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Audio Guide: The Next Page - Transcripts

Welcome to the UN Library and Archives Geneva's Audio Research Guide! Here you'll find episodes from our own podcast, The Next Page, as well as podcasts and audio from or on the UN system and multilateralism.

58: Nurturing corporative security faced with multilateral scepticism: Ambassador Thomas Greminger

by Katrine Knudsen on 2021-07-22T11:15:49+02:00 | Comments


Francesco Pisano: Hello everyone and welcome to this new episode of The Next Page, the podcast to advance the conversation on multilateralism. Very pleased today to have with me in front of me in the studio, Ambassador Thomas Greminger, who is the director, relatively new director of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, the GCSP which is located just across the street. It is one of our esteemed neighbours here in the International Geneva. 

Ambassador Greminger has worked as Secretary-General of the Organisation for the Security Cooperation in Europe from 2017 until 2020, then in May 2021, he took over as director of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, of which I am an alumnus. Because I got training there. It's excellent training is fantastic, that they do in the centre, and we'll hear more about the ambassador himself. 

So Ambassador Greminger welcome to the podcast, and I wanted to just invite you to say a little bit about yourself to our audience, because between your PhD in history and this assignment you're holding now, you have navigated through an incredible career of many positions of diplomatic level, multilateral levels, etcetera. So why don't you tell our audience a little bit about yourself? 

Thomas Greminger: Sure, I'm a Swiss career diplomat with a relatively particular career. I basically did two things in my professional life. I spent a lot of time in development-related issues, development policy, development corporation and on peace and security. These were the two red threats through my professional career. Highlights, I was for relatively young in my career, I was head of the policy unit of the Swiss Agency for Development Corporation. And then the head of our mission in Mozambique, which implied two tasks, on the one hand, I was head after diplomatic mission, but mainly I ran the biggest corporation programme of Switzerland's back then in Mozambique, very exciting challenge. And then I came back to Bern and had the pleasure of working together with today's ICRC President Peter Maurer, I was his deputy after helm of the political division for Political Division for Human Security, as it became quite known. This was the pioneering days of this department. We built it up to, I think, quite an impressive tool for promoting peace, mediating in conflicts, but also promoting human rights policies, humanitarian and migration policies of progressive nature.  

I did that for eight and a half years and then came my next phase. The OEC phase. I was sent to Vienna as a permanent representative to multilateral organisations in Vienna and initially, I covered both UN and the Organisational Security and Corporation. So, I was active on both sides. But then we in the course of 2011 started preparing Switzerland’s OEC’s chairmanship in 2014 and this then meant that I would focus more on the OEC matters. And indeed in 2014 Switzerland then chaired the organisation. I became chair of the Permanent Council and as you recall, this was the time after the Ukraine crisis. So, I was very closely involved in managing the crisis in and around Ukraine. 

I left Vienna 2015, got back to Bern and became the Deputy Director-general of the Swiss Agency for Development Corporation, and I was then for two years in charge of Development Corporation, with the South – the south branch of the STC – was my sphere of responsibility. And then, well, the chance to run for Secretary-General, for the Secretary-General position, came up. I submitted my candidature and was voted in successful. And now was for one term, three years s Secretary General in a very challenging environment, of course, but I guess we'll come back to that later in our conversation. And well, last summer my mandate was, as the mandates for all four leadership positions of the OEC, were not extended and so I eventually then decided to come back to Switzerland. And now for two months, I am the director of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy and happy to be here in Geneva. 

Francesco Pisano: And we're happy to have you back here in Geneva. What an amazing career. What an amazing career ambassador. So, let's for the benefit of the audience, talk a little bit about the Geneva Centre for Security Policy. As I said before, I took training there. I was very impressed with the range of topics, the professional level of the trainers there and the quality of the issues. There are four pillars at the centre. When you look at your website, what comes through quite clearly is these four pillars and I'm going to mention them for the audience and then maybe you can tell us a little bit while you choose these four and what they mean for you as an institution. So the first is “we educate” and the second is “We facilitate”, then “We analyse” and then “We inspire”. So, these are really four pillars, and your activity is basically cut across these four areas in which you concentrate your professionalism in your people. Tell us a little bit about what the centre does in these areas and what they mean to you. 

