Tag Archives: UNGA

The United Nations’ Annual Adventure

29 Sep

It is the Sunday after a long week of Heads of State, Foreign Ministers and a wide variety of other stakeholders all seeking to keep the UN on a positive, hopeful, practical trajectory, despite a myriad of global crises.

Side events on issues from the situation in Central African Republic to the abolition of child marriages occupied the attention of diplomats and select non-governmental representatives.   And then there was a most dramatic climate march as well as a media worthy presentation by Emma Watson on the need to encourage more male ‘champions’ for women’s rights.

The opening of the General Assembly corresponded with the re-opening of the General Assembly building.   While we have come to appreciate the North Lawn Building greatly, most participants in last week’s events seemed to enjoy the upgraded amenities of the new GA space, not to mention the reopening of the basement café. Guards and other UN personnel generally did a fine job of getting people in and out of meeting rooms and on and off crowded elevators.

It is not yet apparent how many compelling, new commitments were made this week by leaders.  There were, of course, some interesting ideas floated by civil society and governments – ideas that in our view still require more urgent scrutiny to minimize the possibility of unintended consequences.  We have already written about our cautions elsewhere on this blog with regard to both ‘veto restraint’ and the inclusion of a ‘peace objective’ within the post-2015 development goals.

There were many other things that happened this week that piqued our interest and even conveyed glimmers of hope that we can actually move confidently and urgently towards a holistic engagement of strategies to address some stubborn global emergencies.

  • At an event focused on nuclear disarmament, Brazil, Costa Rica and others properly highlighted the need for more investment in Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zones. At the same time, Chile called for the “delegitimizing” of nuclear weapons doctrines.
  • At another event focused on the death penalty, we were encouraged that so few states sought to defend their use of capital punishment. The President of Switzerland and Prime Minister of Italy made strong and convincing presentations exposing the fallacies of the death penalty.  At this same meeting, the office of the new High Commissioner for Human Rights launched the fine resource, “Moving away from the Death Penalty.”
  • In the Security Council, a US-led, co-sponsored resolution on foreign fighters passed unanimously, but Argentina’s president also noted the increasingly complex nature of terrorism and wondered aloud whether the Council’s responses are keeping pace.
  • In another Council meeting focused on ISIS, Luxembourg joined with other states in reminding members that (France’s reference to the ‘throat cutters’ notwithstanding) we are not going to solve deeper problems in the region through the application of threatening rhetoric and military power. In a similar vein, Rwanda described the ‘unbearable consequences’ that occur when the Council fails to use all available tools to maintain peace and security.
  • At an event on the role of education in the prevention of genocide, states noted the need to educate adults as well as children about the dangers of hate speech and other incitements to violence. Spain in particular spoke about the need to address conflict at its roots and noted its own, sustained advocacy work on behalf of more mediation resources.  For his part, USG Adama Dieng underscored the urgent responsibility to prevent incitement rather than waiting to address its consequences after the fact.
  • At a breakfast discussion focused on Women and Land, Ethiopia noted that land rights are tied to other rights and urged adoption of a holistic gender framework.  This sentiment was echoed by UN Women and other states in attendance.  It was also affirmed that land ownership by women lifts their general status in a variety of helpful ways.
  • At a ministerial event on Peace and Capable Institutions hosted by G7+ states, South Sudan highlighted the profound negative impacts of armed violence on fulfillment of development objectives, but wondered aloud about the wisdom of having a stand-alone ‘peace goal’ in the SDGs rather than, as others including the Prime Minister of Timor-Leste noted, a broader, more inclusive recognition in all SDGs of the importance of peaceful societies to development.
  • At a Sustainable Land Management event, New Zealand and others highlighted the degree to which restoration of damaged land constitutes a viable peace and security concern. During the same discussion, Germany highlighted some hopeful restoration initiatives while depicting hunger as one of the great “scandals” of our time.

There was so much more of note both within and beyond our hearing, of course: more hopeful statements, more missed opportunities, more rhetoric divorced from viable implementation strategies, more reminders of the connected, multi-dimensional crises that define our time.

All of this made up the past week at the UN, a highly political space that is often most effective at creating global norms to support change enacted at national and local levels.  It is at times like this when the need to simultaneously honor and demystify UN processes becomes apparent.  There are so many critical issues, including climate change, child soldiers and gender violence, that would have far less traction globally were it not for the UN’s sustained involvement.  On the other hand, the ‘talk shop’ reputation of the UN is only enhanced as a week’s worth of traffic-clogging motorcades and massive security bills result in modest outcomes as likely to disappoint public hopes as to inspire them.

