A Need for Mutual Understanding and Cooperation
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) play an increasing role in shaping public policy in today's society. Occasionally they are involved in high drama, such as the disruption and redirection of the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, Washington, by coalitions of labor and environmental organizations. Some of those groups were radical, others were conservative, but they were united in opposition to World Trade Organization policies. The street drama and violence of Seattle was atypical, however. Most of the work of the NGOs takes place through conventional processes such as consumer education, political lobbying, and consensus building. For example, moral suasion and political pressure by religious and environmental organizations have produced major changes in the policies of the World Bank.
NGOs are numerous and varied. The Economist quotes estimates that there are about 26,000 international NGOs and two million NGOs in the United States.(1) In Russia, where few existed ten years ago, at least 65,000 are present today. These organizations range from business associations to labor unions, and from scientific societies to activist environmental organizations. Each has its own issues, strategies, and tactics, but increasingly they are collaborating to advance their own agendas.
Various NGOs have had a major influence on policies for the control and disposal of chemical weapons. For instance, the procedures for verifying the destruction of chemical weapons, which are incorporated in the Chemical Weapons Convention, were strongly influenced by input from American chemical manufacturing organizations. On the other hand, activist citizens groups played a central role in blocking the U.S. Army's plans to incinerate chemical weapons at some storage sites. They also promoted the development and implementation of alternative technologies to replace incineration. Similarly, in Russia, local environmental organizations successfully opposed the operation of chemical weapons destruction facilities at Chapayevsk and Novocheboksarsk.
In comparing the U.S. and Russian chemical demilitarization experiences, it is important to stress that public participation in any such national program depends on three basic factors: the political culture of the country; the status of its legal system, and the resources available to the general public. Despite the large differences in those factors between the United States and Russia, some useful lessons and guidance can be derived from the U.S. experience as Russia moves toward strengthening its democracy.
In this article, we identify some of the NGOs that have influenced chemical demilitarization programs in the United States and Russia. We examine their motivations, actions, and goals. We single out two examples of constructive bridge building between the interested public and the governmental bodies responsible for carrying out chemical demilitarization in the two countries. From this background, we develop some preliminary ideas on how to engage NGOs positively in the chemical demilitarization area.
Major Players in the United States and Russia
The NGOs relevant to the American and Russian chemical demilitarization efforts fall into six categories, based on the motivations and objectives of the organizations, their membership, and other characteristics.
Grassroots organizations are typically associations of residents in a given area whose goal is either to challenge or supervise government practices--in this case, the implementation of chemical demilitarization operations in their locality. A common feature of these groups is distrust of the military who are in charge of the national chemical demilitarization programs in both Russia and the United States. That distrust often stems from years of unsatisfactory interaction with army leaders who did not seriously consider the impact of chemical demilitarization operations on local communities or how their activities would be perceived by the public. …