Thursday, 21 May 2015

Prophetic Imagination and the Humanitarian Pledge: Update on the NPT Conference

Today's blog post is a mélange of narration written during my trip home, and updates from the last three days of the Review Conference. I'm back in Wellington now, so I can't provide updates on the ground, but I wanted to fill you in on some of what has been reported by Reaching Critical Will. To get the original reports to which I am referring, just head to the RCW website; what I'm doing here is pulling out some main points and adding my own commentary. I won't be able to write over the next few days, (life and law school catch up!) but after the weekend I aim to update you on the conference outcome. There's not long to go now... the delegates will be working overtime!

Here goes, I'll start with the updates. An especially interesting recent development, I would say, is that the Austrian Pledge has been renamed the Humanitarian Pledge to ensure that it is viewed as being international. Skip to the 19th May for this point.

I thought this was really clever. It's from the World Federation of United Nations Associations website and was reprinted by Reaching Critical Will.

18th May. According to Ray Acheson, "the last [draft outcome text] is the weakest yet, with some particularly troubling backward steps; replacing eliminations with reductions, detonation with conflagration, and narrowing the reflection of support for initiatives and undertakings that the vast majority of states consider most important." It is concerning that intentions to create a comprehensive, progressive document are still being stymied by the nuclear-armed states and their allies. Ray Acheson urged all states to do their utmost to make forward progress. "In this final week of the Review Conference, states committed to multilateral action on nuclear weapons must hold their nerve, uphold the purpose of humanitarian reframing of nuclear weapons which has brought so much promise, and stick together on the basis of their common pledge to fill the legal gap."

A recent NGO side event focused on peace education. This is considered by many civil society and government delegates to be an integral part of keeping the momentum on disarmament going. Disarmament veterans unfortunately cannot keep going forever, so we must educate youth and imbue us youngsters with a determination to take up the cause. According to the Mexican Deputy Director-General for Disarmament, "education is central to cultivating an understand that a peace sustained by nuclear weapons is not a sustainable peace." Peace education ideas include: briefings for students, professional development for teachers, tailored programmes for diplomats, conferences, and sharing information over the web. The UN Office for Disarmament Affairs organises art and poetry competitions on disarmament. NGOs working on disarmament offer volunteer positions and internships.

With some of the New Zealand delegation on my last day.
Raylene, me, Dell, Joanna and Lyndon.

The organisation Hibakusha Stories has taken to heart the need to spread the word on disarmament. For the last eight years, it has been involved in outreach in New York schools, reaching an audience of 30,000+ students. Hibakusha have spoken at student gatherings and have given first-hand testimonies of surviving the atomic bombings. An educational initiative took place during the Review Conference itself - 30 German students simulated negotiations for a Nuclear Weapons Convention at the church centre opposite the UN. Delegates were encouraged to head across and watch as the students took on different country positions and role-played how a Nuclear Weapons Convention (based on the one drafted in 1996) would be created. Apparently it took longer than expected, but the students completed negotiations successfully in the end!

19th May. The Austrian Pledge was renamed the Humanitarian Pledge. Austria sought to make it crystal clear that the pledge is an international one and is does not only reflect an Austrian viewpoint. The link with "Austria" had been a sticking point with some nuclear-armed states. (Though this was apparently not considered an issue when it came to the Australian Pledge.) It remains to be seen if this move will be viewed favourably.

Ray Acheson remarked that during Main Conference One, "the nuclear-armed states delivered statements railing against the humanitarian initiative and the demand for a legally-binding instrument to fill the legal gap on nuclear weapons." However, Ray expressed hope in the ongoing relevance of the Humanitarian Pledge. "Four days are left in this RevCon, but the Humanitarian Pledge is a living document that will carry forward the momentum, the will, and the explicit commitment to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons."

A line up of civil society campaigners on Friday afternoon.
Gabriella, Mia, Ray, Tim, Thomas and Alice.

Varying views were expressed on the issue of negotiations arguably being dominated by a select number of states. According to France, most of the world's population lives in nuclear-armed states, so if we're discussing majorities and minorities, the majority of people in the world actually receive security benefits from nuclear weapons. According to South Africa, however, only a few states can reject an NPT outcome at any cost, so the NPT risks becoming a treaty of the nuclear-armed states.

At a side event, Dr Emily Welty of the World Council of Churches dismissed claims that disarmament discussions should be solely pragmatic or realistic and noted that for people of faith, disarmament requires engagement in aspects of "prophetic imagination."

