New video: A Conversation about the Experience of War

Old Aleppo, Aleppo governorate. Large-scale destruction of infrastructure is one of the many harsh realities of Syria's armed conflict. © ICRC / H. Hvanesian

Old Aleppo, Aleppo governorate. Large-scale destruction of infrastructure is one of the many harsh realities of Syria's armed conflict. © ICRC / H. Hvanesian

Recently, the ICRC's regional delegation for the United States and Canada in Washington DC hosted a special event with our outgoing director of operations, Pierre Krähenbühl, and Michael Ignatieff, a former Liberal Party leader in Canada, who currently holds academic posts at the University of Toronto and Harvard.

The event, entitled, "9/11 to Syria: the evolution of armed conflict and humanitarian action," was held at the American Red Cross on 6 December before a crowd of around 130 people and took place in the form of a conversation between Professor Ignatieff and Mr Krähenbühl, followed by a Q&A with the audience.

Professor Ignatieff knows the ICRC well – he began following our work in 1997, when he visited our delegation in Kabul, Afghanistan and later wrote about the ICRC's "unarmed warriors" in the New Yorker. Over the years, he has continued to comment on the challenges our organization faces as the nature of the battlefield shifts and humanitarian work becomes increasingly risky.

He began the conversation by asking Mr Krähenbühl, whose mandate as the head of ICRC operations comes to an end this month, about Syria and the particular challenges that conflict poses to aid agencies.

Their wide-ranging conversation went on to cover whether so-called "humanitarian spaces" exist, if access to detainees could emerge as a confidence building measure at the upcoming "Geneva II" conference on Syria, whether international humanitarian law (IHL or the law of armed conflict) is still relevant, the importance of public outrage in keeping interrogation practices in-check, new trends in warfare, the threat of cyber attacks, why proximity to people really matters, and a number of other issues.

To make downloading and viewing easier, we have divided the conversation into four parts below.

Part I focuses on displacement, especially in relation to Syria and the Central African Republic and the broader experience of war. Those interested in the Geneva II conference will find the end of this part of particular interest.

Part II takes a look at how 9/11 shaped US and ICRC relations – what we took for granted, how things changed, and the challenges that still remain – from US detention to the notion of the "global battlefield".

Part III examines new IHL issues linked to drones, what constitutes direct participation in hostilities, the theoretical risks of a cyber attack that could bring an entire city to its knees, and the realities of war today. At the end of this part, Pierre talks very candidly about some of the difficult decisions he's had to take over the past 12 years and the most important lessons he's learned.

Part IV features questions from the audience, including one from the Swiss Ambassador to the US, who asks whether there are limits to the ICRC's policy of confidentiality.

Please leave a comment if you have a message for Mr. Krähenbühl. We'll be sure to pass them along before he leaves the ICRC to join the UN at the end of January.