CIPS: uOttawa’s flagship global affairs research and policy centre punches above its weight.

Centre for International Policy Studies
Research centres and institutes
International Development and Global Studies
Graduate School of Public and International Affairs
Public and International Affairs

By Karine Fossou

Research Communications Specialist, University of Ottawa

Continents Flags Silhouettes
The Centre for International Policy Studies (CIPS) might not be a household name, but the reach and impact of its quality research and events on global governance and international security have established it as a key player in Canadian and international foreign policy circles.

“One of our biggest missions at CIPS has been to raise the level of public debate about international affairs in Canada,” says Rita Abrahamsen, a professor in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa and CIPS director from 2017 until recently.

This mission is carried out by mobilizing knowledge on global affairs and by facilitating collaboration between international affairs researchers across uOttawa faculties and with Canadian and worldwide partners, through networks focused on five areas: Asian studies, fragile states research, international political economy, international theory and security studies.

A clear vision of research and policy engagement

Building on the success of CIPS founder Professor Roland Paris and his successor, the late Professor David Petrasek, in establishing CIPS as one of Canada’s preeminent centres on international affairs research, Abrahamsen focused on strengthening the centre’s research. “I wanted to bring together researchers with similar interests, and not only promote research, but focus on doing cutting-edge research,” she explains. “We wanted to put CIPS on the map as a world-class research centre. As one of the big debates in contemporary international politics is around the challenges to the liberal international order, we quickly developed a research program on changing world orders.”

CIPS’s World Order Research Program brings together scholars from different disciplines and perspectives to study current challenges and opportunities for building a more democratic, just and inclusive world order. Ranging from the rise of populism and the Far Right to economic transformations and geopolitical realignments, the program’s distinct yet connected projects provide a comprehensive analysis of major issues facing Canada and the world.

CIPS also contributed its own Changing Orders umbrella program to the Alex Trebek Smart Changes for a Better World Public Policy Research Initiative. In collaboration with three other uOttawa research centres, CIPS sought to produce new ideas and policies addressing key governance and human rights challenges.

Group of six women standing in front of a CIPS -CEPI banner
High-profile speakers at CIPS' 10th anniversary conference (2018) From the left: Amb. Sparwasser (Germany), HC Smith (Australia), HC le Jeune d’Allegeershecque (UK), HC Umutoni Kazimbaya ( Rwanda), Madelaine Drohan (The Economist) , Rita Abrahamsen (CIPS)

Shining a light on Africa

Putting African issues on the CIPS research agenda is part of Abrahamsen’s legacy.  “Canada and Canadians pay too little attention to a continent that is home to some of the fastest growing economies in the world and most of the minerals needed to power our modern societies,” says Abrahamsen, an African politics specialist.  “Africa is at the centre of international politics and is going to be more and more important at the geopolitical level.“

Through its research, including a policy report on Canada and the African Union, CIPS has aimed to have an impact on Canada’s policy towards Africa, including the forthcoming policy framework for Africa — the first ever for Canada.

As part of the Alex Trebek project, a CIPS workshop on Pan-Africanism and the African Union brought together scholars from Africa, Canada and Europe to focus on Africa’s centrality and contributions to global politics and look at ways forward for a more just and equal world order.

The resulting research will be published as a special forum of Global Studies Quarterly, the journal of the International Studies Association. Edited by Abrahamsen and postdoctoral candidates Farai Chipato and Barbra Chimhandamba, the publication, titled “The African Union, Pan-Africanism and the Liberal World (Dis)Order,” will also be featured on the CIPS website.  

Addressing challenges to democracy

One of the first major research projects developed under Abrahamsen’s leadership focused on the near-worldwide rise of right-wing movement and parties. The SSHRC-funded initiative resulted in a soon-to-be-published co-authored book, World of the Right: Radical Conservatism and Global Order

The world order and the threats to democracy and multilateral cooperation were also central to a collaboration with two main Scandinavian institutes of international affairs, the fruits of which were published as a special issue of International Journalin 2019. “As small and middle powers, Canada, Denmark and Norway face similar challenges. The project analyzed both the implications of a changing world order for these countries, as well as the possible options and avenues for positive change,” says Abrahamsen.

Back in Canada, CIPS has been the instigator of numerous high-profile events, such as the “Voting for a better world ?” public discussion series designed to highlight the importance of international politics in domestic elections, prior to the 2019 federal election. One of the six events of the series included foreign policy spokespersons from all federal parties, and key players such as Rob Oliphant, Erin O’Toole, Elizabeth May and Guy Caron: a testament to CIPS’ clout in foreign policy circles.

Hand casting a "Voting for a netter world " vote in front of a Canadian flag background
CIPS' Voting for a better world ? discussion series

An internationally-acclaimed blog  

CIPS has developed a knowledge mobilization strategy that has helped increase its visibility and influence. The CIPS blog is integral to this strategy. It ranks as the 28th best foreign policy blog worldwide based on Feedspot rankings, in good company with the likes of Foreign Policy (#1), the Brookings Institution (#15) and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (#16).

Written by experts on international affairs, it has become the foremost forum for debate on Canadian foreign policy and global issues, with subjects ranging from Canada’s disarmament diplomacy and the aftermath of the “Freedom Convoy” to international development cooperation and LGBTQ+ rights in Africa.

“Our blog has a very wide readership and following, both internationally and in Canada, and it’s quite remarkable that when I travel, most academics know about CIPS,” says Abrahamsen. “The blog really helped to put not only the centre on the world map, but also the University of Ottawa and our researchers.”

Global Ideas Annual Lecture Series

The CIPS Global Ideas Annual Lecture Series, a brainchild of Abrahamsen and Professor Michael Williams,  University of Ottawa Chair on Global Political Thought and a CIPS member, was created in 2021 to engage with issues in contemporary world politics.

The inaugural lecture was delivered by Michael Ignatieff, who spoke about the importance ofacademic freedom and free speech. The 2023 lecture was delivered to a packed audienceby Cornell University professor  Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò, and was titled “Africa’s Place in the Global Circuit of Ideas.”  The series has drawn a large following and boosted the centre’s knowledge mobilization impact.

Moving forward with a new leadership

Training the next generation of international affairs researchers is integral to CIPS’s mandate. This includes an annual graduate student conference jointly organized with the Centre for International Peace and Security Studies of McGill University and the Université de Montréal, as well as the publication of Potentia, a graduate journal of international affairs. “Both projects are entirely led by our graduate students and designed to give them insights into how the academic world works. They love it and do a great job!” says Abrahamsen.

The centre has just marked its 15th year anniversary, and its leadership baton has been passed on to Professor Alexandra Gheciu.  A specialist in international security and Euro-Atlantic relations, CIPS’s new director is setting the tone of her term with an inaugural roundtable event addressing the complexity of the war in Ukraine and taking stock of its geopolitical impact with a roster of military and diplomatic international experts.

As Abrahamsen sees it, “We have established a strong profile in international affairs, and researchers and academics from all over the world want to come to CIPS, because that’s where it happens.”