22 October 2007 - Third Edition

Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will

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Over the last three weeks, we have heard repeated calls for a new security environment, within which nuclear disarmament would be “possible.” We have also heard many largely rhetorical, often conflicting proposals for achieving this. Pakistan's non-paper on a new consensus for disarmament argues it should be based on “universally recognized principles of equity and non-discrimination,” and the “legitimate national security and economic interests of all States.” No longer interested in “what would have to be done to control and eliminate nuclear weapons,” the United States delegation has dismissed “laundry lists of traditional arms control steps” in favour of emphasizing “the practical challenges of making nuclear disarmament the most stabilizing, deliberate policy choice.” In statements and working papers submitted to various disarmament fora, the US argues “stricter compliance with the [NPT's] non-proliferation rules is essential” to this end. The US also cites, apparently without irony, “lessening international tension and strengthening trust between nations” as necessary precursors for disarmament. Meanwhile, nearly every state has called for increased “political will” to overcome the deadlock in disarmament machinery and to reach consensus on an agenda for disarmament.

Will is constituted by a fixed and persistent intent or purpose. It also involves choice. In her presentation on disarmament machinery, Dr. Patricia Lewis of UNIDIR quoted Arthur C. Clarke, saying, “The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.” Subsequently, a delegate from Benin suggested that delegations should strive to set aside their national priorities when they enter deliberative or negotiating fora, that they should come as agents of change whose job it is to find solutions to the problems of humankind—something they are unable to do strictly as representatives of their governments.

On 26 October, civil society for the second year in a row delivered presentations to First Committee. Five non-government organization (NGO) representatives spoke about nuclear weapons, outer space security, small arms, and the Arms Trade Treaty. (See the Outer Space, Small Arms, and ATT reports.)

Jacqueline Cabasso, Executive Director of Western States Legal Foundation, explored the concept of good faith obligation to disarm, which is embedded in Article VI of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and was unanimously affirmed by the International Court of Justice in 1996. Good faith (or lack thereof) provides a useful perspective for assessing the current impasse in disarmament and non-proliferation. She explained, “some of the legal elements of good faith [include] correspondence between word and deed; no secret reservations; openness and transparency, with a complete disclosure of material facts; and a readiness to submit one’s actions to external scrutiny. In addition, good faith requires that meaningful steps be taken towards the desired goal, with no backtracking, and within a reasonable time span [emphasis added].”

After the NGO presentations in First Committee, Chairperson Paul Badji reminded the Committee of the importance of the relationship between member states and NGOs, emphasizing the value of our presence and contributions, and pointing out that delegates themselves are members of civil society—that we are, in short, all on the same team. It does not always feel this way, however. Badji's reference to the responsibility of NGOs to present their facts accurately and fairly reminds us of the delicate balance between our integrity of belief and the pressure on us to conform ourselves to the medium in which we act. This view tends to overlook other responsibilities, such as the need for member states to, as Benin said, balance national priorities with the need for efficient progress, and for the United Nations to balance its need to maintain a fraternal atmosphere among member states while guarding against the curtain of censorship and fulfilling its obligation to its true constituents—“we the peoples.”

- Ray Acheson, Reaching Critical Will

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