Thomas Nash wrote up a motivational report for diplomats hailing from nuclear-armed and -dependent states, encouraging them to "listen to the voice inside yourself that is questioning your opposition." His message to government officials was that, "you need to show leadership, to reject this negative culture around you."

20th May. There is still no consensus on any of the Main Committee texts!! Chairs of Main Committees have been meeting in smaller, parallel groups to try and reach agreement. The downside to this arrangement is that developing countries and civil society may be (inadvertently or otherwise) excluded from negotiations.

The Humanitarian Pledge now has over 90 endorsing states!!

There was a huge Falun Gong demonstration in Dag's Plaza on Friday. Protesters from near and far were decked out in matching bright yellow t-shirts.

Japan has requested that language asking world leaders and youth to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki be inserted into outcome documents. This is positive, although it is a political move, as it seems that the Japanese government is trying to deflect attention away from its continued adherence to the doctrine of extended nuclear deterrence. The suggested additional language has angered China and South Korea, which claim that Japan should not be recognised given the grave atrocities it committed during World War Two. It is notable though that the Philippines and the Marshall Islands (whose people also fell victim to Japanese wartime atrocities) did not oppose the amendments.

A side event was held examining how the EU contributes to disarmament and non-proliferation. There is very little agreement within the EU on nuclear weapons and nuclear energy (more disagreement than ever since 1990 apparently), however, EU members accept that the use of force is not the proper way to resolve disputes.

And here are some thoughts of mine that never made it into a separate blog post. Just because I may as well post rather than discard them!

It rained for the first time in three weeks on my last day in New York. In a city full of motion - people bustling about with prams and shopping bags, cars turning in front of pedestrians, the ubiquitous police chase - the soft rain provided an element of constancy in an otherwise uncertain world. I felt I should do something symbolic to mark my last day, but I wasn't sure what. I ate a soft serve cone. I watched a street parade; clapping along as people marched by and trucks decked with colourful streamers rumbled along 47th Street. When the time came to head to the airport, I stepped onto the road and hailed my first taxi.

The airport bookshops were bursting with self-help books.

As my plane took off, a lady nearby exclaimed, "everything gets small so fast!" Indeed. My three-week trip was fast receding into the hazy New York skyline, transforming into a mysterious window of my life that can never be relived. Three monks sat behind me on my flight to LAX, a baseball-playing Australian sat beside me on my flight to Brisbane. He thought Wellington was in New South Wales.

Sometimes when I think about the goal of nuclear disarmament, it seems distant and complicated. There are thousands of nuclear weapons in the world, (16,400 according to SIPRI, I can parrot off this number without thinking, but I still cannot get my head around the immense destruction this number invokes) and destroying them will be a laborious business. Nuclear elimination would still not guarantee that the nuclear threat will never again rear its ugly head. In the meantime, there are plenty of people who are convinced that abolishing nuclear weapons is not possible, or even desirable.

Other times, I feel more optimistic. One hundred years ago there were no nuclear weapons. Who is to say that it is inevitable they must exist one hundred years from now? Or even twenty years?? There are a huge number of people agitating for change, and there is an extraordinary amount of untapped potential. I believe that most people, once they understand the gravity of the situation, would not support the retention of nuclear weapons. The 90+ states supporting the Humanitarian Pledge give us something to get inspired about. My personal goal now is to keep learning on this subject and to keep communicating the need to abolish nuclear weapons. My contribution may be tiny in the vast scheme of things, but it is important to take action as we are able, whilst appreciating that we are part of a wider movement pressing for a safer, fairer world.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Reconciled with NYC, not with NPT: Inequality and Injustice Abound

I've started receiving Virgin emails reminding me about my upcoming flight, so that's a sign my time in New York is fast coming to an end. I fly out on Saturday, leaving me just one more day of the conference. Wow. As I walked back to my hostel today, I took my usual route through the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza (Hammarskjold was a former UN Secretary-General) where people were out walking their dogs - or alternatively their children - and enjoying the evening sun. There was a sense of quiet serenity which is quite uncommon in New York. I thought to myself, "yes, I could handle living in New York," and realised it took three weeks for me to reconcile myself with the city.

I love walking through Central Park...

... especially because there are squirrels!