Thomas Greminger: With pleasure. “We educate” stands for a platform for executive education. We educate more than 1300 professionals from more than 60 countries annually. Our target audience would be mid-career professionals, politicians, diplomats, military officers, but also more representatives of international organisations, the corporate sector, NGOs. So really, a multi-stakeholder audience. We offer a few flagship long term courses. One, the longest one, even combined with an executive master degree. But the bulk of our courses are relatively short, one to two weeks, four to six weeks. Many of these courses are customized for specific clients, as for instance UN organisations. We do, for instance, leadership training for WHO and we’ve been doing leadership training for WTO. So customized trainings represent more than half of our training activities. “We facilitate” stands for the GCSP as a platform for inclusive dialogue. We offer track two-track one and a half dialogue platforms both with a regional focus, we for instance have a process that is called the Zermatt Roundtable that focuses on the Korean Peninsula. We have another process that is called Champ Easy Round Table focusing on arms control and European security. There are also processes focusing on conflicts, there is a track too on Syria. There is dialogue between American and Russian experts on the area. So basically, trying to support formal official processes on a level over half a level below, that is the idea of our dialogue facilitation activities.  

“We analyse” that is the classical think tank mandate. That is, we offer policy advice in a number of distinct security areas. I think we are particularly strong when it comes to leadership, crisis management, cyber emerging, disruptive, disruptive technologies, arms control. These are areas where we are capable of offering policy advice.  
“We inspire” this points to a fellowship programme that we have inviting younger mid-career but also end of career professionals that want to work at our centre virtually or in person and contributing also to our activities through making their expertise available. “We Inspire” implies also that we are an incubation platform. If you have a brilliant idea that is not entirely mature yet, you can submit your proposal to us, we look at it and help you then to develop it and hopefully to graduate it and bring your day. Often it is an institutional setup that is needed, funds often also need to, so that would be traditionally what makes part of an incubation.  

There is a fifth element that I should mention into this “We try to connect”. We try to connect our alumni. We have more than 9000 alumni and while this is an old idea to capitalise on potential 9000 alumni imply. We have only started relatively recently to exploit that potential. So, we try to bring them together, to encourage them to use their expertise, to share it with other alumni. We have created regional hops, we have more than 20 - some very active, some a bit less – but this connecting function is a relatively recent fifth pillar of GCSP. 

Francesco Pisano: I'm glad to hear that as one of them, I look forward to any activities you may organise for alumni. 9000 is an impressive number of professionals in the air of multilateralists. So let me ask you this, I'm very curious, I hope our audience is also curious about that, but I seem to know that there is an interesting story behind the creation of the centre itself and it dates back to the first Geneva Presidential Summit between US and Russia back in 18 -- sorry 1985, here in Geneva. Since we're just we're recording this episode in 2021, just after a few weeks after the second presidential summit here between President Biden and President Putin. Why don't you share the story with our audience? What happened in 85?  

Thomas Greminger: It is correct, it's a long-term consequence after -- I would underline long term consequence -- of the 1985 sort of second summit US Russian summit. Well in 1985 the Swiss authorities, when organising the summit, they realised that they have hardly any security policy, expertise inside the Swiss administration, so they decided to launch a course that would build up gradually this expertise within the Swiss administration. This course was called Security Policy Course and then gradually developed into a success story that also attracted international participation and became, I would say, the nucleus of what later, then became the Geneva Centre for Security Policy. And then in 1995 the then President of the Swiss Confederation and Minister of Defence had had a vision. He wanted to offer to the international community a number of centres that offer expertise in the security field rate large because a year before the Swiss people turned down a referendum that would have allowed this military to make soldiers, armed soldiers available for international peacekeeping. So in a way, if you want, it was politically compensating for these constraints to offer troops to international peacekeeping. That the three Geneva centres, the Centre for Humanitarian demining, but the centre also for Democratic Control of Armed Forces - a leading think tank for the security sector reform and governance today and my centre to GCSP were created. And gradually, the centres expanded their activities and initially we had a governing board, a board of trustees, a foundation Council as it is called in Switzerland, of 11 nations and today at this has grown to a Foundation Council of 53 members. 

And I should say that all P5 are represented in the foundation council of GCSP and I'm quite proud of that. And then perhaps a last element that I should mention here when we talk about the history in 2014 then at the Maison de la Paix, was the House of Peace, was finished and the centre moved into this state-of-the-art class structure in the heart of International Geneva. And of course, allowed another expansion of the activities, not only of my centre but also of our everybody else. 

