Advances in science and technology began to seem like threats to humanity after World War II, when the research of physicists like J. Robert Oppenheimer led to the creation of deadly atomic bombs. In the post-war era, a group of scientists created an alarming visual: a Doomsday Clock that symbolized how much time remained before humans caused a global catastrophe. When the clock was launched, it was set at 11:53. Today, it hovers at 90 seconds to midnight.
When Kamal Sadiq, associate professor of political science at UCI, was a graduate student from India at the University of Chicago, he regularly passed by the building that houses the foreboding timepiece.
It’s fitting then that Sadiq, as newly appointed director of the Center for Global Peace and Conflict Studies at UCI, sees an urgent need for researchers across disciplines to anticipate and proactively solve a growing list of threats to global peace. The scope goes beyond nuclear war – a threat heightened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – to include climate change, migration and the global supply chain.
“The goal of the Center for Global Peace and Conflict Studies is not only to better understand emerging problems, but to get ahead of them, to de-escalate and prevent future problems,” says Sadiq. “I believe that we are all stakeholders in preserving peace and reducing conflict; each individual has a responsibility and can play a unique role.”
New crisis, new solutions
Founded at UCI in 1983, at the height of the Cold War, the Center for Global Peace and Conflict Studies was initially dedicated to preventing a nuclear armageddon. The landscape of global threats has shifted in the last four decades, and the center expands its scope accordingly.
“Today, we face new crises: global climate change, war in Europe; the march of authoritarianism; refugees fleeing desertification, flooding and repressive regimes; and a desperate need for new ideas to carry us all forward to what's next,” says Bill Maurer, dean of the School of Social Sciences. “With his background in immigration and citizenship, security, and a rising India, Kamal Sadiq is uniquely situated to chart CGPACS' future course. I am thrilled he'll be at the helm.”
An expert on global migration, Sadiq has written extensively about the security implications of migration and citizenship policies. His first book, Paper Citizens (Oxford University Press, 2010), examined how fake documents enable migrants to bypass national security measures and gain citizenship in some countries. That work earned the attention of both officials and scholars and garnered a prestigious Smith Richardson Foundation grant.
Sadiq’s most recent work focuses on migration and the flow of refugees across developing countries in the Global South, including how the legacy of colonialism impacts modern-day migration policies. His work further looks at the tradeoffs between a nation-state’s security and the rights of individuals migrating across borders. While immigration issues in Europe and North America may dominate headlines, Sadiq points out that nearly half of the 184 million people who live outside of their country of nationality are migrants across the Global South. When it comes to refugees, 85 percent are hosted in the Global South.
Sadiq sees the center’s role not only as identifying emerging global challenges, but also leading the way in solving them and preventing conflict. He points to how the COVID-19 pandemic unexpectedly revealed global supply chain problems, and how the significance of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization surged after the invasion of Ukraine.
“What other disruptions lie beneath the surface of our institutions, threatening our safety and security?” Sadiq asks. Social science researchers, he believes, will be instrumental in finding answers.
“I feel the role of academics, especially social scientists, is to ask thought-provoking questions on issues most relevant to our times; questions that keep in mind policy makers, government, and non-government actors,” Sadiq says. “Leading scholarship can play a constructive and supplementary role—revealing policy blind spots and gaps, but also aid and influence in the development of innovative solutions to enduring challenges. Bold scholarship here at UCI is doing just that.”
An optimistic perspective
Sadiq, who is the 8th director in the center’s 40-year history, has served on the center’s board of directors for a decade, recruiting renowned speakers and helping select fellowship recipients.
The center’s annual Margolis Lecture, named for economics professor emeritus and founding CGPACS board member Julius Margolis, has brought high-profile speakers to UCI, drawing crowds of campus and community members. Among past guests are Hans Blix, United Nations’ chief weapons inspector ahead of the U.S. invasion of Iraq; Jack Foust Matlock, Jr., ambassador to the Soviet Union during the Cold War; and Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who reported on atrocities and U.S. cover-ups of the Vietnam War.
As director, Sadiq hopes to host more in-person events that foster connections between the center, students, and the community.
“I would like to maintain the intellectual community on campus at UCI through thought-provoking talks and programs that inspire and engage our students and faculty,” he says. “I hope to balance between academic researchers that have policy relevance and policy makers who provoke vital academic questions.”
In addition to the Margolis lecture, the center’s colloquium series brings scholars and policy makers to campus to discuss their recent research and receive valuable feedback as they refine their presentations and papers. In addition, the annual UCI graduate student conference invites graduates to showcase their work, providing what Sadiq describes as “an invaluable professionalization platform for graduate students to sharpen their presentation skills, share on-going research and learn from one another.”
As part of its effort to train a new generation of scholars who can help understand global peace and conflict, the center offers graduate student fellowships which can be incredibly impactful for recipients. More than 100 students have received fellowships since 2016. The funding – typically between $1,500 and $3,000 – enables students to travel, conduct fieldwork or collect data for their dissertation or pre-dissertation research. The seed grants have proven pivotal for students such as Tauhid S. Bin Kashem, who built on his initial research to earn a fellowship from the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation in 2021 and a $25,000 Harry Frank Guggenheim Emerging Scholar Award in 2023. Past recipients of the CGPACS graduate student fellowships have gone on to work at think tanks including the Cato Institute, conduct research at major companies such as Meta, and secure tenure-track faculty positions at universities, bringing the perspectives they sharpened at UCI into the broader community.
While university students have often played an active role in grappling with global conflict – from nuclear proliferation to the Vietnam War – Sadiq sees today’s students facing an especially long list of challenges. Yet, as a parent and teacher, he says they give him great hope.
“What makes this current generation exceptional is their unwavering resilience,” he says. “Today’s students are strong and innovative, and they champion causes close to them with resolute passion and spirit. I am consistently impressed by the optimism of our young people—this is vital because such optimism travels up and down, between older and younger generations. We want to facilitate this optimism.”
-Christine Byrd for UCI Social Sciences