Tag Archives: disarmament machinery

Conditions and Elements:  The Disarmament Commission holds its NPT Dress Rehearsal, Dr. Robert Zuber

13 Apr

There were some really hopeful discussions in the UN this week on ocean health, Education for All, and Financing for Development.  But the most hopeful image of all was surely in the Security Council where, for the first time, an Arab Woman sat as Council president.   The topic was Mali, not at this point a poster-child for Council competence.   Nevertheless, seeing Ambassador Kawar  in the president’s chair is a clear and persuasive sign that remaining gender impediments to leadership on peace and security are steadily eroding.

Downstairs from Council chambers the UN’s Disarmament Commission was concluding general debate and moving on to the (mostly closed) working groups.   After much fussing about the agenda, the Commission retreated to familiar formulations – a Group on Nuclear Disarmament and another Group on Confidence Building Measures in Conventional Weapons – a formula which is in keeping with the DC’s deliberative mandate, but one which has not resulted in concrete recommendations to the General Assembly since well before the advent of cell phones.

Working Group 1, kindly and competently presided over by Kazakhstan’s Ambassador Abdrakhmanov, inherited a room that had experienced some clear divisions during general debate. Many of these disagreements were extensions of geo-political tensions, highlighted by Ukraine and Georgia’s condemnation of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the further “erosion of confidence” in the UN security system which that annexation caused.  Several Latin American countries derided the notion that Venezuela could possibly be a “security threat” to the US, a country with a military many times the size of the combined Latin American forces.   Israel (and its own arsenal of nuclear weapons) was cited as a major impediment to progress on a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone.  And the DPRK responded to criticism of its nuclear ambitions from several fronts while insisting that its motive for acquiring such weapons had less to do with “prestige” and more to do with direct security threats allegedly emanating from Seoul and Washington.

None of these disagreements are likely to fade away completely, if at all, before the NPT review begins later in April.  Nor will disagreements disappear regarding the policies that ought to be pursued in order to bring about a long-anticipated world free of the WMD which, as many delegations noted, threaten security more than guarantee it.   And as more and more states feel confident asserting their security preferences, individually and through regional coalitions, disagreements on security priorities and tactics will need to be resolved through honest negotiation rather than major power bullying.

One of the interesting sub-themes in the early days of the DC focused on the matter of “conditions” and “elements.”   At first glance, these would seem to have much in common, but a closer look reveals some discomforting differences.   States attending Working Group 1 that refer to “elements” generally are seeking clarity on concrete measures to bring about outcomes such as verifiable, irreversible nuclear disarmament – most often cited through development of a Nuclear Weapons Convention.  The objective is clear; the issue is about which building blocks – and in which order – should states pursue in order to bring about the desired outcome.   While there are different lenses through which the unacceptability of nuclear weapons are viewed –legal, moral, humanitarian – the key element is that there is ‘good faith’ validation of the ultimate objective.   While there remains much to discuss regarding tactics and their priorities, the objective itself must remain firmly planted in security consciousness.

“Conditions” suggest something different.   There is conventional wisdom in its use, as we can learn from any negotiating or counseling session.   In our rights-based cultures, “conditions” are too often held hostage to unilateral demands — demanding things from others to which we feel entitled without any commensurate contributions to the fulfillment of what we want. In other words, we too rarely assume any responsibility for helping to facilitate others’ fulfillment of their promises.   This ‘logic’ is in keeping with assumptions of rights-based entitlement but is problematic for sound human (or organizational) relations.   Demands unaccompanied by expressions of support, after all, are rarely endearing.

In the case of nuclear disarmament the case for “conditions” often rings hollow.   Commitments to disarmament are not of the nature of our more conventional promises but are largely embedded in legal instruments that, however many quibbles we might (and do) have with their formulation, represent an obligation that, until it is formally altered or withdrawn, is grounded in solemn, binding assumptions

If these disarmament commitments cannot be fulfilled — and we think they can be — the only viable reasons would be a failure of one or more of the agreed elements, not because “conditions” just don’t seem quite right to honor a solemn promise.  Making the world safe for disarmament is “conditions” language.   Making the world safe through disarmament is “elements” language.

