29 October 2007 - Final Edition

Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will

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In his closing remarks on 2 November, First Committee Chairperson Paul Badji outlined the “productivity” of the 2007 session: more than 315 statements delivered and 52 draft texts adopted. If productivity can be measured by volume of paper circulated, then First Committee was extremely successful. If, however, we turn to Badji's question of whether or not First Committee “advanced the cause of disarmament and international security,” the 2007 session could best be characterized as underwhelming.

Despite the introduction and adoption of new draft resolutions on depleted uranium and de-alerting, Sierra Leone's proposal for First Committee to include human security as a topic in its Thematic Debate next year, and frequent panels of experts, First Committee largely consisted of familiar remarks interspersed with a few severe discrepancies. Most notable of these was the United States' statement regarding its nuclear posture, which contained several misleading or incorrect claims. It was met with rebuttals by prominent members of civil society, including Bruce Blair of the World Security Institute and Hans M. Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, and was the subject of a critical article appearing in the Washington Post. The US statement was a response to the tabling of draft resolution A/C.1/62/L.29 on de-alerting, which France, the United Kingdom, and the US voted against. The US delegation rejected the assertion that their nuclear weapons are on “launch on warning status” or “hair-trigger alert,” employing linguistics as cover, yet subsequently argued that as long as nuclear weapons exist, it is necessary to keep "some portion of our forces at some level of alert." Perhaps in an attempt to be less conspicuously contradictory, the UK, whose single remaining nuclear weapon system is kept on several day's notice-to-fire, simply argued that de-alerting is not a “useful priority”.

Disagreements abounded at First Committee, with the US and Pakistan, both nuclear weapon possessors, asserting supposedly different agendas for moving forward with disarmament and non-proliferation. Pakistan's “new global consensus on disarmament and non-proliferation,” outlined in its non-paper and statements, emphasizes balanced reductions of military forces and weapons “based on the principle of undiminished security of the parties with a view to promoting or enhancing stability at a lower military level, taking into account the need of all States to protect their security.” Meanwhile, the US called for “a path to complete nuclear disarmament that avoids creating new instabilities potentially damaging to global security.” The similarities in goal are apparent, though while Pakistan's delegation has set out suggestions for how to accomplish the task, the US has decided it is no longer useful to focus on the “frequently debated 'how-to-do-it' questions of controlling fissile materials, verifying reductions, or physically eliminating weapon systems,” and would prefer to analyze “the 'why-to-do-it' questions of how to create the underlying conditions that would make disarmament a reasonable policy choice.” Laying aside the glaring oversight that “why-to-do-it questions” in themselves contain “how-to-do-it questions,” it is remarkable that the US has clearly stated it believes that discussing steps to disarmament, including elimination and verification of weapon systems, are no longer valuable or relevant. The US assertion that “easing tensions and strengthening trust” are vital to the elimination of nuclear weapons, is out of step with the vast majority of the international community that argues easing tensions and strengthening trust requires concrete steps towards disarmament.

Productivity necessitates constructive engagement with others, and the promotion of ideas that reflect normative values and aspirations. While characterizing members of civil society as “sophists” who only “care about [disarmament] as an instrument of political coup-counting against the nuclear weapon states, rather than as a means of accomplishing anything constructive,” the US delegation neglects to acknowledge that while the intergovernmental community struggles to adopt agendas, civil society has been initiating and supporting many paths towards a new collective security environment where the interests of citizens and states are synonymous, and where weapons are obsolete. We just happen to believe that in order to get somewhere, you have to actually take steps, and not simply ridicule those you don't want to take.

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