Archive | April, 2014

Disarmament Deadline: Powering Down a Three Year Cycle

20 Apr

In reviewing the most recent versions of the Disarmament Commission Working Papers submitted by the Chairs of both Working Group I (nuclear weapons) and II (conventional weapons), it would seem that we are getting close to some kind of agreement whereby recommendations will be forthcoming that can both bind the two Working Groups within a successful process and provide real guidance to a disarmament community badly in need of deliberative assistance.

Without disclosing the specific contents of these Working Papers (negotiations on text language are well under way), we would like to offer the following comments:

After three weeks and, in essence, three years of the current policy cycle, it is imperative that the Disarmament Commission renders a set of recommendations on its two policy objectives – nuclear disarmament and confidence building in the field of conventional weapons.   As we have noted in other contexts, the value of these recommendations lies as much in building confidence in the Disarmament Commission itself as in providing working ‘capital’ to inspire movement on some of the difficult disarmament challenges that we all face.

Confidence, of course, is largely in the eyes of the beholder, but Working Group II especially seems to have found the language to facilitate some movement in that direction, in part by keeping in mind the nature of the deliberative process – recommending next steps in areas such as stockpile management or ending the diverted arms trade rather than engaging in preemptive policy precedents that are the proper domain of other parts of the disarmament machinery.

The ‘bar’ regarding Working Group I is set higher of course, since the objective is the elimination of a potentially devastating weapons system rather than spreading confidence to address a range of weapons tasks, from marking and tracing to regulation of the global arms trade.   Still, as weapons of all kinds increase in destructive potential and find new pathways (i.e. unmanned aerial vehicles, outer space) for threat or use, an approach that is disarmament-focused (more than about mere regulation) and at the same time committed to greater trust building among states should be able to result in shared policy advice.

That task is hardly a modest one.  As noted by Working Group II, confidence building measures cover a broad range of mutually reinforcing activities of a political, military, economic, social, humanitarian and cultural nature.  This is important point, tying the work of disarmament to other core functions of the international community and reminding diplomats and others that all work on weapons includes confidence building dimensions.

Some delegations have taken their Working Group responsibilities quite seriously. Mexico for instance has offered its own recommendations for achieving nuclear disarmament, joining other proposals offered by the Non-Aligned Movement and the League of Arab States, as well as the significant input on Working Group I drafts offered by Iran, Egypt, China, Brazil, the UK, Morocco, South Africa and other states.

The essence of Mexico’s position takes account of the fact that, “in the past, weapons have been eliminated after they have been outlawed.  We believe that this is the path to achieving a world without nuclear weapons.”

While delegates seem united in affirming the need for the total elimination of nuclear weapons, Mexico’s strong commitment to a legally binding instrument towards that end is unlikely to be echoed in the final Working Group I document.  Indeed there are several other items of importance to us that are also unlikely to be included:  modernization comes to mind as does a stronger insistence on convening a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction-Free Zone conference with full engagement by regional states.   In addition, it would also be useful from our standpoint to reaffirm that nuclear disarmament and its conventional counterpart are best promoted through multiple lenses – humanitarian to be sure, but also legal, political and even ethical.   A combination of lenses that can reinforce commitments and inspire greater will to abide by them seems to us to be the most propitious path.

But the most important thing now is to produce a document that satisfies the basic commitment of the Disarmament Commission to the productive policy engagement by the remainder of the UN’s disarmament machinery.   While disarmament is a matter of utmost urgency, this particular deliberative body must show it can first walk before being expected to move at a more urgent pace.

Some good, sound, actionable suggestions from each Working Group that provide guidance without threatening work in other disarmament settings would be a welcome outcome of this final week of a long and winding cycle, welcome for the Commission’s future as well as for the wider world.

Dr. Robert Zuber

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Why Disarmament Matters — and the Need for Constant Reminders

15 Apr

Editor’s Note:  This piece was originally published in Huffington Post. 

Recently a group of disarmament scholars and policy experts met in New York City to honor Peter Weiss, President Emeritus of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy (LCNP), for his lifelong commitment to a subject of permanent gravity that often remains in a political, legal and generational stalemate. Equally importantly, the function served as a reminder to the public that in particular, an emotionally compelling topic such as nuclear disarmament needs be at the forefront of not only continuous scholarship but policy discussion and, more importantly, civic action.

Five speakers representing legal approaches to nuclear disarmament analyzed the global status quo and portrayed a very realistic picture of urgency. They also evaluated the role of the United Nations and, in particular, the role of the UN Security Council.

