Noise and Policy: Another Advocacy Debate
Question I: Can pressure from citizens ever add a foreign policy issue to the list of traditional national interests? Or can citizens only impact the sense of urgency around an issue that was already a traditional national interest to start with?
Question II: Is citizen advocacy at its most effective when it generates maximum “noise” on an issue, or do citizen advocates need to attach particular policy prescriptions to the noise they make?
Question III: What are the costs/benefits of single issue advocacy? Does the focus on a single issue crowd out the potential to focus on structural changes that would be required to deal with both the single issue and other related issues?
I contributed short postings, discussing the landmines campaign and HIV/AIDS advocacy, but most of the discussion was about Darfur. I hope that this discussion will develop, to include more comparative analyses, for example with the Anti-Apartheid movement, the campaign for nuclear disarmament, the Helsinki Accords, the rights of indigenous minorities, etc. It would also be interesting to relate it to some of the more theoretical/academic approaches to how human rights advocacy can have a practical impact, for example the work of Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders.
Jill Savitt makes the point that “citizen advocacy is most effective when it generates maximum noise about an issue about which there exists a community-supported policy prescription.” I think that’s spot on.
There’s some clarification needed to Erin Mazursky’s posting on May 20, in which she opens:
“In April 2006, 75,000 people assembled on the Washington Mall calling for “peace in Darfur.” The message was simple, and perhaps too simple because a few weeks later the Abuja Accords were signed, fostering an unstable peace in Darfur and a false perception of accomplishment from uninformed activists in the U.S.”
One point is that, it was not a peace rally. In fact, Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer was booed when she spoke about the peace negotiations. It was an intervention rally. And it was timed on the very day that the UN Security Council had, earlier in the month, set its deadline for the completion of the Darfur peace talks in Abuja. The U.S. delegation headed by Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick left for Abuja the next day and the agreement was concluded, with only one rebel signature, on May 5. Second, immediately after the rally one of Abdel Wahid al Nur’s advisors, who was in north America at the time, called to tell him not to sign the peace agreement because a better deal could be secured, based on an intervention. Abdel Wahid upped his demands for NATO troops for Darfur and refused to sign. From the viewpoint of Abuja, where I was at the time, this was an example of noise attached to the wrong policy prescription, which made a solution more difficult.