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

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