WILPF Advocacy Documents


Presentation to the Informal Plenary Session of the Conference on Disarmament on Comprehensive Programme for Disarmament

27 February 2009
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Conference on Disarmament

Presentation to the Informal Plenary Session of the Conference on Disarmament, Agenda Item 6: Comprehensive Programme for Disarmament
Susi Snyder
27 February 2009

Thank you for the invitation to be here today.   It’s a great pleasure and I welcome this opportunity to provide some food for thought for you as you discuss Agenda Item 6: Comprehensive Programme of Disarmament.

Now, how do you narrow down the myriad of issues that can be brought up under this agenda item?  How to focus so that the end goal of general and complete disarmament is achieved through a comprehensive programme?  This is one of the great challenges that has come from previous discussion under this item.  Yet, as general and complete disarmament under strict international controls is tied to the other primary objective of this body- nuclear disarmament- through the NPT, this item, as broad as it is, is tied to human security.

Over the last few years there has been a lot of focused discussion on this agenda item, and the coordinators have brought things to a place where we can look at two broad approaches a holistic or philosophical approach and an approach based on the development of an objective criterion.

First I want to look at the holistic approach.  It is through a holistic approach that we can begin to address the conditions necessary to get to general and complete disarmament.  It is through a holistic approach that we can identify emerging challenges to international peace and security.  It is through this type of approach that we can look at the interrelationships the interconnectivity of security in all of its aspects: national security, personal security, and human security.

Many activists, analysts, UN staffers – and even some governments – have begun to advocate for shifting the disarmament and security debate away from national security and toward a framework predicated on human security. A human security approach, as recognized by the Canadian government, offers “an alternative way of seeing the world, taking people as its point of reference, rather than focusing exclusively on the security of territory or governments.”

One of the conditions necessary to get to general and complete disarmament, or to human security,  is to shift our thinking from weapons systems as a security asset to weapons systems as a security problem.  This, of course, depends on the weapons system itself.  It also depends on who you talk to about which weapons system.

We need to remember that weapons are used to kill people and destroy infrastructure.  They create a culture of fear, violence, and instability. This impedes development and blocks the promotion of human security by upsetting social programs, by preventing the possibilities for education, by disrupting transportation, opportunities for business, and tourism, which prevents economic stability and growth. A nation that has economic stability and economic growth is a nation that knows a certain sense of security.

The manufacture and use of weapons also prevents sustainable development and creates unequal access to resources, including basic resources needed for growing food, for energy and more.

What we’ve seen from the recent global economic collapse is that there really is no place, no person, no state that globalisation has not touched.  Not only are we in a world of economic globalisation but we’re in a world of social globalisation.  Emerging technologies have provided us with the ability to have $100 laptop computers that can connect to the internet, this is a huge shift in our social globalisation. It is now just as easy for me to connect using emerging technologies, like skype for instance, with someone in Nigeria, as it is for me to connect with someone in the next room. Acting in isolation is no longer logical, or really possible.   We need to keep these facets of globalisation in mind as well as we look to the pathways towards general and complete disarmament.

The holistic approach also provides us with an opportunity to examine disarmament through different lenses.  To identify and better examine the linkages between disarmament and emerging global challenges to peace and security a little bit better and a little bit differently.

We can use a gender lens and recognize that conceptions of gender are inextricable from conceptions of weapons and of disarmament; for example, the idea of “manliness” connotes defending one’s national security and international interests through the maintenance of armaments and the use of force.  As noted by the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, women play a crucial role in promoting global disarmament, and gender perspective affect the way society views weapons, war and militarism.

In addition, women are generally excluded from disarmament processes at the national and international levels, and even at the community level during times of post-conflict reconstruction.  This despite UNSCR 1325, which “Urges Member States to ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict;” When women do get to speak, disarmament is called for loudly.

Bringing more women into this room will not solve the CD’s problems. That would be like saying that women are inherently more peaceful than men, and that is not true.  Women have embraced revolution with hope and war with enthusiasm.   However, we should bring in a gendered perspective when we examine disarmament.  This is what is meant by gender – it is not about sex, or about men and women, it is socially constructed roles and behaviours that are labelled masculine or feminine that can be, and should be, deconstructed, just as systems of war and the machinery for fighting war should also be deconstructed, demobilized and destroyed.

