Making History Together

Written by Allison Pytlak, Control Arms

The room was teeming with energy in the only way that a room full of activists can; many of us friends and old colleagues who only meet a few times a year at conferences such as these. Warm hugs and smiles mixed in with friendly jokes and jabs. It was early on a Saturday morning and we were tired from the night before but energized by the prospect of a great weekend ahead.

I am describing the opening session of the 2013 Humanitarian Disarmament Campaigns Forum, which took place in late October. The Forum is a now annual meeting that brings together a huge cross section of individuals working in the areas of humanitarian disarmament or arms control. Some are policy wonks, others are advocacy veterans; there is a sprinkling of diehard activists and always a welcome contingent of new faces offering questions and fresh perspectives.  The purpose of the Forum is to give an opportunity for our diverse and wonderful community to come together for a few days, share experiences and deliberately break out of our boxes to learn from each other.

Somewhere late on that Saturday morning, I was facilitating a small group discussion about how to coordinate global coalitions. I had expected that our group would talk about the administrative and communications tactics that big NGO networks and coalitions make use of. Instead however, we decided to focus the discussion on how our big coalitions can better cooperate and collaborate with each other.  It was easy to identify all of the practical incentives for doing so – many of our coalitions have common members, work on related issues or share similar governance and staffing models. Yet for me, what really stood out as the most important rationale for cross-coalition partnership were not any of these practical points but instead, a rather simple rationale that reinforced the purpose of the Forum. As someone in the group put forward, “a success for one coalition is a success for all of us – and by that same token, a failure for one group impacts the entire community.”

By that logic, the last few weeks can only be seen as a huge success in the area of humanitarian disarmament. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) scored a big success on 21 October when 125 governments signed a joint statement at the UNGA First Committee expressing their concern over the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. It’s been a tough battle for the anti-nuclear campaigns particularly compared to recent successes in the area of conventional weapons. This statement, and the high number of cosponsors to it, was a massive step forward in efforts to demonstrate that nukes should be prohibited on the basis of their humanitarian impact.

Then just a few weeks later on 15 November, governments agreed to begin international discussions on fully autonomous robot weapons early next year. Such weapons would select and engage targets without further human intervention. Considering that the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots was only launched earlier this year, and that no one was talking about this issue only a few years ago, the rate of progress has been remarkable. And of course, earlier this year our own coalition welcomed the adoption and opening for signature of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) after years of intense negotiations and disappointments.

And this is why opportunities like the Forum are so important. Global advocacy coalitions are now a regular feature of the international landscape. For many organizations, they represent the best way to effectively mobilize resources toward collective goals and open up new channels for dialogue and information exchange.  Having such a broad reach has transformed the ability of NGOs to successfully affect political change at all levels and has altered the ways in which governments and NGOs interact. States are no longer the only actor when it comes to addressing the world’s most pressing issues. NGOs and civil society coalitions like Control Arms offer expertise, ideas, and solutions that are increasingly welcome in the international arena. The learning and information sharing that happened at the Forum in October, as well as through virtual and online channels, have enabled coalitions to build on each other’s successes over time so as to avoid duplication in efforts while simultaneously sharpening our skills. After all, the issues that each coalition focuses on are all building blocks which, when pieced together properly, will pave the road to a safer and less violent world.

That is why a success for one is really a success for all.

Allison Pytlak is the Campaign Manager at Control Arms. Based out of New York, she manages outreach efforts for the coalition, leads advocacy efforts in New York, and helps coordinate global civil society campaign efforts in pursuit of a strong Arms Trade Treaty. Follow her on Twitter @a_pytlak