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20 October 2008 - Second Edition

Editorial: Organizing for Disarmament
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will


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In his opening statement to the panel on international organizations, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Sergio Duarte argued that ultimately, “the future of the world lies in the fate of international organization as a global process.”

His introduction to the topics of organizations and organization provides an opportunity to look at the challenges and crises facing disarmament and non-proliferation in a broader context than First Committee discussions usually permit. High Representative Duarte noted, we are “confronting a variety of crises that are aggravated—year after year—by the loss of a sense of common purpose, the rise of mutual mistrust, and the misperceived need to seek security in measures of self-help, rather than cooperative multilateral action, guided by the rule of law.” He also pointed out that one type of challenge generally omitted from a survey of crises is the “challenge of organization, both domestic and international.”

There are parallels to be drawn between international/domestic and civil society organization. The similarities in their strengths and weaknesses show us where we need to focus our attention at all levels and where we need reform. The international organizations High Representative Duarte speaks of build mutual trust and confidence among states through their commitment to a common purpose—peace and security—and through their usefulness—serving as an “institutional memory,” promoting objectives of all states, and educating the younger generation. Civil society organizations can do much of the same, for governments and for citizens. Many offer the vision, support, and practical steps for the development and implementation of international treaties and norms leading to a de-weaponized and just security. Many educate and provide information for a range of audiences—the general public, civil servants, diplomats, etc. And proper civil society organization can bring citizens together in an effective manner to address domestic and international problems. However, international, national, and civil society organizations, and organization, also face similar challenges.

In High Representative Duarte’s analysis, he indicated that the challenge of international and domestic organization is reflected in the struggle to develop appropriate institutional infrastructures—including budgets, offices, laws, policies, and regulations—to implement their commitments. He pointed to narrow mandates and the inability to undertake long-term planning as additional problems. These are also some of the problems of civil society organization and organizations. The infrastructure and capacity for organizing citizens in collective efforts for peace, security, and disarmament has diminished, along with many fundamental principles and purposes that should be at the core of our efforts. Meanwhile many organizations have become increasing atomized—single issue focused—and professionalized, resulting in the exclusion of many people who would otherwise be valuable assets to our work.

In reference to the challenges of organizing for peace and security issues in the United States, Darwin BondGraham, a PhD candidate at the University of California at Santa Barbara, wrote, “Much of the antiwar movement is orchestrated by organizers and groups that look upward at the powers that be in Congress, and that purposefully shape their messaging to appeal to some abstract notion of the ‘mainstream,’ or to the corporate mass media.” He argues that these groups do not learn from or use as their centre the movements that give social organizing its nourishment and backbone, which means the antiwar movement “can only submit a cosmetic fix to an ill-identified problem, and it can accomplish nothing of the structural and systematic social change that the mass of humanity desperately wants.”This critique is similar to High Representative Duarte’s conclusion that what is necessary for the success of international organizations—and international organization—is “a shared commitment to a common purpose, a determination not to sacrifice the principles and ideals of our respective organizations ... and a willingness to learn from the experience of those who preceded us.” Cooperation and community are essential—progress toward disarmament, non-proliferation, peace, and security requires constructive engagement with others, the development and maintenance of critical consciousness, and the capacity to reach our goals, to create and sustain an alternative to the status quo.

High Representative Duarte asserted, “It is quite apparent that despite the turmoil in our world today ... it is in the realm of international organization where some of the greatest progress is possible in fulfilling both disarmament and non-proliferation goals.” Dedication to the common goal of peace and cooperative action to meet this goal are essential—collective action by international and civil society organizations, reached by effective international, national, and civil organization.

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