Disarmament Insight


Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Disarmament Insight: 2007 in review

As we head into the festive season and begin to wind down for the holiday break, the Disarmament Insight team thought it would be worth pausing to review some of the main themes we’ve covered on the blog in 2007, and a few of the highlights readers might have missed.

Since we launched the blog in March, it’s grown from a small ‘neighbourhood’ site known to 20 or 30 people in Geneva, Switzerland (where UNIDIR’s project on Disarmament as Humanitarian Action and the Geneva Forum are based) to attracting thousands of visitors, at least some of whom we hope have bookmarked the site and return on a frequent basis. Indeed, this post is the 111th. We’d like to thank in particular our Geneva Forum and DHA project donors, our guest bloggers and everyone who’s used the blog’s comment function to contribute their thoughts over the course of 2007.

Cluster munitions have been a major theme in recent months as concurrent international processes have unfolded by means of the Oslo process and a mandate in the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons process (CCW). Patrick and I have just returned from an international conference in Vienna last week on cluster munitions as part of the Oslo process. Related reporting and analysis will continue to be feature of the blog in 2008. (I’ll even be in Wellington, New Zealand, to report on that conference and civil society events in February.)

International work on cluster munitions is a practical manifestation of ‘disarmament as humanitarian action’. But there are others, including the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty, work on small arms and the Arms Trade Treaty, and even reframing in the context of nuclear disarmament. In June we were present in Washington D.C. when outgoing British Foreign Minister Margaret Beckett outlined the UK’s policies, including a strong call for a redoubling of effort on nuclear disarmament - in effect signaling to think-tankers there that it’s okay to use the “D” word (disarmament) again. (Some of us never stopped...)

Meanwhile, the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva remains deadlocked, of course, and there are looming challenges ahead for the current review cycle of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) despite its squeaking through to a preparatory meeting result in Vienna in May.

For our part, we’ve been taking our motto seriously about “thinking differently about human security”. Not only is the DHA project about showing how humanitarian perspectives are relevant to making disarmament and arms control work more effective, we’ve also sought to introduce new perspectives to some of the multilateral practitioners in these processes - not only in the context of the Disarmament Insight blog, but in workshops we’ve run near Geneva throughout the year.

In choosing themes and contributors to these events, we and the Geneva Forum sought to mirror a view among researchers on the DHA project that insights from the natural and behavioural sciences can be of help. In May, for instance, the primatologist Frans de Waal spoke at a workshop we held entitled “human security, human nature and trust-building in negotiations”. Any sniggering about monkeys was silenced by Professor de Waal’s fascinating talk on “War and Peace and Primates” and we received numerous pieces of feedback from participants that it had prompted them to think about their negotiating interactions in fresh ways. You can still hear Frans de Waal’s talk as a podcast from our home-brewed podcast site, or by typing “Disarmament Insight” into the search box in the iTunes Store podcast directory (all of our podcasts are free).

Other talks we’ve put online include those by the economist and author Professor Paul Seabright, Quaker UN Office representative David Atwood, and physicist and science writer Philip Ball. Unfortunately a technical malfunction prevented us from also presenting great talks by economist Paul Ormerod from the same workshop in September on complexity and arms control diplomacy and by our very own Aurélia Merçay. But Philip offered a range of cogent and entertaining insights on the physics of social behaviour, and what it may mean for multilateral responses to armed violence. This linked in nicely to some of our own writing on the subject, especially Aurelia’s work on non-linear modeling of small arms proliferation in the third DHA volume.

Looking ahead, one of the threads followed by the DHA project concerns the impact of cognitive constraints on the perceptions and interactions of multilateral practitioners. This has also been a persistent theme on the blog this year. Drawing from the work of psychologists and behavioural economists, we’ve been thinking about how better understanding, for instance of psychological biases, might improve decision making, and how issues like new communications technologies affect negotiations. In the New Year, along with Aurélia Merçay and Ashley Thornton, I hope to complete a small book tying some of our thinking on the subject together. Watch the blog for more news.

Finally, 2007 has also been a year in which we’ve grown accustomed to new faces in disarmament. But along the way we’ve lost some greats such as Randy Forsberg and, in June, my great friend and former ambassador, Clive Pearson of New Zealand. They’re greatly missed.

These are just some of the things we’ve written about on the Disarmament Insight blog in 2007. Best of the festive season to all of our readers, and please keep reading our blog.

John Borrie

Photo by author.