Making a safer world

Nation and World

by Jan Gillis ('07)

Ken Rutherford has served as director of the Center for International Stabilization and Recovery at JMU since 2010.

SUMMARY: Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2016, the Center for International Stabilization and Recovery at JMU is recognized as a global leader in international efforts to combat the effects of landmines and explosive remnants of war, and to rehabilitate post-conflict societies.

From the Winter 2017 Madison

CISR director Ken Rutherford shared some reflections on the center's two decades of work to improve lives around the globe with Madison magazine.

Madison: Would you provide a brief history of CISR?

Rutherford: CISR started as the Mine Action Information Center in 1996 under the leadership of the founding director, retired Lt. Col. Dennis Barlow. At the time, some 80 countries around the world were struggling to rid themselves of explosive remnants of war. From its infancy, the center acted as a hub to bring people and agencies together on the issue of landmines, collecting and gathering information. Additionally, the center produced the Journal of Humanitarian Demining, the first professional, international conversation on mine action—a journal that, in an updated form, circulates in over 160 countries. (In that same year, as a co-founder of the Landmine Survivors Network, I had the privilege of escorting Princess Diana to visit civilian landmine victims in Bosnia. The Mine Ban Treaty was signed three month after her funeral.)

Photo of Ken Rutherford with Sen. Elizabeth Dole and Princess Diana
Ken Rutherford with Sen. Elizabeth Dole and Princess Diana. Rutherford accompanied Princess Diana to visit civilian landmine victims in Bosnia in 1997.

The name change came in 2009-10, a recognition that landmines were only part of the problem. CISR now embodies the work of both post-conflict and remediation.

Madison: Elaborate on the interaction of CISR and JMU in these efforts.

Rutherford: JMU is the center of gravity for mine action information. Our work is funded primarily by the the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, and by the Department of Defense's Unexploded Ordnance Center of Excellence. The Journal of Conventional Weapons Destruction, the No. 1 journal in the world dealing with landmine and unexploded ordnance abatement, is produced here at Madison, and eight to 10 JMU students work on the journal each year. JMU faculty work with CISR around the world on management training, mine education, victims' assistance and geographic information systems mobile technologies to identify ordnance to make clearance operations more effective. CISR also produces the State Department's annual report on conventional weapons destruction, To Walk the Earth in Safety, which documents U.S. commitment in this field.

During the past 20 years, CISR has hired almost 400 students to get involved in these efforts; 26 have gone on to work at the State Department. We are giving JMU students an awesome opportunity to work on real-life problems and global issues.

Madison: How does CISR educate the campus at large on these important issues?

Rutherford: Every spring we host Post Conflict Recovery Week. We bring speakers, local panelists and international guests to campus. This spring we will host two individuals from Jordan. One is the leading female Arab human rights lawyer in disability rights and the other is a Palestinian who lost both his legs and now works for Jordan's royal family advocating for human rights. The week's activities expose students to pressing global issues.

Photo of Ken Rutherford and CISR SMC alumnus Thipasone Soukhathammavong
Ken Rutherford with Senior Management Course alumnus, Thipasone Soukhathammavong, director of the Lao National Unexploded Ordnance Programme, who spent three weeks at JMU in summer 2016. Through the course, CISR and JMU College of Business faculty train individuals to work more effectively in post-conflict stabilization.

Madison: How does CISR extend JMU's reach throughout the world?

Rutherford: One example is that of a Senior Management Course alumnus, Thipasone Soukhathammavong, director of the Lao National Unexploded Ordnance Programme, which promotes risk education and clears land for development. We met at a symposium in December 2015. At the time, CISR was launching the application process for the summer SMC Training at JMU, which, in partnership with the College of Business, trains individuals responsible for the removal and abatement of landmines and explosive remnants of war to integrate effective management and communication skills within the context of post-conflict stabilization. He applied, was accepted and spent three weeks at JMU in the summer. His country, Laos, experienced intense aerial bombing during the Indochina wars of the 1960s and 1970s, making it the world's most heavily bombed country per capita. Much of the ordnance remains unexploded, contaminating the country. Two months after Thipasone's visit to Madison, he was hosting the first sitting president in U.S. history to visit Laos. President Obama announced an increased commitment to clean up the deadly legacy of American ordnance, a $30 million initiative that will help Thipasone guide his country to peace.

Photo of CISR SMC alumnus Thipasone Soukhathammavong with President Obama
Two months after Soukhathammavong's visit to Madison, he was hosting President Obama during his historic visit to Laos.

Madison: As you reflect on 20 years of CISR, what impact have you seen from CISR's efforts in weapons removal and nation building?

Rutherford: The world has come together on this issue. Casualties have gone from 26,000 a year to 4,000 a year—still 4,000 too many, but JMU has been part of alleviating the negative effects of landmines, and we're very proud of that.

Madison: How does CISR demonstrate JMU's vision to be the model for an engaged university?

Rutherford: CISR's engagement with the national and global community has brought recognition to CISR and JMU alike. In 2008, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations deemed JMU as one of only 10 American universities uniquely qualified to support the State Department. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recognized CISR at a State Department reception in 2011 for producing the 10th annual report on U.S. conventional weapons destruction. Current Secretary of State John Kerry recognized CISR at a State Department ceremony in 2014. CISR's success is a tribute to its ability to grow while maintaining its role as an impartial arbitrator to bring people together and deliver tools to help make the right decisions. We hire JMU students, we work with JMU faculty and staff—JMU provides a huge and deep talent pool—that can help make the world a more stable and peaceful place. There is no other center like it at any other university in the world.

For JMU to support people in trouble and crisis around the world—areas where the U.S. has no strategic geopolitical interest—causes people to look at the U.S. differently. Some of our senior management trainees have said they want their children to come to JMU.

Madison: What do you think are the key elements that will lead to success for nations ravaged by war?

Rutherford: A redefinition of human security—a roof overhead, adequate food, educational opportunities—rather than guns and security forces.

Madison: After years in this demanding field, would you describe yourself as an optimist or pessimist?

Rutherford: Being injured by a landmine explosion in Somalia in 1993 changed my life. Ironically, the life that followed that injury has exceeded my dreams. I became a professor, had a family and now serve as director of a truly great organization at a wonderful institution. Every step I take is a gift. Every day above ground is a special day.

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Published: Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 1, 2023

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