#CGAat15 Faculty Interview Series: Waheguru Pal S. Sidhu

This year, The Center for Global Affairs (CGA) celebrates its 15th Anniversary. To mark this occasion, the Global Affairs Review (GAR) sat down with Professor Waheguru Pal Singh (W.P.S.) Sidhu, to discuss his CGA journey and experience. Dr. Sidhu is an associate professor at the CGA and the Director of the United Nations specialization. Concurrently, he is an associate fellow at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy and a guest faculty at the NATO Defense College. Dr. Sidhu has more than 25 years of experience in traditional and non-traditional security issues, specifically in arms control and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction – particularly nuclear weapons – and the role of emerging powers, especially India, in the evolving global order. His previous academic and professional positions include vice president of programs at the EastWest Institute, and director of the innovative New Issues in Security Course at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy. Dr. Sidhu has also served as a consultant to the UN and its affiliate agencies, and to other intergovernmental agencies. In addition to his pedagogic experience, he regularly organizes and conducts track-two projects with institutions in the US, Europe, China, India, and Pakistan to facilitate a dialogue among young scholars on international peace and security issues. He is the author of multiple books, chapters, and articles dealing with defense and security issues. His latest publication is Shaping the Emerging World: India and the Multilateral Order.

Global Affairs Review: Can you share with us how your journey at CGA began?

Professor Sidhu: It was a peripatetic journey down a long and winding road across three continents, which began in India, where I was a journalist for about a decade.  In 1993 I had the privilege of going to England to do a Ph.D. on a scholarship. After finishing my Ph.D., I joined the growing ranks of the think tank world and worked at some of the most interesting and exciting places. They included the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, the International Peace Institute in New York, Oxford University, the EastWest Institute, and subsequently the Geneva Center for Security Policy, which is perhaps one of the leading institutes that look at contemporary global peace and security issues. I finally made my way to the Center on International Cooperation at NYU, where I am still a Non-Resident Fellow.

Through these experiences, I knew that pedagogy, with an emphasis on policy work and practical applications, was what interested me  the most. And  CGA is the most logical place  to connect academic rigor with practical policy innovation . It is  also the ideal home for a global citizen like me.

What have the last 4 years at the CGA meant to you?

I joined CGA as a visiting fellow and then stayed on as an associate professor. It has provided me with the tremendous opportunity to empower and work with the brightest minds of the next generation from the Global North and South. This diverse student body brings its own perspectives and approaches to try and engage collectively on some of the most challenging issues we face in the 21st century. The most relevant crisis that comes to mind at this time is the COVID-19 virus, and how various societies are being impacted by its spread. While the threat can only be effectively addressed through global cooperation, many leaders and multilateral institutions today are struggling to respond and prepare for these threats in a collective, timely and holistic way.

At CGA I have also had the opportunity to establish a specialization on the United Nations (UN). This was a long overdue initiative, given the wealth of expertise at CGA on the UN, as well as the deep interest in the student body on the institution’s strengths and weaknesses. I see this as an opportunity to perhaps provide students with a more realistic perspective of the UN— warts and all. None of this is to say that the UN is not a crucial actor, and is likely to remain so. Increasingly I feel that CGA is going to be very much a part of the solution with respect to addressing the challenges that the UN faces in the 21st century, such as global pandemics, cyber threats, climate crises, and environmental degradation. That is perhaps something I see CGA being able to do, especially given the diversity of the student body.

What do you think is distinctive about the CGA community?

CGA has students coming in from 2-3 different types of backgrounds. The first is those who come directly from their undergraduate studies; the second is those who have been working and come back as mid-career professionals; and third, some students have served in the military and bring that international experience.

In regards to this diversity, CGA is one of the few Centers where I have worked where students from the Global South actually outnumber those from the Global North in many classes. Very interestingly, American students find themselves in the minority. While this is incredibly heartening and enriching, I think there is a lot of work to be done to ensure that our pedagogical systems and structures, both in terms of instruction but also in terms of curricula, syllabi, and readings, also reflect varied global perspectives. I think that is what makes CGA particularly unique. Not only does CGA provide global affairs expertise to the world, but it is also a window into the world for all the other students who come here.

What three words would you use to describe the CGA?

Diverse, dynamic, and policy-oriented.

What do you envision for the CGA in the next 15 years?

The CGA is just taking baby steps towards developing a UN specialization. Over the next 15 years, we hope that it becomes the go-to center for anything in, on, and about the UN. It is a relationship that is long overdue, given the fact that the CGA and the UN are co-located in the same city. Of course, CGA came a few years after the UN and we are playing a little bit of a catch-up! But certainly, in terms of multilateralism and the role of the UN, in particular, CGA is likely to provide a lot of future experts on, in, and with the UN.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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