Disarmament Insight


Monday, 2 February 2009

The Value of Diversity in Multilateral Disarmament Work

Although 2008 was a busy year on other fronts, we also completed the final publication of the current 'Disarmament as Humanitarian Action' series, which is entitled The Value of Diversity in Multilateral Disarmament Work.

Although there have been recent stand-out achievements like the new 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), success has been hard to attain in recent years in other areas of multilateral disarmament and arms control work. Political problems exist, to be sure, but they're not the sole problem. Professional diplomatic or journalistic shorthand like "lack of political will" can take on the mantra of an explanation that obscures specific underlying problems - problems that also differ across processes. However, to quote Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (Act 1, Scene 2) in this regard:

Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,

But in ourselves ...
In our third volume, Thinking Outside the Box in Multilateral Disarmament and Arms Control Negotiations, we explored some of the potential obstacles that are worth considering with a view to improving negotiators' performance that aren't often noticed by many of those in the thick of disarmament work. For instance, obstacles to progress can be the unintended consequences of past practice, or they can stem from the complex challenges those involved must deal with.

It's also likely that aspects of multilateral disarmament practice compound cognitive challenges individuals face in managing their perceptions and interactions with others. This has been an abiding theme of some of the posts on the Disarmament Insight blog, as some readers know.

We were keen to examine some of these aspects in greater depth, and to try to give form to some of the disparate observations and insights we've gathered within the project over the last few years that weren't included in the first three DHA volumes or other published work we produced. And a key catalyst was a workshop we held as part of the Disarmament Insight symposium series in September 2007, when two of our speakers on the topic of complexity and arms control, Philip Ball and Paul Ormerod, discussed Scott Page's book, The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Societies.

Page's book contains a lot of useful generic insights about group prediction and problem solving - often in conditions of conflict, as well as cooperation - that prompted Ashley Thornton and I to consider how this might link up to some of the DHA project's research and observations about disarmament negotiating environments.

Drawing on the work of Page and many others from a range of disciplines, our little book makes the argument that while there is no way to ensure success in multilateral disarmament endeavours, practitioners can improve their chances by recognizing and harnessing cognitive diversity (or 'perspective diversity', in Page's parlance). This is effectively what humanitarian perspectives in disarmament processes such as the Ottawa process leading to the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention and the Oslo Process resulting in the CCM have shown.

And progress in multilateral disarmament needn't stop there. The Value of Diversity in Multilateral Disarmament Work discusses practical suggestions to help achieve this.

John Borrie