Interview with Christian Dussey, GCSP Director

Swiss Ambassador Christian Dussey has led the GCSP since August 2013, a place where education, research and dialogue on security and peace issues go hand in hand. In this interview, Christian Dussey explains to us the principles that guide his action, his career, his priorities for GCSP, as well as features of the Centre and prospects for 2014.

March 2014

Swiss Ambassador Christian Dussey has led the GCSP since August 2013. Having not only served as a diplomat, he has also spent time in the Swiss Armed Forces, as an analyst at the Swiss Strategic Intelligence Service, and as Head of the Crisis Management Centre of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA). He is just back from a one year fellowship at Harvard University.

Christian Dussey has an ideal profile to lead the GCSP - a place where education, research and dialogue on security and peace issues go hand in hand. Every year, up to 800 participants attend trainings given by or in collaboration with GCSP in Geneva, Addis Ababa, Baku, New York, Dakar, Amman, and Sarajevo. Over 4,000 high-ranking military officers, diplomats, experts and government decision-makers have so far followed courses at GCSP. Many of these people hold key positions in their governments; some have even become ministers. The newly appointed President of the Central African Republic is an alumna, for that matter. It is also at GCSP that U.S. and North Korean officers, or an Indian colonel and a researcher from the FATA region of Pakistan, can mingle in the same course, laying the premises for diplomatic engagement and mutual understanding.

Research undertaken at GCSP aims at informing and giving tools to decision makers, military officers, diplomats and experts on specific topics such as, inter alia, transnational terrorism, disarmament, migration and the situation in the Middle East. GCSP has thus become a key point of reference on these issues.

Christian Dussey welcomes us in his office at the Maison de la paix, GCSP's new home since early January. Through the glass panes, there is a view of the lakefront and downtown Geneva on one side and of the UN and international organizations on the other. Part of Ambassador Dussey's projects and desires is to build bridges and connections between the two. On the walls of his office are quotes by Seneca and Winston Churchill that inspire his actions.

In this interview, Christian Dussey explains to us these principles, his career, his priorities for GCSP, features of the Centre and prospects for 2014.


What is your relationship with Geneva?

That starts with emigration. My family comes from the Valais and several family members have moved here to live or work. Ten years ago, my wife also worked here as a diplomat at the Swiss Permanent Mission. I have always felt attracted to this important and international city and wanted to work here. This is my first position in Geneva.

How would you describe your career prior to leading GCSP?

I was fortunate enough to work in three very different fields consecutively: intelligence, defense and diplomacy. When you are part of these three, you can see very different aspects of how a government works. That also means you can look at international headlines through different prisms. As an intelligence officer, you will often look at the world with skepticism. A military perspective will systematically envisage all dangers and risks in a situation. And a diplomat will be looking at chances and opportunities.

I started my career as an analyst at the Swiss Strategic Intelligence Service at the time that the Soviet Union was crumbling. I then passed the examination to become a diplomat and started a career that brought me to Moscow and Prague, and to act as the diplomatic counselor for President Ruth Dreifuss during her presidential year back in 1999. I also held three positions in Bern, most recently as Head of the Crisis Management Centre of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA).

This last position was one of the most fascinating I ever held and also one of the most demanding. You are there to serve Swiss citizens traveling abroad and struck by an earthquake, a kidnapping, a terrorist attack or a tsunami. We call this emergency diplomacy: it's very intense emotionally and mentally and also unpredictable. On a Friday night you think you are off to a weekend with your wife and you end up back at the office because somewhere in the world a terrorist attack claimed dozens of lives. And then you work almost 24 hours a day for several consecutive days. In such a position, what counts are concrete results or absence thereof, and this is how you are evaluated. It is very demanding. But helping other Swiss citizens in distress is also very rewarding.

In parallel, as every Swiss young man did at that time, I went for military service and that career led me to the general staff officer school.

Finally, after I worked at the Crisis Management Centre I had the opportunity to study at Harvard for a year. I discovered Boston, which is a fascinating city and, a bit like Geneva indeed, a global pool of research and dialogue. And now here I am, Director of the GCSP since August last year.

What are the principles that guide your action?

Two major principles guide my actions: the key role of education and training, as well as the importance of history. In fact, illustrative quotes by Seneca and Winston Churchill are written on my office walls.

I have always been convinced that education and training play a key role. When I was in Moscow, and in parallel to my work as a diplomat, I completed a distance learning Master's degree at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Tufts University). I continually use what I learnt there. In fact, I am very fond of this quote, attributed to Roman philosopher and statesman Seneca: "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." Education and training allow you to seize opportunities when they arise. That is what we are doing at the GCSP – equipping our participants with tools to seize opportunities. If you are not prepared, you can easily miss unique chances to consolidate peace, prevent a war or reinforce security.

