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2014 No. 3

Editorial: The courage to
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF


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At the end of her general debate statement, Argentina’s representative expressed hope that at the conclusion of First Committee we can quote Bob Marley’s refrain that “everything’s gonna be alright”.

Does everything seem alright inside the conference room? We are more or less on schedule, a rarity for First Committee. But is that really the best we can say about this forum after all these years? Most statements have reflected established positions and perspectives, though a few have sought to raise new concerns or offer innovative solutions. In the meantime, delegations are seeking co-sponsors and support for their resolutions—but do these texts advance the issues? Will they have practical implications for the “real world”?

And how about the “real world”—does everything seem alright outside the conference room? There is ongoing human suffering from the use of small arms, explosive weapons, armed drones, depleted uranium, and more. There is ongoing modernisation and large scale investments in nuclear weapons and related infrastructure. There are ongoing challenges regarding the implementation of arms control and disarmament instruments across sectors.

But neither the struggle to advance issues within the conference room nor the struggle to end violence without mean that everything is lost. We have the opportunity to address these challenges. We just need to have the courage and the confidence to do so.

Signs of this courage and confidence are visible at First Committee.

We have seen courageous efforts by the delegation of Trinidad and Tobago in working with other dedicated states to promote a strengthened resolution on women, disarmament, non-proliferation, and arms control. The updated text includes language reflecting the women, peace, and security agenda; encouraging action to prevent arms transfers that could be used to facilitate gender-based violence, including through implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty; and encouraging better understandings of the impacts of armed violence and weapons on women and girls. These are meaningful changes to the text that could facilitate more effective action on preventing gender-based violence and addressing the needs of all people in situations of armed conflict and armed violence.

Delivering a bold statement for the first time in many years, the Swedish delegation announced that it supports the joint statement to be delivered by New Zealand on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. Ambassador Mårten Grunditz argued that the continued existence of nuclear weapons contravenes the development of an international framework that aims to ensure the safety and security of all. Nuclear weapons “pose an inherent risk to the continuation of human life on the planet—a risk over which the majority has no say,” he noted, welcoming the upcoming conference in Vienna.

This is why more than 150 states have signed onto the joint statement so far. The original iteration of this statement, in 2012, had 16 signatories. It took courage for states to speak out against the dominant narrative on nuclear weapons and reject the purported “strategic value” and “security benefits” of these weapons of mass destruction. Support for this approach has grown because the majority has confidence in the moral, political, legal, and humanitarian position it represents.

Some states have also had the courage to talk about next steps. The African Group, CARICOM, and CELAC have all called for a treaty banning nuclear weapons as an effective measure for nuclear disarmament. “Naturally, the talk of banning nuclear weapons is the next logical step,” said Kenya’s delegation. “It should not cause anxiety.”

Taking this step may indeed cause anxiety to some, especially those that possess nuclear weapons or incorporate them in their security doctrines. But adopting a comprehensive, legally-binding prohibition against nuclear weapons is an important part of the process to fulfill the commitment and obligation that all states have to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.

States, international organizations, and civil society need courage to address the stark challenges posed by weapons and war. We also need confidence in our positions and actions. We should seek these things in each other, and in the goal we share of a safer, more humane world. We should, as the Austrian ambassador said, “unite around the humanitarian imperative that underpins all of our work.”