Another lens is to look through an economic lens.  Everyone in this room is aware of the international financial situation.  Looking at getting to a comprehensive programme of disarmament through an economic lens brings us to the question of Military Expenditure.  States spend excessive financial, technological, and human resources on their militaries. This diverts resources from economic, social, and environmental programs. In addition, funds reserved for development initiatives are increasingly spent on emergency relief and rehabilitation operations to clean up from violent conflict.  They are not building new infrastructure, they are not looking to create a world with economic stability and growth.  They are not being invested in education, transportation, business and other sustainable development items.  Development funds are being spent to rebuild infrastructures destroyed by the falling of bombs, destroyed by the failure to prevent conflicts, the failure to disarm early and often.

We need to look through an economic lens to highlight the interrelationship between development and disarmament.

Military Spending
When thinking about development it is interesting to note that military spending creates far fewer jobs (8,555 per $1 billion) than any other form of public investment, be it health care (12,883), education (17,687), or mass transit (19,795).   When you’re looking at investing- you’re going to invest in what you get the most for with your money.  If you invest in military, you’re actually doing a disservice to your economy, preventing growth and potentially destabilising it for the future, and reducing options for collective international security or a comprehensive programme for disarmament. In his address to the U.S. Congress on 25 February, President Barack Obama said that “Over the next two years, [the economic stimulus] plan will save or create 3.5 million jobs. More than 90% of these jobs will be in the private sector – jobs rebuilding our roads and bridges; constructing wind turbines and solar panels; laying broadband and expanding mass transit.   This is a good investment, one that builds towards a stable economy, thereby creating the conditions for human security.

The UN Charter recognized that there needs to be a plan to promote the establishment and maintenance of international peace and security with the least diversion for armaments of the world’s human and economic resources.  That’s Article 26.

On 19 November 2008, the UN Security Council held an open debate on enhancing collective security through the regulation of armaments and reduction of military spending where thirty- eight (38) governments took the floor.

In a concept paper circulated before the debate, the Costa Rican delegation emphasized that the regulation or limitation of armaments should be seen as part of the UN’s toolkit for international stability, development, and conflict resolution, that it is “one element of the broader and more comprehensive design for the maintenance of international peace and security.” Highlighting the concurrent responsibilities of the General Assembly and the Security Council and the importance of multilateralism.  This room, this body is a cornerstone of the multilateral disarmament and security regime. The paper urged “more consistent monitoring, more effective implementation and, where necessary, firmer enforcement of treaty obligations,” particularly those of the UN Charter.

While the Security Council hasn’t been very quick to fulfil the obligations laid out in Article 26, the issue has come up much more frequently in the General Assembly.  The consensus outcome document of the first Special Session on Disarmament says that “Gradual reduction of military budgets on mutually agreed basis, for example in absolute figures or in terms of percentage points… would be a measure that would contribute to the curbing of the arms race and would increase the possibilities of reallocation of resources now being used for military purposes to economic and social development.”   That promotes human security. Some of the themes and concepts highlighted in the open debate in the Security council build on this, including that security is a common good and only has value when it is shared by others. Security is basic human right.

We are living in a globalised world.  This globalised world demands collective security that guarantees human being’s right to well-being and dignity, the promotion of collective over private interests, intercultural exchange, and social inclusion.  Multilateralism and the rule of law are fundamental to collective security. The UN Charter is premised on the notion of collective security.

Military-Industrial-Academic Complex
Another thing that came out of this open debate is that the spending on armaments and disproportionately sized military forces constitutes a poor allocation of resources.  Again, if you have the option of spending $1billion for jobs for 9,000 or $1billion that can provide jobs for 20,000, what is the more sustainable solution?  What fosters economic growth, and thereby fosters security?

A lot of the money spent in the military expenditures budgets of states is spent on the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex.  As a composite of a state’s armed forces, the government, suppliers of weapons systems, supplies, and services (corporations), and academic institutions that conduct research on weapon systems and designs, the military-industrial-academic complex absorbs vast amounts of funding, usually taking resources away from social and environmental programmes.

We are living in a time where seas are rising.  The security of small island states is being directly threatened by climate change and the condition of our planet.  This is a significant security concern, and ways to mitigate it must be found.  The Military-Industrial-Academic Complex takes both economic and human resources away from finding ways to deal with this significant security concern.  The environmental situation on the planet is an emerging issue that should contribute to the larger debate both within and outside this Conference.

In moving towards the objective approaches to this agenda item, a good segue is looking at what can be done about the  Military-Industrial-Academic Complex to shift towards a Comprehensive Programme of Disarmament.

