Holmes lecturer gives special preview of NATO summit

Above: From left, Glendon Principal Kenneth McRoberts; David Wright, former Canadian ambassador to NATO; James Appathurai, NATO spokesperson; and Stanislav Kirschbaum, chair of Glendon’s Department of International Studies

Guests at Glendon’s annual John W. Holmes Memorial Lecture received a fascinating sneak preview of what could unfold at the NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugal, this weekend.

In his Nov. 4 address in Glendon Hall, James Appathurai, the official NATO spokesperson, outlined the current challenges facing the international political and military alliance. He predicted “a real moment of transition in terms of our relations in international security,” particularly regarding Russia and a proposed missile defence system, a solution to one of several current threats he described in his remarks.

James AppathuraiRight: James Appathurai

Appathurai outlined three main challenges facing the Western world in what he called the “post-post-cold war” period: state instability, cyber attacks on national computer systems and threats to the world economy and security, such as competition for scarce resources, principally water and oil.

Although he said the prospect of a conventional military threat to the member nations of NATO was growing increasingly small, Appathurai cautioned that state instability, caused by disputes within nations such as Pakistan and Afghanistan, is presenting a threat to global security. Many of those nations – 32 of them at last count – are developing ballistic missiles that could threaten Europe, he said.

Appathurai also outlined recent threats to the world’s computer systems. “Cyber attacks used to be a science fiction sort of story, but now they are frequent, organized and costly. There are literally millions of attacks every week against Western governments. These attacks can take down power grids, they can take down air traffic control, they can shut down the banks, they can shut down government services and, of course, they can affect private industry and therefore the economy.”

Stanislav KirschbaumRight: Stanislav Kirschbaum shows the audience a record album cover featuring guest speaker James Appathurai in his days as a choirboy

Estonia was the victim of a sustained attack in 2007, he said, and since then millions have been spent trying to build a defence against these assaults from enemies that are difficult to identify.

Appathurai went on to say that the world’s growing demand for energy, which travels through international networks that are increasingly vulnerable, also presents a challenge to the world’s economy and security. “Eighty to ninety per cent of goods in the world move by sea, they often move through very critical choke points,” where piracy is a major problem.

“NATO has come to a fundamental realization that for most of these problems, there is no military solution,” Appathurai added. “You need a comprehensive civilian and military approach…. Now, we have to fight the fight and win the peace at the same time, and that requires a fundamental change in how we do business.”

Appathurai predicted that progress would be made on reaching a new understanding with Russia at the NATO summit, which begins this afternoon and runs through tomorrow. “I think it’s safe to say now, that NATO will take the decision to build a capability to defend European populations and territories against missile attack. But, we will also make a formal offer to Russia to work with us.

Right: Kenneth McRoberts muses about the guest speaker’s days as a boy who visited Glendon with his father, Professor Edward Appathurai

“For the first time, if this goes forward, and I think eventually it will, we’ll have one security roof. We’ll have a common security project between Russia and the rest of Europe and that will be a first in European security in a very, very long time. I think the political merits of this are very strong.”

Appathurai also addressed the problem of shrinking defence budgets in Europe and increased discussion of who will share the burden of defence. He pointed to the growth of military capability in nations such as India and China, and said “the growth in their strength is an opportunity, not a risk – at least not from a NATO point of view. Other regions of the world, if they can and want to contribute…can carry more of the burden. That’s good for us…but it basically heralds a shift in political power.”

During his introductory remarks, Professor Stanislav Kirschbaum, chair of Glendon’s Department of International Studies, also announced the winners of the 2010 Edward & Caroline Appathurai Scholarships: Glendon students Joelle Rondeau and Jamie Broad.

James Appathurai is the son of the late Edward Appathurai, the former Ceylonese diplomat who joined York University in 1968 and taught courses in international relations and diplomacy, creating Glendon’s International Studies Program.

During his opening remarks, Appathurai, who will soon take up new duties as NATO’s deputy assistant secretary general for political affairs & security policy as well as the secretary general’s special representative for Central Asia and the Caucusus, mused about how his father would view his current work. “My father was very much a product of the non-aligned movement and disarmament development. [He was interested] in keeping peace and…taking money out of weapons and putting it into development. I think he would have been surprised and pleased that I have a job – but less pleased with the job that I have.”

John Wendall  HolmesAbout the Holmes Memorial Lecture

The annual John W. Holmes Memorial Lecture at Glendon honours the late John Wendall Holmes, a Canadian diplomat, writer, administrator and international relations professor at Glendon from 1971 to 1981. Holmes was a tireless promoter of Canada at home and abroad, in political, diplomatic and educational circles. He also participated in the founding of the United Nations and attended its first General Assembly in 1945.

By David Fuller, YFile contributing writer