Conflict, Global Governance, Middle East A New Role for NATO in Conflict Zones?

February 24, 2023
By Lynn Meskell | Weitzman School of Design

One year after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, PIK Professor Lynn Meskell calls on the alliance to take a more expansive view of cultural property protection.

Lynn Meskell is Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor in the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation and Department of City and Regional Planning, Richard D. Green Professor of Anthropology in the School of Arts and Sciences, and curator in the Middle East and Asia sections at the Penn Museum. Her award-winning book, A Future in Ruins: UNESCO, World Heritage, and the Dream of Peace (Oxford, 2018), reveals UNESCO’s early forays into a one-world archaeology and its later commitments to global heritage.

You just returned from a trip to Brussels, where you presented your latest research on heritage conflict at UNESCO World Heritage sites and post-conflict reconstruction to NATO. What was the forum and what was at issue?

I was invited by Frederick Rosen at the Nordic Center for Cultural Heritage & Armed Conflict in Copenhagen to be part of an invited panel for NATO-member delegations and military leaders. The Nordic Center has been working with NATO around cultural property issues for a decade, and it brought together scholars and experts from Canada, the US, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the UK.

There’s intense interest in cultural heritage protection right now—and that it must be thought of in terms of NATOS’s programs on human security and the protection of civilians. This is largely because of the war in Ukraine, but it can be traced back to the rise of Islamic State in 2014 and also NATO countries’ own challenges with heritage in conflict since the end of the Cold War. There is an enormous push for NATO to create its own policy on how to view cultural property, in terms of protection, not just prioritizing monuments and objects, but to recognize the broader significance of heritage for communities and their futures.

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