Virginia Gamba, Director of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, reiterated the importance of the five multilateral norms that the international community identified as a standard for a feasible disarmament agreement, which can be found in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Those principles are verification, transparency, irreversibility, bindingness, and universality, standards that are mutually reinforcing and essential for trust building among states, particularly keeping in mind the ongoing issue of verification in relation to nuclear haves and have-nots alike. “Disarmament commitments must be bound to the law,” Gamba summarized.

Professor Roger Clark from Rutgers School of Law in Camden referred in his remarks to the significance of the 1997 draft model Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC), resulting from the unanimous ICJ declaration from July 1996. “There exists a legal obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its respects,” he said. The draft convention underwent a review and update in 2007 and would, in its current state, supplement existing treaties such as the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies describes the model NWC as follows:

Under the 2007 model NWC, all States would be prohibited from pursuing or participating in the “development, testing, production, stockpiling, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons.” Those States that possess nuclear weapons would be obligated to destroy their nuclear arsenals in a series of phases. These five phases would progress as follows: taking nuclear weapons off alert, removing weapons from deployment, removing nuclear warheads from their delivery vehicles, disabling the warheads, removing and disfiguring the “pits” and placing the fissile material under international control. Under the model convention, delivery vehicles would also have to be destroyed or converted to a non-nuclear capability. In addition, the NWC would prohibit the production of weapons-usable fissile material. The States Parties would also establish an Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that would be tasked with verification, ensuring compliance, decision-making, and providing a forum for consultation and cooperation among all State Parties. The Agency would be comprised of a Conference of State Parties, an Executive Council and a Technical Secretariat. Declarations would be required from all States Parties regarding all nuclear weapons, material, facilities, and delivery vehicles in their possession or control along with their locations.

Applying the model NWC to a current political situation, Clark wondered, “Imagine what a powerful, international inspection regime would have brought about for the situation in Syria?”

Ambassador Hans Corell, former Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and the Legal Counsel of the United Nations from 1994 to 2004, focused in his address on nuclear disarmament and Security Council reform and did not shy away from pointing out clear obstacles and how they can be transferred to the ongoing crisis with Russia.

Corell sees the need for a “cooperative, rules-based international order” enforced through multilateral institutions, headed by the UN Security Council as the “ultimate global authority,” in order to pursue disarmament and nonproliferation effectively.

Corell refers to the problems the UN Security Council would have executing this position adequately by stating the fact that the UNSC is in need of “radical reform,” a topic that is widely discussed among international scholars. Based on former Mexican President’s Ernesto Zedillo’s comments, Corell agrees with the skepticism toward the addition of more members to the UNSC, a viewpoint shared by many involved with various Council reform proposals.

Describing Russia as a current aggressor by violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and annexing Crimea, Corell points out that the veto option of the permanent five members to the UNSC can significantly slow down if not hinder political decision making in times of crises. “Personally, I am seriously concerned at the negative effects that the Russian annexation of the Crimea peninsula will have on the political climate in the future. And we certainly do not know what President Putin may be up to next.”

Honoree Peter Weiss shared some good news before releasing the audience, saying, “During the follow-up conference to Oslo held in Nayarit, Mexico, Feb. 13 and 14, Sebastian Kurz, the foreign minister of Austria, announced that he would convene a conference in Vienna later this year because the international nuclear disarmament efforts require an urgent paradigm shift.'”

In May 2008 Dr. Hans Blix gave me an interview in which he explained:

Al Gore woke up the world with the reality of one inconvenient truth, but I think that the second inconvenient truth exists, namely the remaining nuclear weapons of mass destruction. There is something like 37,000 of them still around. And with the increasing tension in the world it is time to discover that we need to move swiftly back to the disarmament table.

Because of the subjects’ ongoing relevance, communicating this urgency to the next generation of not only policy makers but youth with political aspirations or interests should be a big part of disarmament/nonproliferation events going forward.

Lia Petridis Maiello, Journalist 

Highlight Reel: The DC’s Work in Progress

11 Apr

As the Disarmament Commission settles into its two Working Groups for the next couple of weeks, the rest of the world hopes that a spirit of deliberation will prevail over some of the policy impediments that have hindered progress in years’ past.

We have written previously about some of these impediments, but they are worth repeating in summary fashion:

  • Confusion about the nature of the deliberative process
  • Concerns of states about setting policy precedents
  • The recent history of inertia from disarmament machinery
  • A lack of confidence regarding compliance with existing commitments
  • The expectation of resolving issues rather than contributing to their resolution
  • Unaddressed power imbalances in the UN’s security system

These impediments were exacerbated by conflicts in Ukraine, Central African Republic, Syria and elsewhere, and might well lead to assumptions about the quality and creativity of Disarmament Commission statements made by member states.