I can help another to fulfill their obligations, assuming those obligations are made in good faith.  But I am not responsible to convince someone that their binding commitments are, well, binding.   This would be a complete misreading of “conditions,” insofar as they refer to externally imposed assessments of circumstance which were not present at the time the original “promise” was transacted.

For those who fail to see the distinction outlined here,   I urge you to conduct an experiment in the form of a conversation to explore “conditions” for the fulfillment of basic (and mostly public) obligations to your spouse.    (Please let me know how that conversation goes.)  Generally, couples can help each other fulfill commitments, but only in cases where there is demonstrated good faith regarding the objectives of the commitments themselves.

It is clear from the Disarmament Commission general debate and Working Groups that there are many weapons-related issues that require serious deliberative input from delegations, from verification protocols (as suggested by the US) to Brazil’s encouragement to employ existing disarmament machinery in a more serious and creative way.   Nigeria referenced the “choice instruments of destabilization” represented by illicit small arms.  Spain highlighted increasing dangers from “explosive weapons” and promoted a “code of conduct” for outer space.  Austria and others sought the closing of legal gaps on disarmament as well as more communication with UNIDIR and other outside experts.  There were even calls for more disarmament education.

In this context, we would also do well to take more seriously Chile’s assertion of the “indivisibility” of security, affirming the linkages among various weapons-related interests, but also the implications of poverty, refugees and a deteriorating climate on our security options. This might now be beyond the purview of the DC, but these linkages are essential to a security system that inspires public trust and provides additional motivation and urgency for delegations in many realms of UN security activity. In this context, Nepal’s call to place disarmament at the center of foreign policy could be an important integrating factor, as they understand both the risks of weapons and the multiple elements that need to be mobilized and organized effectively in order to promote genuinely peaceful and inclusive societies.

The DC is running out of time to be much more than a dress rehearsal for what seem to be sobering expectations of the upcoming NPT.  Skepticism and even disinterest, as noted by Vietnam and others, has taken over too much public and diplomatic perception of our disarmament machinery.  There is trust to build, both within and beyond the NPT states, but also with the larger policy community and its public.

Cuba made reference this week to the “mushroom cloud” that would spark “genocide” on an unprecedented scale.  It is time for the DC to both recommend and embrace “elements” towards a legally binding and fully verifiable end to such a genocidal threat.   On grounds of urgency and trust building, “conditions” for ending the threat of “mushroom cloud” are simply not sufficiently relevant.

Twilight Zones:  Keeping a Fading Light on Disarmament Obligations

7 Sep

A line in the UN Journal for September 8 invites diplomats and observers to an ‘informal’ meeting of the Disarmament Commission, a body that has, by the admission of most who participate in it, fallen short of any reasonable expectations for its performance.

A reputation like the one attributed to this Commission, rightly or wrongly, has led increasingly for calls to pursue disarmament outside of existing international structures.   Such structures clearly add value to certain weapons-related processes – cluster munitions come immediately to mind — but are not without their detractors.  Indeed there is legitimate concern that self-selected policy settings tend to accelerate the pace of ‘like mindedness’ that crowds out the thoughtful and critical assessments of weapons policies that can help eliminate policy errors and create new disaramament consensus among all UN member states.  Reservations, as many others have noted, should not automatically imply efforts to demean or weaken.

That said, there is one area that has a tenuous relationship to the disarmament policy grid, that can and should attract more diplomatic interest, and that might even help to revitalize interest in more formal disarmament structures of the UN – the Nuclear Weapons (and proposed WMD) Free Zones.

The inspiration for this post derives much from the policy work and strategic thinking of UNODA’s Michael Spies.   He correctly identifies the ‘highly fragile and weak’ international regime governing the possession and spread of nuclear weapons.  He also identifies ways in which the zones can help to close loopholes that allow non-nuclear weapons states to continue to contribute in varying ways to (and derive the benefits from) the arsenals of the nuclear weapons states.   And he identifies the different ways in which the common strengthening of the zones can help promote a safer, nuclear free world.