As the barricades come down, the working-level diplomats resume their pride of place at UN headquarters.   Now is the time to take the most compelling suggestions from this week and turn them into strong resolutions that can leverage meaningful change.  We’ll be there to observe and reflect.

Dr. Robert Zuber

UN Panel Discussion Highlights Rule of Law Obligations

6 Mar

The Rule of Law thematic has been on the UN’s agenda frequently this winter with open debates and panel discussions taking place across complementary processes. From the post-2015 development agenda to the work of peacekeeping missions in conflict and post-conflict settings, it seems that there is ample space and opportunity for this issue to be integrated in many important security, human rights and development discussions.

Following up to the Declaration of the High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Rule of Law at the National and International Levels, a panel discussion was held on 27 February 2014 focusing on rule of law, peace and security, human rights and development. The Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson provided the introductory remarks and moderated the discussion. In his remarks, he highlighted that “[t]he rule of law, based on human rights, underpins peace and security.” Reflecting on the rule of law at the international level, he highlighted the role of the UN Charter and peaceful settlement of disputes while at the national level, justice and law are important in preventing conflict and mitigating grievances accordingly. Rule of law also makes significant contributions in fostering and promoting economic growth and building strong institutions which are integral to sustainable development and to the well-functioning of societies.

Specifically focusing on rule of law and human rights, Ms. Louise Arbour, President of the International Crisis Group, made the case for how rule of law and human rights are not interlinked because they are the same. Mr. Muna Ndulo, Professor of Law at Cornell University raised important questions about the conditions necessary for the rule of law to become a reality (in a peace and security context) and how its implementation can be monitored, including efficiency of services and accountability systems.

Speaking in her capacity as Director-General of the IDLO, Ms. Irene Khan iterated that the links between rule of law and development are mutually reinforcing. It is not enough for laws to be adopted, but they have to be properly enforced because there is risk that both laws and legal institutions can be mismanaged. Thus, it is hard to separate rule of law from development because it provides the basis for empowerment, eradicating poverty, and equitable access to services and resources.

During the discussion, many member states raised thought-provoking questions, including complying with the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice as well as the need for judicial review of the Security Council decisions. Moreover, further to the role of the Security Council, questions were raised as to what further steps can be taken to promote equal and effective implementation of all Security Council resolutions, including the peaceful settlement of disputes. Finally, questions arose about what to do to ensure that there is no duplication of efforts, between the UN and member states on addressing some of these issues. Emphasis was placed on national ownership, national sovereignty and ensuring that the concepts that are promoted by the UN, including in peacekeeping missions, are agreed on by member states and are based on practical situations.

The aforementioned discussions are welcomed both in increasing visibility around this issue but also in promoting rule of law as an integral part of good governance and functioning societies. At the same time, more attention could be given to identify how to increase awareness over this issue at the national and international level; and how to promote strong rule of law at the international level while fully respecting national sovereignty. These are some, among a plethora of similar questions that deserve more careful analysis, in hopes of fully integrating this concept among complementary agendas and promoting fair, safe and just societies.

Preparations are currently underway to shape the high level meeting this summer discussing Contributions of Human Rights and the Rule of Law  in the post‐2015 Development Agenda. Given the significance that was highlighted in this meeting regarding the role of rule of law in the development processes, perhaps there will be scope in the upcoming high level to build on current discussions to contemplate how the UN and member states can join efforts in strengthening rule of law at the national and international levels so as to promote the post-2015 development goals, from a human-rights centric approach.

Global Action is committed to following the development of this thematic in complementary and cross-cutting agendas very closely, especially as it pertains to peace and security which is integral to our mandate. Further inquiries and discussions about this matter are welcomed.

–          Melina Lito, Legal Adviser on UN Affairs, Global Action, melina.gapw@gmail.com

FES’s Fall Academy Takes on Disarmament Issues

14 Nov

Editor’s Note:  The following was presented on a panel organized by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung as part of their excellent, annual Fall Academy.

I have been asked this year by Volker Lehman of FES to do something different than in years past, not to speak so much about the NGO community at the UN — about which I am not always a huge fan – but to provide a critical perspective on the work of disarmament led by folks such as Fikry Cassidy of Indonesia and Thomas Markram, of UN Disarmament Affairs , two people I have known for some time and respect greatly.

