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24 October 2011 - Third Edition

Editorial: Time to act on commitments to multilateralism
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF


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As the time gets closer to taking action on draft resolutions, First Committee delegates will soon have an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to advancing multilateral disarmament. It is clear through the statements delivered over the past three weeks and the character of most of the resolutions tabled that the vast majority of member states, at least in words, support multilateralism. Any hesitancy to adopt the resolutions seeking to advance multilateral disarmament negotiations will stand in stark contrast to these stated commitments.

If one looks, for example, at the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)’s annual resolution “Promotion of multilateralism in the area of disarmament and non-proliferation,” one finds a call upon all states to “renew and fulfil their individual and collective commitments to multilateral cooperation as an important means of pursuing and achieving their common objectives in the area of disarmament and non-proliferation.”

The draft expresses the conviction that arms control and disarmament are “the concern of all countries in the world, which are affected in one way or another by these problems and, therefore, should have the possibility to participate in the negotiations that arise to tackle them.” It bears in mind the existence of many agreements that have resulted from “non-discriminatory and transparent multilateral negotiations with the participation of a large number of countries, regardless of their size and power,” and recognizes that the proliferation and development of weapons of mass destruction “are among the most immediate threats to international peace and security which need to be dealt with, with the highest priority.”

The draft resolution put forward by Austria, Mexico, and Norway this year (A/C.1/66/L.21) meets these demands. It resolves that, if the CD does not adopt a programme of work in its 2012 session, the General Assembly could establish open-ended working groups to begin substantive work on the core issues on the CD’s agenda. This would allow for broader multilateral engagement than the CD currently permits, with its 65 members representing only one-third of UN member states. It would ensure the inclusion of any country that wished to participate, “regardless of size and power” and regardless of whether or not they possess weapons of mass destruction. It also ensures the highest priority for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, as well as transparency. The draft resolution tabled by the Netherlands, South Africa, and Switzerland (A/C.1/66/L.39) also meets the standards for multilateralism set forth in the NAM resolution, as it encourages the exploration and consolidation of proposals from all member states over the next year. Thus, one would expect that delegations that do not oppose the resolution on multilateralism should have no problem voting in favour of both L.21 and L.39 this year.

The stalemate in the CD is not the only critical multilateral issue on the disarmament agenda, however. As was made clear during the conventional weapons cluster last week, the ongoing negotiation of a cluster munitions protocol in the context of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) is cause for grave concern for the international community. As Norway’s delegation argued last week, some states are trying “to move backwards and to regress existing standards” and “to take steps that would diminish the protection already afforded to civilians” through the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM). Norway’s Ambassador Terje Hague argued that it is unacceptable to adopt a new protocol on cluster munitions in the CCW that does not provided added value in terms of humanitarian considerations. During the general date, Mr. Füllemann of the International Committee of the Red Cross emphasized that this would be the first time that states would be adopting weaker protections for civilians in an international humanitarian law (IHL) treaty than those contained in a treaty already in force.

The CCM is widely considered a multilateral victory. Its negotiation met the standards called for in the NAM resolution—they included the participation of many states, large or small, possessors and non-possessors; they were also completely transparent. 111 states have signed, ratified, or acceded to the CCM and have already begun engaging in clearance and victim assistance programmes. Thus, attempting to negotiate a protocol that would undermine the CCM is in complete contradiction to states’ professed commitment to multilateralism (let alone IHL), for it undermines the hard work and commitment of 111 states (and counting).

Multilateralism is at the core of the UN’s methods and ethic of work. As both nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states have pointed out repeatedly, disarmament and non-proliferation are not just the responsibility of those states that possess the weapons. They are the concern of the entire international community. Thus ensuring that each member state has the opportunity to participate in negotiations to develop collective security arrangements that enhance human security is imperative. This First Committee has the opportunity to make inroads to beginning substantive work on the issues the international community has deemed to be of the highest priority and the upcoming CCW Review Conference has the opportunity to preserve and support the successful product of multilateral negotiations that have already taken place. We sincerely hope these opportunities will not be squandered.

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