16 October 2006 - Third Edition

Jennifer Nordstrom | Reaching Critical Will

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“You have the floor Madame.”
“Thank you, Madame Chair.”

In less than ten words exchanged between two women, for the first time in First Committee history, NGOs took the floor to address the most controversial current issues with the universal disarmament consensus-creating body. While last year, NGOs presented from the side seats as experts on disarmament education, this year we addressed the Committee from the podium, testifying on issues relating to nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation and the Arms Trade Treaty.

After the speeches delivered by Merav Datan (Greenpeace International), Zia Mian (Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs, Princeton University), Rebecca Peters (International Action Network on Small Arms), and Tom Mason (World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities), there was a significant, interactive debate, signifying member states’ willingness to engage in substantive, extemporaneous discussions with civil society. Hopefully, these discussions mark the beginning of an active, inspiring and qualitatively improved relationship between NGOs and the First Committee. After all, we are, as NGO presenter Merav Datan said, “your ambassadors to civil society,” your direct link to the public that cares abut these issues, and we are an emerging middle power in the world.

Signs indicating new possibilities are here. Governmental participation has been so high that sessions are running overtime instead of ending early. Increased dialogue and activity is one step on the way to increased success. Of course, as Dr. Patricia Lewis of The UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) pointed out, activity does not necessarily equal output, especially if the activity is primarily an increase in running in place. We have to actually negotiate and compromise to find agreement and have a resultant increase in successful output.

Other speakers invited to the First Committee added value to the debates as well. As the Chair of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, Dr. Hans Blix gave a provocative and engaging presentation, to which governments enthusiastically responded. (See nuclear disarmament and verification reports) The head of the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty Organization presented to the First Committee on the morning of the North Korean nuclear test. The Chair of the Group of Governmental Experts on Verification, created by the First Committee, reported back, adding an element of accountability. Dr. Lewis gave a fascinating presentation about how disarmament negotiations are affected by “the community of practice” in which they occur and the capacity of the human brain to handle complexity.

This coming week, the First Committee will begin taking action on resolutions, exhibiting the relative success of the last three weeks of negotiations. Although the most excitement is certainly buzzing around the new Arms Trade Treaty resolution, it will also be interesting to see what happens with the Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty resolution, whether the US will again oppose the resolution on preventing an arms race in outer space, what will happen with the new resolution on confidence-building measures in outer space, and if there will be any changes in voting patterns on the nuclear disarmament resolutions.

-Jennifer Nordstrom, Reaching Critical Will

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