Being critical, of course, does not mean being negative.   We’ve certainly butted heads in the past with a number of delegations and with disarmament affairs, and that isn’t likely to change.   We take peace and security challenges seriously; we know many people worldwide who have suffered devastating consequences when those challenges are not taken seriously enough. We make no apologies for insisting – including insisting of ourselves – that these challenges are taken up with as much serious and wise purpose as possible.

That said, most of our relationships with governments here in New York and with Secretariat officials, are quite positive.   We deeply value what they do.   Most diplomats work very hard,  harder on average than many of the NGOs trying to sell them on one policy or another.   We respect and honor their commitment, even when we differ on the paths chosen or on the assessment of our results.

We (GAPW) are an office completely independent of government and UN money.   We give the best advice we can give, we do it privately whenever possible, and we blend advice with concern about the lives people here are living, the personal sacrifices they often make to be here.   Sometimes our ideas are good; sometimes they are just plain nonsense.   But they are as clear, thoughtful and attentive as we can make them.   We know that lives are at stake in the decisions made at headquarters.  We also recognize that we don’t get a vote.   We can help make better decisions, but we don’t make decisions ourselves.

There are three core values that govern our security-related work.   First is the recognition that, as UN-based NGOs, we represent a mere sliver of the global ideas and perspectives that need to find a place at the policy table.  Despite the inferences of too many of my NGO colleagues, this is not about us.  We are not gatekeepers.  As a group of largely white, English speaking offices which are often much too cozy with our government benefactors, we are surely the least diverse pillar of the UN system. There are many governments that rarely if ever see familiar national or ethnic faces at the back of conference rooms.   We can talk more collectively about why that is so.  But believe me, diplomats notice.  And issues like disarmament are impacted by a lack of diverse policy perspectives.

Second, we must recognize that the UN system is fundamentally imbalanced, that the playing field is heavily tilted –even in the Security Council — and that states in control of the game have largely mastered the skill of coercive management out of the spotlight.   Why we value the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) so much, even when we are occasionally  at cross purposes on policy, is that the NAM represents a key, core challenge to the policy inequalities of this system, the degree to which all states at headquarters really don’t play by the same rules.   The implications of this disparity come up in disarmament discussions all the time, as states plead for consistency in application, transparency in motivation, and an even-handed assessment of the implications and power imbalances that will very possibly accrue from our implementation of negotiated agreements.

Third, we recognize the degree to which none of the key weapons-related issues impacting the UN system is likely to be solved until and unless all of the relevant stakeholders are engaged.  For us, that means looking to the many complementary issues and offices that help to define our security commitments. For instance, Illicit small arms fuel violence against women, impede development, keep children at home instead of at school, dampen prospects for the prevention of mass atrocity violence, negatively impact the health of state security sectors, and create cultures of suspicion that ultimately impact other negotiations, such as efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons, efforts which we all agree must remain at the top of the UNs agenda.

A word on the Arms Trade Treaty, which was never conceived as a disarmament treaty per se and on which we worked very hard alongside many diplomats and a couple of the NGOs that considered thoughtfulness a more helpful contribution to Treaty negotiations than cheerleading   There is, all the hype notwithstanding, little reason to believe that this Treaty will result in any significant diminution of arms manufacturing or trade.   The gushing references to the ATT by so many First Committee diplomats is understandable given the success of these negotiations amidst UN disarmament mechanisms that continue to be frozen or rendered virtually irrelevant.   But as with the rest of life, this is a ‘be careful what you wish for’ moment for the UN.  We have a positive outcome over which we all lost lots of sleep.   But it is not a great treaty by UN standards, it does not effectively balance rights and obligations of manufacturers and recipients, it will be challenging to change provisions that turn out to be ineffective once the treaty comes into force, its implications for disarmament are unclear at best, and the opportunity costs of this treaty have been high in terms of energy expended and trust invested.     There is much heavy lifting still to do which will require much sober resolve.  Cheerleading just won’t cut it.

To conclude, we fully acknowledge the right of sovereign states to pursue their own security needs, but our goal is directly tied to the Charter idea of security at the least possible levels of armament.  To achieve this goal, disarmament itself must remain at the forefront of our common policy agenda.  The UN has many gaps in effectiveness to be addressed, and weapons have for too long been the vehicles through which states have pursued both domestic and cross-border interests.  We are convinced that these gaps can be filled, the playing field can be leveled, and thus states will find more and more reasons to embrace collective security with the same fervor that they now embrace its national equivalents.  For as long as our office exists, these are the goals and the hopes that will guide our activities and recommendations.

