Archive | May, 2014

The Emotional and Psychological Trauma to Our People Can’t Be Measured In Real Terms

31 May

Editor’s Note:  Lia Petridis Maiello is a frequent contributor to this blog.   John Burroughs of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy is both an office mate and is also deeply involved with the Marshall Islands suits. 

The Republic of the Marshall Islands in the northern Pacific Ocean is not only a breathtakingly beautiful island state, but has recently moved into the public eye by starting a bold initiative that is widely interpreted as a “David against Goliath” undertaking.

The Marshall islands were subjected to dozens of nuclear tests, carried out by the U.S. after 1945.

According to the Associated Press, the island group filed suit in late April against each of the nine nuclear-armed powers in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands. It also filed a federal lawsuit against the United States in San Francisco.

The Marshall Islands claims that instead of negotiating disarmament, the nine countries are modernizing their nuclear arsenals, spending $1 trillion on those arsenals over the next ten years.

“I personally see it as kind of David and Goliath, except that there are no slingshots involved,” David Krieger, president of the California-based Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, told AP. The Foundation is acting as a consultant in the case and is hoping that other countries will join the legal effort, Krieger points out.

Russia, Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea are included in the indictment. The last four are not parties to the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), but appear to be, according to the lawsuits, bound by its provisions under “customary international law.” The NPT, considered the cornerstone of nuclear disarmament efforts, requires negotiations among countries in “good faith” on disarmament, AP reports.

None of the countries had been informed in advance of the lawsuits. The case found broad recognition within the international press.

The Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands, Tony de Brum, explains in an interview the impact the nuclear tests had and still have for his citizens and what he hopes this lawsuit can achieve for the island state and the world community.

You grew up on the island of Likiep during the 12-year period when the United States tested 67 atomic and thermonuclear weapons in the atmosphere and under water in the Marshall Islands (1946-1958). What are your memories on the impact these tests had for the island of Likiep and its inhabitants? Environmentally, politically and psychologically?

My memories of the tests are a mixture of awe, of fear, and of youthful wonder. We were young, and military representatives were like gods to our communities and so our reactions to the tests as they took place were confused and terrifying. We had no clue as to what was happening to us and to our homelands. Our elders, including my grandfather, tried to stop the tests in petitions and communications to the UN but were not successful. I personally witnessed the injuries to some of our countrymen from Rongelap and to this day cannot recall in words my sense of helplessness and anxiety without severe emotional stress. But for as long as I can remember, the explosions and the bizarre effects that lit up our skies are still a source of pain and anger. How could human beings do this to other humans?

While in later life many attempts have been made, both in good and bad faith, to reconstruct the impact of the testing on our people, only the physical and environmental effects can be discussed with some confidence. The emotional and psychological trauma to our people, both young and old, cannot be measured in real terms. The pain is real and the uncertainty is overwhelming. As a young lady said to me when showing me pictures of her dead deformed infant child, “God did not create my baby. He cannot be so cruel.”

The Republic of the Marshall Islands recently filed an extraordinary lawsuit at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, suing all nine nuclear weapons possessors for failing to eliminate their nuclear arsenals. But only three of the nine nuclear states named by the lawsuit generally accept the rulings of the International Court of Justice. What do you hope for the outcome of this case?

My country has exhausted all means within our limited power to bring attention and closure to our outstanding nuclear issues with our former Administrative Authority, the United States. Mechanisms jointly established for dealing with outstanding claims for physical injury and property damage have fallen way short of satisfying even the basic findings of the Nuclear Claims Tribunal formed under treaty agreements. This is due mostly to the withholding of critical information necessary for us to make informed decisions regarding our nuclear past and our uncertain future. To this day the United States still refuses to release information we have identified and requested under established processes. All the while we have to cope with displaced communities, skyrocketing medical costs, dangerously radioactive environments, and deprivation of use of traditional lands.

The United States tells us they have satisfied their obligation under the Free Association Compact, a Treaty, and that they will not entertain any claims or requests for meaningful assistance in this issue. In fact, the US Supreme Court refused to hear the cases of the People of Bikini and the People of Enewetak seeking damages for their destroyed homelands. After seeing what mere testing of these terrible weapons of mass destruction can do to human beings it makes sense for the Marshallese People to implore the nuclear weapons state to begin the hard task of disarmament. All we ask is that this terrible threat be removed from our world. It is the best we can do as collateral damage in the race for nuclear superiority. Our sacrifice will be for naught if the nuclear countries do not stand up and take notice of the evil that nuclear weapons present to our earth.

Do you think that this case can help to create enough international momentum for the Non-Proliferation-Treaty (NPT) to be treated — due to its near universal adherence — as part of customary international law by which all states must abide, regardless of whether or not they actually signed the treaty?

