T.wai research on emerging patterns of insecurity

T.wai is an independent, non-profit institute founded in 2009 by a group of International Relations scholars based in Turin, through a grant provided by Compagnia di San Paolo. Originally conceived as a spin-off and an enlargement of the activity previously conducted in the frame of «Laboratorio di Politica Globale» (LPG) of the Centro Einaudi (CE), it is dedicated to rigorous academic and policy-oriented research in the fields of international relations, area and security studies. The acronym “T.wai”, standing for “Torino World Affairs Institute”, hints about the location of the institute headquarters and, as per its mandate, T.wai cooperates intensely with the University based in the same city (especially the Department of Culture, Politics and Society – CPS), contributing to enhance educational outreach, academic networking and research output. The deep interconnections between the two institutions are also testified by the academic position of the Institute six founding members and Heads of research, each of them faculty at the University of Turin as well.

The Institute’s activities are organized around three macro-areas: “Emerging actors”, focused on assessing the impact of China and India on global governance in the age of power diffusion; “Global politics”, whose aim is to investigate the actors, rules, dynamics and narratives that shape politics at the global level, and “Violence and security”, dealing specifically with emerging trends in transnational security: from the rise of non-state actors to force privatization. The Heads of research for each area are, respectively: Giovanni Andornino and Giuseppe Gabusi (Emerging Actors), Irene Bono and Anna Caffarena (Global politics), Fabio Armao and me (Violence and security).

T.wai is mostly known to the Italian public through the publication of its bi-monthly periodicals in cooperation with the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) of Rome: “OrizzonteCina” and “IndiaIndie”. Thanks to its established partnership with the prestigious Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), T.wai also has a stronger element contributing to its outreach: the translation into Italian of the renowned SIPRI Yearbook Summary, on-going since 2011 and released each year in Fall. All of T.wai’s publications are freely available for download on T.wai’s website.

Another way through which the Institute has achieved widespread recognition, both in Italy and abroad, is the organization, management and conduction of an intensive two-weeks summer school concerted with the University of Turin and the CPS Department: “Engaging Conflict”. The program is aimed at providing advanced tools to critically understand conflict and tackle it as a dynamic reality. The SS Engaging Conflict, running since 2012 and of which the third edition will be held in July 2014, has made possible to invite world renowned scholars like Mats Berdal (King’s College London), Christopher Coker (London School of Economics) and A.J.R. Groom (University of Kent), along with many others, to lecture in Turin on a regular basis. The program also provides an excellent opportunity to attract students from abroad and mix them with their Italian colleagues interested in the same topics.

In my capacity of Head of Research in the “Violence and security” area, I personally supervise the Italian translation of the Yearbook Summary and thus maintain the working relationship with SIPRI. I also take care of the organization and coordination – both scientific and practical – of the “Engaging Conflict” summer school, defining the group of scholars and experts taking part in each session and making the related agreements. In terms of research activity, the main program currently on-going in the “Violence and security” area is called “The Emerging Patterns of Insecurity Dialogue” or, for short, EPID. It is jointly run by T.wai and the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies (MECIS) at Cornell University, and its roots are in a memorandum of understanding signed between MECIS and T.wai in 2010. On that basis, a dialogue aimed at defining thematic areas of mutual interest was started, and for this reason I was hosted as a Visiting Scholar in Cornell in the Fall of 2010. I had to pursue two goals back then: on the one hand, to strengthen the MECIS-T.wai core partnership; while on the other to define – together with Cornell scholars – where to set the joint research focus. Given the heart of the “Violence and security” area that I represent, and of my specific scientific interests, the broad theme on which to converge was found within the changing role of non-state armed organizations (NSAOs) in today’s world and on their impact on the political and social spheres. At the same time, it was also deemed appropriate to scientifically extend EPID activities beyond Cornell and T.wai, with the objective of building a trans-Atlantic network of scholars interested in the topic and in the joint production of scientific knowledge. Hence, during the time spent in Ithaca, contacts were made also with scholars affiliated with other major American universities, such as Brown, Columbia and Harvard.

The German Marshall Fund of the United States generously co-financed the EPID start-up phase, with a grant specifically aimed at launching the project. As a first major step, it was agreed to setup a workshop in Turin in the Spring of 2011, where scholars involved in the network could have a first face-to-face exchange on topics of common interest. On the basis of the exploratory talks in Cornell, a background paper organizing questions around four core-themes on the ontology of non-state armed organizations; management of violence and violent choices; patterns of NSAO strengthening, growth and resilience; and analysis of the specific NSAO-state relationship was prepared and provided to all the invited participants of the first workshop. In May 2011 eighteen scholars and experts, from both the Americas and Europe, convened for the first time in Turin to effectively start the “dialogue” and begin to better define the joint field of research.

