Tag Archives: security sector

Assessing the 2011 GA Session

27 Dec

The President of the 66th General Assembly (PGA), Ambassador Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser of Qatar, recently hailed the plenary body of the UN for its collective work on the most pressing global issues of our time noting that the GA has adopted nearly 300 resolutions and decisions during its main session. The main pillars of the 66th session, as laid forth by the PGA, have been peaceful settlement of disputes; UN reform and revitalization; improving disaster prevention and response; and promoting sustainable development and global prosperity. The PGA made particular mention of the importance of disarmament, especially nuclear disarmament, and the key requirement of breaking the stalemate in the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament that is considered to be the sole multilateral negotiating body for disarmament. Other achievements underscored by the PGA were the actions taken on Libya, the political declaration adopted on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases, and the application by the Palestinian Authority for full membership.

In light of the conclusion of the main session of the GA, it is important to assess not only the substantive accomplishments of the body, but the role of the GA writ large. Long after the heads of state and heads of government have returned to their capitals in September, the GA must settle down to the difficult and complex work of its committees to address challenging global issues. The higher profile issues of this year’s session have surely stolen  many headlines, in particular the Palestinian membership question, and have often eclipsed some of the less controversial, albeit still extremely significant, work of the GA. The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) is still grappling with the task of breaking the stalemate in the Conference on Disarmament to begin negotiating, among other important treaties, a Fissile Cut-Off Material Treaty (FMCT); the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) must deal with challenging issues related to macroeconomic policy questions such as international trade, financing for development, poverty eradication, and human settlements; the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural) encompasses some of the most difficult questions of human rights, the advancement of women, indigenous peoples, and treatment of refugees.

As such, behind the more pronounced, headline-grabbing issues are a litany of concerns that are so complex that they appear on the GA’s agenda year after year. These issues are neither small agenda items nor easily evaluated and accomplished tasks. Nonetheless, the value of discussing these transnational issues in the only truly global forum is paramount. Equality in representation gives the GA process an innate value independent from its lack of enforcing power and cumbersome bureaucratic procedures. As previously mentioned, the GA often counts among its most impressive accomplishments ‘political declarations’ that, although they have no legally-binding provisions, carry considerable weight by symbolizing the general sense of the international community on a given global issue.

It follows, then, that while it is admirable that the program of work for the 66th session has been far-reaching, the more concrete the goals of the GA are the more easily it is to assess and ultimately evaluate the progress of the body such that improvements can be made year to year. The trade-off for universal membership, however, appears to be this concrete evaluation and enforcement power. It is also clear that any sort of ‘evaluation’ of the UN’s work, especially from the perspective of the general public, is done through a peace and security lens. Often through this lens, the deficiencies of the UN are glaring– the inability to eliminate nuclear weapons, to curb the illicit arms trade, to ensure women’s full participation in all peace policies and processes, and to provide robust early warning and diplomacy to respond to the threat of atrocity crimes. Nevertheless, these security concerns are indivisible and have implications for all of the UN’s work from human rights to development such that this narrower lens of evaluation is not so skewed as to be entirely devoid of value.

As is often argued by observers of the UN, there is currently no alternative available as a viable multilateral system for addressing international issues on a broad spectrum. Therefore, it is important to continue to work within the framework that exists, while simultaneously pushing for improvements to fill in and ultimately improve on the ‘cracks’ in the system. The hope is that the GA will continue to improve its process and make honest overtures towards addressing its very lengthy list of global concerns.

-Katherine Prizeman