31 August 2012, Vol. 5, No. 5

Window dressing
Dr. Robert Zuber | Global Action to Prevent War

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The civil society monitoring team is partially writing in 'exile' today as diplomats have decided to close some of the meetings focused on draft text for a final outcome document. After many years and many dozens of Monitors produced, we have become somewhat proficient at 'adding value' to discussions even when we are not physically present. Diplomats have the right to exercise options to keep NGOs from discussions, though most all delegations understand the value of having individuals in the room who can 'read back' and reflect on what has been discussed and decided. Such decisions complicate our work at times, but not always by a lot.

Even when we have been excluded from discussions, whether in the UNPoA, the Disarmament Commission, or elsewhere, the window into the workings of disarmament diplomats is never completely closed.

Many of us have alternate means of capturing at least the essence of what takes place in 'closed' sessions. Not only are delegations willing to share their thoughts after the fact, but there are insights that can be gleaned based on years of following trends and reporting on all kinds of disarmament proceedings. As most diplomats have gathered from references to our various web sites, but especially the site of Reaching Critical Will, there is plenty to weigh in on regardless of how frequently we might be 'invited' to leave.

For some of the NGO representatives who have traveled long distances to share their experiences and aspirations with us in New York, and who have heavy logistical burdens to bear both before and after their journey, the absence from UNPoA sessions has perhaps more emotional impact. To be excluded from something you labored long and hard to attend is not easy, nor is to easy to understand what could possibly be taking place in 'closed' sessions that is so very different from the discussion in 'open' ones.

There are ways to handle such matters that preserve state prerogatives and provide streams of information and patterns of access that justify long journeys. More collaboration with NGOs based at headquarters might help some. More sharing and less overlap regarding information sources might help as well.  Some of these changes seem to be in the air, which is good news for all.

Regardless of how indispensable to disarmament deliberations we might feel, states do maintain the right to hold discussions without our direct presence. But as we do our duty and address the terms of access, we must be reminded that the window is never fully closed. There will always be pathways available to find the information we need to do the jobs our organizations and the broader community of civil society need us to do.

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