferation regime is under great duress, it is difficult for the remaining civil society organizations to instigate public interest in these issues. What remains, however, is a lot of knowledge in small expert circles, which could easily become a nucleus of more activity again. It is interesting to look, in this respect, at the humanitarian field. Recent achievements in arms control, disarmament and prevention of proliferation have been most pronounced in the field of humanitarian arms control, with the Ottawa and Oslo Conventions as most prominent examples. It is no wander than that the idea to link nuclear weapons to their humanitarian consequences has gained much support among civil society organisations.
Interview conducted by Benjamin Hautecouverture