Professor Andrew S. Natsios, Executive Professor and Director of the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs at the George H.W. Bush School of Government at Texas A&M University
Dr. Jamie Shea, Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges at NATO
Exploring the Religious-Policy/Security Nexus in Responding to Critical Contemporary Regional/Global Security Challenges
This two day conference event held on the St. Edward's University campus in November 2016 with attendance exceeding 200 participants represented the second event held under the auspices of the Kozmetsky Center-Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University project exploring the religious-policy/security nexus in managing regional and global security challenges. Building on recommendations generated from the prior inaugural project session held at NATO HQ in Brussels, January 2016, this second conference session sponsored by the Kozmetsky Center with the support of NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division focused particularly on defining and discussing the challenges that policy officials confront in attempting to engage productively with religious communities in addressing contemporary critical security challenges and threats.
The central desired outcome for the conference was to facilitate enhanced collaboration among the policy/security and religious communities in addressing the most critical security challenges confronting the NATO Alliance and international community, including countering violent extremism and terrorism, migration, religious sources of nationalism and regional conflicts, contemporary geopolitical divisions, failed states and democratization, and Euro-Atlantic integration. The Austin conference served as a foundation for bringing together a gathering of distinguished speakers with broad ranging expertise that could assist in establishing a framework and objectives for future development of this project work, and to identify a network of subject experts that might be tapped to contribute to future conferences, regional outreach initiatives, policy relevant research collaboration, and expanding engagement with religious and faith communities, particularly in the Balkans and Eurasia.
The two-day conference brought together senior representatives of the international policy community with religious clerics of major traditional faiths and leading academics specializing in religion-policy/security issues. Conference organizers approached the topic with the assumption that the international community as a whole, and NATO as an integral part of it, faces challenges that can only be addressed by a comprehensive cooperative approach. The conference provided excellent opportunities for exchanging expertise, building international collaborative networks, and encouraging future work in this critical area.
This conference contributed to building sustained networks among the religious, policy/security, and relevant academic communities for continued productive cooperation in responding to regional security challenges. Participants from both academic and policy fields described how interacting with the diverse network of colleagues represented at the conference provided critical information and perspectives that will be useful for their own work. Participating religious clerics representing Islam, Orthodoxy, and Catholic faiths welcomed the opportunity for dialogue on security issues with the policy community and academic subject area experts, and offered several suggestions for continuing and deepening collaboration and cooperation. By developing networks of academic and policy practitioners from a variety of fields – security, religious institutions, religious studies, government, international development, and others – this event has enabled new collaboration, partnerships for future projects, and a needed exchange of perspectives.
Further, conference participants expressed a unanimous shared consensus on the importance of engaging religious actors and fostering religious-policy/security collaboration for successfully responding to meet significant challenges toward advancing peace in the complex 21st century security environment. The event also provided a unique opportunity for university students to hear perspectives from theory, policy, and the religious communities that will aid in further academic and policy-relevant research and study. Conference speakers were also able to visit course seminars while on campus to further engage with St. Edward's University students.
A roundtable session was held in conjunction with the conference on NATO’s current security challenges with Ms. Despina Afentouli of NATO Public Diplomacy Division generating considerable community interest. The session was co-sponsored by the World Affairs Council - Austin and GlobalAustin, and attendance included a select group of community leaders with interest in NATO and international security issues.