Archive | September, 2013

Test Pattern: The UN Gets a Helpful Reminder on Nuclear Testing

5 Sep

Once again this year, the government of Kazakhstan has capably organized events ( to highlight the international obligation to abolish nuclear testing as a precondition for abolishing nuclear weapons once and for all.

The highlight for many was an evening reception on the first floor of the renovated UN conference building hosted by Ambassador Byrganym Aitimova and featuring the art work of Mr. Karipbek Kuyukov, a young man who was born without arms and who shared his artwork with diplomats and other UN stakeholders.  The art, it should be noted, was painted with his feet and was in its own way a remarkable testament to the damage that nuclear tests can do to local populations long past the point at which the ‘test results’ have been tabulated by nuclear weapons states.

It should be noted that, despite the lack of universal ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, nuclear testing is being functionally rendered inert.  Tests are few and far between and subject to almost universal condemnation by states.  At the same time, nuclear weapons states continue to modernize their arsenals, a veritable slap in the fact to those who states that have been pursuing a nuclear free world in a variety of settings – through nuclear free zones, in largely deadlocked fora such as the Conference on Disarmament, through ‘like-minded’ processes such as such as was convened last spring in Oslo, through the Open Ended Working Group in Geneva, or through the high level meeting on nuclear disarmament being organized by the GA president’s office during its opening session in late September.

In addition to diverse policy venues, there are also diverse security responsibilities.   As we have noted with respect to nuclear free zones, there is an important difference between honoring a treaty and supporting the security arrangements of a zone.   Lowering violence thresholds and enhancing human security involves multiple complementary activities that can reduce incentives for (and excuses by) the nuclear weapons states to preserve their nuclear monopoly.

There are many pathways to disarmament and all of them have rough patches, some rougher than others. Despite the fact that nuclear testing sits on few of the top priority lists of member state security concerns, it is critically important that there be no backsliding on testing.  As challenging as progress towards disarmament can be, we cannot afford to burden that agenda further, not to mention place new generations at risk of dangerous fallout from the reckless pursuit of such tests.

The ‘path to zero’ articulated during the panel presentations on September 5 has been winding and full of potholes, but still points us towards a nuclear free world.   There are detours required at times, but no dead end.  While it is not always clear how individual events at the UN contribute to preferred outcomes, it is important that we ritualize even more of these powerful reminders of our nuclear weapons responsibilities.  Just as birthdays, religious and national holidays, anniversaries and more are the signposts through which we reaffirm the deep value to our families, friends and other loved ones, such events as those organized by Kazakhstan can help keep us from turning our attention away from our disarmament obligations before our work is done.

Dr. Robert Zuber


A Matter of Balance and State Sovereignty – DGACM’s meetings on languages

5 Sep

Within the framework of its mandate from the General Assembly, DGACM (Department for General Assembly and Conference Management) held its annual round of language-specific informational meetings with Member States last week.  This meeting was focused on the quality of multiple language and conference services provided during the past year in the six official languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish).

The upcoming summary of the 2013 meetings might well read very similarly to the one published in 2012, as the obstacles and problems discussed this past week appeared quite congruent with those from last year.

– As in 2012, it was recommended that the General Assembly should reduce the number of informational meetings from two to one per year.

–  As suggested in 2012, and still highly valid, one delegation proposed to combine the six separate language-specific meetings into one, provided that there was interpretation available. Holding one rather than six different meetings would increase efficiency of tackling the various issues related to language services, and would have a wider overlap in terms of opinion/expert exchange.

–  Overall, an unequal treatment of the six official U.N. languages was stated repeatedly in a number of the meetings.

–  Timing seems to be another permanent issue within the dissemination of multilingual documents within the  U.N. system. Many documents appear to be sent for translation too late, if at all, and therefore are not available when optimally required.

Overall, the importance of making a greater effort to streamline and optimize the language services within the U.N. system were summarized by one speaker thusly, “If only a few delegations have access to all documents within the system, only those delegations can raise their voice in meetings. Therefore it is important to have all the documents available in all six languages at all times. It is a matter of state sovereignty.”

It is also a matter of fairness, impacting the ability of all states to have access to timely, comprehensible documents.  It is equally essential for the press and civil society to have such access.  Translation services are not optional at the United Nations but are essential to the full enfranchisement of all member states and other policy stakeholders.

Lia Petridis Maiello, Media Consultant for GAPW/Journalist for Political Affairs