But, in fact, there were some very good reflections from delegations, reflections that were sometimes modest in their implications but were also hopeful from the standpoint of reassuring the world that the UN is, in fact, up to the challenges of reducing threats from new and existing weapons systems.

Here is some of what we heard over the first two days that piqued our interest and raised our levels of anticipation for the Working Groups:

  • Ambassador Drobnjak’s admonition to the group that we need to “prove otherwise” that the DC has lost its way.
  • DSG Eliasson’s caution that we must not allow the option of returning  to a “dark age” of mistrust.
  • Switzerland’s call for more efforts focused on DC working methods, including more access by civil society (echoed by Japan, Kazakhstan and others).
  • The African Group’s calls for complete, non-discriminatory security assurances from nuclear weapons states.
  • CELAC’s generous mention of the contributions of both OPANAL and UNLiREC to regional disarmament.
  • The NAM’s proposal for an international day for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.
  • The mention by Australia, Ecuador and others of the urgent need for universal adherence to efforts to eliminate cluster weapons and land mines.
  • South Africa’s assertion that nuclear weapons should be subject to prohibition as chemical and biological weapons now are.
  • Venezuela’s call for both “horizontal and vertical” disarmament processes.
  • China’s concrete commitments to both a ‘five point plan’ to move forward negotiations with Iran and the production of a national PoA report.
  • Algeria’s suggestion that lessons from existing nuclear-free zones be readily available to assist the Middle East zone process.
  • The European Union’s positing of dangerous linkage between illicit/diverted weapons and prospects for the commission of mass atrocities.
  • Egypt’s concern that the issue of ‘overproduction’ of small arms and conventional weapons is not sufficiently addressed by the ATT or other international instruments.

This is just a small sample of hopeful statements offered amidst the finger pointing over the failure (so far) of the ME WMD-free Zone, the DPRK’s deteriorating relationship with the US, and other tensions.  These tensions are real, they beg for resolution, but it is unclear that a Commission dedicated to deliberation is the proper forum to work out full details towards progress and reconciliation.

In the end, as with the C34 Peacekeeping Committee that recently produced a report after having failed to do so a year earlier, it is critical that the DC Working Groups produce real recommendations this year.   As Australia and others noted, the recommendations don’t have to be ‘game changing’ in order to have impact.   At this point, any recommendations – however modest – would be helpful both in advancing disarmament discussions and in sparing the reputation of the Disarmament Commission itself.

It is not necessary to fix things entirely in order to improve them substantially.   As we have done in the past, and as Reaching Critical Will and others have done over many years, we urge the DC to use every bit of its considerable technical and diplomatic expertise to point the way to the next levels of disarmament progress.

Dr. Robert Zuber

Shock and Awe: The C34 Finishes Its Report

9 Apr

After 30 days of negotiation, re-negotiation, and a little bit more negotiation, the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations — also known by its shorter title of ‘the C34’ — produced a report for 2014. The report, which examines the ‘whole question’ of peacekeeping – from DDR to policies on procurement – is meant to offer guidance on UN peacekeeping policy. (We will have more to say about the report shortly.) Thus we trust that some of the key recommendations will now be ‘operationalised’ primarily through the UN’s Department of Field Support, and Department of Peacekeeping Operations. As far as intergovernmental processes go, completing a report does not register much surprise. However, it is quite an achievement for the assorted members of the committee to produce this report after they failed to do so during the previous year’s session.

With the success of the process this year (delegates even managed to wrap things up by 17.30 on the final day), one could easily be deceived into believing that all is fine in the land of peacekeeping governance.  However, the development of peacekeeping over the last 6-12 months has demonstrated the degree to which the C34 process is in need of stringent examination, a process which continually reminds the actors involved in peacekeeping policy of the precarious situation that such policy now often finds itself in.

The state of peacekeeping policymaking at the UN can be visualized as three concentric rings, or cogs:

1)    First, Longer term policy developments – this is the slowest of the cogs in the UN system, as it involves the widest array of actors and policy issues. This is where the C34 comes in, supplementing the development of structural changes in the DPKO/DFS and doctrinal developments (‘principles and guidelines’) such as in the new Horizons Process. The fruits of this process often have to find agreement of a wider range of member states, as well as operationalization by the Secretariat.

2)    Second are Operational demands –These refer to responses to threats taking the form of mandates for peacekeeping operations through the Security Council and Secretariat, from the surge in operations at the beginning and end of the 1990s to current developments in Mali, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and Democratic Republic of the Congo. Some of those operations have considerable ramifications for what we have traditionally come to know as ‘peacekeeping.’

