At multilateral “Meetings of States Parties (MSP)” conferences, delegates are there to review progress made since the establishment of some treaty standard or another – in this case the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CMC) three years ago (3). In the plenaries, therefore, diplomats praise one another’s efforts to implement the treaty with fancy prepared speeches, congratulate their hosts for a beautifully organized event, call on non-signatories to join the treaty, and generally take stock of how to strengthen adherence to the rules. But just like at academic conferences, all the really interesting stuff happens outside the plenary, in the corridors, in the bars or in “side events” organized by NGOs. In these informal mini-panel discussions, civil society pitches its ideas about how to trouble-shoot the implementation process, but also – importantly for my research – they incubate ideas for new norm campaigns in related areas.
These conversations are very early steps on a road that may (though won’t always) lead to later multilateral framework conferences designed to create rather than implement international norms. At the 3MSP-CMC Conference this week in Oslo, 80% of the side events have to do with implementing provisions of the CMC, particularly the victim assistance provisions. But the other 20% has to do with other, emerging weapons issues. (I include here break-out sessions at the pre-conference Youth Seminar as well as a side event in the regular conference entitled “Looking Back to Look Forward: The CCM and What it Means for Limiting the Impact of Other Weapons Systems.”) The latter will cover the new explosive violence campaign as well as the now very-much percolating issue of autonomous weapons. In the Youth Seminar the topics covered included nuclear weapons, explosive weapons, and incendiary weapons. The nuclear weapons group drew by far the most youth participants, though whether this was due to the issue’s relative salience or to the fact that it was the only session to be held in Norwegian is unclear. Explosives drew a medium-sized crowd and the incendiary weapons workshop, which I attended, drew the smallest. This variation in salience of these emergent issues is interesting to me because of these three campaigns incendiaries has in objective terms the most ingredients of agenda-setting success, including a) prior adoption by a human security “heavyweight” (Human Rights Watch), b) grounding in existing international law (the Incendiary Weapons Protocol to the Convention on Conventional Weapons), c) ample documented historical evidence of human suffering and d) a recent “trigger event” provided by Israel’s use of white phosphorus in Gaza. (These four factors together seem strong indicators of the likelihood that a civil society campaign has legs.) The other two campaigns each have some of these ingredients but neither yet has all four, yet both are also causing a buzz at the conference.
Our memories of “big events” are generally collective in character. Their status as such manifests in a number of ways, but an important one is that their cognitive traces and triggers become intertwined with representations — images, narratives, and so forth — found in local and mass culture.
This applies to macro-collective events, such as election nights, massacres, assassinations, terrorist attacks, and sporting championships. It also operates in the context of localized happenings. Our recall of them — of, for example, the birth of children, the death of loved ones, and marriage proposals — owe a great deal to both the testimonies of others involved and to the accounts of similar events circulating in mass culture.
This is an open thread to discuss what the world of 2012 would look like absent the 9/11 attacks. The counterfactual proposes that they never happened, not that the US government thwarted them.
In general, I think the world is a better place. A lot of people who are now dead — in, for example, New York, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq — remain alive. A viable peace process might be underway in Israel-Palestine. The US international position is more secure. I am uncertain as to the strength of transnational jihadism. Core Al-Queda is in better shape, but its offshoots might not be making progress in parts of the Middle East and North Africa. The militant jihadist imaginary is smaller.
Of course, the US might suffer another, different attack. The timing and sequence of events matter a great deal for what would happen next.
Do you agree? Does Gore defeated Bush in 2004 in a close election fought on economic and social issues? Does Gore become a one-term president after the 2008 financial crisis? Does the Bush Administration still invade Iraq? Does President Romney implement a weak cap-and-trade carbon scheme and an individual-mandate based health-care system during the 2009-2010 period? Does international jihadism step up operations in the North Caucuses?
So many possibilities….
UPDATE: I posted a longer piece on this subject last year. Rather than merely provide the link, I’ve decided to repost it below the fold. If the above isn’t enough to spark discussion, perhaps my views in 2011 will be. The post makes clear to me how undecided I am about whether or not Bush wins in 2004 without 9/11.
- Absent 9/11 or a 9/11-style attack, the US would not have invaded Afghanistan but might very well have used force against Iraq. Rationale: despite the Bush campaign’s repeated condemnation of “nation-building” and calls for a more “humble” foreign policy (remember that?), Cheney and others were already singling out Iraq as a policy failure of the Clinton administration.
- Absent 9/11 Bush would not have been a one-term president, but the 2002 midterm results would have been much more favorable to the Democrats. Rationale: the 2001 slump would largely have been over; I suspect the closeness of the campaign was, in part, a consequence of increasing polarization over his foreign policy. On the other hand, without the “existential threat” card, the Republicans would have faced significant problems in 2002.
- Absent 9/11 or a 9/11-style attack, attention would have shifted much more quickly toward the implications of Chinese economic growth. Rationale: there were signs of trouble in the relationship prior to 9/11 (Hainan Island). US foreign policy after 9/11 gave the relationship “breathing space” as the US turned toward the jihadi threat (itself a security risk for China) — and generally created a favorable environment for China by angering so many other states. On the other hand, absent 9/11 the US would not be in Central Asia — and thus we that region would not be a possible future flashpoint. Note: I am not suggesting that Sino-US relations would have been deeply fraught. I am suggesting that they would have been a much more important theme of Bush’s presidency than it became.
- Absent 9/11 the Bush Administration would have much more seriously contemplated force against Iran and/or North Korea. Rationale: Iraq and Afghanistan made serious force projection anywhere else difficult, and undermined of the US to build a coalition in favor of other military action.
Eleven years ago today, the human security threat on many policy-makers’ minds was attacks against civilians by transnational terror networks. So it’s a good moment to reflect on the state of human security today – both the issue agenda in this network and the global burden of other human security problems, and particularly the gap between the threats people face and the issues that get global policy attention.
This week I’m attending the Cluster Munitions Convention Third Meeting of States Parties (3MSP) in Oslo, and I was invited to speak on “neglected human security issues” at a seminar for Youth Delegates organized by the NGO Norwegian People’s Aid. As I often do, I delivered my remarks with accompanying video, so here is the YouTube version (minus throat-clearing) for those interested. More updates from the 3MSP conference will arrive presently.