25 October 2004 - Fourth Edition

Rhianna Tyson | Reaching Critical Will

Download full PDF here

The third part of the work of the First Committee is always the most interesting. It seems that the entire staff of the DDA drops in to watch the excitement, filling up the observer seats and relegating some members of larger delegations to the gallery. Permanent Representatives, too, whose counselors have been ably handling the previous two sections (that of general and thematic debate, respectively), come to observe the voting portion of the Committee’s work. Even past and future Chairmen of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty conferences have been seen lurking near Conference Room 2, to check out if, and how, the votes cast this year will differ from years past, and to see how, and if, these votes will have implications for the NPT Review Conference.

Some of the NGOs like the voting portion of the Committee for other reasons as well. After spending three weeks listening to predictable statements covering a slew of important disarmament issues, the explanations of votes (EoVs) given before and after action is taken provide civil society with a range of opinions, positions and qualms to which we normally are not privy. We hear impassioned remarks that shed a bit of light on the closed door informal negotiations, and watch the glorious light shows splash up on the voting board before us, illuminating alliances, blocs, or, at times, breakages from old alliances on draft resolutions that matter much. (See New Agendareport.)

The Committee, or rather, the diplomats that comprise it, also display a bit of levity and human emotion not usually seen in the grand conference rooms of the United Nations. Delegates feel free to voice confusion over procedure, deliver extemporaneous jokes, or express sincere frustration- be it with a draft resolution, its co-sponsors, or the incessant chattering that takes place, even while colleagues deliver their much-deliberated EoVs.

This week’s reports concentrate solely on the votes that were taken and, when able to, the statements that explain the votes cast by various States. We once again implore all delegations to provide us with the texts of their EoVs, which not only enhance the caliber of our reports, but also demonstrates a commitment to the transparency, and enhanced working methods, of the Committee and the United Nations as a whole.

The challenges facing our international security regime are complex and interrelated in their nature, and States often find it difficult to break out of their old modes of thinking and operating in order to make substantive progress on these new threats and challenges. The NGOs contributing to the Monitor, too, are at times equally confined by age-worn compartmentalized ways of thinking.

Thus, some of the resolutions voted upon this week do not fit neatly into the categories of themes that we etched out for this publication. Resolutions such as L.2/Rev.1, which addresses “Developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security,” are not discussed in the Monitor, despite their pertinence and importance to global security. Draft resolution L.2, sponsored by the Russian Federation, was adopted this week without a vote.

Likewise, draft resolution L.10 on the “Observance of environmental norms in the drafting and implementation of agreements on disarmament and arms control” is not discussed in any of the topics below. Malaysia’s draft text was overwhelmingly adopted by a 165-1 vote, with 3 States abstaining. The United States, in explanation of its solitary vote against the draft, noted that it remains “unconvinced (that) this resolution is relevant to the First Committee.” US Ambassador Jackie Sanders also noted that “concern for the environment should not overburden” already complex arms control and disarmament agreements. Furthermore, the US continued, such complex agreements should not always be an issue for the United Nations, and should be left, rather, to the relevant States.

Another orphaned draft resolution, L.11, on “Promotion of multilateralism in the area of disarmament and nonproliferation” was alsoadopted this week, with 109 votes cast in favor, 9 opposed, and 49 abstentions. The EU, reiterating their position last year, remained dissatisfied with the failure of L.11 to "give sufficient credit" to unilateral and bilateral actions. Canada, speaking on behalf Australia and New Zealand, voiced "problems with the tone of parts of the resolution," and asserted that, "(m)ultilateralism is indeed a core principle in our work. It is not, though, the core principle, in the language of OP 1, implying that it is the only fundamental means."

Lastly, draft resolution L.32 on the “role of science and technology in the context of international security and disarmament”, was adopted this week, with 101 votes in favor, 49 opposed, and 17 abstentions.

Other topics, while usually finding a home in the Monitor, will not be featured in this week’s edition, such as First Committee Reform, Chemical and Biological Weapons and Conventional Weapons, as the votes on the relevant resolutions have not yet been taken.

Governments are often criticized- both by civil society as well as by elements within the government- for lingering too long in a modus operandi that ceased to be relevant long ago. NGOs, which ourselves should try harder at new and improved ways of thinking and working, should be consistently advocating for a different approach to international relations, especially when the current system is as deadlocked and unproductive as it is. As a first step, perhaps all of us should be employing, on a daily basis, the kind of humanity- with all of its jokes, frustrations and human emotions- that we saw this week at the Committee.

After all, as Albert Einstein, the father of nuclear fundamentals once said, “The splitting of the atom has changed everything save our mode of thinking and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe… We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

- Rhianna Tyson, 
Reaching Critical Will

[PDF] ()