A collaborative approach to security risk analysis aided by historical knowledge can help predict where political violence will arise, a leading French terrorism scholar said Tuesday.
ARLINGTON, Va—With his sights set on the French presidency in 2002, then-Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy instituted a collaborative approach to security risk analysis that now helps the government spot potential threats before they materialize, a leading French terrorism scholar told stakeholders Tuesday at a conference outside Washington, D.C.
Constitutional scholar Alain Bauer, chair of criminology at the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts in Paris, was a panelist at “Security Threats: A French Perspective and Response,” hosted by George Mason University’s Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at the school’s Arlington, Virginia campus. He shared the dais with peer Xavier Raufer, director of studies and research at the Center of Criminal Threats at the University of Parthénon-Assas – Paris II,
Bauer recalled Sarkozy, whose agency was responsible for domestic security, calling on him and fellow French security scholars to produce threat assessments to tell him “what will happen,” with regular updates, at least once a month. “He was the first ever minister that did this,” Bauer explained.
Later during his presidency, Sarkozy’s administration fostered the Strategic Research High Council to the President of France, a sort of trilateral commission consisting of equal representation from government, academia, and the corporate sector. The panel is tasked with reporting to the Élysée Palace on a set of specific intelligence questions, plus an additional threat topic of the Council’s choosing.
Two weeks ago, Bauer said, he pulled out a 2005 Council paper on the prospects of political upheaval and democratization in the Middle East, in particular countries like Bahrain, with Sunni regimes but predominately Shia populations.
“…everything was written. Nobody took care of it. Why? Not because nobody read it—I think nobody read it—because it was too early, but when it happened nobody was prepared because nobody prepared themselves in case it happens,” Bauer explained. “…we don’t say that what we foresee will happen, we just say may happen, and we need to be prepared because prevention is not a way to avoid crisis, it’s a way to survive a crisis. And that was something the president very well understood.”
Bauer argued that risk management requires acute awareness of regions and issues that are likely to pose problems in the future. Not only can these issues be spotted through intelligence collection, but scholarship and robust analysis can even help governments focus intelligence collection based on risk.
Most important in the intelligence and risk analysis fields is a deep knowledge of history, and an openness to ideas and threats that fall outside strict Western ideological constructs, Bauer argued.
“In criminal or terrorist matters, what we regard as ‘new’ is actually what we have forgotten,” Bauer said.
♦ Photo of Alain Bauer