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27 October 2008 - Third Edition

Editorial: Force of Logic
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will


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During a panel discussion on disarmament machinery on 23 October, Christiane Johnson, Deputy Director of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), spoke of vicious and virtuous circles of the disarmament and security paradigm. Suggesting that the transition from a unipolar global system with clear geostrategic positions to a multipolar system with often divergent regional/national security concerns has contributed to the paralysis of disarmament machinery, she argued the world is now entrenched in a vicious circle characterized by loss of confidence in multilateralism, armament and non-proliferation problems, and stymied negotiations—all of which stop humankind from thriving in a peaceful, secure environment.

Speaking about the paralyzed disarmament machinery, during informal discussions on Thursday Ambassador Mackay of New Zealand noted that traditionally, negotiations on disarmament issues have been treated as “win-win” situations, from which all participants can benefit. Ambassador Salander from Sweden also cited the “win-win” philosophy as the basis for past negotiations during his address to the EastWest Institute’s “Seizing the Moment” event on 24 October. Ambassador Mackay argued, however, that increasingly for some governments, especially those “that possess some categories of weapons,” disarmament negotiations are seen as zero-sum games, wherein if they give up their weapons they lose while “others” win from these weapons being given up. He suggested that to break the vicious circle Ms. Johnson described, the international community needs to get back to the traditional approach of disarmament negotiations as win-win situations.

Win-win strategies are also known as “cooperative games,” which emphasize the importance of cooperation and over-all group success in contrast to domination and personal gain. The vast majority of delegations to the UNGA and First Committee repeatedly call for collective or cooperative security. On 20 October, Gillian Frost of the Canadian delegation urged, “The international community cannot allow divergences among our national security interests blind us to our shared collective interest.” In his comments as President of the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters, Adam Daniel Rotfeld suggested that if the international community needs to establish a “new grand bargain” in order to achieve consensus on disarmament and non-proliferation, it should be less political, more pragmatic, and more closely linked to broader security arrangements.

The call for pragmatism in disarmament is not new, but it is seemingly ignored. Many of the nuclear weapon states still cling to the concept of deterrence to rationalize their continued possession of nuclear weapons, despite overwhelming evidence that deterrence is no longer relevant in today’s world. Some of these states also argue that the “international security environment” is not “ripe” for disarmament—an argument that has persisted since 1956, when then-UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld argued, “On the one hand ... disarmament is not likely to come about in an efficient, effective way short of further improvement in the international situation. On the other hand, I do not think any single policy move will contribute more to an improvement in the international atmosphere than an agreement on even the most modest step in the direction of disarmament.”

In a statement on 21 October, Tanzania’s permanent representative declared, “The force of logic must be made to prevail over the logic of force.” We need to not just develop an alternative, de-weaponized concept of security, but also an alternative, logical concept of process and achievement, in order to overcome the illogic of force, security through military superiority, and deterrence.

Ms. Johnson of UNIDIR outlined logical ways to turn the vicious circle into a virtuous one of dialogue, negotiation, cooperation, confidence, and a degree of predictability—first and foremost by getting out of the “process dynamic” and focusing more on results. She argued, those working on disarmament should not just note that they took certain actions but should be able to point to the real impact of those actions, by setting objectives and indicators of success. This, she insisted, would allow governments to make better the use of the machinery and to honour their commitments to their citizens for both defence and human security. The objectives and indicators of success have been identified time again. They are laid out in the thirteen practical steps, the Blix Commission report, and UNGA resolutions, and have been promoted by a number of groups and initiatives, both governmental and non-governmental. For the international community to ensure peace and security, the logic of cooperative strategies with results-based objectives must overcome the current logic of force and domination.

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