We believe that it is sensible and logical for the world community to consider this matter as one of customary international law. To do otherwise is to gamble with the future of the world.

What effects would that have on the discourse of nuclear disarmament worldwide?

It should stimulate intelligent discourse and wise solutions. For what would it gain the world for instance, to be protected from climate change, only to suffer massive destruction from nuclear weapons? All our efforts to be sane about the future must be connected to survival and peace. The right hand cannot be out seeking climate peace while the left is busy waging nuclear war.

Looking at the status quo of this discourse, how do you evaluate the outcome of the recent NPT PrepCom at United Nations’ headquarters in New York City which closed without adopting the Chair’s draft recommendations to the Review Conference?

The outcome of the recent NPT PrepCom appeared to be more “business as usual,” with the nuclear-armed parties to the treaty essentially evading their Article VI obligations or claiming they were fulfilling them in a step by step manner, while at the same time continuing to modernize their nuclear arsenals and relying upon them in their military strategies. It is clear that the nuclear-armed states are not pursing negotiations in good faith to end the nuclear arms race and to achieve complete nuclear disarmament, as they are obligated to do under Article VI of the treaty.

You have also been advocating on the issue of climate change, a grave concern that affects not only the Pacific Islands, but has obvious global consequences. Are there linkages between nuclear disarmament and climate change? Considering that both issues climate change, as well as nuclear disarmament are political matters of tremendous significance, which one, in your opinion, has the capacity of being addressed faster by the international community?

I hit upon this somewhat in question four but clearly one cannot isolate climate change from the other most pressing issue of world security today. They go hand in hand, and must be dealt with in a coordinated and universally accepted pathway. As a country that has seen the ravages of war, suffers the lingering effects of nuclear tests, and facing the onset of a rising sea, we see all these to be threats of equal force against world peace and human life. But finger pointing and challenges of who goes first must now stop and sane and intelligent human beings must confront this insanity with firm confidence and clear peaceful intentions.

Lia Petridis Maiello, Journalist

Raising the Stakes on Conflict Prevention Stakeholders

25 May

On Thursday, an unusually large crowd of diplomats, invited guests and NGOs gathered in the Security Council to observe the veto of a resolution on Syria (S/2014/348) that had been drafted by France and endorsed by an array of other states inside and outside the Council.

The gist of the resolution was a referral to the International Criminal Court as one measure of ending impunity or at least, in the words of the Australians, to remind abusers that there is no ‘statute of limitation’ on crimes being committed in Syria.

Such reminders are important, to be sure, though it is unclear that the ICC is well suited to conduct investigations and render judgments in the midst of a protracted civil war.   The Chief Prosecutor of the ICC speaking at a briefing on Libya earlier in the month pointed out to the Council that conducting investigations with little funding while confronting massive security threats is difficult at best.  That Syria (like Libya) features massive abuses by multiple parties only complicates jurisprudence, perhaps placing the attainment of justice in this instance well beyond the reasonable capacity of the court.

The failed resolution on Syria seemed somehow consistent with a recent pattern in the Council of trying to ‘do something’ by punting the political football to DPKO (in the form of more complex and coercive mandates) or the ICC (in the form of hastily conceived, unfunded, imprecise referrals) rather than examining the limitations of its own power and process.   The Council remains among the most politicized spaces in the UN.  It is also among the most uneven spaces from the standpoint of power and influence.   The non-permanent members (with the exception of their time as president) largely populate sub-committees and make public statements.  The Russians and Chinese would have little say on many resolutions if they could not force Council members to pay attention to them through threat of the veto.   And the rest of the UN system too often sits on its proverbial hands waiting to see if the Council will take on yet more ‘thematic concerns’ for which it then presumes to act as global legislator.

The present preoccupation with veto restraint within some parts of our policy community is a diversion that belies full recognition of the limitations of the Security Council and the under-tapped resources of the broader UN system (including the Joint Office on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect) which the Council seems largely to ignore.    As we have written previously, effective veto restraint implies the existence of depoliticized findings of impending mass atrocity violence, a sincere and robust commitment to solve violence primarily through diplomatic means, and Council members whose motives are transparent and attached to the kinds of assessments and accountabilities that have eluded that body for most of its history.  In a system where findings are politicized, where preventive measures are under financed and too often disregarded, and where there is no way to hold the Council accountable for its own mistakes, veto restraint would simply be a gift to the P-3, one which they have not necessarily merited.  Whether or not such restraint would also be a ‘gift’ to victims has to do in part with organizational assessments of the relative efficacy of diplomatic vs. militarized solutions to complex patterns of violence.

