An Australian Viking has laid down his pen

Andrew Mack, known to his friends as Andy, died peacefully in Vancouver on 20 January, just before his 82nd birthday.

A post-conference excursion in Morocco. Photo: Laura Mack

Andy was best known in recent years for his work as the founder and editor of the Human Security Report, with four editions from 2005 to 2013, as well as several shorter Human Security Briefs.

Andy was a firm believer in academic rigor and adopted a narrow concept of human security rather than one that included all good things. He collaborated closely with the Uppsala Conflict Database Project and with PRIO. He sided firmly with Steven Pinker (and co-authored with him) in arguing for an optimistic view of the long-term decline of violence. He produced well-documented critiques on inflated fatality figures in the DRC and elsewhere. ‘It is not surprising that most people believe global violence is increasing. However, most people, including many leading policymakers and scholars, are wrong’, he wrote in Washington Post on 28 December 2005. But he also published novel – and sometimes controversial – interpretations of the data on issues like the apparent increase in global terrorism, the impact of war on health and economic growth, and on sexual violence in war.

Andy’s work on human security relied mainly on primary research done by others. But he was a discerning reader and critic of that research and he had an exceptional ability to communicate the findings and their implications to the policy community.

This arose from a long career that took him into academic posts in England, Australia, and Canada in particular, but also into key policy positions, particularly in the UN where he served for three years as Director of the Secretary-General’s Strategic Planning Unit. He drew on this experience in one of his most frequently cited articles, ‘Civil War: Academic research and the policy community’ (Journal of Peace Research, September 2002). The article argues that the academic conflict research community has far less impact on the policy community than the importance of its work deserves and offered a number of recommendations for how to improve the policy impact of conflict research.

His academic career started as an undergraduate student of sociology at the University of Essex in the mid-1960s. Here he met PRIO’s founder, Johan Galtung, ‘an absolutely spell-binding lecturer, enormously inspirational’, as he recalled some fifty years later when he was awarded an honorary degree at his alma mater. This was to shape his life and career although, like many of us, he would deviate from his mentor’s path on numerous occasions.

He went on to work at the Institute for Peace and Conflict Research in Copenhagen for six months. With Anders Boserup he co-authored a pioneering and influential book on nonviolence in national defense (War without Weapons, 1974), which offered a pragmatic approach marrying Gandhi with Clausewitz. It was translated into several languages. Although he never returned to Scandinavia to work full-time, he retained life-long friendships and collaboration with Scandinavia. The Human Security Report Project was supported financially by the Swedish as well as the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

As a prolific writer throughout his academic career, he contributed to a wide spectrum of issues in peace research and international relations. His most influential article is probably one that appeared in World Politics in 1975 under the catchy title of ‘Why big nations lose small wars’. Clearly influenced by the outcome of the Vietnam War, but drawing on a wide range of historical examples, he noted that the major powers involved were not defeated militarily, but rather ‘from the progressive attrition of their opponents’ political capability to wage war. In such asymmetric conflicts, insurgents may gain political victory from a situation of military stalemate or even defeat.’ … ‘Where the war is perceived as “limited” – because the opponent is “weak” and can pose no direct threat – the prosecution of the war does not take automatic primacy over other goals pursued by factions within the government, or bureaucracies or other groups pursuing interests which compete for state resources.’

Andy was not a quantifier. But he was an excellent interpreter and disseminator of statistical work. As he wrote in the 2009/10 Human Security Report: ‘Quantitative research can do two things that qualitative case-study research cannot. At the most basic level, cross-national data on conflict numbers and battle deaths can reveal long-term global and regional trends in the incidence and deadliness of conflicts that qualitative research cannot. Such descriptive statistics are the only means of tracking changes in the global security landscape – the major net decline in armed conflict numbers in the wake of the Cold War being a case in point. Statistical models … take the analysis to a different level and can reveal possible causal connections between the onset of conflict and such structural factors such as GDP.’ And his Essex interview ended with a strong encouragement to students to ‘try and learn those boring statistical techniques that are incredibly useful but very, very difficult to learn’.

A peripatetic scholar, he eventually settled in Vancouver for almost a full two decades and focused on his work on human security. This was also where he found his beloved wife, Laura.

In informal settings, Andy would address me and other Norwegian friends as ‘Vikings’. Ironically, I have always regarded Andy as a sort of Australian Viking. He was a tall man with a booming voice. His pre-sociology career included pilot training in the Royal Air Force, work for the British Antarctic Survey, and diamond prospecting in Sierra Leone! He was an avid sailor. Indeed, he lived on his boat for several years and had plans to sail across the Pacific with ‘a woman in every port’ (i.e. his wife), a project which he had to abandon for health reasons. Having invited him to join me in a spectacularly unsuccessful excursion in a friend’s sailboat in Oslo’s harbor (absolutely no wind that day), I could never persuade him to apply for the directorship of PRIO although the allure of the Stockholm archipelago might have made him consider SIPRI.

Andrew Mack will be widely missed by his many friends in Scandinavia. And, indeed, by scholars and practitioners worldwide who share his ambition to understand the world and to form a more peaceful future.

