Penn State a player in global consortium to combat terrorism

Participation also has classroom benefits

University Park, Pa. -- To effectively combat terrorism in the 21st century, it’s critical to establish strong international partnerships, according to a Penn State counterterrorism expert. Pete Forster, a professor in the College of the Liberal Arts, has found a way to marry theory to practice in his field, promoting civil society in war-torn regions. Through his membership in the Partnership for Peace Consortium (PfPC) of Defense Academies and Security Studies Institutes, an association of higher learning institutes in defense and security affairs, Forster works to find better ways to combat terrorism through the broadened perspective that comes through international collaboration.

Forster is the managing director of Outreach International Initiatives at Penn State. His work on security sector reform and counterterrorism through the PfPC since 2001 has considerably deepened his -- and Penn State’s -- knowledge in the fields.

“Organizationally, it has improved the University’s global reach and visibility as a serious contributor to security education,” said Forster, who teaches courses on terrorism, the Middle East, international relations and war.

“We’ve shifted away from the old paradigm of state vs. state conflict,” he explained. “What we have to deal with now is the more nuanced and transnational issues of extremism, authoritarianism and how those interrelate to the lack of civil society.”

Forster has integrated the real-life security scenarios encountered through his PfPC work into his courses. While presenting them, he works to help his students develop the kind of broadened approach he’s cultivated through his work with the consortium.

“Where you sit in the world informs your perspective on things,” Forster said. “We’re helping students develop critical thinking -- for example, they need to understand that within the Muslim world, extremists are in the vast minority.”

Forster’s international colleagues at the PfPC, which is financially supported by the United States, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and NATO, also value the open exchange of ideas the consortium provides.

“The counterterrorism working group brings together some of world’s brightest counterterrorism (CT) minds to share experiences, debate and at times even argue,” said Raphael Perl, head of anti-terrorism issues at the Secretariat of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. “Discussions focus on cutting-edge CT topics, making it an extremely useful forum for CT professionals.”

Forster finds the greatest satisfaction of PfPC membership comes from the breakthrough moments he’s experienced with the consortium -- like the day he took part in a reconciliation meeting in the war-torn Caucasus.

“Armenia and the Azerbaijan have been fighting since the collapse of the Soviet Union,” Forster said. “At the meeting, a member of the PfPC asked them, ‘Do you want your kids still fighting this war 10-15 years from now?’ We got people to finally move beyond accusations and find solutions.”

Ultimately, Forster hopes to broaden Penn State’s engagement with the PfPC. To date, one NATO internship opportunity for Penn State’s School of International Affairs has emerged. He would like to facilitate more connections like this.

“There are so many possibilities for academic engagement here,” Forster said. “From international law to information science and technology, I’d love to build on the foundation we’ve put in place to do even more internationally.”

Forster’s membership in the PfPC is funded by the NC2IF Center, an educational and research resource facility in the College of Information Sciences and Technology.

Penn State Outreach serves more than 5 million people each year, delivering more than 2,000 programs to people in all 67 Pennsylvania counties, all 50 states and 114 countries worldwide.

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Last Updated January 21, 2010