Dr. Robert Zuber

Time Management: The 2013 RtoP Debate

13 Sep

A less than full Trusteeship Council was the setting for the fourth General Assembly debate on the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) norm held on September 11.This was the first debate featuring Dr. Jennifer Welsh, the new UN special representative on the responsibility to protect.   Following an opening panel that included remarks from Dr. Welsh, over 60 government statements were offered, most of them positive and all moderated by Adama Dieng, UN special representative for the prevention of genocide.

The debate this year seemed to be, on content alone, preferable to previous iterations.  While delegations continue to raise reservations regarding several aspects of the norm —  a number of which we feel warrant more respectful attention from the RtoP community — delegations also demonstrated greater skill in articulating the nuances of the norm as it has evolved under the guidance of the ‘Joint Office’ on the prevention of genocide and the responsibility to protect and through dialogue with the five reports on RtoP issued by the Secretary General.

Nevertheless, the debate generated surprisingly little controversy or even energy, especially given what has been going on in the world in recent weeks with Syria.  Reactions to the efforts of Mr. Dieng to ‘keep time’ in a packed agenda were significantly more visible than reactions to delegate statements. Our interpretation is that this is not an indictment of the issue and its importance, but rather a reflection on the context for this debate within the UN system.  This context include a number of competitive meetings on September 11 that forced many delegations to spread their involvements thin; renewed energy and excitement over prospects for a new and more robust commitment to post-2015 development goals; even a recognition of the long shadow cast by the Council and its increasingly consolidated power over the specifics of any RtoP response.  Indeed, if there are no clear pathways to the effective preventive response that many delegations called for, to the degree that available responses to atrocity crime threats are in the hands of unaccountable institutional partners such as the Council, this creates disincentives to enthusiastic engagement with the norm.  And there remains a considerable lack of clarity regarding what a commitment to prevention might practically entail, the fitness of the full UN system to engage such a commitment, and the sufficiency of tools and capacities needed to move beyond the politics of atrocity crime response towards a cleaner, more transparent and more principled engagement with these threats.

Under Secretary General Jan Eliasson noted during his own remarks that no one can do everything but everyone can do something.   Until we are able to define what those options for doing something actually are (especially for civil society), and more importantly how those discrete responses impact other facets of the UN’s ongoing security commitments, we will continue to leave assets on the table that we desperately need engaged in the preventive task.   The enduring questions for us relate to how diplomats are to keep track of all of the unanswered questions and unanticipated consequences that characterize RtoP in its current iteration and how we are going to find the right blend of wisdom, skills and capacities to meet new challenges.

Our strong conviction remains that RtoP has outgrown its current expressive formats.   We prefer a more expansive diplomatic engagement with the norm, an engagement that would allow for real dialogue, fewer prepared statements, more resolutions outlining actionable commitments and less need for anyone to be in the unenviable role of cutting off speakers who are making points that the system as a whole needs to consider more fully and under less time pressure.

Any process that allows delegations merely precious minutes to deliver an address on an issue that is both controversial and essential to the work of the United Nations must yield to a process that is more in keeping with the way in which other GA-tethered processes — from small arms to development goals — find expression.   Mr. Dieng, whom we highly regard, should not be in the position of playing time keeper with delegations that, at least for now, have few opportunities to weigh in thoughtfully on the promises of the norm and its still-limited implementation options.

This problem should not be addressed, as some are suggesting, simply by adding days to what is essentially a ‘general debate’ format, which in our view remains the least effective way for delegates to communicate concerns and resolve differences.  In order to facilitate more diplomatic engagement at headquarters, it is time to find ways, including through a more active partnership with the office of the new GA president, to allow this process to breathe more deeply, and especially more regularly.

For RtoP to succeed fully as a fair, viable and implementable norm, it needs more than it currently holds – more stakeholder involvement, more diverse policy voices, more actionable resolutions, more capacity assistance, more diplomatic attention to evolving dangers and their political contexts.   The debate on September 11 made clear that there is steadily growing diplomatic interest in RtoP but there remains an inadequate diplomatic culture of response, one that could help the UN system work through a myriad of political and logistical issues before the next crisis arises.  More dedicated time and space will help expand and enrich such a culture.

Diplomats at UN headquarters navigate a diverse range of issues and structural responsibilities.  RtoP is a primary focus of only a modest portion of UN missions.   We need to ensure that all diplomats have more frequent opportunities to address concerns in a good faith manner such that the 130 or so delegations that did not speak up at this year’s RtoP debate have reason and occasion to weigh in as well.