Despite its international appeal, there is much that I haven't liked about New York. A country girl at heart, I find the constant streams of traffic, the never-ending police sirens, and the crowds of people in a hurry all rather exhausting. I've spent time in Europe, but this is a new kind of frenetic. Going on the subway at rush hour was an experience not to be repeated unless strictly necessary. It is saddening to see people sleeping on the pavement on cold nights just doors away from glamorous fashion outlets. And the waste! This is a city where people religiously save up their 1 cent coins to feed vending machines in return for a pepsi, but where everything else is discarded immediately after use. Even at the UN, (where people ought to know a thing or two about sustainability!) lunches come on polystyrene trays, with plastic knives and forks and bottled water - everything is promptly binned afterwards. Apples are sold wrapped in plastic. When you check out your groceries in town, they are handed back doubled-bagged. Rubbish bags swollen full of packaging clutter the street corners and very little seems to be recycled.

Heaps of rubbish bags on footpaths are a common site.
This lot is just opposite the UN, as the sign indicates.

There is another side to New York City of course. Central Park is just glorious at this time of year; the trees adorned with soft green leaves and the families out picnicking on the lawns. The sweeping view of the city at nighttime is just beautiful as you look out over the twinkling lights and bridges. Tulips bursts from the flowerbeds of Soho and TriBeCa. If you missed lunch, you can buy pretzels, roasted nuts and juicy mangoes from street-sellers, and top it off with a soft serve cone. And what a bonus to have so many incredible museums, art galleries - and Broadway! - right on your doorstep. Since the city never sleeps. you can leave your house at 2am to get your photocopying done at the local FedEx- I did this one time, out of necessity!

As I walked home today I realised that I have come to appreciate the pumping metropolis that is New York. Not just because we're supposed to love New York City, as all the t-shirts and TV shows tell us. More because I've carved out a little niche for myself in Midtown East and that I've got a feel of the community. I like it how on Wednesday mornings a farmer's market is set up at Dag Hammarskjold's plaza, so the footpath is transformed into a little hive of activity. I've nutted out the best places within five blocks to get decent cheap food - and today at my favourite Chinese diner (restaurant? I'm already adopting American English!) the guy behind the counter saw me and said, "hey, you're the lady who came in last Thursday and bought the..." and proceeded to rattle off my last meal. Maybe he remembered my ban nuclear weapons! bag. I know the staff at my hostel and the security guards at the UN, and we stop and have a chat now and again.

American sense of humour? These signs are everywhere!

Moreover, we civil society delegates form a mini community of expats. We are rather a mixed bunch - speaking different languages, hailing from different backgrounds, but all barred from Subsidiary Body One meetings and united in our will to rid the world of nukes. I've got to know the personalities of some of the delegates I've mentioned on my blog and many more besides. Helping out for three weeks as a virtual newcomer to disarmament negotiations is definitely a lesson in humility. Civil society delegates don't work for money, status, or any other perks. If you work for an NGO, chances are you don't get paid an awful lot and your organisation is perpetually stretched for cash. You don't have the status of someone working in government, even though you may be better qualified, and you are frequently written off as a radical / do-gooder / idealist. It would be wrong to label your work as "rewarding." There are definitely rewarding aspects and successes when they do come are significant (e.g. banning cluster munitions) but successes may be limited. In the meantime, the subject matter can be distressing and the outlook bleak.

Frustrating is a word that springs easily to my mind when I think about the NPT. I have great respect for delegates - both civil society and governmental - who have been involved in nuclear disarmament for years and who have had their best efforts to make change continually thwarted by those determined to maintain the status quo. Instead of giving up, these delegates focus on what has been achieved (like the 159-strong humanitarian statement) and build a strong rapport with other campaigners which they need to get them through. Peer support and a sense of humour are vital!

There are lots of steam vents in New York.

What is most frustrating for me is the inequalities inherent in these negotiations. All that I've learnt about the UN's unequal playing field in textbooks is suddenly amplified seeing it in the flesh. States are currently working in the three different committees to edit and refine draft outcome documents. We civil society reps listen into these discussions, and it is incredibly disheartening to hear some states simply refuse to include wording that the majority of states have assented to. For instance, France today in Main Committee One completely gutted the draft document. The French delegate talked for an interminably long time, referring to one paragraph after another that his government finds unacceptable and wants changed. The types of things that France and other nuclear-armed states want amended are precisely those points which civil society insists must be acknowledged.

Have a read of these examples. I'm drawing here from Reaching Critical Will analysis. (Note that Main Committee One + Subsidiary Body One concern disarmament and these drafts are now merged.)

