Enriching and Encouraging: International Security Summit 2021

On January 13 and 14, 2021 some 30 participants gathered online on the occasion of the International Security Summit organized by the World Youth Academy. One might think young people are discouraged in these hard months of lockdowns and closed borders which, just as most other people, impacts International Relations scholars and practitioners and those who will be the experts of the future. But the organizers defied all odds and offered a program centering around four thematical blocs, amended by an interactive session, over two days fully online.

Following brief welcoming remarks by the organizing team (Karla Alvarado, Alejandra Coronel Mengelle, Paulina Sánchez, Raphaela De Dominicis, and Lucas Tilleßen) and WYAcademy director Ramiro Murguía, attendees got the chance to listen to María Cristina Rosas. The renowned scholar provided insights on space security, a topic of increasing importance for the great political powers in their aspirations for extending influence spheres. Mrs. Rosas acknowledged a visible democratization of space while pointing out “space nationalism” unalteredly shapes most state actors’ behaviors in the orbit. The biggest change over the past decades, Rosas argued, marks the growing influence of non-state actors like Elon Musk’s SpaceX project questioning state-centric approaches in theory and practice. Accordingly, the 1967 Treaty on Outer Space gasps for a thorough reconsideration. Rosa’s elaborations attracted great interest among the audience that used the brief Q&A before moving on to the second bloc of the day.

Alfonso Aragón Camarena, in this part, shed light on weapons of mass destruction. Arguably an evergreen in international security studies, Mr. Aragón Camarena chose an angle that appeared to be unique for most participants coming from a social science background. In detail he explained key technicalities of atomic, biological, and chemical weapons that proved useful for the following final section of the summit’s first day.

The organizers had provided an extensive reader in preparation of the event that offered four real-world examples concerning international security, each of them linked to one of the speakers’ presentations. Teaming up in breakout rooms the groups of six to eight participants discussed their allocated cases from the theoretical framework provided by Buzan and Hansen, two key scholars of international security theory with whom the attendees were familiarized in the reader. Mr. Aragón Camarena might have been particularly interested in the outcome of the group analyzing the future of the Iran nuclear deal, an agreement reached in 2015 by the five members of the UN Security Council, Germany, the European Union, and Iran, however the US later withdrew. The other groups put their heads together over the question of what consequences it might have that China recently launched a 6G satellite and the issue of human security in widespread intra-state conflict on the African continent, particularly diving deeper into the cases of Mali, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. The fourth group was asked to discuss and analyze the increase in violence against women throughout the Covid-19 pandemic by taking the exemplary case of France.

This group’s analysis was underpinned at the beginning of the summit’s second day. Chantal de Jonge Oudraat, President of Women in International Security (WIIS) told the future scholars, leaders, and decision-makers that currently four states officially embrace a feminist foreign policy. Interestingly, these countries (Sweden, Canada, France, and Mexico) struggle with the implementation while other states (Mrs. de Jonge Oudraat discussed Finland and New Zealand) do well on the aim to erase rampant gender disparity. She concluded that, despite evident enhancements, no state in the world so far achieved true gender equality. An insight the group dealing with France reiterated later. Mrs. de Jonge Oudraat furthermore offered eye-opening statements such as “sexist attitudes are not only held by men but women as well”. Feedback and questions from the audience barely knew bounds and many participants expressed interest in joining the WIIS or affiliated institutions for internship and/or collaboration opportunities. Kayla McGill, program manager and fellow at the WIIS, outlined ways to join the non-governmental organization “dedicated to advancing the leadership and professional development of women in the field of international peace and security”.

The fourth session was led by Ernesto Ángeles Guerrero. He acquainted the participants with hybrid wars and other use of force in cyberspace. Mr. Ángeles Guerrero brought terms like messenger services, the deep web, and the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, among others, in order. Whereas all participants of the summit deal with these every day, Mr. Ángeles Guerrero could show how much is unknown about their interdependencies, advantages, and security risks which he explained with the help of the three different layers of cyberspace.

In Thursday’s last bloc the four groups reconvened to continue their work on the four cases before presenting them in front of the entire audience. Results were striking. In very little time, and with gainful assistance by the summit’s organizing team, did the four teams come up with entirely different approaches to tackling their academic puzzles of real-world value. Some had gathered extensive material in a written document, others gave presentations with the help of slides or took the chance to share different theoretical approaches they had merged with Buzan/Hansen’s proposed attempt.

Time flew and while no Zoom conference will make up for real-life get-togethers with peers and new friends, it goes without saying that the two-day International Security Summit was much more than a much-needed distraction from pandemic days. Professional networks were established, academic ideas exchanged, perspectives broadened, and future practitioners inspired. May all participants, speakers, and organizers stay safe and apply their newly achieved knowledge and experiences soon.

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