by Ray Acheson, Reaching Critical Will of WILPF
First Committee is set to begin once again in the midst of dynamic and dangerous times. The relevance of its mandate, disarmament and international security, is as pressing as ever. Looking around the world today one can see mounting regional and international tensions, civil wars and revolutions, increasing armed violence, and, overshadowing us all, the threat of nuclear weapons. High levels of military spending, weapons production, trade, and stockpiling, and armed conflict undermine the key objective of the United Nations: preserving international peace and security. Yet one can also see many examples of ordinary people trying to rein back the violence, overcome militarism, and achieve peace.
Using social media, citizens of Israel and Iran are reaching out to each other to build a bridge between their countries and ensure each other that they do not want war with one another.
Villagers on from Gangjeong, Republic of Korea, have been actively campaigning against the construction of a naval base on Jeju Island that would destroy the local environment and villagers’ livelihoods and turn Jeju, currently known as the “Island of World Peace,” into an island of militarism.
In India, villagers in Kudankulam continue their protests against the construction of a nuclear power plant that they know will negatively affect their environment and safety.
In opposition to the increasing use of drones for “targeted killing” by the United States, the American Civil Liberties Union has taken the CIA to court; US law schools have condemned the utility and legality of the targeted killing programme; and the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions has highlighted concerns with the increasing use of drone attacks.
In July, after years of global campaigning by grassroots activists and international representatives, the UN was flooded with civil society actors promoting a robust arms trade treaty that would make a real difference on reducing levels of armed violence and violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.
In August, more than 100 campaigners from 30 countries participated in a meeting focusing on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons; another such conference will be held in early March 2013. Activists in countries with nuclear weapons continue to oppose the political and economic interests invested in maintaining these arsenals, including by breaking into existing facilities and preventing the construction of new facilities.
These are but a few examples of direct citizen action for disarmament and arms control going on right now, as diplomats gather in New York for First Committee. What direct action will First Committee take to support these efforts? Will it finally allow the General Assembly its rightful place in advancing disarmament by taking up work that the Conference on Disarmament has failed to address since 1996? Will it mandate a new negotiating process for the arms trade treaty that will not allow the interests of the few to overpower the interests of the many? Will it promote the vital contributions that women can make to disarmament and arms control processes?
As civil society continues to promote disarmament and peace around the world it is also watching its representatives in New York. First Committee is not just about general statements and stale resolutions. It should be a forum for dynamic discussion on the issues that matter most and provide the opportunity for bridging gaps—or creatively circumventing them—to make concrete progress.
This article was originally published in the First Committee Monitor 2012 No. 1 published on 8 October 2012 by Reaching Critical Will/WILPF.