Spies makes clear that paying closer attention to the zones can clarify responsibilities for non-nuclear weapons states in confronting the inability of the nuclear weapons powers (those acknowledged by the NPT and those not) to honor disarmament obligations.  Such attention can also help solidify standards of policy and infrastructure that can both elevate the effectiveness of individual zones and more directly ensure that states participating in any of the zones can speak with a clear and unified voice when seeking due diligence on security and disarmament from the nuclear weapons powers.  Such ‘consolidation of standards,’ to use a term favored by Spies, can also help states monitor each other to ensure that they are not condemning nuclear weapons possession on the one hand while simultaneously providing cover or support for states committed to keeping nuclear weapons as a signature feature of their military doctrines.

Another value from our standpoint is that states participating in more robust zones can thereby enhance their capacity to work together on a wide variety of security matters affecting conditions both within and between regional states.   While we have no data to support this assertion directly, it has always seemed to us that the relatively robust structure of Latin America’s OPANAL (Treaty of Tlatelolco) could be a particularly useful starting (not an end) point for the creation of common standards of zone organization and conduct.  Clearly there are other factors promoting Latin America’s leadership in this area including growing economies, the relative absence of armed violence and grave human rights violations, and excellent interventions by international organizations including the UN’s regional disarmament office in Lima (UNLiREC).  As the Latin American region becomes more politically stable, efforts to create and sustain regional security frameworks (ie. UNASUR) that distance themselves from the US and other larger powers  provide additional hope that Latin American states can forthrightly examine OPANAL’s own strengths and limitations while promoting commonly adhered standards for zone conduct that are very much in the interests of the global commons.

In so many respects, the international security situation seems to be moving steadily towards a dark place.   But the zones represent a lengthening (if fading) light, a chance for the regions – especially those regions not currently drowning in insurgencies or groaning under bloated military expenditures — to make their case for alternatives to a world awash in illicit (or profoundly destructive) weapons and the weapons-dependent doctrines of possessor states.

The nuclear weapons free zones have not, in our view, gotten the attention they deserve from the UN’s mostly-stalemated disarmament architecture.   Before the disarmament sun sets entirely, there are many more opportunities to promote more effective, robust, common standards for the zones that can leverage more integrated regional security arrangements and especially close loopholes that needlessly accommodate the needs of nuclear weapons powers.  Such opportunities must be seized while the twilight remains.

Dr. Robert Zuber

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

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

An Open Letter to UN Permanent Representatives — Give the Disarmament Commission Another Chance

20 Mar

Editor’s note:  For many years, GAPW has lamented the decline in productivity of the UN Disarmament Commission.  Given some recent hopeful signs in disarmament and the fact that the DC is in the third year of a 3 year policy cycle, we believe that the upcoming UNDC is an opportunity for meaningful deliberations warranting the attention of diplomatic missions that might well choose to put their energies elsewhere. 


As most of you are aware, April 7 marks the beginning of the 2014 UN Disarmament Commission, the third year of its current policy cycle.   Ambassador Drobnjak has met with delegates to brief them on his own hopes and expectations for the three-week session and will convene another preparatory meeting on March 24. As he does so, we recall Ambassador Grima’s assertion from last April that the 2013 session did much to rebuild trust among delegations as a precondition for meaningful deliberations on nuclear disarmament and confidence building in the field of conventional weapons. This assertion may be as much an aspiration as a fact, but Ambassador Grima’s words at the very least underscore the need for more trustbuilding in disarmament matters as well as to increase the resolve of the UNDC to ‘test’ strategies that can build even more trusting and policy-effective relations among delegations tasked with disarmament matters.

