What makes us different?

Many groups publish studies, convene symposia, and promote their own solutions to international security challenges. ORG, however, has its own distinguished contributions in this field that set it apart. It has successfully lured opposing sides in major international controversies into productive Track II sessions. It has taken principled positions without allowing itself to become an instrument of partisan politics. Through such capabilities, ORG has gained the respect of governments and groups in civil society throughout the world.

Henrik Salander, Former Deputy Director-General, Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Chairman of the Middle Powers Initiative

ORG is a peace and security think tank or NGO (non-governmental organisation). Like all think-tanks we do analysis and reports that attempts to propose new policy solutions.

We provide a meeting ground where establishment and more radical ideas can cross-fertilise. It is about getting new and more sustainable thinking taken up and incorporated within the establishment.

We work to address the toughest security questions using detailed research and drawing on deep understanding of how human beings behave.

No-one else,” says ORG’s founder Dr Scilla Elworthy, “puts such a priority on this combination of political analysis and understanding of human behaviour. The results are original insights into what is possible.” 

Our team combines detailed and interdisciplinary knowledge of global security issues together with a deep understanding of political decision-making, and many years of expertise in facilitating constructive dialogue.

As well as being a think-tank we also foster good practice, for example, in the recording of every casualty in armed conflicts, working with a global network of fellow practitioners. The aim in all our work is to push for change. Our International Practitioners Network aims to create a set of common standards. Our legal team works on the legal issues. All this is developed to influence policy, the military, the judiciary and humanitarian organisations.

Our work on sustainable security also involves establishing a network of security specialists in the Global South both as a means of informing our work engaging with policy-makers and to work with them to be heard on issues such the implications for security policy of climate change.

We also have years of experience on fostering dialogue in focussed and structured and empathic ways. This can range from events focusing at fostering a culture of strategic thinking in Government to dialogue engaging those involved in the most difficult political disputes.

Prominent here is our work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where ORG has pioneered the encouragement of inclusive Palestinian-Palestinian and Israeli-Israeli strategy groups to address the complex conflict system. Results have been encouraging, and this remains a key feature of ORG’s Middle East programme.

One of our most innovative approaches here addresses what Professor Oliver Ramsbotham, Chairman of ORG and active in our Middle East work, calls ‘radical disagreement’ in his 2010 book Transforming Violent Conflict.  We aim to engage on the agonistic dialogue - dialogue between enemies to work on how it can be explored, understood and managed even in those intractable conflicts where conflict resolution (settlement and transformation) has so far failed.

We also work – as one of our participants at an event in Gaza said:  "If we can’t do reconciliation from top-down, we can try to do it from bottom-up.”  We have facilitated a small technical committee representing Hamas, Fatah and independents to act as neutral broker to provide momentum for change.

The facilitators in our Israeli project have employed training in the analysis of complex systems to open up thinking and get away from habitual short-term or ‘linear’ thinking that perpetuates the status quo. The emphasis here has been on considering alternative concepts of Israel’s security.

Our Principles and Approach

Dialogue. We believe that dialogue, diplomacy and negotiation can resolve many conflicts more effectively, and with far less cost, than military approaches. We foster deep listening between those who disagree – often radically. We bring together a broad range of opinion and expertise – political, legal, psychological, military and journalistic.

Respect. We consider that attention to the quality of human relationships is key to any successful activity we undertake. This includes deep and respectful listening to those who do not share our views. It is essential to listen to the legitimate grievances of marginalised groups. Solutions, which exclude significant constituencies, are doomed to fail in our view.

Prevention. We believe that most violent conflicts could be prevented by the application of proven and cost-effective non-military methods, which address the root causes of conflict, uphold international law, and respect fundamental human rights.

Research and Analysis. We apply detailed analysis on a range of issues; from the drivers of insecurity, to methodologies for recording the casualties of armed conflict and to the most thorny issues in the Middle East Peace process.

Access. Whenever relevant, we liaise with governments and decision-makers at the highest political level to increase their awareness of the root causes on conflict and how this needs to shape their policy. We see our role as bringing truth to power.

Partnership. We work closely with like-minded institutions across the world in networks to foster change, for example, on casualty recording, or dialogue processes in the Middle East, or security specialists in the Global South.

Policy Recommendations. We aim to understand and warn of threats and suggest, wherever possible, policy recommendations and practical, achievable steps forward as a means of prevention or as response to crises when they arise.

Foresight and Prophecy - Suggesting the Possible

If 2011 looks problematic, not least in the potential for conflict in South Asia and the Middle East, then prospects for the new decade are even more challenging. Little seems to have been learned from the financial crisis as we return to business as usual, and 2011 is likely to find the seven billion people on Earth even more divided as the gap between the richest 1.5 billion and the rest widens - and the ‘bottom billion’ see no hope of future betterment.

Compounding this, are the evident environmental constraints on human development, especially climate change. This combination, of global divisions and constraints, points to a more fragile and turbulent world in the coming decade. Without radical change we are likely to see the impact of these interactions become progressively more dangerous, leaving us with the core question – will there be the political will to act in time?

One positive sign is the intensity of innovative work now under way that seeks to point to the responses required – Oxford Research Group’s work on Sustainable Security being one example.

If we think of prophecy as “suggesting the possible”, then that may be one of the most urgent needs of our time, not least from groups like ORG. Prophets are truly required, not crying “woe” from the margins but pointing to creative possibilities for better futures. Then, as the need for change becomes more evident, it will be easier for societies to make the great transitions required.

Immediately after 9/11, for example, ORG published a major analysis pointing to the huge dangers of starting a “war on terror”, and foreseeing a dangerous long-term conflict which would make matters much worse. In early 2003, ORG argued strongly against occupying Iraq, predicting an insurgency, high civilian casualties, a rise in anti-Americanism and a boost for al-Qaida.

Our predictions came true, proving the importance of foresight in allowing for preventative action.