World-leading scholars come to Laurier

On Thursday evening some of the top scholars on the United Nations System gathered in Wilfrid Laurier University’s Senate and Board Chambers to kick off the 2011 Academic Council on the United Nations System (ACUNS) annual meeting.

The event, co-hosted by The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), WLU and the Stanley Foundation — a non-profit organization that researches international relations — marks the 24th annual ACUNS general meeting and brings together academics from across the globe to discuss, analyze and critique the UN system of international governance. According to CIGI executive director, Thomas Bernes, Waterloo is the perfect place for a gathering like this to take place.

“This is a vibrant community with a special interest in global activity,” he said. “I think we show that through ACUNS [which has its headquarters in Waterloo] and CIGI.”

To open the two-day long conference, which has speakers and panel discussions at Laurier on Friday and at CIGI on Saturday, the keynote address was given by Suzanne Nossel. Nossel is currently the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the United States Bureau of International Organization Affairs and her speech was about employing “smart power” when it comes to foreign policy.

While the term “smart power” became something of a buzz-phrase when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used it in a 2009 address, referring to a mix of diplomacy and military strength when dealing with international relations, Nossel’s talk had a slightly different tone.

“Smart power is about using the full range of tools of influence when it comes to foreign policy,” said Nossel. “For too long, the United States tried to advance its influence through aggressive techniques…. But the UN is kind of like a Swiss army knife, there are a number of different tools, each with unique functions.”

Nossel broke down these varied tools of influence into five categories: the power of networks, cross-regional alliances, realistic appraisals of power shifts, open dialog and executive power.

In terms of power shifts, Nossel was adamant that so-called rising powers in the UN could not be “ignored, side-stepped or rolled over,” adding that established, “major powers need to operate with a sense of responsibility.”

Acknowledging that there have been shortcomings when it comes to things such as the UN’s dealings with human rights issues, Nossel said that there have also been a lot of triumphs.

“Nothing good just happens in the UN, everything takes imitative and effort,” she said. “But the commitment is there. There have been some disappointments and I don’t think you’re ever fully satisfied, but you have to look at the whole picture.”

The conference resumes at WLU tomorrow, with round-table discussions and workshops taking up the majority of the day, followed by a keynote address from Bruce Jentleson of Duke University. Saturday’s events will take place at CIGI, however a live stream is available free of charge.

Click here to register for the live stream.