Excellencies, this letter is a request to all of you to consider supporting another push for effectiveness in the UNDC in April, prioritizing time and energy from your missions to help support the possibility of deliberative movement that can provide real guidance to First Committee delegates. The UNDC now stands at risk of being overtaken by events as governments and civil society increasingly look outside the UN for the means to carry forward focused and technical deliberations on critical and emerging disarmament issues. A successful UNDC, resulting in clear if modest recommendations, can help erase the frustration of many inside and outside the UN that our disarmament structures are now simply and stubbornly inflexible.  

We recognize the challenge in asking for this commitment.  Our sense while speaking with many representatives of missions is that the UNDC feels too much like a long and tedious obligation that, as we all acknowledge, has failed to produce tangible results in many years.  GAPW has noted with concern many changes in the makeup of delegations to the UNDC over the years, the smaller numbers of diplomats who make the trip from Geneva or national capitals, the reduced ranks of diplomats assigned to cover the DC and its working groups, especially after the formal statements have been concluded.

With all that delegations need to accomplish on issues ranging from disabilities and the status of women to atrocity crime prevention and post-2015 development goals — not to mention other disarmament obligations — it is understandable that many of you would choose to minimize mission involvement in such a protracted and, especially in recent years, largely unfulfilling process.  But we also recognize that disarmament structures have undergone change in the past, they can be changed again, and it is worth our while to seize current opportunities to change them further.

As you all know, the UNDC is a deliberative body not a negotiating body.  It makes political judgments regarding the best paths forward on disarmament but neither creates nor endorses binding agreements. As such, there is little pressure regarding the establishments of precedents in disarmament negotiations, important given that the UNDC will be followed this year by the precedent-laden NPT review and the 5th Biennial Meeting of States on Small Arms.   In addition, there is little pressure for the UNDC to issue comprehensive guidelines on disarmament matters.  Concrete, if modest, suggestions for how to move disarmament processes forward would be both sufficient and welcome.   As much as the global public craves solutions on disarmament matters, they can be provisionally satisfied with tangible policy movement of the sort that should by now be the UNDC’s specialized domain.

Failure to use this final year of the UNDC’s cycle to productive ends will further erode delegate interest.  It will increase the likelihood that states will no longer see the value in funding these sessions.  And, perhaps most important, failure of the UNDC might well encourage the Security Council to take up disarmament more frequently as a thematic consideration in a manner that marginalizes GA initiatives. The apparent inability of yet another GA process to live up to expectations will only embolden those who see the Council and the Council alone as the only effective body to take up these concerns.

GAPW’s clear position is that we need to keep disarmament firmly as a GA function.  But we also need to demonstrate that GA disarmament structures, especially the UNDC, can be less prone to gridlock or held hostage to an inflexible view of ‘consensus’ that belies the UNDC’s purely deliberative functions.  With all that is taking place inside and outside the UN, it is no longer clear that the UNDC will continue to have a key role in disarmament affairs if we cannot take measures now to make modest, limited recommendations to other parts of the GA which are more directly responsible for establishing and promoting disarmament obligations.

Excellencies, with all due respect for the multiple, important agendas taking up the time of you and your mission colleagues, we urge you to give ample attention to this session of the DC. We have noted with deep appreciation recent “openings” on regulating the global arms trade, fact-based discussion on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, hopeful collaborations among states as part of the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms, Iran’s still-tentative recalibration of its own nuclear ambitions, efforts to address the impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, building transparency and confidence in outer space activities, and more.  With all that is now attempting to bloom, this could also be the season when we can replace structural immovability with a more flexible and collaborative tone.  This could be the year for deliberation that yields suggestions for moving forward on disarmament obligations that people worldwide are yearning to see.

Excellencies, you have assurances of our highest consideration as well as our support as the UNDC navigates its current challenges and opportunities.

Dr. Robert Zuber


Here’s to you, Mary Robinson: Thoughts on Intertwining Security and Development Goals

9 Feb

It is not news to anyone who follows this space that Mary Robinson is one of our favorite global civil servants, someone who is thoughtful, courageous and committed.  Her ideas exploring the human rights dimensions of climate change is just another example of her encyclopedic understand of the multiple facets of UN policy activity and her skills in bringing those facets into some harmonious, intentional relationship.