Capacity support is the lifeblood of the UN system, and this is true for atrocity crime prevention as in other areas.   But the success of such support is only enhanced when the full complement of stakeholders is acknowledged and engaged.  Regarding RtoP, for instance, it has never been clear who the relevant stakeholders are.  Is it permanent Council members?  Other member states?   The small group of NGOs that gather around the issue here in NY?  Regional or national governmental/military alliances?   What is the role for a small office like GAPW aside from routine (and often ineffective) ‘squawking’ about systemic limitations?   What is the role of media?  Business?   Education?  Development agencies?   Local civil society organizations? Is atrocity crime prevention a responsibility of the entire, extended UN ‘family’ or is it a responsibility of a few powerful states and some random national focal points?   It has often seemed as though the RtoP/atrocity crime prevention community has been more effective in shutting off hard questions than in welcoming them, of closing the gates on offers of energy and commitment rather than finding ways to put such to work.   But our own limitations notwithstanding, the stakes remain critical for the prevention of mass atrocities. We need to get this right, by which we mean to establish reliable and fair structures that are largely prevention oriented and that encourage the broadest possible stakeholder involvement.   We remain far from that goal.

The UN Charter does, indeed, confer upon the Council the primary responsibility for maintaining peace and security.    However, this does not indicate ‘sole’ responsibility nor does it imply that ‘maintenance’ is primarily a reactive matter rather than a preventive one.  Whatever the results of the parallel reform movements afoot within the UN regarding the membership and working methods of the Council, it is imperative that the current Council takes stock of itself and does more to address violence than fling accusations across the desks of political adversaries. Perhaps it could start with an examination of its own ‘franchise.’ After all, the more the Council is understood (or understands itself) as the only relevant player on atrocity violence the more unlikely it is to endorse and encourage other stakeholders.  However, such endorsements and encouragements are the key to an effective system of protection from mass violence that can both energize diverse conflict prevention capacities and help spare the international community the spectacle on Syria that we recently witnessed and which frankly was hard to watch.

Dr. Robert Zuber


Five Lost Weeks

9 May

Editors Note:   Our hope is to use this space for multiple pieces of commentary motivated by the largely unsuccessful end to both the 2014 Disarmament Commission and the NPT Preparatory Committee. Additional information on both the DC and NPT can be found on the Reaching Critical Will site. 

With applause emanating from most delegates to the NPT Preparatory Committee, five weeks of disarmament commitments from diplomatic missions, Secretariat officials and others was drawn to a close.  The Disarmament Commission. The NPT Review Committee.   Hundreds of government statements.  Many more hours of deliberations.   Millions of dollars in airfare, accommodations, interpreters and more.  The opportunity costs have been staggering, the opportunities themselves largely wasted.

Welcome to spring 2014, a time when some of us anticipated a slight breath of new momentum on disarmament, at least with fingers crossed, but even those modest expectations were effectively suppressed. The Marshall Islands lawsuit in the ICJ was the one glimmer of hope among the many dim flickers of disarmament possibility.

The mood inside the NPT room mirrored some familiar dynamics. On the one hand, diplomatic reverence for the NPT persists, a bit like holding on sentimentally to an automobile that once held promise but is not beginning to show signs of rust.  As Ambassador Roman-Morey wisely noted, we are dealing now with 2014 issues.  The vehicles we employed in 2010 might need a bit of upgrading now.

On the other hand, modifying agreed treaty text within a highly imbalanced and politicized security system allows powerful states to open up pathways to consolidate their own national interests at the expense of others.   And we know that once opened, those pathways are invariably exploited.

The NPT process appears to be caught in a trap of its own making.   A highly political treaty in its own right without independent mechanisms to ensure compliance, the NPT is known by its three pillars as well as its key “essentialist” notions. Foremost among these notions is the NPT’s insistence that the designation of “nuclear weapons states” is not directly tied to the actual possession of such weapons.   This creates needless wastes of energy trying to convince some current nuclear powers to adopt a treaty which, in essence, denies the existence of weapons that everyone knows they have. According to NPT logic, if France were tomorrow to rid themselves of their weapons they would remain a “nuclear weapons state,” while Pakistan, the DPRK, etc. will forever be non-nuclear weapons states regardless of how large their arsenals become. Israel would as well, of course, which makes some modicum of sense, albeit cynical, since they do not acknowledge the existence of weapons that are widely known to exist.  Apparently, there are neither clear points of entry, nor clearly marked exit signs, within the NPT.

The Middle East WMD-Free Zone, a pillar of the 2005 Review Conference, remains a large unfulfilled promise, taking on the character of ‘suggested behavior’ rather than a fundamental, treaty-related commitment.   This is not what was intended in 2005 and is not what is needed now.  After all, we have collectively solved tougher technical and political challenges over the past nine years than getting this conference up and running.

From the outside, the NPT (and its non-outcomes) looks like nothing more than standard UN disarmament politics, disconnected from the public security longings that help inspire state connectivity to the UN in the first place.

