by Ray Acheson, Reaching Critical Will of WILPF
After several hours of consultations on Thursday morning, the Chair reconvened the plenary meeting just before the lunch break to take stock of group positions on his proposed agenda. The Non-Aligned Movement indicated that it had not reached agreement on the compromise language on the nuclear item on the agenda and insisted on returning to the language from 2011: “Recommendations for achieving the objective of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons”.
The Chair, preparing to postpone the rest of the Commission’s session until agreement could be reached on the agenda, appealed one last time for flexibility. However, as he emphasized, flexibility must actually allow member states to make progress toward the same goal—if flexibility means one party goes right and the other left, they will never meet again. The Chair indicated he would not continue with consultations but that is proposal remained on the table for delegations to consult upon with their capitals.
The Norwegian delegate took the floor to highlight once again the illogical nature of arguing over the precise language of the nuclear agenda item. Most of the arguments had reportedly centered on the difference between a “nuclear weapon free world” or a “world without nuclear weapons” or “elimination of nuclear weapons”. Mr. Langeland from Norway pointed out that just last year the General Assembly had adopted the New Agenda Coalition’s resolution “Towards a nuclear-weapon-free world” and Japan’s resolution “United action towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons”. Between these two resolutions, he argued, all states have signed up to some of this language.
After this intervention, the US delegation, with what it described as extreme reluctance, agreed to the NAM’s request for a return to the 2011 language on the nuclear agenda item. The NAM thanked the US for its flexibility and indicated its agreement, after which the Chair swiftly gavelled the adoption of the agenda.
Yet in the afternoon, discussion faltered over the programme of work. Some delegations, foremost Cuba, requested a different ordering of topics, moving the informal discussions on working methods and the disarmament decade declaration to the end of the two weeks. Others, including Italy, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and United States, preferred the Chair’s draft. There was also debate whether to deal with the agenda items in an alternating format or in blocs. Norway’s delegation pointed out that this debate is really one for the discussions on working methods, suggesting this discussion should therefore indeed be held first so that the Commission could determine how to move forward from there.
By the end of the day, the Commission did manage to adopt a revised programme of work. However, the struggle this week to adopt an agenda and then to agree on how to carry out this agenda suggests a troubled road ahead for the Disarmament Commission. With a precedent of failure following it from the last several cycles, coupled with the continued problems over getting down to work this year, optimism for success is at an all time low. The Commission, like the Conference on Disarmament, has failed to fulfill its mandated responsibilities for some time now and is actively creating the conditions for its own demise. If member states want to preserve the Commission, they must not just talk about flexibility but actually demonstrate it by beginning work and deliberating seriously on the key challenges facing the international community. How to best coordinate the meeting schedule for the UNDC is not one of those key challenges.