Disarmament Insight


Thursday, 31 May 2007

And now for something completely different

Regular visitors to this site will have noted that over the last month or so our blogging has focused on two important multilateral meetings - the preparatory meeting of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in Vienna and, more recently, a meeting of the Oslo Process in Lima, Peru, which is working to address the humanitarian impacts of cluster munitions.

I would have been in Peru blogging to you personally, dear reader, but for a meeting of our own near Geneva, hosted as part of the work of the Disarmament Insight initiative to help multilateral disarmament practitioners think out of the box.

On Friday 25 May, around 25 invited disarmament diplomats at both ambassador and working level, experts from United Nations agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), researchers, civil society representatives and the Disarmament Insight team met for a one-day symposium on the themes of "Human security, 'human nature' and trust building in negotiations".

To help us, our speakers included:

- Frans de Waal, Director of the Living Links Center and C.H. Candler Professor of Primate Behaviour at Emory University, who explored what multilateral practitioners can learn from our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, including the chimpanzee and the bonobo, about negotiating and the nature of aggression and reconciliation. Frans was recently named by Time magazine as one of its 100 people shaping the world in 2007.

- Paul Seabright, Professor of Economics at the University of Toulouse and author of "The Company of Strangers: a Natural History of Economic Life", who analysed the interactions between our minds and our institutions in modern life, which may help us to understand better why in some contexts conflict seems so intractable.

- Dr. Robin Coupland, the ICRC's adviser on armed violence and the effects of weapons and a former war surgeon, who discussed how de Waal's and Seabright's views tie into understanding armed violence.

- Yours truly. I talked briefly about the notion of 'cognitive ergonomics' - of looking at multilateral negotiating processes and how we could better design them to leverage our cognitive and social skills as human beings.

The emphasis of the symposium was on informal discussion and it followed the Chatham House rule. While respecting that rule, we'll be posting more information about the symposium here, including pod casts of some of the presentations, over the coming weeks.

So check back regularly for some fresh ways of "thinking differently about human security" from what was a productive gathering of big-brained social apes.

John Borrie


Info about the ICRC's work on weapons and humanitarian law is available here.