In our experience, the good will on the floor of disarmament negotiations is surprisingly sincere, but it also masks deep levels of distrust that play out in multiple policy venues beyond the reach of weapons.  It also hides a diplomatic rotating door that leaves large gaps in institutional memory that new diplomats can only attempt to fill.

Diplomats do their best but then, with few exceptions, they quickly rotate home or to new posts overseas.   For their part, many NGOs parachute in to share their preferences and then go home as well, learning little about how UN headquarters functions including the ways in which their presence is manipulated by states to articulate plausible (but not necessarily successful) outcomes.

Still five weeks of policy attention in a dangerous world should yield more than commitments to revisit commitments.    It is getting harder and harder for those of us who have pretentions to being answerable to global constituents to explain how governments seemingly hold local security needs and aspirations in such little regard.

These constituents can’t experience for themselves the uneven power dynamics and hidden deals that characterize so much of the UN’s disarmament machinery.  They can’t fathom what it takes to create consensus from 194 state positions, all mediated by often extraordinary diplomats who can’t make many more binding policy commitments than the NGOs can.   They can’t grasp why the politics of states, over and over, take blanket precedence over the security needs of communities.

Diplomats will never get this time back again.   The global community, for its part, might never fully regain the confidence that states are truly promoting the community’s best security interests. We’ll have to wait until 2015, it seems, for a full cost accounting of the trust deficits that have only widened during these five long weeks.

Dr. Robert Zuber

A Call for Stable and Peaceful Policies

4 May

On April 25, Global Action joined with other civil society organizations (WFUNA, FES, WILPF) in launching an initiative to support the work of the Office of the President of the UN General Assembly in promoting the cross-cutting theme, “Ensuring Stable and Peaceful Societies.”  These organizations affirm the important value of this theme as the UN seeks adoption of a new (and hopefully expanded) set of sustainable development goals.

Our event immediately followed a day and a half long Thematic Debate in the General Assembly on ‘Ensuring Stable and Peaceful Societies’ that sought to field comment outlining both state aspirations and responsibilities within this dynamic normative framework.

As one might anticipate, the range of lenses that diplomats sought to include in their analysis of ‘stable and peaceful societies,’ was quite broad.   This is as it should be.  The normative framework suggested by this Thematic Debate touches on all facets of the UN’s work as diplomats were quick to acknowledge.   Some, like Qatar and Israel, noted the need for more ‘honest and responsible governance.’ Cuba underscored the deep divides that must be overcome between rich and poor.  Switzerland called for dramatic improvements in accessible public space.  Japan called for more attention to the management of ‘disaster risk.’ Australia, Nicaragua and others highlighted the need for more efforts to empower women.  Ecuador called for restraints on over-consumption and the end of what it called ‘speculative economies.’  Argentina affirmed the need for more attention to ‘rule of law’ obligations.  Egypt called for more efforts to address ‘massive refugee flows.’  Kenya noted challenges to peace represented by both illicit weapons and shortages of precious water.  The US and others clarified and solidified the linkages between violence and impediments to the fulfillment of development priorities.  Indonesia called for internal UN reforms to better serve the interests of a ‘rebalanced’ economic system.

On and on it went for over a day: states sometimes being provocative but mostly pointing out diverse elements of the massive, multi-dimensional undertaking that is ‘stable and peaceful societies.’   The Thematic Debate in the GA underscored the degree to which challenges associate with all three pillars that delineate the UN’s primary responsibilities – peace and security, human rights and development –   must be addressed in tandem.  Indeed, our growing populations and shrinking access to available resources; our increasingly sophisticated, digitally-driven military tools; and a new set of often-gruesome human rights responsibilities from Damascus to Bangui are more than sufficient to keep the policy community engaged at multiple levels.    The bar is set high here. The expectations for action coming from beyond UN headquarters are considerable.   This is not a ball we can afford to drop.

We know from the NGO side that we need to do more to support states and UN secretariat officials in keeping linkages relevant to the promotion of ‘stable and peaceful societies’ fresh among diverse stakeholders.  This involves a deeper level of partnership commitment, more than simply telling diplomats what’s missing and what ‘they’ need to do about it.    Through our own related initiatives, we seek to take more responsibility for goal setting and implementation, to do more to redress imbalances and end violence than merely pointing out the limitations of others.

As the presidency of the General Assembly shifts from year to year, we can do our part to be both facilitator and ‘institutional memory’ when it comes to ‘stable and peaceful societies.’     This involves a commitment to work closely and effectively with the new GA president’s staff on another round of diplomatic engagements with this thematic issue.  But it also involves a commitment to take account of broader fields of inquiry and their stakeholders, to perceive wider relevance and open doors to different kinds of constituent participation. ‘Stable and peaceful societies’ represents both a compelling aspiration and a profound test of our policy commitment and maturity.   This is one test we need to study hard for.

Dr. Robert Zuber