Dr Robert Zuber

Open-ended Working Group on Nuclear Disarmament Convenes in Geneva

20 May

The Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) to “Develop proposals to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations for the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons” began its first session in Geneva last week. Thus far, member states, members of civil society, and representatives of international organizations have engaged in discussions in the context of thematic panels such as “Multilateral treaty-based obligations and commitments”; “Nuclear weapon free areas”; “Other initiatives and proposals”; and “Lessons learned: Transparency, confidence-building measures and verification”. While the general tone seems to be positive inasmuch as this OEWG represents a welcome opportunity to address the substantive issues around nuclear disarmament, particularly in light of the prolonged stalemate effective across the UN disarmament machinery. Nevertheless, there remains hesitation from some member states regarding diverting attention from the Conference on Disarmament (CD), abandoning the so-called “step by step” approach, and taking any measures that might alienate the nuclear weapon states (NWS).

OEWG presentations from the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), academics such as Ward Wilson, and civil society representatives including those from Reaching Critical Will (RCW) and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) have enriched the conversation through concrete and substantive proposals and reflections on the current state of nuclear disarmament. Generally, members of civil society reiterated that maintenance of the status quo is simply unsustainable and unacceptable. Ward Wilson, author of Rethinking Nuclear Weapons, offered remarks on the “mistakes” made in understanding the utility, use, and overarching properties of nuclear weapons. In particular, Wilson underscored the myth of “deterrence” as well as the notion that nuclear weapons are anything but clumsy, immoral and dangerous. Likewise, Beatrice Fihn of RCW, a member of ICAN, reminded delegations that while the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is a “landmark” agreement representing the only binding, multilateral commitment to nuclear disarmament by the NWS, this commitment lacks a timeframe or any other concrete requirement beyond the obligation to simply “pursue negotiations.”

Issues stemming from a “Ban Treaty,” as opposed to a comprehensive treaty complete with disarmament obligations and a verification regime, were also addressed. Thomas Nash of Article 36, also a member of ICAN, outlined in more detail what a proposed “Ban Treaty” would require. Nash stated that such a treaty is envisioned by its proponents as “a step in a process—the ban would be an additional tool towards a nuclear weapons free world” noting that elimination usually follows prohibition. Furthermore, Nash identified three “framings” for a ban on nuclear weapons—fulfilling existing disarmament obligations, particularly those codified in Article VI of the NPT, building on nuclear weapon free zones, and banning all forms of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Additionally, much attention has been rightfully paid by civil society to the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and the refocusing of the disarmament debate on this humanitarian initiative that has been reinforced through joint statements at the NPT Preparatory Committee (Prep Com) in May and the UNGA First Committee last October.

While the substance of the panelists is important in its own right, the general exchange of views among member states revealed continued reluctance to fully embrace comprehensive proposals for moving forward on nuclear disarmament. Moreover, many delegations are still loath to engage in a process perceived as “alternative” to the CD. Ambassador Mehta of India, representing a nuclear weapon state outside of the NPT regime, was clear in her general statement that nuclear disarmament can only be achieved “by a step-by-step process underwritten by a universal commitment and an agreed multilateral framework that is global and non-discriminatory,” as well as reached by consensus. Likewise, Ambassador Hoffman of Germany supported the notion that “a big bang creating a world without nuclear weapons is highly unlikely” and, therefore, “building blocs” were needed to make practical progress towards this larger objective. Ambassador Hoffman went so far as to say that it is “simply not true” that the “step by step” approach has not yielded results and that the NPT, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the IAEA safeguards and Additional Protocol are examples of successful results. The delegation of Sweden agreed that the “most viable” way forward was a continuous process of adding agreements and commitments to existing ones to build a “stronger international regime.” Such a regime, the Swedish delegation argued, would require the nuclear possessor states’ participation. This is a position in stark contrast to that of ICAN and other civil society advocates who believe that a treaty negotiated by non-nuclear weapons states (NNWS) would be a ‘game changer’ regarding the legal framework governing nuclear weapons and, thus, have an impact beyond those states that would be most likely to formally adopt it in the first instance (impacting the nuclear possessor states—the NPT NWS as well as the DPRK, India, Israel, and Pakistan).