3)    The final cog is comprised of ‘Shocks’ – these come in the form of often-avoidable events which shake up peacekeeping practice. For instance: The killing of US servicemen in Somalia in 1992, the Rwandan Genocide, the massacre in Srebrenica, the sexual exploitation and abuse scandals in the early 2000s, and the possible political and legal ramifications from the Cholera outbreak in Haiti. At times these shocks happen due to significant failures at a tactical level. However, sometimes they come about as a result of urgent operational demands working on a different timeline than longer term policy developments.

It can be observed that peacekeeping in the UN is currently stretched in such a policy dynamic: in particular the shorter-term operational and the longer-term policy seem to be working at dramatically different speeds. This is to be expected to a certain extent as, from time to time, urgent operational demands must overtake careful policy development. Moreover, longer-term policy cannot always spin on a dime, with the most coherent and effective policy sometimes taking a considerable time and patience to develop.

However, the past six months have seen operational demands which have significantly challenged the core principles of peacekeeping – the impartiality of a deployed peacekeeping force, the need for strategic consent from the host state, and changes regarding the minimum use of force (apart from self defence and the defence of the mandate). There is a clear and even stark contrast between operational developments – most clearly seen in the Security Council – and deliberations related to longer-term planning — seen through statements from the C34 in which member states consistently refer back to the prominence of core principles.

For instance, in his briefing to the Security Council about the UNMISS operation in South Sudan, USG for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Herve Ladsous, failed to acknowledge the role of consent as a pillar of the UNMISS operation, while outlining his plan to withdraw capacity building for the government and opposition and focus purely on the impartial protection of civilians. As laudable as the protection of civilians is in South Sudan, the deafening silence concerning host nation consent sets the operation on a precarious path, particularly when the UN’s own reports cite the host government as a primary coordinator of attacks against UNMISS. In the larger picture of peacekeeping policy development, this is even more problematic – if a peacekeeping mission can continue to be deployed without host nation support, what does this mean for peacekeeping’s claim of impartial response?

Additionally, the assessment of UNMISS, and planning for deployment in the Central African Republic are both taking place at the same time as the UN is undertaking tricky negotiations over reimbursement rates for peacekeepers. Levels of financial reimbursement are being closely linked by some states to levels of preparedness of peacekeepers and the equipment that accompanies them in the field. Moreover, Troop Contributors wish to see an even higher rate of reimbursement in situations where they send soldiers into particularly hazardous environments. Linking this to debates in the Security Council where peacekeepers are being mandated to deploy in areas with high levels of insecurity, with little formalized peace processes in place, and (as in the case of MONUSCO) with part of the mission recalibrated to launch offensive combat operations against belligerents, gaps in the timing of policy formulation – including policy on reimbursement — are more pronounced.

In addition to these gaps, a trend exists which considers the Security Council as the primary anchor point in peacekeeping policy, particularly visible among advocacy groups. For instance, advocacy around the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) has seen a considerable level of activity at the UN Security Council (most pertinently around operations), but nothing comparable at the C34. No statement from the joint office on R2P/genocide prevention has been made at the C34; the concept is not referred to at all in this year’s C34 report, nor does it appear in other iterations of the UN’s peacekeeping policy machinery (for instance the Principles and Guidelines). The level of ‘impact’ from advocacy at Security Council level may potentially be greater, but there is a danger in neglecting other capacities established to develop peacekeeping policy, thereby reinforcing the belief by Security Council membership (in particular Permanent Members), that they are the only drivers of such policy.

From our perspective, strengthening the role and functionality of the C34 is essential – that this year’s report was approved is no small feat. However, work towards the strengthening of the report, the level to which the report’s policy recommendations can be operationalized, is a task for the coming year. Secondly, there needs to be a bit more humility from those member states in the Security Council who too often feel that their idea of peacekeeping is the only viable way forward. Statements made regarding the CAR as being a ‘new type of operation’ seemed to ride roughshod over years of (admittedly imperfect) peacekeeping development which began at the end of the 1990s. Thirdly, contributors to the C34 need to develop and utilize their own strengths to facilitate peacekeeping research. The growth of peacekeeping training centers within a growing number of states brings with it opportunities of spreading “lessons learned” and cultivating more nuanced levels of understanding. Finally, those advocacy groups seeking policy relevance solely through tracking Security Council resolutions and debates may have to revisit their strategies, or at least examine the extent to which they can also support the longer term policy approaches represented by the C34.

The fear is that if longer term policy and shorter-term operational demands continue to move at such radically different speeds, then the UN could find itself in a similar position as the beginning of the 1990’s. As those who follow the history of peacekeeping knows, the 1990’s contained plenty of shocks.  Another generation of preventable ‘shocks’ is in the best interests of no one.

Dr. David Curran, GAPW Peacekeeping Fellow