Francesco Pisano: And here we are today, with the centre that is a major pole of attraction here in international Geneva, situating in this Maison de la Paix, the House of Peace, where a number of other very important organisations here in Geneva, including the Graduate Institute, for example, have their headquarters. Let's stay a little bit more on the centre. One of the striking things about your centre is that it covers a wide range of topics. You talked about your areas of expertise, educating, facilitating, analytical, inspiring and connecting, but when one looks at the amazing range of it of topics. They range from arms control, in alphabetical order, to transformative technologies. There are some dozens of them. I'd like to ask you what's trending now and where do you see potential in the immediate future of among these areas that you cover? 

Thomas Greminger: First of all, you're absolutely right, we have a very broad understanding of security. It's a concept that is clearly multi-dimensional and this is also why we have a total of 16 thematic clusters, and you know, I wouldn't pretend that we are in all 16 clusters equally good in terms of in-house expertise. But we find it very important that we have this comprehensive understanding of security, and we are very much also facilitator in our courses. We have normally more than 1000 speakers that we mobilise through our network to make sure that in all fields we can offer the top experts, the top analysts for our trainings. Now, when it comes to in-house expertise, the areas where we are strong in, I would clearly mention leadership, I would mention crisis management, and here we also cooperate very closely with UN agencies. Strategic foresight has become an important issue, climate change and environmental security has as tremendously gained in relevance, then disruptive emerging technologies, cyber - clearly. But then you know also conventional stuff like military risk reduction, arms control remains very important. And I'm trying hard to also offer relevant expertise at the GCSP for these more traditional security risks. 

Francesco Pisano: Thank you for this element. It remains very impressive to see how you're able to harness all these different dimensions of security. So, congratulations there. Let's come to the deep dive of the episode. And for this episode, the topic we selected together with you for the deep dive is the concept of cooperative security. So, you're a security specialist, the centre specialises in security. When people like me and many more in our audience stop and think about security, what they figure is in the brains is systems and protocols that are basically centrally managed, but there is this new tendency to look at security as a participatory process. Hence the term of cooperative security and you came to talk to us today and to give an opportunity to the audience to learn about this concept and where it applies. So, let's start right there. Let's start from what it means, what's the definition of cooperative security and which domains this type of security is applied? 

Thomas Greminger: The definition of cooperative security is at the outset quite simple. It means that states work together to address common security risks. And it's a new but also very old concept. And contrary to collective security, cooperative security is not about forging a defensive alliance against someone. But it is about who do we need to cooperate with to respond to particular security challenges. If you think there is a broad range of security risks, where states need to cooperate, I referred before to climate change and environmental degradation, the regulatory needs in the framework of technological change, artificial intelligence, its impact on our lives, coping with large flows of refugees and migrants, arms control, transnational organised crime, cyber sites, nuclear safety and pandemic, you name it. I could go on. And what is obvious is that no state, not even the most powerful, can deal with these challenges on its own. So, they can only be successfully and sustainably addressed through cooperation. And I think for most current security challenges either there is a cooperative solution, or there is no solution at all. And UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres put it, I think this at a UN General Assembly a couple of years ago, he said “in an interconnected world, it is time to recognise a simple truth. Solidarity is self-interest" and I think this encapsulates the essence of cooperative security extremely well. And look COVID-19 is a stark reminder and a powerful signal for cooperative security. At the same time, as we know, the virus does not stop at any borders. It is not stopped by propaganda, and I think to spread of the pandemic has clearly shown the importance of corporation within communities, between states and as an international community. Cooperative securities is very much about conceptualising security together. It would encourage states to jointly identify and prevent threats rather than to counter them through deterrence or the use of force. And if I were to list a few key features,  I would indeed start by establishing elements of common threat perception. I think that's a very important starting point. And it's the Restraint, restraint is a key concept. Restraint by all parties. Privileging dialogue and conflict prevention over, again, the use of force. Interaction based on principles - principles that have been defined by the parties themselves. Good neighbourly relations and minimally a gradual move towards peaceful coexistence and then also solving inequality by all parties, I think this is another important feature of cooperative security. I think cooperative security requires a degree of empathy to understand that the other side may have a different history, a different culture, different perceptions, different interests, wants to be treated with dignity and respect. I think cross-building is very important. Confidence-building measures are a key tool in cooperative security. Predictability, reciprocity and nothing at the end of the day also, pragmatism.  

Francesco Pisano: So, this concept has the potential, and this is a question I'm putting to you. Do you think that this type of cooperation in security as the potential to change international relations and processes today in our world? Given the fact that a lot of the security threads are now systemic, you mention a few, starting with climate change, I think it's the most evident, but also, you know, the global migration crisis and things like that. So, you just mentioned that these are best addressed together in a cooperative manner. I think there's no contention there. So, it’s as if the landscape of international relations is more ready now to collaborative and cooperative security, that it was before. Do you see that from the observation deck of the centre? Or do you see more a struggle to almost teach cooperative security to countries that are still driven by the pursuit of strategic domestic interest at the expense of other countries? 

Thomas Greminger: First of all, I would say cooperative security has a track record, I think, it has helped us to survive the Cold War, it has, I believe, contributed very substantively that we came out of the Cold War and also, would last 30 years, I think, when you think at this web of arms control agreements that have provided us with relative peace and stability over the last 30 years, I would argue, that there is a track record. It has worked to a certain extent. But what we have been seeing over, well at least the last decade if not, well, I'm tempted to say the last two decades, is an increasing polarisation. And I think today relations between the key stakeholders in international security have reached varying degree of polarisation and on the other hand, as you rightly say, practically all security risks of systemic nature can only be tackled by cooperation. So I think we need another approach if we want to address these challenges successfully. I think we don't have many alternatives then to, again, cooperate and this takes us again to this concept of cooperative security.  

Francesco Pisano: And also to the concept of multilateralism, we'll talk about that in in a few minutes. But let's stay with the centre and the concept of cooperative security for just one last part of this conversation on this concept. I wanted to ask you to tell our audience what the centre does in practical terms for and on cooperative security, what is your role? And also, if you may tell us a little bit, if in that role there is a historical partnership with the UN. Because I think that the UN has a lot to gain from a cooperative way of doing security. 

Thomas Greminger: Absolutely. I would argue that practically everything that we do at the centre is inspired by this cooperative mindset. We are educating future leaders in the spirit of cooperation. We offer safe spaces for dialogue and cooperation and also at the fellowships  - the ideas is that we offer incubation for, I think, they're also this -- the cooperative nature is absolutely key to all of them.n We are partnering in executive education, but also when it comes to dialogue promotion, very closely and quite systematically with the United Nations, which is not to say, you know, that there is not further potential to be exploited, and as a matter of fact, this is clearly also my personal ambition, I have, of course, as Secretary-General of the OECD worked extremely closely with the UN in conflict resolution, but also in other relevant security areas. And I've come to realise what the potential areas in this Cooperation, and so I would definitely also want to use my network my access to key UN figures to further this partnership between the GCSP and the UN. 

Francesco Pisano: Let's talk about multilateralism. As you know, our podcast is all about advancing the conversation on multilateralism, we are very proud of that, and this comes from our genetic material that the podcast is made of, which is the library and archives - we have been here since 1919, doing just that, talking and advancing the conversation of multilateralism. And whenever I have a guest like you, who's known for being a strong supporter of multilateral is so interesting to talk about the topic, So you've done a lot, I read on your bio and I also know from other colleagues of yours that you've done a lot to sustain and support the cause of multilateralism, both as deputy of the Swiss Development Cooperation, but also as, especially, as Secretary-General of th OECD. So I wanted to ask you Ambassador, what do you think of the current international landscape? This level of corporation and the appetite for multilateralism today in general terms, but also specifically regarding security policy and the security landscape. 

Thomas Greminger: I think living in a time, there is, I mean here often, this reference to the crisis for multilateralism, and clearly also based on my experience as Secretary-General of the OECD, there is something to it. Unilateral transactional approaches have been dominating recent years. There is this widespread scepticism towards multilateral institutions, towards multilateral mechanisms, to address global problems. And I think what strikes me most is that we are facing this paradox. On the one hand, as we have discussed before, we are confronted with more and more security risks that can only be addressed successfully in corporation, but at the same time there is this multilateral scepticism, there is shrinking space for dialogue, there is frankly little appetite for cooperate. And I think that's the environment we currently work in. Okay, I'm I'm an optimist. I think, I do hope that the choice of Geneva as a multilateral hub for the Summit of Presidents Biden and President Putin is also a signal for a turnaround towards again, more trust in multilateral approaches, institutions, tools and that we need again more leadership, including also leadership by the key stakeholders of international affairs for multilateralism. But clearly in recent years it has been extremely challenging and also the polarising environment, the polarisation between major powers, has contributed to yeah, what we often refer to, and rightly so I'm afraid, as crisis of multilaturalism. 

Francesco Pisano: I wanted to also bring up another experience that you had. I know from reading around your biography that you led a process of change in the organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and as a passionate observer of international organisations and I did some studies there also in my early years, International organisations are particularly organisation that have a particular problem with change and adaptation to change. So there is this delay - they look stuck in time - they're not by all means, but they look stuck in times because there is a delay between change and how in their reaction to change, and then how they choose to react to that change. So, adapting to the challenge, adapting to change seems to be a big thing, a big thing for international organisations. So, I wanted to have your experience told to the audience through this podcast about what it takes to accompany or even lead change in large organisations like OEC or any international organisation, no one in particular but in general, the species of international organisations, IOs as within our jargon. 

Thomas Greminger: First of all, I just want to underscore your point of how important it is to constantly reform multilateral mechanisms ,organisations to make sure that they’re fit for purpose and I had at different stages of my career opportunities to contribute to that. One of the most spectacular reform efforts I was involved with, that was as department director, Human Security Department Director in the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I let the initiative that took us to the creation of the UN Human Rights Council because we saw, you know, a struggling UN Commission and we felt the Commission did not have an appropriate mandate when it came to positioning human rights in the international system. And it was of course also partly motivated by making sure that you know Geneva kept up to up to speed, and so we launched this initiative, and it was a process that all in all took three years until the  Council was was created. And I think at the end of the day you need leadership, you need committed also persons, it's human beings,and then of course you need political will by member states. There is nothing that can substitute for political will by member states and this is obviously also true for my attempt. I launched early in 2018, a relatively ambitious reform agenda in the OECD entitled “Fit For Purpose”, it contained a number of rather political but also a lot of technical items. And for 2 1/2 years I've worked very extensively with the secretariat, but also with participating states on implementing this agenda. And I must say in those that believe that the OECD is immune to reform they have proven wrong. We managed to implement quite a number of reforms. For instance, I conducted the very comprehensive management review of the OECD, of a secretariat that had grown organically over 25 years and was never looked at critically in the way processes or structured in the organisational chart was defined. I did that and I think we managed to implement the bulk after the proposals and thereby clearly promoted effectiveness and efficiency and impact of the organisation. Having said so, there were also important measures that we did not manage to pull through, and many of the measures that we failed to implement or where we did not get as far as we had wished, were measures where we needed to buy in of participating states and yeah, this takes me again to the point of political will, political leadership, interest by capitals for what is happening in an organisation. Often you are on the technical level you're stuck, and then you need political will, you need capitals to come in and help you overcome stumbling blocks. And if this happens, you can pull through a reform, if it doesn't happen, you get stuck. So at the end there is only so much that you can do as an international organisation without the buy-in part by member states. Having said so, I would also argue that there is, of course, responsibility for international organisations to constantly keep adapting to evolving challenges, and I think there is never time for complacency.  

Francesco Pisano: Many important points you make there and so many that are so timely and relevant for the UN system in general, but also for the UN secretariat in particular. Thank you for sharing your experience with us and with our audience so openly. Thank you, thank you so much. As we wrap up this episode ambassador, any final thoughts that you wish our audience to remember on what you do, your experience or the centre or the concept of cooperative security? 

Thomas Greminger:  Well, my message tom in particular political stakeholders, politicians, is that they should take better care of multilateral institutions and mechanisms, and we need leaders that are ready to invest political capital in them if we want to be capable to tackle the global challenges of the future. And even though often it does not sell immediately in elections back home, at least not in the short term, but in the medium to long term, I believe it will pay off and I think it's this kind of political leadership that we currently need if we want to safeguard or strengthen or even expand our multilateral toolbox.  

Francesco Pisano: Good points, thank you, good points there. Where can we and our audience find more about the centre, The Geneva Centre for Security Policy and maybe any advice on web resources, other knowledge sources concerning your area of expertise?  

Thomas Greminger: I think we have easily accessible webpage and this basically then also takes you to whatever you want to know. And then if not as soon as we can again meet in person, why don't you come by the Maison de la Paix is I think is a spectacular sight and so why don't you come and see us? 

Francesco Pisano: Thank you so much and there will be in the in the notes to this episode podcast, for those who would take time to go on the web and look for that, there will be a number of links there to your centre and to various sources of knowledge regarding the area of security policy. So, Ambassador Thomas Greminger, thank you so much for being with us on The Next Page today.  

Thomas Greminger: You're most welcome. 

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