Statements in Committees, Main Committee One:
  • On Monday, the US and France stated that the paragraphs on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons were unacceptable. The UK suggested these paragraphs be deleted in the second part of the report.
  • France suggested there has been no new information on the humanitarian impact or risk of nuclear weapons use for decades. The US stated that there is not an increased risk of the use of nuclear weapons.
  • France suggested deleting reference to the 1996 International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion on nuclear weapons.
  • Yesterday, the US delegation argued that there can be no timelines for nuclear disarmament. France called for the deletion of two critical paragraphs on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.
Looking south from the secretariat cafe.

Changes to Draft Texts, Subsidiary Body One:
(We might not be allowed in Subsidiary Body One, but we have our sources!)
  • On Tuesday, the text in a preambular paragraph was changed from: "It is in the interests of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons never be used again under any circumstances" to "it is in the interests of humanity that the nearly seventy-year record of non-use of nuclear weapons be extended forever."
  • In an operative paragraph, the text was changed from "calls upon" to "encourages" Russia and the US to undertake further reductions.
  • "Encourages all states that have not yet eliminated nuclear weapons from security doctrines to abandon" policies that envision the first use of nuclear weapons, was changed to "encourages all states to continue to review" nuclear security doctrines.
  • Yesterday, the reference to many hundreds of weapons on high alert was deleted. One operative clause deleted all the language regarding the 70th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
If you feel keen for some gloomy reading - follow this link!

I find last change is especially distressing. I think it is a great insult to deny recognition to the Hibakusha in the outcome document - a slap in the face to those who have endured so much pain. Unfortunately, outcome documents at this conference require consensus, so they are being continuously whittled back as nuclear-armed and dependent states mercilessly strike down provisions which the majority of non-nuclear weapons states have endorsed.

Spot the best dressed man in Times Square.

What serves to accentuate this problem is the fact that some countries are underrepresented at disarmament negotiations. Negotiations are dominated by wealthy states who send more delegates and make more statements. NGO Article 36 has just released a discussion paper on this topic. It argues that, nuclear disarmament is a global concern: the interests of all countries must be represented for any attempt to achieve the most equitable outcomes for populations worldwide... Where better representation is achieved, in terms of both quantity and quality of participation, discussions may have a greater chance of generating a more balanced debate and a larger range of proposals to address global disarmament concerns... Greater equitability between countries in multilateral forums is important in principle - as well having the potential to change dynamics.

At the moment, the system is unbalanced. Article 36 found that:
  • The higher a country's income category, the more likely it was to send a delegation, the greater the size of the delegation on average, and the more likely that country was to deliver an individual statement.
  • At the 2010 Review Conference, the largest delegation sent by a high-income country had 43 delegates, and by a low-income country, 10.
  • Between 2010-14, the percentage of low-income NPT parties making a statement to the main committees, clusters and specific issues was only 1% on average across all meetings.
Why does this discrepancy occur?
  • Developing countries lack financial resources to pay for larger numbers of delegates to attend conferences. Delegates may also be less well-versed on the particular issues at hand since they are forced to oversee wider portfolios of work.
  • Small delegations have to prioritise other issues. They sign up to group statements rather than presenting individual statements. They may put most effort into poverty and development rather than disarmament forums as they see these other areas as being more necessary in the short-term.
From an artwork gifted by the Philippines to the UN.

Why does this matter?
  • Developing countries have perspectives on nuclear weapons that are not fairly represented. Developing countries might be particularly badly affected if a nuclear incident occurs and their citizens may already have been the victims of nuclear tests.
  • These countries may have abandoned or never developed nuclear programmes; They are often members of nuclear weapons-free zones. They have a strong interest in abolishing nuclear weapons, but their voices are not always heard.

The International Law and Policy Institute, ILPI, has conducted similar research and reached similar conclusions. It agrees with Article 36 that, the increased presence [of developing countries] at disarmament conferences is the key factor that determines inclusiveness, representation, and legitimacy.

Many non-nuclear weapons states are developing states. They face an immediate disadvantage in these negotiations. Sponsorship programmes and civil society support can help reduce these inequalities, but more needs to be done. A large number of civil society advocates argue that the track record of NPT review conferences is poor (along with those of the Conference on Disarmament) and that we must move to other, more inclusive, forums to advance comprehensive measures on disarmament. This could include the General Assembly or ad hoc forums, where consensus would not be necessary. Delegates from civil society and non-nuclear weapons states are frustrated at being manipulated by a small number of nuclear-armed states. They are looking to other options for progress.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Introducing Tim Wright, ICAN's Own Radical Dreamer!

