Global Disarmanent – Coasta Rica leads the way

Imagine all the people, living life in peace.

– John Lennon

The abolishment of nuclear weapons, stopping the proliferation and misuse of conventional weapons, and redirecting at least 10 percent of global military expenditure towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Sounds like a tall order? Daniela Torre, a spokesperson for A Nation For Peace disagrees. In an interview with TOC, she was hopeful: “It is, without a doubt, an achievable ideal.”

A Nation For Peace (ANFP) is a Costa Rican-based campaign determined to turn that idea into reality.

“War…is merely an idea,” wrote political scientist John Mueller. “…an institution, like dueling or slavery, that has been grafted onto human existence.”[1]

And, like slavery, Mueller believed that the institution of war could become obsolete as attitudes towards it change.

Maybe the rest of the world does have something to learn from Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is itself the first nation in modern history to formally abolish its military, disbanding its armed forces in 1948 and making a formal declaration of perpetual neutrality in 1983.

A global effort

ANFP seeks to raise awareness of the disarmament cause by inviting people from around the globe to become ‘virtual’ Costa Ricans.

“Since we’re asking people to become virtual citizens of our country, all signatures will represent Costa Ricans raising their voices in favor of disarmament,” explained Daniela Torre, who is a programme officer with the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress – the group that launched ANFP.

Meanwhile, ANFP’s sister campaign, Arms Down! – launched in November 2009 by the non-government organization Religions for Peace in conjunction with the Arias Foundation – has garnered over 6.2 million signatures in support of its three disarmament goals.

The signature drive ends next month on 4 October. Religions for Peace – which provides material support for both campaigns – will present a petition to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, representatives of permanent members of the Security Council and other UN member states.

Profit from the barrel of the gun

But even as grassroots support for the cause grows, the ideal remains distant. Disarmament, after all, is an old, fruitless, even discredited dream, which apogee arguably came with the 1932-4 World Disarmament Conference.

Today, even in times of supposed fiscal austerity, the defence industry remains resilient.

Last year, worldwide defence spending totaled about US$1531 billion – a 5.9 percent increase in real terms from 2008 – according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

In the face these realities, Mueller’s theories seem romanticized – governments still see profit, comfort and security emanating from the barrel of a gun, a fact that Torre acknowledges.

“We are no strangers to resistance to certain measures, particularly from countries that are either big weapon exporters for example,” she said.

Torre referred to Costa Rica’s own episodic journey towards total disarmament as an example.

“Both were done under very difficult scenarios,” she said.

“The first was done immediately after a civil war that had left the country divided, in times where the world had just witnessed World War II.”

“The second one took place while all Central American countries were suffering from internal armed conflicts and affected by a strong economic crisis, while dealing with a strong intervention from the United States and in the midst of the Cold War,” Torre said.

Torre also sees hope in the ubiquitousness of the Internet and new media.

She said the “vast majority” of the signatures gathered were collected through social media like Facebook and Twitter. ANFP has received over 31,000 signatures within five weeks of its launch..

“Many have also contacted us to become spokespersons in their own countries and regions from different places such as: Croatia, Pakistan, Brazil, India, United States, Ireland, Madagascar and Kenya.” Torre added.

Nonetheless there’s still a long way to go.

“Having states re-direct at least 10 percent of global military expenditure to [advance the Millennium Development Goal’s] is not a long-term goal,” Torre said.

“Realistically, five years (before the 2015 deadline) is a really short time.”

The road ahead

The presentation of signatures at the UN headquarters is just the first step.

After the presentation, organizers will chart future campaign projects and promote activism globally.

Short-term goals include increasing education on disarmament and advocating “common action through committed individuals and organizations that are looking to create positive change in their communities, cities, countries and regions.”

By harnessing the capabilities of politicians, non-governmental organizations, media, faith communities, and even the private sector – through corporate social responsibility – the campaigners seek to give truth to Mueller’s theory and Lennon’s imagination incrementally.

“Global disarmament is something to hope for,” Torre said. “It’s the means to a better, more equitable world.”

Add your name to the Arms Down! and A Nation For Peace campaigns at:

[1] Mueller, John, The Remnants Of War (Cornell University Press, 2004).

[2] Ibid.

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