28 April 2008, No. 1

Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will

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Last week at the United Nations Disarmament Commission, delegates failed to agree on recommendations for either of the Commission's agenda items, unable to compromise on even the lowest-common denominator documents. A month ago, the Conference on Disarmament closed the first part of its 2008 session without adopting a programme of work. Last year, the first session of the PrepCom nearly collapsed over the agenda. All of these failures and disappointments are seeded in the world outside of multilateral diplomatic fora—the world of politics and policies, global corporate capitalism, mass media, occupations and interventions, wars. The world where decisions are made and actions taken that affect everything that happens here, that limit the possibility of progress by constantly reinforcing the status quo.

Dr. Patricia Lewis of UNIDIR explained to the First Committee in October that our disarmament machinery is a complex system: it is composed of a multiplicity of fora, which are composed of multiple elements—treaties, negotiating and deliberative bodies, international organizations—each of which in turn are composed of issues, methods, and actors. All these components of the system interact with each other and with components of broader systems of domestic politics and international relations. Exchanges between diplomats at the PrepCom are not simply a product of their experiences in the Assembly Hall. But as Dr. Lewis explained, small changes in environment, such as the introduction of new methods of work or external events, can affect the entire system.

Creative, responsive, and adaptive structures are needed in order to move forward. Cooperation and community are essential—progress toward disarmament, peace, security, and environmental sustainability requires constructive engagement with others, the development and maintenance of collective and critical consciousness, and the determination—and capacity—to resist the status quo and to create and sustain an alternative.

While PrepComs and other elements of our existing disarmament machinery do not provide the best opportunities for the kind of community- and capacity-building we need and while interactions between and among delegates and NGO representatives at these conferences can be stagnant and repetitive, we should work to build the structures we need wherever we can and resist the status quo whenever we can. We can be creative—the process of banning cluster munitions, which was removed from an existing structure that was not fulfilling its potential, is going strong and is expected to produce a treaty by the end of 2008. We can lay the seeds for the future we want by making our vision clear and loud. We can emphasize to governments that we want a stronger, non-discriminatory NPT, by laying out steps and strategies for them to follow and supporting delegations' working papers that make suggestions to this end.

Civil society representatives have come to this PrepCom to deliver critiques, discuss ideas, and circulate proposals. Side events have been scheduled throughout the PrepCom on topics ranging from a nuclear weapons convention, a nuclear free Middle East, a fissile materials treaty, good faith and international law, the operational status of nuclear weapons, environmental aspects of nuclear power, and much more. See page 8 of this News in Review for a listing of today's events and visit www.reachingcriticalwill.org for events throughout the conference.

Members of the NGO community have also prepared reports and publications for this PrepCom to provide analysis and information and give good examples of what substantive work looks like. Project Ploughshares has prepared a review of NPT reporting: “Building a Culture of Accountability: States Parties Reporting to the NPT Review Process.” Staff from the Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy and Reaching Critical Will will be previewing the revitalized Arms Control Reporter, a reference journal that covers international efforts to limit all types of weapons, including nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and their delivery systems; major conventional weapons; small arms and light weapons; cluster munitions; and landmines—more information is available at www.armscontrolreporter.org. Ban All Nukes generation (BANg), INESAP, and Darmstadt University of Technology will be holding a simulation game on Saturday, 3 May, when 40–50 youth and students will negotiate a nuclear weapons convention.

We encourage delegates to consider these analyses, to engage with civil society on our ideas and suggestions, to attend our events, ask questions, and find the common ground necessary to carry these initiatives for a nuclear weapon free world forward. We encourage members of civil society to engage your governments, to give their support for what is being done and ask for what is not—and more importantly, to engage with each other: with your local representatives, with your community groups, your schools, your churches, your media. The goals of the NPT cannot be achieved without a collective and critical consciousness, which can only be developed by people working, talking, resisting, and organizing everywhere.

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