Two years ago at the General Assembly, Russia stated that people who promote nuclear disarmament are nothing but “radical dreamers” and that disarmament is a "useless" pursuit. ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, sees it differently. ICAN is convinced that nuclear weapons pose enormous risks to humankind and that their elimination, far from being useless, is one of the most important tasks for us to carry out. Radical dreamers? ICAN campaigners are most definitely radical dreamers - they would embrace the term! After all, the greatest social revolutions in history were started by dreamers. People of vision have always been criticised by those in power who seek to maintain the status quo, (think the slave trade, women's suffrage and apartheid), but truth and compassion have prevailed in the end.

Tim with the Mayor of Nagasaki in 2012.

If we were to create a list of radical dreamers for our generation, one individual who would have to feature is Tim Wright, Australian Director for ICAN. In 2006, Tim helped set up ICAN and ever since then, he has been instrumental in expanding the movement's influence. ICAN has contributed research expertise and campaigning acumen to the humanitarian initiative, and the movement has been referred to favourably by all manner of government and civil society delegates throughout the Review Conference. No movement exists without the hard work and dedication of a number of key individuals, so in this post I'm pleased to profile our own Tim Wright.

Dressed in a signature black jacket and crisp shirt, Tim Wright is calm and understated when I talk to him in the Secretariat Cafe, but his enthusiasm for the cause is evident. As he answers my questions, it doesn't take long until his story gets pretty incredible.

The Aussie hits Africa!

"I took a year off law school in the end," Tim tells me as he explains how he started working with ICAN. "I'd helped Felicity Ruby with the campaign. We launched at the 2007 PrepCom. Then I'd had a trip planned - I was going to do some travel around Africa. We wanted the African states to support ICAN, so I looked up some contacts and stopped at foreign ministries along the way. I met with government reps and NGO campaigners. I'd introduce myself, talk about the issue, tell them about ICAN."

The way Tim describes this so casually, it sounds as though spending your OE persuading diplomats to join nuclear disarmament campaigns is the most normal thing in the world. Tim tells me how he talked to people working on other disarmament issues like landmines and cluster munitions, as nuclear disarmament hardly featured on the agenda back then "What was the response?" I enquire. "Oh we had a great response," Tim laughs, "they were always happy to meet." Tim is still in contact with some of these original supporters, and he even saw his South African friend at this conference.

Tim was finishing off his law degree at that point. It was 2007 and he had become hooked on nuclear disarmament. "How did you first become interested in politics?" I ask. "Did you grow up in a political family?" Not particularly, as it turned out. Tim tells me that his family wasn't especially political, that he grew up in Barwon Heads, (a town of 3,500 near Melbourne) where he attended the same primary school at which his mother taught Japanese. Tim took his Mum's classes and recalls making paper cranes each year for the victims of the atomic bombings. He also interacted with Japanese host students, and was moved to learn about the tragedies that took place in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Tim in Hiroshima, 2011, with a fellow campaigner.

At high school, Tim got involved with the UN Youth Association. He enjoyed taking on the role of governments, and studying issues such as disarmament from a variety of perspectives. His interest in politics led him to study International Relations and Law at Melbourne University. Studying Law by itself would have bored Tim; it was his political activism which kept him going. He got involved with the Peace Organisation of Australia and campaigned on issues such as child soldiers. "I was part of the Network of Progressive Law Students," Tim tells me. He grins, "they called us the NIPPLES."

Involvement on disarmament kicked off when Tim got a part-time job working for Senator Lyn Allison, leader of the Australian Democrats. It was 2006, the Lebanon war was in full swing, and cluster munitions were killing and wounding hundreds of innocent civilians. Senator Allison was outspoken on this issue, and she articulated the case for prohibiting cluster munitions in Australia. (Australia had been supporting the use of cluster munitions.) The prohibition was eventually enacted a few years after Senator Allison left Parliament. Tim had got a taster of disarmament advocacy, and this was only the beginning.

With the Austrian Foreign Minister and fellow campaigners at this RevCon.

The same year, the Australian chapter of IPPNW - International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear Warfare - received a grant to set up ICAN. Felicity Ruby of WILPF was employed as the first co-ordinator of the new campaign. Tim Wright knew an opportunity when he saw one, and he approached Felicity asking to be her intern. She accepted. From their base in Melbourne, Felicity and Tim did the research, developed the first information materials, and set up the website. Felicity's long experience on disarmament issues was an asset, as she was able to amass support for ICAN from many quarters. Tim gathered support from university students and young professionals. Then he headed off to Africa to appeal to an international audience.

