3 November 2003 - Final Edition

Rhianna Tyson | Reaching Critical Will

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Many of us in the disarmament community are now wrapping up five weeks' worth of deliberations and negotiations, report drafting and position crafting, briefings and meetings and backroom haggling.

And what of it?

What will prove to be the results of the past month? How will these labors- on the part of the Bureau, delegations, and non-governmental organizations- pay off in the course of history, or, at least, throughout the next year? What concrete steps were put into place through this body, and how do we move further?

This week's Monitor, the last in a series of five, works to provide a general overview of the issues deliberated and acted upon in this 58th session. In addition to the topics normally covered in this publication, we have included a few others, such as Multilateralism and Confidence-Building Measures, the deliberations of which proved to be a deeply politicized process. (See "Multilateralism" report and"Confidence Building Measures" report.) Others, like “Nuclear Testing” and "Negative Security Assurances," have already been covered in this publication, and we urge readers to refer to the previous reports: www.reachingcriticalwill.org/political/1com/1com03/FCM/

One of the more disappointing outcomes, to be sure, was the prolonged vote taken on draft resolution L.1, on the very last day of the session. The lead sponsor of the draft resolution, Japan, worked tirelessly to amass a consensus vote on the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons (SALW), yet the diplomatic community was forced to take a vote in spite of these efforts. 167 States voted yes, nobody abstained, and just one, solitary vote was cast in opposition.

The statement given by the United States in explanation of its lone negative vote expressed disapproval for the budgetary requirements. Citing "fiduciary discipline," the United States could not approve of spending previously unbudgeted money for a working group on an international convention on tracing SALW.

Some believe that the "fiduciary discipline" reasoning is merely a cover-up for hidden agendas, or a mask on the lobbying power of pro-gun groups, which work the First Committee just as hard as the disarmament groups that bring you this publication.

Budgetary concerns and NRA lobbyists aside, something more significant developed here in New York these past few weeks. Ironically enough, one of the more decisive implications for power was demonstrated in the adoption of a resolution without a vote.

As the report on First Committee Reform discusses, the adoption without a vote of L.15 on "Enhancing the contribution of the First Committee to the maintenance of international peace and security" by no means implies that the resolution was unanimously supported. In expressions of caution toward an initiative with a dubious inference, States like Pakistan and Cuba challenged the fundamental framework of security that has become a truism, an uncontested discourse on war, peace, and security. Two years have passed since that ominous day in September, and we are beginning to witness a break in the consensus that situates that day as the beginning of a period. Pakistani Ambassador Umer doubted the "honesty" of the "lead sponsor," as efforts to implement already existing resolutions are completely absent from the draft resolution L.15. Nearly shouting in the Committee, the ambassador asked, "which of these resolutions is implemented?!" Cuba's Ambassador Lopez affirmed that nothing can "make up for the lack of political will" from the largest States.

How can measures on security be implemented, if the security framework is not universally defined? What implications does this disagreement have on future negotiations for peace? How will the world's global body meet this challenge?

In this egalitarian forum, free from the confines of archaic veto powers, critical resolutions are passed and forgotten. As Ambassador Lopez's statement attests, the ineffectiveness of these resolutions is often attributed to the lack of political will. Yet as the records of voting show, whose political will is lacking? Those States with the largest armies, the highest military expenditures, with the most dangerous and truly evil weapons in their arsenals consistently vote in opposition to the most important disarmament measures. How can we expect political will to arise from those most powerful States that uniquely benefit from the status quo? Why would they muster political will to reduce arms, when its grotesque expenditures and unprecedented arsenals are precisely one of the ways in which they rose to the top of the global totem pole of power?

The problem of implementation of resolutions, then, cannot be attributed to a "weakness" of the First Committee, of the General Assembly, or even of the entire United Nations. The perpetuation of nuclear prestige, the immoral and illicit sale of weapons, the militarization of space, the stalemate in the CD, the inefficacy of the UNDC- these problems that hold all of us in an arrested development in our evolution are not attributable to our collective weakness. Rather, as Foucault once wrote, "The paralysis of justice (is) not due so much to a weakening as to a badly regulated distribution of power, to its concentration at a number of points and to the conflicts and discontinuities that resulted."

It is precisely this vote-less adoption of L.15 that suggests the most profound outcome of this session: questioning the framework defined by the powerful, which thereby challenges the very holding of power at hand.

The new century before us is still young. Though it was ushered in with the deaths of 3,000 and wrongly avenged with thousands more, it is not too late for the twenty-first century to re-define power for the next. No longer shall power be equated with nuclear weapons and mortifying arms expenditures. No longer shall we respect those who act selfishly in the name of national interest at the cost of global security. No longer shall the rich and powerful profiteers of blood dictate policy to the people's representatives, who in turn betray those they purport to protect. Power will arise in the combined strength of multilateralism; it shall manifest in the bravery and patience that is cultivated through diplomacy and non-violent means. The world shall be defined by the majority of the world's people who all yearn to live in a prosperous peace, free from the specter of war.

"…and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares…"


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