Experts speak at Pitt violence conference

By Gretchen Andersen

Karla Cunningham believes violence has a voice.

“Violence communicates, and tells us… Karla Cunningham believes violence has a voice.

“Violence communicates, and tells us something about those who are carrying out the violence,” she said.

Cunningham, a political scientist with the RAND corporation, spoke at Pitt on Thursday, the first day of a two-day conference on violent groups being held in the University Club. At the conference, Cunningham and other panelists discussed international issues presented by insurgents, drug cartels, terrorists, warlords and gangs.

Not mincing words, the organizers called it, “Violent Armed Groups: A Global Challenge.”

More than 100 people attended day one of the conference, which is sponsored by Pitt’s Matthew B. Ridgway Center for International Security Studies and the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute. The agenda listed four panels and a dinner address by John Robb, who lectured on the difference between Iraqi insurgents and those in other areas.

The second half of the conference starts today at 9 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m. There will be two panels. One will address how armed groups are funded and another will discuss effective responses to threats.

The conference is free, and open to the public with registration.

Phil Williams, the director of the Ridgway Center, helped put together the conference in December 2009.

“For GSPIA students, this is central to their interests. This features the relationship between global affairs and violence that takes place in the real world,” Williams said. “We are trying to get an understanding of what makes these violent groups tick.”

The Ridgway Center focuses on international security studies as part of Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

Williams said the center held another conference last year, which focused on violence and drug crime in Mexico, Columbia and the Caribbean and addressed the implications for security in the U.S.

One of the panels featured Thursday called, “Violent Armed Groups: Finances and Weapons,” featured Keith Krause, programme director of the Small Arms Survey; Lawrence E. Cline, associate professor with American Military University; and Will Reno, associate professor of political science at Northwestern University.

Cline talked about how labeling armed groups can be problematic because they are often in constant flux. He also warned about armed groups that can stay under the radar by staying loosely organized.

“These are groups are important, and we aren’t paying much attention to them,” Cline said.

Lt. Col. Troy Thomas U.S. Air Force, special assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he attended the event to better understand violent armed groups.

“The topic is really ripe,” Thomas said. “There are very few conflicts in the world in which violent armed groups are not a key participant.”

Lt. Col. William D. Casebeer U.S. Air Force, program manager for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, agreed.

“This is the cutting edge, right here in this room,” Casebeer said. “There will be armed groups for the next 100 years. This will directly influence how well we train and equip our armed forces.”