History is also essential. One must understand the past so it does not repeat itself with the same mistakes. Historical analogies are sensitive and dangerous sometimes, but we still have a lot to learn from the past. Churchill was fascinated by history and said very wisely: "Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft." At GCSP we invite many practitioners to share their experiences with our participants. In our International Training Course in Security Policy (ITC) alone, 150 speakers come and teach over a period of eight months, not to mention our other courses. In addition, recently selected Associate Fellows include the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander (NATO's Number 2), a former French Ambassador in New York and Washington and one of the best Russian specialists for Near and Middle Eastern affairs.

What is it that makes GCSP so special?

Originally, GCSP was a training centre created by the Swiss Confederation to educate a new generation of experts in security policy. It was so successful that it was expanded to neighbouring countries, and later, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, to Eastern Europe and all former Soviet Union republics.

GCSP is still part of Switzerland's contribution to NATO's Partnership for Peace programme. Over the past 10 years, GCSP has become increasingly global. Today, we have participants in our courses coming from places such as Colombia, Sudan, Afghanistan and Tanzania. This is one of GCSP's assets, and is also reflected in our Foundation Council, which is made up of 45 Member States.

The diversity of our staff is another important characteristic. We are over 60 personnel with 17 nationalities and various profiles. Among our staff, we have university professors, researchers, experts, ambassadors, diplomats, a general, colonels, and also practitioners who have extensive field experience. This diversity is represented in our classrooms as well: during the 2012-2013 academic year, we trained nearly 800 participants from 111 countries, with varied profiles. This combination makes up the richness of our Centre.

Tell us about your new role as GCSP Director. What does it entail?

I sometimes feel like the conductor of an orchestra counting many virtuosos in its ranks! In the Centre we have internationally recognized experts, such as Dr Khalid Koser, our Deputy Director and leading expert on migration issues, and Dr Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, a specialist in transnational terrorism and the MENA region who was recently recognized as one of the 100 most influential African personalities by the British journal The New African. Next to them, we have diplomats, officers, people who hold high office in their respective countries, and those who come from organizations with very different cultures. Around them, we have a whole range of specialists who play an important supporting role in making what we call the 'GCSP experience' something unique and memorable for our participants and visitors.

Have you identified priorities?

I have identified four major priorities. The first is to better understand and answer to the needs and expectations of our Foundation Council members in terms of training, of course, but also for our research and events. The second priority is to make GCSP an agile organization that is swift in the responses given to its 'customers'. My third priority is to stay at the forefront by developing new curricula and training courses based on innovative pedagogy that is adapted to the needs of our participants. Finally, we wish to capitalize on the opportunity of our new home in the Maison de la paix by working more closely with our neighbours at the Graduate Institute, the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) and the Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF).

What are you expecting, concretely, from this reinforced collaboration with the other tenants of the Maison de la paix?

The idea is to implement a strong hub of competencies in education, research and dialogue in international affairs. We have different mandates but they are all complementary. We want to build synergies and reinforce collaboration when working on joint projects for the international community.

What kind of challenges are you expecting?

Our main challenge is to remain relevant. Education is undergoing deep transformation. You can now take free Yale or Harvard courses online through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). The education and training market is very competitive nowadays. Therefore, we have to keep offering a product that is unique. This applies equally to research, where competition is also significant. Producing real added value is essential to our existence. That's our biggest challenge!

What are the highlights of the Centre in 2014?

We moved to the Maison de la paix at the beginning of the year. Next on the agenda, we are organizing an Open House event on 2 April. It will be an opportunity for the public to discover what we are doing. We will also launch new courses and trainings throughout the year. Towards the end of the year, when the last 'petals' of the Maison de la paix will be completed, an official inauguration of all the buildings will be organized.

What do you like the most in your new job?

I like the idea that nothing can be taken for granted. We have to prove every day that we are bringing added value. In our case, participants are providing weekly evaluation of our trainings, and if we are not good, they will let us know!

Is there a particular event or encounter that has stood out to you since you took office?

Undoubtedly the opening of our two long courses, the International Training Course in Security Policy (ITC) that lasts 8 months, and the European Training Course in Security Policy (ETC) that lasts 3 months. Each course gathers about 30 participants.

On the first day, all participants and staff introduce themselves. I was struck by the incredible diversity we have in a single classroom, in terms of profession, life experiences and geographical distribution. You will meet representatives of several ministries (foreign affairs and defense, naturally, but also environment, finance, or economy), military officers, representatives of civil society, etc. Some have spent the last eight years in Afghanistan and Iraq for military purposes; others in the context of a civil war; and others still were involved in multilateral diplomacy. Gathering such vast knowledge, competence and experience potential in a single classroom really is unique. 


Page navigator