Who and what is the International Institute for Advanced System Analysis?

| January 7, 2014 | 0 Comments

Jan KoukalIIASA was founded in 1972 and is based in Laxenburg, near Vienna. In order to see, and therefore better understand the reasons for its formation, as well as perceive its thematic development, we must go back nearly half a century.

1972 was a year that was rich in events that will be long remembered in history. For example, it was the year of the Olympic Games in Munich, with a tragic terrorist attack on Israeli athletes or, at home, the launching of the first Czech nuclear power plant in Jaslovské Bohunice. In fact, the foundation of IIASA was based on a longer term issue, which was a fundamental paradigm of last century, i.e. the division of the world into East and West.

In the January 1972 issue of Foreign Affairs, R.G. Livingston, former president of the post-war Marshall Plan, writes on this issue. After 17 months of complex negotiations between the Second World War victors responsible for Germany, both German states, the North Atlantic Alliance and the Warsaw Pact, the so called Berlin Agreement was signed. It was the first joint agreement signed between the East and West since 1955, when the Austrian State Treaty was signed. De jure, it was this step and subsequent treaties that finally ended the Second World War. Or if you prefer, in the jargon of the Cold War, it was a breakthrough moment in this subsequent war, foretelling a time of potential willingness to build bridges between the two camps. German Chancellor, Willy Brant, who was long reluctant to recognise the German Democratic Republic (GDR), describes his meeting with American President Nixon as follows:

“After President Nixon and I met at Key Biscayne, on December 28 and 29, 1971, a commentator pointed out that the joint statement issued on our talks seemed more like an American-European than an American-German communiqué. This, he felt, showed itself even on the surface in that the terms ‘European’ or ‘Europe’ appeared 11 times whereas ‘German or ‘Federal Republic of Germany’ were only mentioned twice.”

In the issue of Time of January 3, 1972, President Nixon is quoted as follows:

“We must remember the only time in the history of the world that we have had any extended period of peace is when there has been a balance of power. It is when one nation becomes infinitely more powerful in relation to its potential competitor that the danger of war arises…. I think it will be a safer world and a better world if we have a strong, healthy United States, Europe, Soviet Union, China, Japan, each balancing the other, not playing one against the other, an even balance.”

It’s clear that the foundation of IIASA was a wholly politically motivated step, where academia became the bridge between the East and the West. Representatives of the USA and the Soviet Union, together with 10 other countries founded the Institute in London in October 1972. It was the culmination of years of effort begun by President Lyndon B. Johnson and Soviet Premier Alexej Kosygin. This was a joint scientific research project designed to address global challenges with which the world was confronted on an international scale. The process was actually started with a speech by American President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966.

He said it was time that the scientists of the United States and the Soviet Union worked together on problems other than military and space matters, on problems that plagued all advanced societies, like energy, our oceans, the environment, health. And he called for a liaison between the scientists of East and West.

Who were the founding countries? Choosing countries in so-called Eastern Europe was not easy at the time and had major political implications. For us existing GDR, was not even recognised by the USA at the time. In Czechoslovakia, there was a battle for, let’s say, a more humane form of socialism. We know how that ended.

It was Jermen Gvishiani, the Deputy Minister of the Soviet State Committee on Science and Technology, who pushed for the participation of the GDR, which was the first serious conflict in negotiations. This effectively led to the international recognition of the GDR. A symbolic gesture was also the inclusion of so-called consolidated Czechoslovakia, following the invasion of Warsaw Pact troops. In the end, the agreement was signed in London by representatives of the USA, Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, Canada, France, Japan and Britain on one side and representatives of the USSR, Czechoslovakia, German Democratic Republic, Bulgaria and Poland on the other. We were represented by the Chairman of the IIASA Government Committee, Dr. T. Vaško.

Finding a suitable location for the Institute was also difficult, and was eventually won by the generosity of our southern neighbour, and the Institute was based in Laxenburg near Vienna. Laxenburg Castle was the summer residence of the Habsburg imperial family. The castle park is famous, as it was largely developed by Empress Maria Theresa and her grandson Emperor Franz I.  The castle underwent major reconstruction for the purposes of the scientific institute in 1975.

The main objectives of IIASA are clearly formulated in the Institute’s Charter and can be schematically formulated as follows.

IIASA uses advanced systems analysis to conduct policy-oriented research into the most pressing areas of global change – energy and climate change, food and water, poverty and equity – and their main drivers.

In the system architecture of research, these areas can then be divided into

-          Global Problem Areas

-          Drivers of Global Transformation

-          Advanced System Analysis

Today, the scope of activity of this brain trust also includes doctoral and post-doctoral studies. Thanks to its renown, which today mainly consists of quality scientific and educational activities, the IIASA is an expert partner for the governments of member countries. Its studies are presented at most conferences on issues with a global impact organised around the world. Its collaborators and research partners include a number of Nobel Prize winners, academics with political experience and many important thinkers of our time. It is probably no surprise that in Vienna, a partner designated as an ambassador of good will is the Vienna Philharmonic. Most countries are represented by national academies or government institutions.

Why am I presenting IIASA here today in the Czech Republic? There are currently 21 member countries and the new strategy for 2011 to 2020 has paved the way for negotiations with other countries. It’s somewhat symptomatic for development in former Soviet Bloc countries that many withdrew in the nineties and that, through experts and students, they are now slowly returning. For example, in the research section, Drivers of Global Transformation, these countries, us included, have unique experience. There is also another challenge here for the Czech Republic, not unlike us being the first former Soviet Bloc country to chair the EU. The Director of IIASA, newly appointed from February 2012, is Prof. Pavel Kabát, who comes from a family that left Czechoslovakia with the onset of totalitarianism. The opportunity to utilise the symbolic fulfilment of the original purpose of IIASA and re-enter the world of solving global challenges is clearly offered here. Let’s take advantage of this and do something for the name of our country. It’s true that negotiations with the Czech government are quite frequent, but unfortunately Czech partners change at almost the same pace.  I would like to express the hope that this return to the world-respected global studies centre will be ultimately successful and that it will be possible in Czech.

by Jan Koukal

Pavel KabátProf Pavel Kabát…

As I begin my journey with IIASA, I hope to build on the excellent progress already made by the Institute’s talented and committed staff and partners; to strengthen IIASA’s trans-boundary collaborations in South East Asia, Central Asia, South America, and Africa; to extend our relationship to the Middle East; to build capacity in new disciplinary areas and within the next generation of young scientists, and to ensure that systems analysis is applied to deliver viable and practical options for policy makers globally.





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