After his African trip, Tim worked full-time for a stint helping with the Senator's re-election campaign. He further refined his skills in communications and advocacy. He enjoyed the experience so much that he decided to run for Parliament! "I wasn't elected," Tim says without bitterness, "but it was fun all the same!" And what about his law degree? Tim finished his papers, and was concentrated on the link between human rights law and nuclear weapons for his Honours thesis. He did his final semester at France's Sciences-Po in Paris. I ask what the experience was like, expecting to hear his thoughts on the French uni system.

"Oh France was great," Tim says cheerfully, "I teamed up with the French activists. We had weekly protests outside the Defence Ministry. We gave out pamphlets to the Ministers..." He tells me how he and his friends unfurled a banner against nuclear weapons from the top of the Arc de Triomphe. "We figured the Arc de Triomphe's actually pretty high - you need more than a 15m banner!"

With Nobel Laureate Jody Williams, 2010.

With his law degree completed, Tim was looking for something to do. He hatched a plan to base himself in New York for the 2010 Review Conference. He found a grant, moved to the big apple, and worked from WILPF's office opposite the UN. New York was a "chaotic" place, and he loved it. Following the RevCon, Tim returned to Melbourne and drummed up support for ICAN amongst fellow Australians. ICAN soon had thousands of supporters around the world. It produced solid information materials for campaigners and members of the public. The first humanitarian initiative conference was organised by Norway and held in Oslo, 2013. Tim was there with ICAN, and he was also present in Nayarit and Vienna the following year. ICAN ran civil society forums in the lead-up to these conferences and kept a strong presence throughout. Videos statements were shown to government representatives, including testimonies from high-profile figures such as Desmond Tutu.

Now at the 2015 Review Conference, Tim is feeling optimistic about the changing political scene. Civil society is becoming increasingly vocal on the issue, and governments have changed their policies as new evidence about the catastrophic humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons has come to light. Five years ago, there was no mention of the need for a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, now there is a shared sentiment that a legally-binding mechanism (treaty / convention / framework) must be negotiated asap. According to Tim, it is a near inevitability that negotiations for a political process will begin, with or without the nuclear-armed states.

ICAN action in Tunisia.

"What do you do in your spare time?" I ask Tim. "Can you ever put this all aside?" Tim tells me that his friends and family are extremely important to him, and that he misses his partner and newborn baby niece at the moment. "I have a good lifestyle in Melbourne," Tim muses, "My family are close, I live right next to a park, I cycle everywhere." He also travels a fair bit, including on speaking tours at universities. "Spending too much time at the UN gets tiring," Tim admits, but it's inspiring to talk to students. (Tim Wright should be in New Zealand this August on a speaking tour, so fingers crossed that this all works out!)

"How would you describe yourself?" I ask Tim. "Are you an activist?" "Oh, I wouldn't call myself an activist," Tim says with an easy laugh. "At least, I don't feel like an activist when I'm sitting in an office writing up reports! I'm a campaigner, an ICAN campaigner."

An ICAN campaigner and a radical dreamer with an awesome mission for change! I don't know about you, but I was very inspired to talk to Tim and hear his story. It made me all the more keen to support the cause for nuclear weapons abolition. If you want to learn more, I'd suggest visiting ICAN's website to find out how you can support the campaign.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Humans of New York Unite for Disarmament!

With a group of ICAN supporters outside the UN.

Given that my blog is about putting a personal touch on topics of international politics, it seems timely that I talk about the people I'm working with at the NPT Review Conference. I want to introduce you to a few of individuals I've had the pleasure of meeting. Then later this week, I will spend some time discussing the different focuses of NGOs working in this field. As I am coming to properly appreciate, "civil society" represents a broad range of interests, and although the NGO reps here are united in their determination to eliminate nuclear weapons as soon as possible, the methods whereby they would eliminate weapons and the particular focuses of their organisations vary in significant ways. But for today, let's talk about the people!

For a small country, New Zealand has a very strong voice in these international discussions. This is due to our historical leadership on international issues (think of how we brought cases on nuclear testing to the ICJ, or how we facilitated peace negotiations in Bougainville) and to the commitment shown by our current delegation. Our delegation is led by Ambassador Dell Higgie and comprises four other MFAT staff members (all of whom are women interestingly), Auckland University PhD student Lyndon Burford as civil society representative, and parliamentarians Shane Reti for National and Phil Goff for Labour.