In contrast to those delegations that continue to cling to the perceived indispensability of a “step by step” approach, the delegation of Ireland strongly (and in our view rightly) spoke out against this approach in its general statement debunking the myth that the “step by step” approach is the only logical way forward. The delegation questioned the narrative of ‘sequencialism’ proposed by other states noting that such “steps” are neither identified nor clearly explained. The Irish delegation also called for an appraisal of conceptual terms during the OEWG, as well as a robust review of the practical implications of such proposals and concepts. Ultimately, unwavering commitment to a sequential approach has not, as the delegation of Germany insisted in its statement, yielded results at the level necessary for achieving genuine nuclear disarmament. More specifically, in terms of the “successes” identified by Ambassador Hoffman, there is much to be desired. The NPT’s credibility has been increasingly questioned due in large part to the failure to convene a conference on the establishment of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East as well as the lack of tangible progress with regards to Article VI obligations. The levels of frustration around the inability to fulfill the items laid out in the 2010 NPT Action Plan, most especially the 22 items that related to disarmament, are only growing (as evidenced by the decision of the Egyptian delegation to withdraw from the recent NPT Prep Com session). Furthermore, while negotiation of the CTBT is welcome, its seemingly permanent status in “entry-into-force limbo” is hardly impressive and the IAEA safeguards and Additional Protocol have a distinct non-proliferation bias.

Precisely what the OEWG will yield, beyond the resolution-mandated report that it must submit to both the upcoming session of the First Committee in the fall and to the CD, is unclear. Nevertheless, the Irish delegation was correct in stating that reiterating proposals and concepts is not enough. Rather an emphasis on “taking forward” negotiations and assessing the practical implications of approaches are vital to the success of the OEWG. If the obligation to develop proposals to “take forward” multilateral disarmament negotiations is not vigorously pursued throughout these OEWG sessions, it will be difficult to label them a success, as opposed to a lost opportunity.


–Katherine Prizeman

Conversation Starter: Civil Society Consultations

14 May

On the morning of the 14 of May at UN headquarters in New York, four panelists reflected on an important regional consultation that took place recently in Guadalajara, Mexico with the support of the Mexican government.  The Guadalajara meeting was part of a larger process designed, in part, to assess and integrate regional civil society concerns in laying out follow-up processes for the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) framework and the Rio plus 20 Conference on Sustainable Development held in June 2012.

The speakers highlighted the value of more regional engagement as a post-2015 agenda begins to take shape.   Also noted was the need for clear feedback loops that can help civil society track their impact on documents prepared by States and the UN Secretariat to help guide movement on development going forward.

In listening to the speakers, I was both grateful for this attention by UN stakeholders to the needs and wishes of civil society groups and also dismayed by what seems to be the unwillingness of speakers to publicly identify some of the enormous challenges associated with conducting a genuinely consultative process at this moment in our collective history.  There are now so many civil society groups, so little civil society consensus, and some particularly ‘muscular’ non-governmental organizations (especially in New York) that brand their work in ways that deflect as much civil society involvement as they invite.   We in New York are too often prone to gate-keeping more than assessing and promoting a wide range of voices from diverse social, geographic and economic circumstances to help address shifting circumstances. Gate keeping, perhaps more than any other NGO activity, is anathema to the kinds of consultations which the panelists envisioned.

It is probably valid to say, as one or more of the speakers mentioned, that the initial MDG process in 2000 lacked a clear consultative element.  It is also true that we were in a different period then with respect to civil society involvement.   For one thing, there are so many more of us than there used to be, a great blessing to be sure, but one which makes fair and transparent consultation difficult to implement.  What is the dividing line for involvement–   a history with the issue, connections to groups in New York, or perhaps a defined skills set related to some sustainable development priority?

There are certainly no firm criteria for participation in consultations and certainly no consensus by civil society groups regarding how development-related issues should be articulated and supported, both politically and financially.   It is wishful thinking to think that it is otherwise, and it is disappointing to hear people talk as though the key to a good consultative process is merely wanting it to be so.

Moreover, there is an issue about how civil society interventions in consultative processes should be assessed.  Is it solely about the number of times when language favorable to our own organizational mandates appears in resolutions of the General Assembly or its constitutive bodies?   Given the uneasy relationship between resolutions and practical engagements on the ground, is resolution language alone the bar that we need to be reaching for?  Are there deeper levels of engagement to which we should be pointing, engagement that continues to reach out beyond the most widely known ‘players’ to the many new leaders and organizational assets anxiously awaiting their turn?

