The 25-Plus CPACS Anniversary Forum Summary of Remarks
March 12, 2015

I was President of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS) at the University of Sydney between 1991 and 1997. I will comment (i) on my role at CPACS, (ii) how I came to that role, and (iii) then make some general reflections on contemporary issues.

My Role at CPACS

I met Dr Peter King on my return to Sydney in January 1991 from running the Trinity Peace Research Institute in Perth (1986-90). I had known Peter since 1973, when he was a supervisor of my first PhD. He was about to go overseas and suggested that Professor Stuart Rees and I become respectively the Director and President of the fledgling CPACS.

I saw my role as being an “external” one, as an evangelist for peace research in the mass media and elsewhere. (Stuart dealt with the internal administration running of the centre and the university politics).

It seems hard to imagine now but there was then a lot of hostility (or at least suspicion) about peace research. Some of the hostility came from right-wingers who saw this as a left-wing plot.

But even among liberal academics there was a suspicion that somehow peace research did not belong in a university setting. As National President of the United Nations Association in the 1980s, I was member of a group that lobbied the Labor Government to establish a Peace Research Centre at the Australian National University. Some of the ANU’s trauma was captured by veteran journalist Peter Hastings’ “Peace Brothers Peace”, Sydney Morning Herald, July 4 1983.

I sought to make peace research “respectable”, such as via the mass media, Rotary and other community organizations. There was a need to win over the middle ground; right wingers and conservative academics would not be won over, and so I concentrated on the middle ground.

My concern was that peace research was too self-focused (a common problem among academics). Peace researchers talked to other researchers, rather than building up a community of support outside academe.

In one Sydney University media department survey, I received in a year more media mentions than the Chancellor herself.

I resigned after six years. Six years is long enough in any voluntary role. Besides I wanted to rebrand myself less as a “peace researcher” and more as a “foreign affairs commentator”, and so with a wider scope in the mass media.

How I Came to that Role

I have been involved with the peace movement in the UK and Australia since the mid-1960s. I remain a member of many the surviving peace groups.

My approach has been based on the “Triangle of Peace”. One side is disarmament, another side is the peaceful settlement of international disputes (conflict resolution), and the base is the search for economic and social justice.

One of the first people I met on arriving in Australia in 1973 was Stella Cornelius. I worked with Dr Cornelius continually from 1973 to her death in 2011.

I am continuing with her Ministry for Peace project. My other research interest is the creation of a “Peace-Industrial Complex” (the subject of my second PhD).

3. Some Contemporary Reflections

To conclude, here are five reflections on the contemporary situation.

First, most Australian peace research centres have gone; why didn’t they survive? The ANU one was wound up by the incoming Howard Government; those who live by government funding shall perish by it. The centre at Macquarie University, with more of a focus on conflict resolution, received considerable private funding; the main teacher Dr Greg Tillett was very popular with his students, and the centre attracted many students. But it too was wound up by the university.

I think the rise and fall of Australian peace research centres would make a good PhD topic (potential students will need to act fast while the main players are still alive; alas Dr Cornelius is not).

Second, what has been the winning formula for CPACS? It has survived all sorts of tribulations and yet continues to flourish in a field where most of its contemporaries have gone.

Third, the university business model is broken. The impact of Moore’s Law (the doubling power of computers) is sweeping through society. For example, newspapers carried stories of the IT revolution but evidently no one on the newspaper boards asked: what does all this mean for our industry? Newspapers are now in decline.

I have just been at a conference where we discussed Google driverless cars; the claim is that within 15 years no human will be trusted to drive a car; it will all be done by computers. (If people say that this would be too dangerous then it is worth remembering that 1.2 million people die on the world’s roads each year; humans have set a very low bar which computers need to beat).

What does Moore’s Law mean for the university business model? We see the first stages of that revolution via MOOCs.  In a few decades time, will we have a few boutique universities, while many of the others will have disappeared?

Fourth universities have had the status of being the gatekeepers of information. But I wonder whether that prestige is being eroded. First, some universities are just degree factories (hence all the recent examination scandals) and so are just selling their brands for short-term gain (just like any business, really). Second, a generation of talented young scholars who were not able to find university employment are now working in non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and so NGOs are increasingly becoming more significant players in the provision of research which is accessible to the general community. Finally, we have the rise of think tanks, such as the Lowy Institute.

In short, if one wanted to create a peace research centre nowadays, universities are no longer the only environment for hosting such a centre.

Finally, the need for peace research remains as vital as ever – no matter where it is done. The rise of the post-World War II “national security state” has given way to the post-9/11 “national insecurity state”, by which politicians play on the fears of voters. The average Australian stands a greater chance of being killed by a shark than by a terrorist. But terrorism sells newspapers, and enables politicians to focus attention away from problems they do not know how to solve (such as where new jobs will come from in the new labour-saving IT era).

CPACS has had a splendid first 25 years and will be fully employed in the coming decades.

Keith Suter