NZ delegation in one of the Committees. Dell Higgie is first on the left.

Dell Higgie has been involved for many years in disarmament issues through MFAT, in New Zealand and abroad, including as permanent representative to the Geneva Conference on Disarmament. She brings a wealth of experience to negotiations and her background in English Literature allows her to expose the misappropriation of language (by some states) and underline the necessity of making swift progress on disarmament. Last year, Dell successfully persuaded 150 states to sign onto a statement on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. She has also been a key promoter of the New Agenda Coalition's working paper on addressing legal gaps in the NPT, (see one of my previous posts for more detail.)

Lyndon Burford in action asking a question at a side event.

Lyndon Burford is an Auckland University PhD candidate, and a representative of the Peace Foundation Aotearoa New Zealand. Lyndon has researched nuclear disarmament issues for a good decade. As civil society representative, he has made the most of alternating between government and NGO forums and lending his expertise, where appropriate, to both groups. He is adept at asking probing questions of governments and his enthusiasm when you talk to him on all things disarmament-related is infectious. He is also working impossibly hard by both attending this conference and writing his thesis in his 'free time!'

Doing a spot of sightseeing with some fellow Kiwis last weekend.
Lyndon is in the middle, Phil Goff on the right hand side.

Phil Goff has the ability to both calmly analyse disarmament issues from multiple perspectives over lunch, and to stand up and deliver powerful and decisive speeches advocating in no uncertain terms for the elimination of nuclear weapons. He has a long history of engagement on disarmament, and was the Minister of Disarmament under Helen Clark's government between 2005 and 2008. I spent an afternoon sightseeing with Phil Goff and some other Kiwis last weekend, and persuaded Phil to try his first bubble tea at the Brooklyn Saturday market!

Dr. Shane Reti is National's Deputy-Chairperson of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee. Like Phil Goff, he is also a member of Parliamentarians of Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament. I ran out of time to properly talk to Shane, but I know that he has a special affinity with the Japanese people and I wonder if this fact coupled with his background in Medicine (given that the health impacts of nuclear weapons were widely covered as part of the humanitarian initiative) has given him extra impetus to engage with these disarmament negotiations.

Ray Acheson on a speaking panel.

The MFAT team is super busy at the moment, so my interactions with them normally consist of quick-fire conversations in lifts and corridors, but I have been able to spend time interacting with (the equally busy, but perhaps not quite so frantic) civil society delegates. Ray Acheson, head of WILPF's Reaching Critical Will, is a firm advocate of disarmament and in particular a nuclear weapons ban treaty. She is also committed to ensuring that gender issues are discussed as part of these talks - she has criticised the continued negative use of gendered language in security speak, and she frequently draws attention to the under-representation of women on panels of experts.

Gem Romuld of ICAN taking notes during Main Committee One.

As in Nayarit, ICAN campaigners form a large and well-spoken contingent of campaigners. Tim Wright is the Australian Campaign Director of ICAN, and he is a constant calm and knowledgeable presence at civil society meetings. Like Lyndon, he has a knack of asking sticky questions of government delegations. Gem Romuld is an Australian campaigner for ICAN whom I enjoyed getting to know whilst she was in New York. When she wasn't attending events, Gem was busy meeting with government representatives and making arrangements to meet diplomats in embassies around New York when it was difficult to catch them at the United Nations. Her cheerful attitude belied an unwavering commitment to the tasks ahead.

Alyn Ware (centre) at Friday's PNND Event.

Another prominent Kiwi whom I mentioned in a previous blog post is Alyn Ware. Alyn is the Global Coordinator of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament. He's a long-time disarmament advocate, and has been involved with projects such as the World Court Project which successfully campaigned to get the ICJ Advisory Opinion, the Peace Boat, and is currently encouraging collaboration between religious groups and politicians. Alyn can somehow attend just about every event at the NPT - mostly as a guest speaker rather than an observer - and still have time enough to write all sorts of articles on the issue, and answer lots of my questions!

There are a great number of other individuals who have inspired me whilst I've been here in New York. This is just a selection of people I've run into a lot. As you can see, this is a group of diverse and committed individuals who are using their talents - whether in research, diplomacy or activism - to try and bring about a better world.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Security Guards, Glossaries and Treaty Bans: Some Rambles on the RevCon

When I talk to fellow campaigners over here and they find out this is my first Review Committee, they are often keen to know my impressions of the United Nations. In today's blog, I wanted to identify a few aspects that have struck me and also make some general comments on some current NPT topics of interest.