As the final sessions of the Open Working Group unfolded, Ms. Robinson was called upon to reflect on the security-sustainability dynamic, one which preoccupied the last phases of this long interactive process and which resulted in many thoughtful presentations by delegations.  As she has done previously, Ms. Robinson hit the mark for many listeners, describing security (and gender) as “cross cutting” concerns impacting any and all consensus Sustainable Development Goals, and reinforcing the need for goals that address the “causes and consequences of conflict.

Many delegations also wrestled in these final interactive sessions with the implications of adding security-related objectives to a lengthening list of SDGs that themselves will likely defy full achievement. For instance, in its statement, CARICOM expressed worry about having too much of the SDG process tied up with security concerns, not because they dismiss such concerns (they have been for instance major supporters of efforts to control illicit small arms, narcotics smuggling and the global arms trade), but because they like other delegations are concerned about the volume of development objectives that states will ultimately be held responsible for.   We share much of this concern, in part because we do not yet feel that we have learned enough from our limited successes with MDG implementation, in part because of the elusiveness of quantifiable definitions of ‘peace,’ and in part because we do not believe that the post-2015 SDG process to date has sought to engage sufficiently other, relevant components of the UN system.

Returning to Ms. Robinson’s remarks, it is important to maintain the dual meaning of ‘cross cutting.’   Often when we use this now familiar phrase, we refer to issues that have to do with each other in the sense that illicit arms contribute to an escalation of violence against women or deteriorating climate can lead to conflict over water and other resources.  But there is another dimension, not about issues and objectives but about structures of implementation.  If peace and security are fashioned into development objectives alongside clean water and poverty reduction, whose responsibility does this become?   To address this question, we need to look beyond the structures normally associated with the development community to the broader capacities of the UN system (and beyond).

There is little doubt among delegations and other participants in the Open Working Group that peace and security are indispensable requirements for just, transparent and sustainable communities, a “development enabler” as it was referred to by the African Group and others. However, as we seek to reduce violence (and as Brazil noted, reduce military expenditures) that impedes participation in civic life, restricts the pursuit of educational or economic opportunity, and exacerbates unsustainable ‘footprints,’ we must look beyond the institutional infrastructure most directly relevant to development to those other agencies and capacities that can help to illumine and address key security challenges.  When we do, we would surely also reaffirm the ways in which pursuit of development priorities are, themselves, ‘enablers’ of more secure communities, fewer illicit weapons, a more reliable system for preventing mass atrocities, a resolution to existing negotiating stalemates on nuclear weapons, and other hopeful outcomes.

Even in a time of budget restraint, the UN as a system maintains many security-related capacity options to support successful development outcomes.   “Cross cutting” is as much about infrastructure effectiveness and responsibility as about issues.  As Mary Robinson’s presence in the Open Working Group reinforced, it is possible to appreciate and draw upon resources beyond the most familiar.   As interaction gives way to negotiation, we urge delegations to integrate a more thorough embrace of the ideas and capacity resources of the entire UN system, not only the parts that have ‘development’ imprinted on their mandates.

At the closing of this interactive process, we would like to thank the co-chairs for their hard work in keeping this process on track, as well as to NGLS and others for their good leadership on a wide range of issues pertinent to the work of setting post-2015 goals as well as other members of global civil society that have sought to impact development priorities.

