15 October 2007 - Second Edition

Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will

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Last week's Thematic Debate on nuclear weapons offered a glimpse at one of the roots of the current impasse in the disarmament and non-proliferation regime: a discord of perception of what states perceive constitutes collective security—and how to attain it. Most delegations agree that multilateralism is essential, arguing, “'equal' security can only be achieved collectively, mainly through the United Nations,” (Ambassador Khan of Pakistan), and “our common disarmament efforts should not overlook the principles of multilateralism, non-discrimination, and supremacy of international laws” (Ambassador Punkrasin of Thailand).

However, stark divergences in opinion, reminiscent of the infamous dichotomy between disarmament-first and non-proliferation-first, became apparent during a panel discussion on nuclear disarmament. Jeffrey Eberhardt, US State Department, asked how the international community can achieve a global security environment that allows for nuclear disarmament, an environment that does not “require” reliance on nuclear weapons. In contrast, many delegations have asserted in their statements over the past two weeks that the first step to increasing international security is abolishing nuclear weapons. (See the report on this panel for further analysis.) These debates, while valuable in their demonstration of the difficulties delegations face when trying to reach consensus on programmes of work, are ultimately unhelpful, as they rest exclusively on narrowly defined national security priorities that are largely inflexible at the diplomatic level, with few new ideas presented to overcome the impasse.

The question of what a collective security environment constitutes, and how to build it, is extensively addressed in Nuclear Disorder or Cooperative Security, a civil society response to the WMD Commission Report. The authors assert that the concept of security needs to be reframed, “with a premium on universal human and ecological security, a return to multilateralism, and a commitment to cooperative, nonviolent means of conflict resolution.” They further argue that nuclear weapon states, particularly the US, “should make nuclear disarmament the leading edge of a global trend towards demilitarization and redirection of military expenditures to meet human and environmental needs.”

Demilitarization is the quest of most delegates and civil society representatives that attend these debates. At the end of his remarks, Ambassador Landman of the Netherlands paraphrased Victor Hugo, announcing that one day the time will come when the instruments of war, and in particular weapons of mass destruction, “will be on show in museums in the same way as today one can visit and inspect instruments of torture, fashionable in the Middle Ages and thereafter. And we would all be wondering that such weapons have existed and their use ever contemplated.”

It is this world that we “disarmament sophists” strive for in our work and lives, with reason, wisdom, and passion. One of the leaders on this path was Dr. Randall Caroline Forsberg, Executive Director of the Institute of Defense and Disarmament Studies and instrumental figure in the Nuclear Freeze movement, who consistently argued for the complete abolition of war as an aberration of humankind, and worked for a world in which weapons and war would no longer be socially-sanctioned, where they would be as obsolete and morally reprehensible as slavery.

We note with great sorrow that Dr. Forsberg passed away on 19 October after a long struggle with cancer, but we are confident that her vision and work will be carried on by those who share her belief that our better nature will prevail, and that the abolition of nuclear and conventional weapons is possible—and inevitable.

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