Professor Andrew Mack (1939-2021). Photo contributed by Laura Mack.

Faculty News

In memory of Andrew Mack

January 25, 2021

Professor Andrew Mack (1939-2021)

Andrew Mack – always Andy to his many friends across the world – passed away in Vancouver on January 20th 2021 after a fight with illness that challenged even his wonderfully equable temperament. He had been an Adjunct Professor in the School for International Studies at SFU, almost from its foundation, having brought his internationally funded Human Security Report Project (HSRP) to the School and the University early in 2007. He was always grateful to then President Michael Stevenson for having made this possible, as was the young School for International Studies that benefited so much from Andrew’s presence and that of HSRP. It was from SFU and the School that HSRP published the several editions of the Human Security Report (the last of them in 2013), several shorter Human Security Briefs and the miniAtlas of Human Security (produced in collaboration with the World Bank). Every one of these publications attracted international attention. Andrew was never afraid of advancing controversial arguments though always on the basis of rigorous scrutiny of evidence. His work on a further edition of the Human Security Report was stopped only by his final illness.

Andrew started the Human Security Report Project following his service from 1998 to 2001 as Director of the Strategic Planning Office in the Executive Office of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan – an experience on which he reflected in a widely cited article on ‘Civil war: academic research and the policy community’ (published in the Journal of Peace Research [JPR]). He had become convinced that the UN and the international community generally lacked adequate and reliable information on trends in global warfare. So how could the UN determine whether its efforts in conflict prevention and peace building were at all effective without any baseline data? The HSRP set out to fill the knowledge gaps, working closely with the Peace Research Institute Oslo and the Uppsala (University) Conflict Data Program. The Project defined human security more narrowly than has often been the case, and clearly focused on violent threats to individuals, aiming to provide a mapping of the incidence, intensity, causes and consequences of global violence, and policy responses to it. The Project had such success in achieving these objectives that a writer in the JPR was moved to say that its importance could not be overstated. The writer continued, “Few academic initiatives have been able to attain such high influence as the Human Security Report”.

Around the turn of the millennium it was widely believed that the end of the Cold War had ushered in an era of spiraling armed violence and civil war. The first of the Human Security Reports showed that this idea was mistaken, and that there had actually been a decline in such conflicts since the early 1990s. The argument that the main driver of change had been the actions of the international community in conflict prevention and peace-building was controversial, but Andrew Mack stuck with it. The 2013 Report - which offered careful critical support for Steven Pinker’s arguments about the long term decline in violence in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature – maintained that the evidence clearly showed that for all its faults and limitations, global security governance has been effective. The Report on which Andrew was working towards the end of his life would have shown up the more recent, very disturbing reversal of the twenty year trend toward fewer and less deadly wars. But even then Andrew was moderately optimistic as well as strongly opposed to the tendency of the times to blame Islam as “a religion of violence” (see "War Narratives in the 21st Century").

Before he joined the UN in 1998 Andrew had held the Chair in International Relations at the Institute of Advanced Study of the Australian National University (ANU) from 1991 and had served as Director of the ANU’s Peace Research Centre. He had previously taught for a good many years at Flinders University in Adelaide, where he had won appointment as a result of writing a widely cited article on ‘Why Big Nations Lose Small Wars’, published in World Politics in 1975. The journal records that Andrew was then a Research Fellow at the Richardson Institute for Conflict and Peace Research in London, which was the first peace and conflict research centre in the UK. I believe that he was at the Richardson while his ‘day job’ was still that of a presenter of international news programs at the World Service of the BBC – a job that he had taken up after a short period of lecturing in sociology at the London School of Economics. It is an interesting reflection that in those days it was possible to move into a tenured position at a good British university on the strength of a strong record as an undergraduate – such as Andrew’s was. He had joined the LSE not long after he took his first class honours degree in sociology at the University of Essex. In those days ‘getting a First’ was quite unusual. Many who went on to become distinguished professors only had ‘Upper Seconds’ in their first degrees.

His time at Essex in the late 1960s was the making of Andrew’s distinguished career. He was inspired there by the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre and by a visiting professor, Johan Galtung, one of the founders of the Peace Research Institute Oslo. As Andrew explains in an interview recorded on the campus of the University of Essex, when he was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2015 as “an Essex alumnus who helped revolutionise the field of peace research”, the encounter with Galtung set the course of his professional life. He reminisced, too, in the interview, about the excitement at Essex amid the revolutionary mood of 1968 – while also encouraging students, with a twinkle in his eye, to get to grips with those “boring statistical techniques that are incredibly useful but very difficult to learn” ("Honorary Graduate Professor Andrew Mack at the University of Essex").

Andrew had a really remarkable life, rich in adventure, that started in the polite English suburban, stockbroker town of Reigate. He preferred fishing to going to school and as a chronic truant he was sent at last to join the Royal Air Force, where he was first trained to be a fitter – a mechanic – before the RAF recognized his potential and put him into officer training and to become a pilot. He liked to joke about his failure finally to get his ‘wings’ as a pilot because, for some reason, he could never get the hang of night-flying. So he resigned from the airforce and spent several years as a meteorologist with the British Antarctic Survey. Then, for a time, he was a diamond prospector in Sierra Leone. Later, he put his Antarctic skiing experience to good use by earning a living in writing for ski and mountain magazines while he studied for university entrance. He still skied well when he was in his late sixties. But his passion, apart from peace research, was sailing – he twice sailed single-handed between Australia and New Zealand – and later exploring the coasts of BC in the powerboats that he owned with his wife Laura. They, and the small Belgian barge dog, ‘Skippy’ that they both adored, spent many happy years living aboard ‘Fancy Free’ in Spruce Harbour in Vancouver.

So many friends of Andrew’s around the world will miss his warmth and humour, and the kindness that he liked to try to hide behind the image – never very convincing though it was– of being a rough, tough Australian. He was a fine and remarkable man who touched many lives.

John Harriss