Dog Days:  The UN Catches its Breath as Global Challenges Fill its August Calendar, Dr. Robert Zuber

9 Aug

For those of you who follow US baseball, the “Dog Days of August” represents that time when (now mostly overpaid) players are on the field virtually every day, in the hot sun, with no prospect of time off, let alone occasions for mountain hikes or naps by the pool.  It is a time when tempers are short, thoughtfulness is largely absent and trust in humanity (let alone in umpires) is at a premium.

A UN version of “dog days” might refer to this current time between the energy-draining but successful adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals outcome document and the frenzy that is sure to characterize the September opening of the 70th UN General Assembly.

Despite a relentless (and sometimes frustrating) workload this year and given the longing that some might have for family picnics and time at the beach to read something other than policy briefs, the UN is still very much open for business. Nigeria’s August presidency of the Security Council promises to keep diplomats in their seats as events in Mali, Central African Republic (CAR), Yemen and elsewhere require vigilance, the recent resolution to investigate culpability for chlorine and other chemical weapons use in Syria seeks operational clarity, and important work continues on establishing more trusting relations with regional security mechanisms.

Outside the Council, the UN has been wrestling this week with ways to integrate (and provide full access to) global geospatial data, a key element in assessing shifts in land use patterns, waterfront erosion, climate patters and other matters essential to successful implementation of the recently-adopted Sustainable Development Goals.  Attacks on UN peacekeepers by “spoilers,” murky elections in some host states, and unresolved scandals involving soldiers who are duty bound to protect civilians provide ample fodder for consultations and response planning.   And annual events dedicated to youth and indigenous people are reminders to all of us that equal rights to health care, education and other necessities remain elusive for millions, and that the legitimate needs and goals of future generations are still being compromised by too many short-term decisions made by the current generation of authorities.

And for many, thoughts in August turn to Japan and the annual ritual surrounding those whose lives were ended now 70 years ago in a flash – two flashes actually – from nuclear explosions authored by US authorities. As the surviving Hibakusha and their direct testimony depart this world, we are left with endless arguments about the necessity of weapons use as a means of ending WWII.  More importantly perhaps to current and future generations, we are also left with nuclear stockpiles that are decreasing in size at a snail’s pace while having their capacities modernized at a rapid one.

GAPW closely follows the work of groups such as the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy and thus we leave most of the policy advocacy on these weapons to them.  But given that UN headquarters failed to hold a ceremony on Hiroshima Day for the first time in recent memory, and that Nagasaki day falls (today) on a Sunday, a few comments from our own security policy vantage point seems appropriate.

After 70 years of production, threatening gestures and now deliberate, expensive modernization, nuclear weapons remain for most possessor states an addictive element of their national security doctrines. Like alcoholics recovering from a drinking binge and pledging never to drink again, there is episodically bold talk among nuclear weapons possessors of “getting to zero,” of eliminating these weapons once and for all.  And yet, disarmament structures and treaties designed to facilitate elimination are routinely ignored or even deliberately undermined.  Moreover, modernization processes for nuclear weapons are underway (as far as we know) in all current national arsenals, with a price tag according to some reports significantly exceeding a trillion dollars.

Here is a trillion dollar tip:  States don’t modernize weapons if they plan to rid themselves of them.

As many nuclear weapons activists worldwide have noted repeatedly, the consequences of detonation of such massive weapons would be enough to permanently disrupt, if not existentially threaten, life as we know it.  Such detonations would be sufficiently destructive such that survivors might well envy the dead; that the “dog days” following such blasts would make most survivors long for anything approaching normalcy or basic sufficiency, even those hot, sticky, low-energy August days around UN headquarters. Despite the “humanitarian consequences” aptly described over several generations, we continue to play with this nuclear fire, keeping the nuclear threat at or near the top of a deadly list of self-inflicted “wounds” which much of our species seems unwilling to heal, let alone bind.

And here is another trillion dollar tip:   The almost inconceivable amount of money that we waste on nuclear and other weapons systems continues to rob future generations of funds to achieve sustainable development, reverse climate impacts, and guarantee health and educational opportunity for themselves and their own children.

The too-often horizontal, addictive and narcissistic dynamics of our defense and security policies are a source of discouragement and even anger for many, as a spate of news stories from Nagasaki and around the world today make clear.  It is almost beyond imagination that smart, caring, savvy adults can consistently craft policies that might succeed in easing a bit of global pressure but that fail to provide longer-view leadership for anxious people – including the young and indigenous persons who will fill the UN this month – who properly cringe at the thought of inheriting an overheated, bio-compromised, politically-polarized and overly militarized planet.

As ice caps melt, ocean storms intensify, areas of severe drought expand, specie extinctions accelerate and groups armed with second-hand weapons show first-hand contempt for the governments that have too-often neglected their interests, nuclear weapons in their current or modernized iterations represent one crisis waiting to happen that we simply can live without.  The lingering justifications for maintaining (let alone modernizing) these weapons are quickly eroding. Only the policy addictions (and their high price tags) remain intact.

In these “dog days” of August it might be wise for all of us still at work at the UN to spend a bit of time inside this week’s events focused on the needs, aspirations and skills of youth and indigenous persons.  These people, by tradition or generational temperament, demand a longer view on security and development policy, something wiser and less addictive than merely responding to the next alarm bell.  By indigenous standards, we have long since failed the “seventh generation” policy test.   Perhaps this month,on nuclear weapons and other global threats, we can find more of the wisdom and means needed to at least pass the “next generation” one.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: