Taking a holistic approach to global security issues

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New global security master’s degree program has a uniquely holistic approach to preparing students for tomorrow’s threats

USC Dornsife’s M.A. in Global Security Studies program combines coursework in international relations, spatial sciences and environmental studies, and draws on resources of USC Shoah Foundation.
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Canada’s decision to spend record amounts of money on its naval fleet after years of lackluster budget allocations may seem strange at first, but the mystery is quickly dispelled with a closer look at climate data showing the rapid recession of ice from the country’s coastline, says John Wilson, professor of sociology, architecture, civil and environmental engineering, computer science, preventive medicine, and spatial sciences at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

“There are a whole series of opportunities, challenges and threats in the Arctic because of a warming climate, and this will have an effect on many areas,” Wilson says.

Without ice, Canada’s coastline is more accessible to ships, whether hostile military craft or everyday shipping and trade vessels. When viewed in this wider context, it’s easier to understand the country’s defense spending and make some predictions about its future political and economic actions.

Understanding our changing world through the lens of experts in political science, international relations, economics, spatial sciences and environmental studies will be the focus of USC Dornsife’s new Master of Arts in Global Security Studies program. The two-year, full-time program, which begins in the fall of 2022, offers students a choice of three concentrations: intelligence and security, global security and humanitarian intervention, or environmental security.

Students looking to pursue or advance a career in government, or with non-governmental organizations such as those dealing with human rights, or at private firms, including those centered on national security, will find the program especially useful, says Steven Lamy, USC Dornsife Professor Emeritus of International Relations and Spatial Sciences.

Lamy highlights the program’s internship opportunities and spatial sciences component as two elements that set it apart from other master’s programs like it.

“It’s not just government agencies, it’s a lot of non-governmental and private sector actors that are looking for people who have the spatial sciences skills to do things like assess attacks made during war and how the populations there are affected, using mapping data” Lamy explains.

“To offer students meaningful real-word experience, we’re also planning internship opportunities here in the U.S., like with the State Department, and abroad, in places like Latin America and Europe.”

Faculty members for the program are renowned scholars in the fields of international relations, defense, marine ecology, global human rights, spatial analysis, disaster management, mass violence and national intelligence.

Human security

Lamy says the program will cover several areas of global security: traditional security, which is typically military defense and other protections for nation-states; environmental security, which pertains to the effects of climate change, man-made and natural disasters, and similar factors on populations; and human security, which is a newer concept that emphasizes the human rights and sovereignty of the individual rather than the nation-state.

Often countries focus on economic or political autonomy for the nation, but the experiences of the humans within it fall through the cracks, Lamy says. To help students understand the real-life effects of war and other disasters on populations, the program will draw on the extensive resources of the USC Shoah Foundation — The Institute for Visual History and Education.

Amy Carnes, acting chief of staff for USC Shoah Foundation, explains that the institute will teach students how to analyze the testimonies of survivors of war and genocide, and to use those narratives to underscore the human impact of mass violence and emphasize the humanity in human security.

“One of the big issues in rebuilding society after genocide is how you bring people to account, how you use the existing legal systems or invent new ones to try to bring a sense of justice to what happened,” Carnes says. She adds that the institute’s partnerships with UNESCO and organizations that work with survivors of events like the Holocaust and the genocide in Rwanda provide students with material from a wide variety of contexts.

“Because we have connections with so many partners around the world that are doing work that is related to human security and the aftermath of mass violence, we have many resources and bring a lot to the table in terms of partners and practical, hands-on experience,” Carnes says.

Environmental elements

The program offers environmental security as another key component, and Wilson says that students will learn how to use geographic information systems (GIS) tools and other data to examine in real time how populations are reacting to wars, earthquakes, pollution and more. Using these tools to explore the long-term impact of international events will also be critical to predicting disasters and creating solutions, he adds.

“Ukraine is one of the largest exporters of food in the world, and Russia is seemingly intent on closing all of Ukraine’s shipping lanes,” Wilson explains. Much of the world, including many suffering the effects of drought and other factors related to climate change, rely on Ukrainian agricultural exports for food. “Without Ukraine’s crops, we may have a serious humanitarian crisis on our hands.”

The program’s emphasis on scientific data collection as well as survivor and eyewitness testimony, in addition to a broader look at current policy and historical events, will train students well for their fields, whether in government or humanitarian aid, Wilson says. Being able to see the connections between climate change and Canadian defense policy, for instance, or how the war in Ukraine will affect people in other countries and on other continents, is important for people who want to effect meaningful change, he adds.

“I think to make a difference, we need creative thinkers who can wrestle with large problems that often span multiple countries and then use sophisticated data analysis and modeling to bring the parties together to implement solutions for these problems,” he says.

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