This is not a critique of the specific panel hosted by Mexico, but rather a reflection on the degrees of difficulty that we face when we try to organize a field (civil society) that is expanding more quickly and in more diverse directions than we can map its movements.   There are many challenges and limitations in our sector that we must address, such as when we settle for new resolution language when so many in the world are clamoring for just and robust implementation of existing resolutions; or when we endorse existing ‘seating’ arrangements at a time when there are so many more chairs that need to be set up at the policy table.

It is possible to be thankful to the Mexican government and speakers that there is more consultation moving forward on development priorities, and still lament all of the ways in which civil society participation is still very much a work in progress.   While there is an abundance of responsibility to share among different stakeholders, including governments and the UN itself, much of this development-related work is the responsibility of civil society groups themselves. We need development in our sector that can complement and enrich prospects for development on the ground.

–Dr. Robert Zuber

2013 NPT PrepCom Opens in Geneva

26 Apr

The second session of the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2015 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference (RevCon) opened in Geneva this past week under the leadership of Chairman Ambassador Cornel Feruta of Romania. This PrepCom represents the approximate mid-way point between the conclusion of the 2010 Review Conference, at which the 64-point NPT Action Plan was adopted, and the next RevCon by which time the 2010 Action Plan is to be fully implemented. There is increasing anxiety with each passing year as states parties hope to build on the consensus 2010 outcome document and take concrete steps towards the full realization of the ‘grand bargain’ of the NPT, commitment from non-nuclear weapon states to not pursue nuclear weapons and the pledge by of the 5 nuclear weapon states to pursue nuclear disarmament.

The most salient issues regarding the NPT regime came to light during the general debate including the lack of progress in implementing the disarmament-related obligations in the Action Plan as well as the failure to convene a conference for the establishment of a weapons of mass destruction free zone (WMDFZ) in the Middle East during the 2012 calendar year as was mandated in the 1995 resolution on the Middle East. The 1995 Middle East resolution was an essential and integral part of the package of decisions affirmed without a vote that led to the indefinite extension of the NPT. Other issues more tangential to the Action Plan were also raised such as the recent provocations of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the recently held March 2013 conference in Oslo on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, and the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The P5 and disarmament obligations

As expected, much of the discussion of the first week focused on the obligations and special responsibilities of the NPT nuclear weapons states (NWS), also known as the ‘P5’, and the progress these states have thus far made (or not made) in anticipation of the 2014 PrepCom and 2015 RevCon during which they will have to report specifically on their disarmament-related progress. Criticism of the NWS and their lack of attention on the disarmament pillar of the NPT are well-known and levels of frustration regarding the lack of movement on multilateral nuclear disarmament are high. The delegation of Ireland noted in its statement during the ‘disarmament’ cluster, that the “persistent underachievement in progressing the global disarmament agenda is no longer acceptable.” This frustration was manifest during last year’s session of the General Assembly’s First Committee with the adoption of resolution A/C.1/67/L.31 entitled “Revitalizing the work of the Conference on Disarmament and taking forward multilateral disarmament negotiations” thus establishing an open-ended working group (OEWG) that will meet in May, June, and August of this year in Geneva for a total of fifteen days. The exact mandate of the OEWG is not yet entirely clear, but Ambassador Manuel Dengo from Costa Rica, chair of the OEWG, has made clear that the discussions will be substantive in nature, rather than focusing on procedural issues. The sessions will most likely feature panels are will not have any negotiating mandate.

The non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS), particularly the NPT states parties of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), have harshly condemned the P5 for disproportionately focusing on proliferation risks and not enough on disarmament. While the ‘P5’ has initiated a parallel process of meetings to address the disarmament-related obligations committed to in the 2010 NPT Action Plan, including the obligations related to reporting, transparency and confidence-building measures, the output from this group has been assessed as mostly underwhelming. The fourth P5 conference was held last week in Geneva under the aegis of the Russian Federation. Subsidiary working groups have been formed, for example a working group led by China on a glossary of terms. Likewise, France has taken the lead on discussions on a common approach to reporting on relevant activities across the three pillars of the Action Plan at the 2014 PrepCom and the 2015 RevCon.

The issues of transparency and reporting are of particular concern to the NPT states parties, especially the NNWS that are keen to receive more detailed information on existing stockpiles and, therefore, reduction of such stockpiles as mandated in Article VI of the NPT. Public declarations highlighting both strategic and non-strategic stockpiles are seen as an essential step in confidence-building and next steps in the disarmament process. The ten-country, cross-regional Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI), which focuses on practical non-proliferation and disarmament steps with a view towards implementing the Action Plan, proposed a standard reporting form during the 2012 PrepCom. There has yet to be a decision among the P5 on the form that reporting will take at next year’s PrepCom and the 2015 RevCon.