Dr. Robert Zuber

Rule of Law in Disarmament Discourse

30 Jan

The UN Secretary-General (SG) maintains that rule of law is a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards.”[i]

Generally, strong rule of law mechanisms can promote robust national constitutions which grant equality to all, dependable security and judicial institutions, transitional justice and strong civil society.[ii] “These are the norms, policies, institutions and processes that form the core of a society in which individuals feel safe and secure, where legal protection is provided for rights and entitlements, and disputes are settled peacefully and effective redress is available for harm suffered, and where all who violate the law, including the State itself, are held to account.”[iii]

The important role that the UN plays in the promotion of rule of law has been highlighted in the Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation Among States in Accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. The principles highlighted in the UN Charter of maintaining international peace and security and peaceful settlement of disputes go to the heart of robust rule of law policies and mechanisms.[iv] The role of peaceful settlement of disputes within rule of law discussions was highlighted at the Sixth Committee of the General Assembly, as Global Action has previously reflected.[v] If robust institutions and policies exist that protect the security and rights of individuals, and if alternative dispute resolutions exist to peacefully resolve conflict, then modern day uprisings that rise to the level of threats to international peace and security may be limited and even eliminated.

In addition, the so-called “International Bill of Human Rights” accords to individuals a set of rights that must be respected at the international and national levels. The work of treaty bodies to implement these commitments and rights is key to strengthening strong rule of law by promoting robust national-level legislation and mechanisms that protect basic human rights obligations.

More recently, the concept of rule of law was further developed in the High Level Declaration on Rule of Law. The Declaration reinforced the rule of law as a cross-cutting issue linking peace and security, human rights and development, and likewise acknowledged “strengthening justice and security institutions that are accessible and responsive to the needs and rights of all individuals and which build trust and promote social cohesion and economic prosperity.”[vi] Additionally, the Declaration “emphasize[d] the importance of the rule of law as one of the key elements of conflict prevention, peacekeeping, conflict resolution and peacebuilding.”[vii]

With all this in mind, it is not surprising that the Secretary-General’s 2013 report on Responsibility to protect: State responsibility and prevention focused on strengthening mechanisms to prevent mass atrocity crimes. Amidst the many risk factors that can contribute to the commission of mass atrocity crimes, the SG highlighted that “the risk of genocide and other atrocity crimes can be increased by a Government’s lack of capacity to prevent these crimes and the absence of structures or institutions designed to protect the population. Risk factors include…. weak legislative protection of human rights; and weaknesses in the judiciary, national human rights institutions and the security sector.”[viii] Among the options highlighted to prevent atrocity crimes include strengthening national institutions that promote rule of law through human rights protections, as well as effective security forces.[ix]

Building on this focus, the relationship between the security sector and the rule of law is timely and important given a series of disarmament processes in the spring 2014. As Former High Representative Sergio Duarte noted in his 2008 address to the American Bar Association Section on International Law, the rule of law has contributed to disarmament by essentially providing the framework and the tools to shape, interpret and implement commitments.[x] More specifically, it provides a set of legal instruments that shape the elimination of weapons of mass destruction and constrain the flow of conventional arms.[xi]

The forthcoming Disarmament Commission (DC) has been mandated to propose recommendations to the GA on diverse issues within the disarmament agenda and is set to discuss during its April session recommendations for achieving the objective of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and Practical confidence-building measures in the field of conventional weapons.

While it is generally known that the DC has not been able to reach consensus in proposing recommendations since 2000, nevertheless as the opening of the Commission is fast approaching, it is timely to underline that any outcome reached could also prove imperative for strengthening rule of law, in addition to advancing the broader disarmament agenda.

Specifically in the context conventional arms, one need not think long to realize the pervasive, negative effect of weapons, especially the illegal flow of small arms and light weapons, on local communities, including disrupting feelings of safety and security; getting in the way of peaceful settlement of disputes; and interfering with the maintenance of strong and reliable security sectors.

A recent Chair’s Paper on confidence-building measures (CBMs) outlines obligations to instruments ranging from the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons to the Arms Trade Treaty etc.[xii] Ideally, the objective of CBMs around conventional weapons would be to promote transparency, implementation of the obligations therein, principles of good faith, and “eliminating the causes of mistrust, fear, misunderstanding, and miscalculation with regard to conventional weapons.”[xiii]

Transparency within and between States and compliance with disarmament commitments can contribute to strengthening security institutions, responding to the needs and rights of individuals to feel safe and fully participate in society, and promoting the rule of law at the national level.

– Melina Lito