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Who is behind the Geopolitics and Global Futures Symposium?

An look into the creator of the Geopolitics and Global Futures Symposium.


Ahead of the 2018 Geopolitics and Global Futures Symposium, the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) has interviewed Professor Nayef Al-Rodhan, Head of the Geopolitics and Global Futures Programme. To find out more about the creator behind the Symposium, read on!


 'All political systems are fragile as long as they do not account for the human dignity of all of their constituents.'

Professor Nayef Al-Rodhan


Who is this course designed for? Who can benefit most from what they will learn?

The course is designed for practitioners and academics, and even exceptional students, interested in global affairs and who want to explore questions related to peace, security and governance from an interdisciplinary perspective.


What caused you to alter your focus from Neuroscience and Neurosurgery to the interplay of neuroscience and international relations? Is this a notion that has been introduced before?

I was always interested in the interplay between politics, history and philosophy. I realized, however, that the prevailing view of human nature was incomplete and often polarizing, both with ancient and modern philosophers. Previously, the existing methods for theorizing human nature and the character of man were based on observation and speculation, whereas today we can count on far more lab-based evidence that helps us understand the human brain and behavior. With insights from neuroscience, I proposed a new theory of human nature – as did other political philosophers over the ages from Aristotle, through Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke to the present day, but who did not have the benefit of the evidence provided by neuroscience. I called this theoretical paradigm “emotional amoral egoism”. Importantly, this theory of human nature offers a more nuanced perspective of the drivers and motivators of human beings. Emotional amoral egoism refutes some of the established beliefs in political philosophy, notably the apparent conflict between rationality and emotionality. 

'I realized that the prevailing view of human nature was incomplete and often polarizing, both with ancient and modern philosophers.' 

Professor Nayef Al-Rodhan

I also proposed this theory in the hope that it will help decision-makers in domestic and international politics better understand human needs, both at individual and collective levels, and thus devise policies more effectively and holistically. This also includes better appreciation of collective needs at a transnational and transcultural level. 

Although I miss neuroscience, I stay well-informed of the latest developments, and I am very glad that I moved to political philosophy and global security. I am hopeful that my work in the neurophilosophy of international relations and global security has contributed significant and innovative insights.


Your conception of human nature is that the individual is an ‘emotional amoral egoist.’ As states and governments are comprised of individuals, is this directly applicable to nation states, or is there something about the formal organization of a state that tempers human nature?

Accountable governance systems rely on accountable and transparent institutions and are, in theory, supposed to offset individual human predilections. Although that is true to some extent, it is also true that these institutions are run by people who have likes, dislikes, loyalties, different views of how they should be governed, domestic and global cultural affinities and antagonisms. In mature democracies, institutions handle these tensions fairly well, but there are other persistent problems of inequality, marginalization and disempowerment. The latter expose the malleability of human nature, and they demonstrate that all political systems are fragile as long as they do not account for the human dignity of all of their constituents. At an inter-state level, states too can be described in this framework of emotional amoral egoism. National strategic cultures develop around entrenched historical narratives, prioritizing policies that are not always cost-effective. Moreover, many examples in history show how leaders pushed their nations into wars or alliances based on calculations that were far from ‘rational’.


Battles in outer space? Enhanced super-soldiers? Autonomous weapon systems? This all sounds farfetched and more likely to appear in a science fiction movie. How relevant are these discussions, really?

Highly relevant and not as farfetched as people think. Human enhancement in civil and military spheres is advancing at a fast pace. We are effectively on our way to an inevitable transhumanism, although these developments will take many more decades.  I recognize that improving the human condition either by fixing deficiencies or improving it beyond normal physiology is welcome. Equally, I also fear that unless we regulate this well, this will accentuate the immense inequalities already confronting most societies, and this will endanger stability, security and prosperity.

'Space is considered one of the last global commons that belongs to everyone. If we do not maintain the use of outer space for peaceful purposes, it will be unsafe.'

Professor Nayef Al-Rodhan

Regarding Outer space: given humanity's increasing and irreversible dependence on Space for our daily lives, it is critical that Space must be confined to peaceful use. Space is considered one of the last global commons that belongs to everyone. If we do not maintain the use of outer space for peaceful purposes, it will be unsafe, not selectively, but for everyone. The two major challenges that we face in outer Space as a global community are 1. space debris mitigation, and 2. the prevention of space weaponization.


Are these emerging technologies threats, or opportunities? In other words, are they more likely to be used in service of positive global change or should they rather be seen as threats to global stability and security?

Transformative and disruptive new technologies are going to be of great use to us all, in terms of making our lives easier, healthier, and happier.  But as with all innovations, we need to regulate these well without stifling innovation, and these regulatory frameworks need to be trans-national in order to be effective. Among the most pressing dual-use threats today are Synthetic biology and Artificial Intelligence. 



GCSP expert Professor Nayef Al-Rodhan is running the Geopolitics and Global Futures Symposium from 20-22 June in Geneva. A three-day course: day one, Future of Outer Space Security; day two: Transformative Technologies and Security; day three: Neurophilosophy of Global Security.