Nevertheless, it is still unclear if any P5 activities have contributed to building confidence among the NWS or how they will contribute to increasing levels of confidence among the non-nuclear weapon states. The hope is that these meetings will help to prepare the NWS to more comprehensively report to the upcoming PrepCom and subsequent RevCon in order to facilitate the path to global zero “in good faith,” as required in Article VI of the NPT.

The Middle East

The failure to convene a conference on the establishment of a WMDFZ in the Middle East during the 2012, or even prior to this NPT PrepCom continues to be a major source of concern, particularly for the Arab states. The NAM called upon the co-sponsors of the 1995 resolution (the UK, US, and Russia) to convene the conference as soon as possible in order to avoid “an attack on the credibility of the NPT.” During this week’s discussion, the US and Russia both addressed this issue, although from quite different perspectives. The Russian delegation was clear in its opening statement that it did not perceive the failure to convene the conference as a responsibility of the states of the region and called such an allegation “inappropriate.” Moreover, the delegation stated that Russia never in fact agreed to the postponement, but rather “would have admitted the possibility” for postponement only with explicit agreement of all states of the region and commitment to new, specific dates. The delegation also noted that “No collective decision concerning this matter had been taken by the co-sponsors.” The US delegation, however, continues to reiterate that the postponement was a joint decision that was taken as the conditions in the region are not yet “right” for the conference and it is up to all the states of the region, including Israel, to adopt a common agenda before convening the conference. The UK has not yet made such explicit statements regarding the postponement, but called for the convening of the conference “as soon as possible in 2013.”

The fear, of course, is that the more prolonged the process before beginning discussions on a WMDFZ in the Middle East, the weaker the NPT regime will become. It is a serious and valid concern that the NPT regime could be “held hostage” by those states angered by the postponement, specifically the Arab Group, who believe that such a failure to fulfill a binding commitment represents reason enough not to fulfill other NPT obligations, particularly concerning non-proliferation. Such inflammatory actions would only further increase insecurity and decrease the NPT’s legitimacy.

Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons

Delivered by the South African delegation, 77 states signed onto a statement delivered at the conclusion of the general debate underscoring the grave humanitarian consequences associated with the use of nuclear weapons. This is an initiative that was borne out of the 34-country statement delivered during last year’s session of the UNGA First Committee by the Swiss delegation. This initiative was followed-up with an international conference hosted by Norway in Oslo in March 2013 during which representatives of 127 member states were present as well as UN secretariat officials, civil society, and other humanitarian response technical experts detailing the environmental, health, and developmental impact of nuclear weapon explosions. . The humanitarian dimension of nuclear disarmament has been reinvigorated and has provided for a renewed enthusiasm for pursuing the larger objective of abolition. Several delegations, including Egypt, lamented the lack of participation by the P5 in Oslo and called upon the NWS to participate in the follow-up meeting in Mexico that is expected to take place in early 2014.

The presentations by non-governmental organizations to the delegates of the PrepCom also focused, in part, on the humanitarian consequences of a nuclear detonation. The conclusion drawn by the humanitarian response community, including the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), has been quite clear—that there is simply no way for the international community, let alone an individual governments, to adequately respond to such a crisis. Therefore, the only sensible course of action is to prevent the use of such weapons, which can only be guaranteed through their elimination.

Moving Forward

The continued stalemate in the Conference on Disarmament, the failure of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) to enter-into-force, and the inability to negotiate a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) were once again highlighted by many of the delegations during this week’s discussions. Furthermore, the issues of nuclear security and safety and the role of nuclear weapons in military and security doctrines and policies were also addressed by a broad range of delegations in formal sessions as well as during side events. While all these issues are surely important components of the drive towards global zero, perhaps the most crucial challenge to the NPT regime will be moving away from the still-lingering belief that nuclear “deterrence” represents security and that the nuclear ‘haves’ occupy a privileged position in relation to the ‘have nots.’ Nuclear disarmament diplomacy depends on realizing the ‘grand bargain’ and maintaining the balance that is provided for in the NPT. Ultimately, as noted by the US delegation in its opening statement, disarmament is not an obligation limited to the five NPT NWS. Rather, the existence of nuclear weapons is an issue that must be addressed by all member states as global security depends on their abolition.


–Katherine Prizeman