In July 2000, the UN Secretary General launched a Global Compact with Corporations.  That Global Compact is seen by some as a ‘gentleman’s agreement’, it is a voluntary measure to promote corporate social responsibility.  It is an effort between the UN and the business community to promote global values.

From a holistic point of view, we need to think about how we’re engaging with the business community.  They are actors in this dialogue.  They have significant investments, resources contributed to maintaining their incomes.  One way to create a shift towards building alternatives it to look at the Global Compact and support the idea of bringing this Global Compact to the arms industry.

Specifically, I was thinking about Global Compact Principle 8, wherein “Businesses should undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility.”

The relevant principle in the Rio Declaration (1992 Rio Earth Summit) says we have the responsibility to ensure that activities on our own yard should not cause harm to the environment of our neighbours. Society also expects business to be good neighbours. Business gains its legitimacy through meeting the needs of society, and increasingly society is expressing a clear need for more environmentally sustainable practices.

Arms industries that are coming to the table to talk about biological weapons, chemical weapons, protecting outer space, small arms and light weapons- these industries should be encouraged to adopt this principle, about the responsibility to be good neighbours.  Good neighbours lend you a cup of sugar when you run out and you’re making a cake.  Good neighbours don’t sell you arms to destroy your community.  Good neighbours set the stage for collective security.

Specifically, these businesses and industries could be asked to re -define their company vision, policies and strategies to include a ‘triple bottom line’.  Not just profit but economic prosperity, environmental quality and social equity.  They could also adopt voluntary charters, codes of conduct or practice internally as well as through sectoral and international initiatives to confirm acceptable behaviour and performance.  That could then be measured, tracked and communicated in a way that ensures transparency and unbiased dialogue with stakeholders.

Now, looking at things through an objective approach we should have an end goal clearly in sight, that end goal being negotiations to a conclusion of a legally binding instrument.

We certainly need additional legally binding instruments, however, we have certain instruments that are currently not being fully utilized, or fully implemented or that have not yet achieved universality.  Universality certainly fits into an objective approach, as does the potential expansion of regional agreements.

As I’m not privy to the full scope of the discussions that you’ve had in these informal sessions, I hope I’m not about to repeat something that you have already been considering in the quest for a Comprehensive Programme for Disarmament.   I want to raise the Strategic Concept for Regulation and Removal of Arms and Proliferation (SCRAPP).  This concept has been put forward in a paper by Dr. Dan Plesch, Director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the School of Oriental and African Studies.  This is a path towards general and complete disarmament.  A set of ideas that can help bring us there.

SCRRAP would arrange for the universal application of the core provisions of the following agreements:

  • Biological Weapons Convention, including a draft verification mechanism
  • Chemical Weapons Convention
  • Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty and related IAEA Safeguards
  • Regional Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaties
  • Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and Intermediate Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty
  • Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty
  • Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
  • Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)’s Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty
  • OSCE’s Open Skies Treaty and Confidence and Security Building Measures
  • UN and various international organisation’s programmes on small arms and light weapons
  • The proposed Arms Trade Treaty
  • Informal export control regimes including the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Wassenaar agreement, the Australia group, the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the Zangger Committee.

Most of these can be demonstrated to have been effectively implemented in some part of the world.  We should really take a moment and congratulate ourselves for having negotiated, to a legally binding conclusion, things that have reduced the reliance on arms as a provider of security and getting towards general and complete disarmament in implementing these agreements in some parts of the world.

With the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty we should look at what an incredible force this has been in fostering security in Europe, and in developing a collective security approach for the European Union.  Which some have called a post-modern condition where states have abandoned old ideas of state secrecy to establish a setting for the collecting promotion of security.  Tens of thousands of weapons were destroyed under the provisions of this particular treaty, and it provides a highly developed political, technical and bureaucratic basis from which to create a global treaty regulating not just one specific type of weapons system, but armed forces overall.

Another piece that we don’t hear spoken of very often, is a confidence building measure- the Open Skies treaty that promotes transparency and monitors compliance with other arms control agreements.  This is tried and tested, and it seems to be working out okay.  It could serve as a model for regional agreements in other parts of the world, and should be considered as such.

Adopting a comprehensive approach to weapons management – regionally and globally- is easily an item that can be taken up under this Agenda Item 6, through that objective approach.  To do this, there needs to be significant input from the monitoring and implementation bodies of these existing treaties.  In addition, states have the opportunity to make unilateral declarations to ascribe to the principles enshrined in these treaties.

I sincerely hope that I have provided you with some ideas, some food for thought in your continued discussion of these issues.

Bon appétit!

Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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