The so-called “hard” or “exact” sciences, with their necessary emphasis on technology and on the technical, are hardly reputed for being very human, and, conversely, the so-called “human” sciences are often pronounced as “soft” because they cannot be based on the certainties associated with the former. The search for truth which is the essential dimension of the construction of a peaceful world therefore has to navigate between considerations of a philosophical nature and the concrete data of the hard sciences. If, ever since the humanism of the Renaissance period, we have been happy to lay claim to the wisdom of one of its great writers, Rabelais, who taught a moral lesson to the young Pantagruel with the neat formula “science without conscience is the ruin of the soul”, we nonetheless stand in awe before modern scientific advances and the extraordinary achievements that they have opened up. If everything is not permissible, at least everything seems possible!
It was such an outlook which no doubt had something to do with our decision taken ten years ago here in Grenoble to give concrete shape to a utopian dream by creating in our city a “school for peace”. At that time we were reminded that a Brazilian bishop, Don Helder Camara, famous for the stands which he took in favour of human development and the promotion of peace through dialogue and a more just distribution of resources, had once remarked that Grenoble would be an ideal place to combine its advanced technological and computing research with the philosophical and humanist dimension to bring about the necessary synthesis for the promotion of the cause of peace in the world. And he had made this comment at the height of the cold war, as a way of confronting and fighting against the extremism that posed such a threat at that time. Since then, the Third World War has not happened and if one can pose the question of why the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation should be maintained, an organisation which without a doubt contributed to the prevention of such a war, we should not ignore the threats and challenges which remain, or are even greater today, in the general field of world security.
This is why we were very gratified when we realised that an Alliance, which some felt was the product of a bygone age, was reorienting its scientific programme in order to “favour research on questions linked to security and by so doing to better reflect the new environment in which NATO finds itself”. And that in order to face the complex questions associated with security, there would be “a greater interaction between the exact sciences and the human and social sciences”. By submitting a project to hold an Advanced Research Workshop on the theme of “indicators and databases for risk prevention”, we gave ourselves the chance to deepen and prolong research which we were already engaged in, based on the idea that a climate or a culture of peace needed to be encouraged and that there were effective ways in which progress could be made in this domain. We believe that this area of study can be subjected to measurement and quantification. We are now equipped with measuring instruments for natural phenomena, and in a world of increasing complexity, we are more and more concerned with questions of efficiency, of performance and evaluation in all domains, including those which are related to questions concerning the quality of life and the avoidance of social conflict. Comments on war are now inevitably accompanied by sets of “figures” concerning the loss of human lives and the “collateral damage”—all sorts of damage which come in its wake. To the sinister “body count” of open and full war, we must add the information concerning the horrors of all other forms of violence and ignored wars, if our intention is to take the real measure of human tragedies which they entail in order to awaken public conscience and encourage appropriate political action. But we must also today take into account the figures and statistics of new fields of research and action, concerning the environment and sustainable development, if there is going to be real progress on global prevention. The human development indicators of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) seem to us to show the way forward in this respect. Furthermore, we support the recommendation of the mathematician, historian and philosopher, Michel Serres, when he says “Since we control the whole world, we must learn to control our own control mechanisms” and we also share the belief of Martin Hirsch, president of the humanitarian organisation Emmaüs, who, just before taking up his French governmental appointment, declared on the subject of poverty indicators: “They are indispensable… To try to do without them would be like tackling road safety, without using devices for measuring and registering speed!”
We were therefore clearly aware that all sorts of research is being undertaken in this vast domain and the time had come to bring it all together and submit it to further empirical evidence. All the actors concerned, the politicians, diplomats, the military, the NGOs, as well as the heads of enterprise, need a clearer vision of the state of a world which is more and more complex. The improvement of our information systems is therefore particularly useful, both for pure research and for its applications. The sharing of means and techniques of information, the development of “synthetic” coordinated indicators and even the identification of new data which will help with risk analysis and conflict prevention in tomorrow's world, all these constituted the agenda for this Advanced Research Workshop. Our approach was to give as much freedom as possible to specialists in presenting their work, so that new ways forward and approaches could be identified and facilitated. The aim of this publication is to render account as faithfully as possible of the diversity of approaches taken by the 27 researchers and experts from 13 countries who participated in this Advanced Research Workshop. It will of course take time to evaluate the potential for progress in all this but these two figures point the way forward.