10 October 2005 - Second Edition

Jennifer Nordstrom | Reaching Critical Will

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Although the past week has had its share of disappointments, we have been engaged in valuable discussions about First Committee revitalization. NGOs have not had an opportunity to engage in the formal debates, but have participated in side events and individual interactions with governments. The results of these interactions between NGOs and governments have been consistently positive, from informal discussions to the public panel events incorporating governments and civil society, like this week’s panel on Space Security or last week’s panel on the Working methods of the First Committee. These interactions demonstrate that collaborations between NGOs and governments can be mutually beneficial and complementary relationships, particularly when each actor plays an informed, specific and coordinated role.

The second week of the First Committee consisted of a series of thematic debates on nuclear weapons, other weapons of mass destruction, the prevention of an arms race in outer space, and conventional weapons. Each day’s session was divided into three segments: the first segment included a guest speaker with time for brief question and answer with the delegates, the second segment was allocated for Member State interventions on the topic at hand, and the third segment was reserved for Member States to introduce resolutions, which were sometimes on theme, sometimes off. This structure continued the initiative of last year’s First Committee Chair, Ambassador De Alba (Mexico), who responded to the interest in First Committee ‘revitalization’ by increasing its interactivity, shortening the General Debate, focusing on specific themes, and inviting experts to brief the delegations.

As Ambassador De Alba pointed out at a lunchtime panel hosted by The Netherlands on October 6, “the fundamental issue is not to economize time, but to obtain our objectives. More important than the efficiency is the interactivity.” (See the Disarmament Machineryreport.) In that vein, although this year’s chair, Ambassador Choi Young-jin of the Republic of Korea, has encouraged Member States to engage in question and answer with the guest speakers and in interactive discussions with each other, delegations still struggle to break the habit of delivering one speech after the other, reading from statements prepared ahead of time with little discussion or actual debate. This may be related to, as Japan acknowledged in the one interactive exchange among delegates this week (See the Small Arms and Light Weapons report), some delegations’ need to check back with capitals before speaking, or not being prepared with formal expertise on technical issues. However, as the First Committee, with its universal membership, is the international democratic deliberative body on disarmament, it is crucial for delegates to substantively engage with one another and the issues, particularly since nearly all other disarmament machinery is blocked.

This is why it was particularly disappointing that the new initiative for the First Committee to use its voting powers to create four Open-Ended Ad Hoc Working Groups consistent with the broadly-supported Five Ambassadors’ Proposal for a Conference on Disarmament (CD) program of work was not tabled this week. The co-sponsors decided to give the proposal “time to mature”, and give the CD one more year to adopt a program of work. (See Disarmament Machinery Report.)

However, Member States and Civil Society continue to think about First Committee revitalization, now with an inspiring spark of creativity. The Cardoso Report on UN-Civil Society Relations (A/58/817) recommended increased governmental interaction with NGOs as key international actors, with the UN acting as a convenor.  However, the current implementation of this recommendation continues to depend on ad hoc relationships rather than systematic inclusion. The First Committee, as a trend-setter engaged in revitalization and increasing interactivity, should consider incorporating NGO expertise in its formal agenda. NGOs have long made valuable contributions to disarmament; we have acted as experts, consultants, and advocates. We can investigate arms traders, mobilize public opinion, engage in track two diplomacy and exert pressure from below. We are your link to the people. As Secretary General Kofi Annan has said, the “United Nations once dealt only with Governments. By now we know that peace and prosperity cannot be achieved without partnerships involving Governments… and civil society.  In today’s world, we depend on each other."(1) By playing our parts together and in rhythm, consulting openly to complement our work and stay on beat, we will move towards our shared goal—disarmament—with aptitude and authority.

-Jennifer Nordstrom, Reaching Critical Will,

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