Vol. 19, No. 1

Editorial: Invest in community, not competition
3 October 2021

Ray Acheson

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The UN General Assembly is meant to be about community, not competition. Community requires reciprocity, trust, and understanding. It requires us to live in relationship with others, not simply to demand that everyone else obey our commands or conform to our way of thinking. This is not easy to build, and even more difficult to maintain, but this is the only way we can actually achieve the objectives of the UN Charter.

During last year’s session of the First Committee, delegates had to contend not just with the global pandemic but also with hypocritical mudslinging of the most heavily militarised countries in our world. While this is by no means new to veterans of the First Committee, some of the challenges mounted last year seemed particularly audacious in their determination to undermine international law. Meanwhile, accusations of belligerence and legal violations were bandied about, particularly between Russia and the United States, as if we were all trapped in some of kind violent tennis match in which point-scoring is based on gaslighting.

The gamesmanship on display last year was more than disruptive. It arguably represents the pursuit of Cold War-style hegemony by Russia and the United States over the norms and rules of disarmament law, but also the ways in which the United Nations itself operates on these issues.

Those who seek the preservation of their own power at any cost are determined to undo the norms, laws, and institutions we’ve already built, and to dismantle our means and methods of cooperation so that we cannot build any more. This is a death project. Twenty years after the initiation of the “Global War on Terror,” from which violence and suffering have increased exponentially while weapon and “security” companies have profited immensely, we can clearly see what happens when we invest in militarism instead of peace.

And yet, the governments that have led us down this path continue to double down on this failed experiment with violence-as-power. The recent announcement by Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States of their intention to build a trilateral military alliance that includes sharing nuclear-powered submarines (in contravention of non-proliferation rules and norms) and constructing more military bases is just the latest example of the warmonger mentality that has driven global politics and economics for far too long.

This behaviour cannot be allowed to continue. It’s up to the rest of the UN membership to confront those who are being disruptive, disingenuous, and destructive and to work together for an alternative future of care, justice, and equality.

That said, the institutions and laws we do have do not all deserve preserving. Many of them uphold social, political, and economic inequalities, rooted in capitalist extraction, environmental destruction, and border imperialism. Building stronger and better communities means undoing the aspects of the “global order” that foster violence and inequality, and constructing new institutions and norms with justice and solidarity at the core.

This work is possible. It means investing in care, not war. It means prioritising justice over power. This is the vision of a United Nations meant to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war. As the world burns and melts around us, we have no time to waste.

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