18 October 2004 - Third Edition


Rhianna Tyson | Reaching Critical Will

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Its hard to determine whose jobs are more demanding, more time-consuming, or more frustrating: those of the NGOs that spend all weekend chasing down and pulling together the statements, resolutions and notes from the past week in order to produce another edition of the Monitor, or the governmental representatives, who stay in their Missions until midnight and beyond all week long, corresponding with capitol on the latest offer of revised text, sending word on a shifted position of a key delegation on their own sponsored resolution.

It’s a tough call, and unless somebody has had the opportunity to fill both shoes at some point, there’s no way to know for sure. But what is certain is that both roles are necessary if we are to make true progress in achieving a sustainable framework of global security.

That is, after all, the purpose of the General Assembly First Committee, as we have been reminded by some over these past weeks: to express the will of the international community, to advance the cause of international peace through the adoption of resolutions, which impel such progress through the morally binding mandate with which they are endowed.

Yet, like most other international political machinery, the First Committee seems lost in inefficacy, caught up in its own identity crisis. As last week’s First Committee Reform report testified, many States seem nervous that the Committee’s mandate may be lost amidst all of the hoopla surrounding the debate on its reform. Others warn their colleagues against investing too much in ideas on reform, maintaining that no amount of revitalized working methods can supplant the need for implementation of resolutions already adopted. As Dr. Patricia Lewis of UNIDIR asserted in her remarks to the Committee on Monday, “We need to keep the deliberations of the First Committee rooted in reality and make sure that the words- so hard fought over- lead to practical action.”

It doesn’t seem, however, that “practical action” is the goal of many delegations, whose representatives, burning the midnight oil, are working ceaselessly to establish a tactical strategy for this next crucial year. States argue how best to refer to a Fissile Material Cut Off Treaty so ripe it may be rotten by the time it is harvested, debate over the dates for the United Nations Disarmament Commission, (seeDisarmament Machinery report), and struggle to find logistical and financial support for a southern-hemisphere-wide nuclear-weapon-free zone conference (see Regional report). These arguments imply that the First Committee is wrestling with tactics, rather than substance, all for the purposes of locating the best position from which to negotiate at the seventh Review Conference of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, only a few months away.

States- and NGOs- fret over the specifics of language pertaining to regional stability, the length of the New Agenda resolution or the strength of references to the IAEA or the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty. We perceive major victories or devastating defeats from the votes cast by a particular country or two, especially if their vote differs from that of the years past. Yet, as Dr. Lewis reminded us all on Monday, “(s)light shifts in positions may cause all sorts of excitement in the room, but this means absolutely nothing in the outside world to the people you are representing.”

But even if more people did fully grasp the significance of nuanced diplomatic language- one of the aims of this publication- there still remains significant work to be done in enhancing the efficacy of all of our efforts. All of these sleep-deprived nights, weekends spent in front of a laptop and hours spent poring over dozens of draft resolutions searching for meaning in the slightest change of text, will remain worthless in the shadows of nuclear weapons that continue to threaten our existence.

As the distinguished Director of UNIDIR told us, “(t)he only way the work of the First Committee could have meaning is for it once again to produce results that have an impact in the real world. It has been done in the past; it needs to do it again, and now.”

- Rhianna Tyson,
Reaching Critical Will

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