FSI International Conference brings scholars, policymakers to discuss global security threats


FSI director Chip Blacker (far left) talks with former secretary of defense Bill Perry, former secretary of state Warren Christopher, and former secretary of state George Shultz.

FSI convened its second annual international conference on November 16, bringing scholars from across the university together with visiting security experts, policymakers, members of the international community, and practitioners in the fields of political science, economics, law, business, and medicine. The theme of this year's conference was "A World at Risk," juxtaposing debate and discussion on hard security issues such as nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and failed states with problems presented by "softer" security threats such as pandemic diseases, energy shocks, natural disasters, and food security and the environment.

The conference opened with welcoming remarks from Stanford Provost John Etchemendy and FSI director Coit D. Blacker, who shared their perspectives on pressing global issues and their sense of how Stanford's mission of interdisciplinary research and teaching fits into a changing world. Rounding out the opening session were remarks from former secretary of defense William J. Perry and former secretaries of state Warren Christopher and George Shultz. Secretary Perry analyzed how security threats have evolved in the 10 years since he was secretary of defense, while Secretary Christopher addressed the strategic importance of the Middle East and need for renewed diplomacy and Secretary Shultz discussed the opportunity and imperative for the United States to assume a global leadership role. The three secretaries' institutional knowledge and experience collectively established a rich context for discussion in the plenary and breakout sessions that followed.

The morning and afternoon plenary sessions offered scholarly analysis of two types of risk, with the morning session focusing on systemic issues - measuring risk, managing the nuclear nonproliferation regime, and controlling fissile materials - and the afternoon, on human security issues - improving the resiliency of critical infrastructure and managing energy shocks to oil, natural gas, and electricity markets. Plenary I was moderated by Coit D. Blacker, with Elisabeth Paté-Cornell, Scott D. Sagan, and Siegfried S. Hecker as panelists; Plenary II was moderated by Michael A. McFaul, with Stephen E. Flynn and David G. Victor as panelists.

Drawing on Pate-Cornell's earlier discussion of statistical risk analysis, Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, assured conference participants over lunch that unlike other issues being debated that day, the risk of a human influenza pandemic "is one; it is going to happen...the issue is what will it mean when it happens." His assessment showed how our global just-in-time economy makes our world extremely vulnerable to an influenza pandemic. This vulnerability, Osterholm argued, will need to be managed on a local level through family preparedness, community leadership, and business preparedness and continuity.

Overlapping breakout sessions followed the morning and afternoon plenary sessions, allowing for interaction and dialogue in smaller, less formal settings. FSI's five centers and two of FSI's programs sponsored sessions that drilled down into some of the issues discussed in the larger forum throughout the day, including:

The conference concluded with a cocktail reception and dinner. Peter Bergen, CNN's counterterrorism analyst and the first Western journalist to have interviewed Osama bin Laden, offered closing remarks on the successes and failures in the war on terrorism since 9/11.