SU's Military Connections in Context
by Louis Kriesberg

A variety of concerns arise when Syracuse University, or any US university, works with the US government on national security issues. Such work may potentially crowd out curricular and research attention regarding alternative approaches to such issues. It may affect the climate in which work in many arenas is done, giving undue weight to the conventions of the administration in office and to reliance on military solutions. And it may affect the content of the academic work done, suggesting directions to investigate and providing justifications for ongoing inappropriate governmental practices.

The realism of such concerns depends on what actual work is being done and the relations with the government in doing the work. Two recent programs at SU have aroused some controversy.

The NSS and INSCT
Between 1996 and 2006, the Maxwell School had contracts with the Department of Defense (DOD) for the National Security Studies (NSS) program to provide leadership training for high-level military and civilian personnel (nss.edu). Presently, the NSS program continues, but without a DOD contract - the program is supported by the tuition generated by the attendees, high and mid-level civilian and military managers.
Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh was the keynote speaker at an INSCT conference. Photo: Luke Thoms

On a few occasions, John Murray and I led conflict resolution exercises during the NSS's training sessions. We provided readings and lectures about conflict resolution and organized a lengthy simulation: participants were assigned roles in a simulated meeting of the deputies to US cabinet members. We prepared a scenario with several emerging crises in Afghanistan about which the participants were to develop policy recommendations.

During this period of DOD-contracted programs, I think the Maxwell School and the participants derived benefits. Many Syracuse faculty members had the opportunity to hear and meet a wide variety of visiting speakers and participants and test their own ideas. The diverse speakers included Andrew Bacevich, James Fallows and Anthony Zinni, who respectively presented analyses of US imperialism, critiques of failing US policies in Iraq, and even the importance of officers challenging decisions they believe to be wrong. Several Maxwell faculty members also presented a wide variety of views. I admit I was surprised at the attendees' reactions. The participants listened attentively and amiably engaged the presenters; clearly they wanted to hear critical analyses and broader approaches. And they got some of that, as well as traditional perspectives and reports by uniformed and non-uniformed persons in current service.

The Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism (INSCT) was established in the College of Law in 2003, and in 2004 the Maxwell School joined in sponsorship (insct.syr.edu). It supports research, offers courses and a certificate, and sponsors events and conferences, all related to national and international security and counterterrorism. It does not have any contractual relationship with the US government.

The Lauder School of Government and the Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), a private university in Herzliya, Israel, reached an agreement in 2005 with the Maxwell School and INSCT to promote collaborative activities in counter-terrorism and conflict resolution. This is aided by private donors. The activities include student and faculty exchanges, joint research projects and sponsoring symposia. The exchange of students and faculty between SU and the IDC is helping to build a conflict resolution component into the IDC program, which IDC students and faculty regard as a valued contribution by the Maxwell School. A few symposia have been held in Herzliya and in Syracuse; for example, in October 2006 SU hosted the conference, "A Nuclear Iran: The Legal Implications of a Preemptive National Security Strategy." In addition to some US administration officials, critics of preemptive attacks on Iran spoke, including the keynote speaker, Seymour Hersh. A few research projects are also underway, including analyzing the constructive transformation of civil wars, from violence to political engagement and sustainable peace.

My involvement in these programs has allowed my ideas about peaceful conflict resolution to receive a hearing from people in policy making positions whom I otherwise would not have reached. These ideas reflect my personal history and research relating to the Cold War and to conflicts in the Middle East and also my engagement in the peace studies and conflict resolution fields. I believe that reliance on violence often is counterproductive and that other kinds of inducements can be more constructive. Furthermore, recognition of the heterogeneity of each side in a large-scale conflict opens up the possibility of creating mutually acceptable agreements. Many processes can be used to increase the likelihood of so transforming destructive conflicts.

I don't think these programs have significantly affected the tenor of the Maxwell School. They have served the interests of a large group of graduate students who have formed the very active Student Association on Terrorism and Security Analysis (SATSA). The study of these matters is situated at SU in a relevantly larger context, although I would prefer an even broader setting, including more attention to constructive ways to engage in large-scale conflicts and construct more equitable social relations.

The Larger University Context
These two programs should be seen within the context of the many departments and programs in the Maxwell School and Syracuse University. Thus, the Maxwell School has many other programs working with persons from overseas and with other academic and governmental institutions. These include programs with China, India and young leaders from Arab and North African counties. I believe those connections are highly beneficial for all parties. They deepen everyone's understandings of the differences and of the similarities of people in the US and in other countries.

There are numerous other institutes, centers and programs at SU focusing on gender, transnational nongovernmental organizations, governance and so forth. I want to mention particularly the Program on the Analysis and Resolution of Conflicts (PARC) established in 1986 (www.maxwell.syr.edu/parc). Initially it received funding from the Maxwell Dean's office and the Hewlett Foundation; Hewlett funding has now ended. PARC also is supported by research grants and special teaching programs it provides. PARC now awards certificates in conflict resolution, helps coordinate studies relating to contemporary conflict resolution and collaborative governance, and offers training in mediation and negotiations skills. While there are other programs in the Maxwell School that relate to peace and justice, I wish there were more.

The concerns I noted at the start of this article are real. Their seriousness depends upon the integrity of the faculty and university administrators who may well experience temptations to seek and accept funds to do work that is not independent and caters to what the funder wants. As with any funder, there are risks of cooptation, but that need not be wholly a one-way process; influence does not flow only in one direction. Institutional arrangements should be structured to minimize harmful consequences and maximize openness, critical thinking and attention to well-grounded information. That would be aided by maintaining and increasing the transparency of university operations in these arenas.


Louis is Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Maxwell Professor Emeritus of Social Conflict Studies and founding Director of the Program on the Analysis and Resolution of Conflicts.