Finding acceptance, filling gaps

By Jamal Khaer Ibrahim, June 6, 2013

Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan and Ibrahim Said Ibrahim have devoted considerable attention to issues that might prevent societal verification from flourishing — for example, popular suspicion in the Middle East regarding arms control agreements, or tight state control in a country like India over sensitive technologies. Such obstacles are real. But I would argue that they only buttress the main point of my Roundtable essays so far: that societal verification initiatives have the best chance of flourishing if they are aligned with trade and supply-chain incentives and separated as much as possible from arms control and politics in general.

I wrote in my second essay that much formal diplomacy is characterized by rigid national positions. In arms control negotiations, rigidity often produces acrimony that builds up over time. And arms control negotiators, usually representatives of foreign ministries or national security agencies, tend to be battle-hardened types who do not change their positions easily. For these reasons, arms control negotiations seem the wrong context in which to promote societal verification. But I would go further, and argue that in many countries it would be a mistake to present societal verification to the general public as an arms control initiative. Rather, as I have argued, support for societal verification should be allowed to build up in the business community.

Then, as I wrote earlier, support might bubble up to high levels of government — and eventually to multilateral bodies. Trade negotiators would be a natural conduit. These negotiators are mostly drawn from trade ministries and they tend to be interested in finding win-win solutions to problems; they want their countries' economies and industries to be considered trustworthy and transparent. If trade negotiators came to perceive national benefit in societal verification, a group such as Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation might issue societal verification guidelines similar to the guidelines it has issued for supply chain security. This would reinforce the importance of societal verification within the business community. But again, the initial impetus would come from industry professionals whose incentives happened to align with the aims of societal verification.

Necessary, useful. Some possibilities that Rajagopalan and Ibrahim have discussed, such as popular unwillingness to participate in societal verification, seem related mainly to detecting instances in which weapons of mass destruction are used. But in my view, it is on the supply-chain side rather than the detection side that societal verification is not only most likely to succeed but also most needed.

Under arms control treaties, various mechanisms are already in place to detect the use of weapons of mass destruction. The media can be expected to report on uses of biological, chemical, or radiological weapons, and this constitutes another kind of verification. But in the realm of supply chains, few international legal instruments oversee security. Nor are news organizations likely to discover security violations. So it is in supply chains that societal verification could find the greatest acceptance and also fill the biggest security gaps.