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Steven Pinker

Andy was one of my greatest intellectual influences. After I wrote a short blog post citing a few historical declines of violence, he got in touch and sent me the 2005 Human Security Report. I saw the graph he adapted from PRIO and UCDP on the decline of battle-related deaths since 1946 and was stunned — like many before and since, I had been ignorant of this major development in human history. It was perhaps the biggest inspiration for my book The Better Angels of Our Nature, which in turn led to Enlightenment Now, and a major turn in my career.
Andy also tutored me in the ideas, methods, mores, and gossip in the field of international relations (together with Joshua Goldstein, John Mueller, and Nils Petter Gleditsch), commented on drafts, coauthored an article with me in Slate (“The world is not falling apart,” during the rise of ISIS), and shared his analysis of trends in war, peace, and human security. I am grateful for all of these. And as Nils Petter indicate in this lovely obituary, Andy was not just intellectually stimulating, but was good natured and good company, and was driven by a strong moral purpose: making “human security,” the well-being of women, men, and children, the focus of international relations as an academic field and a global priority. The world should be grateful for his scholarship, writing, and influence.

Tara Cooper

Thank you for this beautiful tribute, Nils Petter. I feel so fortunate to have known Andy, and to have worked for him at the Human Security Report Project. I treasure all of the moments that I got to experience as a result of what he built, including working with and getting to know our colleagues at PRIO and UCDP (I remember with great fondness his propensity to call you vikings…). He was a giant in the field of peace and conflict research, and he was also relentlessly positive and dedicated to his work. The world has benefited from his drive to produce and promote sophisticated, accurate, and sometimes counterintuitive research, and to communicate these findings in policy-friendly formats that reached widely across the globe. He was bold, and he was also a very gentle soul. He was a great mentor to me and to many others. He and his work have touched so many lives, and I know that he is being mourned in many corners of our world.

Mike Spagat

Thank you so much, Nils Petter, for your wonderful tribute. This is just hitting me so hard.

I remember many months during which the voluminous email exchanges with Andy and collaborators (mainly Tara Cooper, Joakim Kreutz and Josip Dasovic) were the highlight of my day. Andy was always trying to address important issues, discover the truth and be fair to critics. Obviously, this doesn’t mean that he was right about everything but he always tried really hard to get things right. My experience working with him affected me deeply and I’ve tried in my own way to emulate his best qualities although although I’m sure that I’ve fallen short.

What I wrote above just doesn’t capture the sheer joy of working with Andy. Every step along the way was fun for everybody. He’d always find space to slip in little personal appreciations and credits, often delivered humorously, that made people feel valued and important. I remember being in a little crowd during a break at a conference talking about some research that I found to be suspicious, possibly fraudulent when Andy interjecting with something like “You have to understand that once Professor Spagat senses evil he’s like a Rottweiler that’s just sunk it’s teeth into a leg. He’s not letting go until he’s finished.”

There’s no way to replace Andy. But his positive influence will keep reverberating for a long time to come.

Macartan Humphreys

Thanks for writing this Nils Petter. Such a loss. Andy was a great inspiration. So much intellectual energy. Such warmth.

Conor Seyle

Whenever people talk about someone being larger than life, Andy is the image in my head. On paper he reads like a character from a Le Carre novel, and it’s hard for me to think of anybody I know or have worked with who has lived as many different lives as he had. This obit captures what I always felt about working with him: the sheer humanity and joy for life he brought to everything he did, even the relatively grim work of tracking violence. The world is less without Andy in it, and so is our field. Thank you for writing this Nils Petter.

Anna Alvazzi del Frate

I had the privilege of meeting Andy at a series of meetings organized by the Director General of the UN Office in Geneva in 2001-02. He was advising the DG in consultations with a large number of UN agencies to identify one issue that they had in common, in search of a goal larger than their own individual mandates, which was – guess what? – human security. I was fascinated by meeting Andy, and had the chance to meet him many other times over the years, until last time when he was still traveling although the illness was taking over. I became familiar with his style of commenting from the back of the room, his curiosity and enthusiasm. I learned a lot from him and will miss him deeply.

Professor Kevin Clements

I worked closely with Andy when I took over from him as Head of the Peace Research Centre at the ANU. I echo everything you say about him but most of all I loved his zest for life, his endless conversation about big and trivial issues; his ability to tell yarns and his lovely sense of humour. In relation to your Viking story. When Johan Galtung visited ANU, Andy took him out on his yacht that used to be moored at Bateman’s Bay. Johan told him that he was an experienced sailor or Viking stock. Andy told him that he (Johan) needed to be careful at the wharf when they got back as there was a little gap between the boat and the wharf. Johan said he was perfectly able to negotiate the gap. In face he wasnt and fell into the water. the last that Andy saw of him was Johan disappearing into the sea holding a satchel full of papers above his head. So both Vikings had fun that day but it was the Norwegian who got wet!. Love and RIP dear friend. Kevin

Richard Price, University of British Columbia

Thank you for the wonderful tribute. I immensely enjoyed Andy’s larger than life persona and fun loving wit in the many social occasions we spent together along with Laura. He has played a very special place in our knowledge of violence, his graphs on casualties and the like have been staples in my university courses for decades to show tomorrow’s leaders that the world is not what most think it to be in terms of trends of violence. Raising a lovely Australian red in toast to a life and career most well lived my friend.

Nils Petter Gleditsch

Additional tributes to Any Mack may be found here:
School for International Studies, Simon Fraser University:

Gareth Evans, former Foreign Minister of Australia:

The School of International Studies at Simon Fraser University has set up a Professor Andrew Mack Memorial Fund to continue Andy’s legacy of inspiring students. Contributions may be sent by check (made out to Simon Fraser University, please ensure Professor Andrew Mack Memorial Fund is written on the memo line) mailed to: Professor Andrew Mack Memorial Fund, c/o Ellen Yap, School for International Studies, Simon Fraser University, 515 West Hastings Street, Suite 7200, Vancouver BC Canada V6B 5K3 or online to

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