17 October 2011 - Second Edition

Editorial: Revitalization or procrastination?
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF

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As delegates wrapped up the second week of First Committee, they began tabling their draft resolutions for the Committee’s consideration. While most of the texts will not be circulated until next week, there are several competing drafts that seek to revitalize multilateral disarmament negotiations and begin substantive work on the Conference on Disarmament (CD)’s four core issues.

Details of these proposals can be found in this week’s Disarmament Machinery article. In brief, the draft resolution submitted by Austria, Mexico, and Norway puts the CD on notice: while it urges the CD to adopt and implement a programme of work next year, it also has a contingency plan—for the General Assembly’s 2012 session to consider alternatives for beginning substantive work on all four issues on the CD’s agenda. Meanwhile, the draft resolution submitted by the Netherlands, South Africa, and Switzerland does not provide a mechanism for initiating work this year or next but instead seeks to slowly explore and consolidate options for moving forward. Finally, the Canadian delegation’s draft seeks only to begin work on a fissile materials treaty—while it calls for the establishment of a group of governmental experts on the subject, it doesn’t appear to have a mechanism for triggering negotiations at any particular time.

These three proposals offer a menu of options for moving forward, but only one of them provides a clear opportunity for substantive work on all issues in the near future. As the Norwegian delegation said in its nuclear cluster statement, the Austria-Mexico-Norway proposal “shows that alternative options are available if we really want to break out of the long-lasting impasse.”

Many delegations argue that the paralysis in the CD is caused by the lack of political will by a few states—either by Pakistan regarding fissile materials or the nuclear weapon states, in varying combinations, on the other three core issues. Those states that firmly believe that political will is what perpetuates the deadlock should be putting great effort into breaking the status quo and issuing their support for initiatives that seek to overcome this hostage situation in the CD and begin substantive work on the four core issues.

As the Archbishop Chullikatt of the Holy See said during the nuclear cluster, “Peace must be built through law and law can only be realized if reason prevails.” He also emphasized that “the force of law must always prevail over the law of force.” In this vein, Costa Rica’s Ambassador Ulibarri, whose nuclear cluster statement focused on building democratic institutions and strengthening the rule of law, argued that any actions taken to revitalize multilateral disarmament negotiations “must have human security as its focus.” These statements focusing on law and human security remind us that the CD does not exist in a vacuum—it is not simply an archaic institution that has ceased functioning amidst 21st century challenges. It is a body created to develop collective security through disarmament that has since fallen into a quagmire through the subversion of the guiding rule of consensus into a veto by several nuclear weapon possessors. As the Norwegian delegation said on Friday, “Substance should guide our methods of work, and we should not let ourselves be blocked by our own institutional structures.” If the CD cannot commence work on issues of nuclear disarmament, UN member states must find another way to begin this work.

 “Can the political will around a determined and constructive way forward that breaks the stalemate be mustered?” asked Austrian Ambassador Kmentt. This is the main question before First Committee this year and its answer will have profound implications for the realization of collective and human security.

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