Based on the outcomes of the first workshop, efforts of further topic refinement and of coordination among the participating persons and institutions were conducted, all the way up to the end of 2012. Among other things, an EPID planning committee was created, constituted by Fabio Armao (T.wai and University of Turin), Diane Davis (Harvard University), Charles Geisler (Cornell University), Anja Jakobi (Peace Research Institute Frankfurt – PRIF), Kimberly Marten (Columbia University) and myself. I personally went to Cornell again twice in 2012 to keep in tune the co ordination between MECIS and T.wai. The director of MECIS, Fredrik Logevall, has been a steady supporter of EPID, and much help has also been provided by Heike Michelsen and all of the staff working at MECIS. During 2012, as a spinoff of EPID and on the base of some of the issues the dialogue contributed to bringing to the foreground, a panel was organized and presented in the frame of the British International Studies Association (BISA) Convention held in Edinburgh in June 2012 by a few EPID members.

The main results of the first conference and the exchange sparkling from it and following it were placing under question the Weberian notion that states truly exercise a monopoly on the use of force considered legitimate by society. Starting from this, it was decided to organize a second workshop, two years after the first one. The idea was to tackle the issue from a multi-disciplinary perspective, examining the roles of non-state actors in providing governance in the spheres of security and violent claim making, and this time to organize the discussion in a more customary way, around papers presented by the participants, organized in thematic panels.

Leading scholars from both sides of the Atlantic and across several disciplines convened in Turin again in May 2013 under the auspices of both T.wai and MECIS to polish up the work done up to then in studying non-state violence, security and governance challenges. MECIS provided a financial grant to support the event, while T.wai covered the rest of the expenses and took care of all the logistics and organization. Three Cornell contributors took part in the workshop (Gustavo Flores-Macias, Charles Geisler and Michael Jones-Correa) and two from T.wai (Fabio Armao and myself). The core Cornell-T.wai group was complemented by another twelve scholars and researchers, coming from the most prestigious academic institutions and think-tanks. These participants, listed besides their affiliation, were: Peter Andreas (Brown University), Edgardo Buscaglia (Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México – ITAM and Columbia University), Diane Davis (Harvard University), Giampiero Giacomello (University of Bologna), Peter Chalk (RAND Corporation), Sarah Daly (Columbia University), Alexandra Gheciu (University of Ottawa), José Miguel Cruz (Florida International University), Anja Jakobi (Peace Research Institute Frankfurt – PRIF), Kimberly Marten (Columbia University), Paolo Mazzuferi (Post-Conflict Operations Study Center, Italian Army) and Vincenzo Ruggiero (Middlesex University).

At the present time, and with the second EPID workshop just six months in the past, the main planned output for the coming future is a volume edited by Charles Geisler, Anja Jakobi (who has moved meantime from PRIF to Royal Holloway, London) and myself. The book will gather the results of the joint work developed in the frame of EPID so far, and will attempt to gain its own niche in the literature on non-state actors and global governance. Although a considerable number of work have already appeared on the future of states facing security challenges from non-state actors, there is little treatment of the fate of the state system as a reigning world order and interpretative paradigm. Similarly, there is a sprawling scholarship on violence, crime, and corrupt state rule, yet few have comprehended these challenges as transformative at a global scale and – beyond critiques of state-centrism – as a potential source of alternative legitimacy. The cases introduced in the book, and originally discussed in the second workshop, challenge ‘Westphalian conservativism’ in a provocative and plausible manner. The intent of the book is to stir a major debate on global political change, regarding what might fill the governance void occasioned by such change and – above all – the very effectiveness of ‘Westphalianism’ as an interpretative paradigm.

The open-ended conclusion that emerged from the EPID project so far is that new sovereign interests, diverse in nature but similar in their resort to violence, are building a base which is hostile to Westphalian conservatism. But this reversal of conventional governance and legitimacy carries uncertainties in its womb. From one perspective the surge in non-state agency can induce resilience within the Westphalian state-system as it staves off disorder. From another, this agency foreshadows a replacement system that, although still inchoate, may have its “upsides”. In conclusion, although “jackals” are widely portrayed in pejorative terms – as scavengers living off dead bodies – they are indispensable to the maintenance and evolution of the ecosystem of which they are a part. The analogy invites reflection: non-states actors – even of the criminal, armed, or violent kind – can be essential to the upkeep or to the transformation of existing models of social and political organization. This is not just the core argument of the EPID-based book proposal, but is also the departure point from which the “dialogue” will stay on-going in the coming future.

The EPID book proposal is currently under review by one major international scientific publisher and is not the only output in the making. An EPID-related panel has been submitted and accepted in the frame of the next International Studies Association (ISA) convention to be held in Toronto in late March 2014, and the group is currently working in drafting another panel for the American Political Science (APSA) meeting scheduled for late August in Washington DC. The international collaboration between the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, T.wai, and all the partners institutions and individuals involved in “The Emerging Patterns of Insecurity Dialogue” project will continue, in keeping with the potent set of intellectual and policy challenges animated by non-state armed activity and expansion.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: