The EastWest Institute (EWI) is an international non governmental organisation, founded in 1980, that works to reduce international conflict.
The institute has a 39-year track record of convening dialogue and back channel diplomacy to develop sustainable solutions for today’s major political, economic and security issues. It is committed to bringing conflicting parties to the negotiating table to find common ground on some of the most pressing international challenges of today.
The EastWest Institute’s legacy includes mediating the first military-to-military dialogue between NATO and Warsaw Pact countries during the Cold War era. Currently, the EastWest Institute annually convenes the only three-party dialogue between the United States Democratic and Republican Parties with the Communist Party of China.
Dr. William Parker recently succeeded Ambassador Cameron Munter as EWI’s President and CEO. With a background steeped in education and global security, Dr. Parker served as CEO of the National Defense University Foundation and Chief of Staff for the U.S. Naval Surface Forces during a distinguished military career.
KCW Today interviewed Dr. Parker about the EastWest Institute and the important role it plays in the world today.
Q. Could you describe the work of The EastWest Institute and why it is so necessary in our modern world?
A. Our approach centers on fostering dialogue between global leaders and influencers. We do that by engaging government, military, business and civil society on major political, economic and security issues. We convene opposing groups, both “above the waterline” in open forums, and “below the waterline” for the discreet exchange of ideas and deliberations that address the most common barriers to trust. Simply, we build trust between groups that may not otherwise talk.
Q. What are your top priorities for the Institute?
A. To continue to focus on those discrete issues that are very important to world security. In today’s rapidly changing world we have to stay ahead of the changes. As such, a big part of what we do is to ensure that we understand present-day challenges as well as project those issues that may devolve into potential conflict. This applies to state actors and non-state actors, as well as issues like the role of Artificial Intelligence on the future of security. We believe that projecting issues and tensions is just as important as addressing existing conflicts, and critical for helping ensure stability for future generations.
Q. What are the strategies for this?
A. To get into some specifics, since 2008, we have maintained the U.S.-China Sanya Initiative that regularly convenes retired U.S. and Chinese four-star Generals and Admirals to build greater military-to-military understanding between the two countries and mitigate the chance of escalation and miscalculation.
Our Middle East North Africa programme assesses potential conflict triggers and dynamics across the region, and currently focuses on building trust between Iran and Saudi Arabia on shared interests around economic and environmental challenges; is engaged in thought leadership on the impact of environmental degradation and the resulting security risks in the MENA region, and is launching an Algeria-Morocco Business Dialogue.
The institute is also a pioneer in the area of cybersecurity, having initiated a global dialogue on cyberspace security, diplomacy and deterrence; and co-founded the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace (GCSC), which promotes mutual awareness and understanding among the various cyberspace communities on issues related to international cybersecurity.
Q. You studied at the Air Force Academy, Harvard University, and George Mason University. Do you feel that the modern education system adequately prepares young people for today’s international world?”
A. Your question is a very important one. I think a combination of formal and informal education is critical over one’s career. After my undergraduate studies, it was about 10 years before I went back to get a Master’s degree. During those 10 years I gained an informal education by working around the globe, having the privilege to visit various countries, and being exposed to a range of cultures. This truly shaped my way of thinking and prepared me for graduate studies.
Another 10 years passed before I returned to university to earn a Doctorate. In this context, I think timing is critical. Each professional challenge and experience prepared me significantly for higher education and vice versa. Of course, the timing will be different depending on the individual and what they are trying to achieve in their lifetime.
Q. Do you have any particularly memorable experiences in that informal education that you mention that you feel are especially valuable for young people today to attempt to experience?
A. When I was in the United States Navy we pulled into numerous ports in countries that were predominantly Muslim, or Christian, or Jewish. We met with political and religious leaders and quickly learned how different people think, view the world, and how they respond to various issues. What I took away from that is that at the end of the day no matter what country you go to, most people want the same thing; they want their children to grow up in a better situation, in a stable and healthy environment, with access to clean water, food and employment. This baseline cuts across all religions, nationalities and political viewpoints.
Q. Your book Guaranteeing America’s Security in the Twenty-First Century, (2016), outlined a roadmap for the American government to prepare itself for looming national security concerns. Have the past three years altered your perception of national security?
A. What the contributing writers and I realised is those areas we addressed and predicted to change are escalating faster than we first imagined. Social media and technology have increased the speed of events and decreased the time available for leaders to make decisions. In the past we had weeks to make decisions and because of the immediacy of today’s systems and responses, decisions have to be quick and decisive. That imposes a great deal of pressure and demands much more advanced knowledge and foresight.
Q. Are we setting ourselves up for a conflict between the West and a growing alliance between Russia and China. What role will the Institute play in navigating mediation?
A. I think it’s important to keep Russia, China and the United States as three separate entities. Unfortunately, I do agree that we are moving towards a bipolar or maybe multipolar world. Here, continued communication and understanding are critical. We have an office in Moscow and good communications with the Russian government, its military and civilians. We have a similar relationship with China where we foster relationships between the United States and China and other countries. We always want to ensure lines of communication remain open, because at the end of the day, even if you disagree on issues, continuous communication will allow you to arrive at a resolution and hopefully avoid open conflict.
Q. What are some of EastWest’s greatest concerns as we head into the future?
A. I already mentioned the challenges of rapid change. Can we change policies and decisions at a global scale fast enough to respond to an event that happens halfway around the world, yet is being communicated on social media instantaneously and possibly misinterpreted? Because of the increase in cross border threats and mis-communication, it is easy to see how mistakes can arise. For example, at sea, what constitutes an accident between two ships of different nations versus an act of aggression? So we continue to work on initiatives like the Incidents at Sea Agreements between the U.S. and Russia. Also, we are seeing more and more countries that are being impacted by more than just internal matters, like Armenia and Venezuela, and I don’t think that’s going to slow down in the near future.
We look at conflict in three ways or in three phases. We try to prevent conflict when possible by building trust and having conversations between the right high level people, both discrete and non-discrete. If these events turn into a conflict we continue to work on this very closely to ensure the shortest road possible to resolution. The third phase is post conflict resolution or cleaning up the mess after events. We look at these three pillars; pre-conflict or prevention, the clamping down on conflicts that are happening right now, and on the post-conflict world and returning to normalcy swiftly.
Q. What is the EastWest Institute’s stance on the advance of cybertechnology and cyber warfare?
A. That’s a very broad question. We’ve done a study on encryption policy in democratic regimes and have worked with other countries on how to deal with this. We recently issued a report on the emerging field of cyber insurance and systematic market risk. We carried out studies in 2018 and 2019 and working groups to discuss global cooperation in cyberspace as well as smart cities. The guide that we have put out provides advice for executives on making a smart city secure and safe by managing technology effectively. The key issue is how to make the world a better place and safer for individuals, organizations and cities not only from being attacked but keeping data secure.
Q. What are the Institute’s views on the influence of AI for the future?
A. Cyber is still relatively young when you look at the history of the world and we’re still working through various policies. Similarly, Artificial Intelligence is now penetrating most of the major industries of the world, including healthcare, finance, transportation, education and law. However, while it may increase our ability to come up with a cure for certain diseases rapidly, it could also form some disease that it is difficult for us to respond to. These are areas we have to constantly assess.
Look at some of the recent interviews done by the late Stephen Hawking and by Elon Musk and others, and their concerns about getting AI wrong. It is very important that we carefully apply AI. The Institute looks very closely at this issue, working with industry around the globe, to ensure our approach to AI results in a net positive for the world and not a net negative.
It is vital for the world to have leaders that we can live up to and make a difference. The EastWest Institute awards the John Edwin Mroz Global Statesman Award annually to members of the international community who work as “a trust-builder and catalyst for change.”
Q. What is the process for selecting the recipient of this award?
A. We believe it important to recognise individuals who are making a positive impact and will continue to make an impact on the globe. In 2018, Armenian President Dr. Armen Sarkissian was recipient of the award “in recognition of his distinguished career and achievements as a statesman representing the interests of Armenia, and for his contributions to the field of global development.”
We recognised Dr. Sarkissian because of his long career and distinct achievements in the physical sciences in the private sector, within government and representing the interests of Armenia. He has made profound contributions to global development. His deep experience and continued efforts to foster a spirit of greater cooperation and collectiveness are emblematic of his public service culminating in his overwhelming election as President at the National Assembly. Dr. Sarkissian has been entrusted with bringing about stability, offering a new vision for his country’s path towards a more democratic future. Such efforts deserve to be acknowledged.
By Kate Hawthorne & Arman Aboutorabi