Regular visitors to the NATO web site may know ISN as an excellent search engine for material on international politics and defence. But this Swiss-funded network offers much more, especially to members of the Partnership for Peace (PfP).
Created in 1994 within the Centre for Security Studies and Conflict Research in Zurich, ISN or the International Relations and Security Network was initially designed as a tool to facilitate and promote the free flow of information among security analysts, think tanks and official bodies. But since 1997, ISN has become increasingly involved in promoting use of the Internet in Partner countries. Such activities were formally written into the current Partnership Work Programme at NATOs Washington summit in April 1999.
In the course of the past 18 months, the PfP-ISN partnership for the promotion of the use and skills of information technology has chalked up several achievements. Major regionwide projects with special reference to computer-assisted education have started. These include the Training and Education Enhancement Programme, which promotes the development of simulation programmes, electronic learning and other education projects to train officers, and the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL), comprising language-training modules and courses on international organisations.
Cooperation in the field of ADL is now also coordinated by the PfP Consortium of Defence Academies and Security Studies Institutes, an organisation created at the bi-annual International Security Forum Conference in 1998 in Zurich. The consortium has a secretariat at the George Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
From an initial four-member team, ISN now employs close to 20 people and this year had an annual budget of 3.2 million Swiss francs ($1.8 million). Since September 2000, the network has had its own representative at NATO, Stephan Libiszewski. Previously ISNs project coordinator in Zurich for over three years, Mr Libiszewski now liaises between the ISN head office, NATO headquarters and Partner missions to NATO.
As information technology is integrated into PfP programmes, the demand for the networks services is growing and ISN-organised training seminars in Partner countries are proving increasingly popular. In 2000, ISN conducted training sessions on the use of the Internet for the international security practitioner in Latvia and Romania and similar seminars are planned in Bulgaria, Estonia and Georgia next year.
Following a three-day training seminar in Bucharest in September, Romanias defence ministry plans to sign a memorandum of intent with ISN for future cooperation and envisages further courses. The seminar, which involved hands-on information courses and practical simulation exercises for students, proved extremely popular.
Shortages in computing equipment remain a barrier to greater use of the Internet in many Partner countries. Although ISN has, since 1998, equipped nine different research institutes in Moscow and Sofia with computers and technical assistance, the network does not intend to supply hardware.
We acknowledge a great need for equipment in many Partner countries, Mr Libiszewski said, But other institutions like the Soros Foundation, the US-sponsored PfP Information Management System, and the PfP Consortium already furnish equipment to institutions in need. With content and education-oriented services, we hope we provide the right complementary approach.
ISNs latest initiatives include the development of free on-line learning courses on the non-proliferation of chemical and biological weapons, and CD-Roms on Swiss security policy and the history of international security since 1945. The network also awards individual grants worth up to 10,000 Swiss francs for unique multimedia learning programmes. Since 1998, six projects from Italy to Ukraine have benefited from such awards.
ISN also runs a Parallel History Programme and a PfP Documentation Centre, created in 1999 and 2000 respectively. The former is an on-line database of Cold War material from national and institutional archives in both East and West. As sensitivities fade and more of these documents are declassified, they will be added to the database. The latter offers access to the proceedings of selected PfP activities.
In the wake of NATOs Kosovo campaign and heightened public awareness of the Internets potential in the field of international security, ISN is exploring ways to employ information technology as a confidence-building tool in the Balkans. Promoting the development of regional networks of security policy experts with the support of the Internet is a means of fostering transnational communities. These will have a positive impact on the democratisation and stabilisation of the region, Mr Libiszewski said.
ISN is on the Internet at www.isn.ethz.ch.