This is far from a mini nuclear explosion... it is a controlled explosion to destroy undetonated cluster munitions in Somalia. It is overseen by the UN Mine Action Service. The UNMAS has helped destroy thousands of weapons which could otherwise have killed or maimed civilians. Photo from UN exhibition.

When you see the distinctive UN secretariat building from the outside, you might imagine that meetings take place in light-filled rooms with expansive views over the East River. To start with, although delegates can access the secretariat cafeteria, plenaries and side events take place not in the famous skyscraper, but in the smaller General Assembly building. In fact, much of the day I spend underground in sunless, low-ceiling conference rooms, as the General Assembly complex comprises four stories going upwards and three going down. In addition, none of the main council chambers have windows. An ICAN campaigner I spoke to yesterday lamented that she doesn't get to see the sun all day as she's busy from early morning to late evening going from one windowless room to another.

There are, however, some really swish parts to the UN: the secretariat cafe gets commanding views out to Brooklyn and the Qatar lounge is a favourite meeting - and sleeping! - place for diplomats, with its plush couches and soothing colour scheme. There are all number of interesting photo exhibitions and artworks scattered over the UN - some are permanent, and others set up by UN agencies and NGOs and have changed since I've been here. It's a great way for UN staff to update themselves on issues outside their main sphere of work as they walk around the building. It also provides food for thought for the members of the public on guided tours. The public don't have access to the conference rooms or secretariat building, but visitors can get to the NGO access level for the council chambers - so sometimes we end up swerving around groups of tourists to get to our meetings.

The Japanese have had a great presence at the Review Conference.
Japanese news media are a common sight.

NGO representatives have to enter at different levels and use different doors from government delegates when it comes to accessing the council chambers. Ubiquitous security guards will turn you down if you try to get in the other way with the wrong pass. One time got distracted talking to a government delegate, got out of the lift by mistake at their level, and was allowed through by a lenient security guard. When it came to leaving, the security guard had been replaced and the new guard demanded to know how I had got in - he was very suspicious and annoyed. Civil society reps are frequently aggravated by this government / NGO separation. What particularly irks us that meetings of "Subsidiary Body One" - an offshoot of Main Committee One (the plenary has broken up into smaller committees focusing on non-proliferation, disarmament, nuclear energy, and procedural matters) - do not allow NGO access. However, subsidiary body one focuses specifically on nuclear disarmament! Delegates are frustrated that they cannot oversee the discussions, when the UN is supposed to pride itself on transparency. Fortunately, some governments have released their statements and we get tidbits of information fed to us.

My day starts at 9am with a government briefing to civil society. Organised by Reaching Critical Will, these events allow governments to get a sense of civil society viewpoints and civil society reps to ask government delegates some probing questions. There are vast differences in the way that governments approach these briefings: some are very willing to listen to our views and are open to adjusting their country positions given what we have contributed. Others make it clear that they have a set position, they don't much care for what we have to say, and would we mind hurrying up with the questions as they have more important things to do thank you very much. Nevertheless, civil society has been able to ask some very revealing questions of these particular governments (who shall not be named; I leave this to your imaginations, but maybe check out my hypocrisy post for a hint?)

The Nagasaki Youth delegation yesterday set up a peace dove.

Some of the NGO delegates posing these questions are very experienced - they have been following these discussions and working in this field for decades. They know what questions to ask and how to handle diplomats and activists alike. As well as veterans, there are younger campaigners like me. Young professionals may not have the advantage of years of experience, but they are very well-informed and effective in lobbying governments and holding countries to account. They are well-dressed and metropolitan; familiar with the expectations of living in a big city and working at the UN.

We are a diverse bunch; it's not especially interesting that I'm from New Zealand, as there are delegates from all over the world: Singapore, Nigeria, Canada... although Europe (e.g. Romania, UK, Germany Austria, Sweden, Norway) is especially well-represented. Kiwis are a frequent site at these discussions: delegates are well-acquainted with John Borrie and Tim Caughley from UNIDIR (disarmament research) and Alyn Ware from PNND (parliamentarians for non-proliferation and disarmament). When they hear I'm a Kiwi, everyone has something positive to say about the NZ delegation and particularly the example of our Ambassador Dell Higgie. There is a bunch of German students around at the moment, who acted out how to create a nuclear weapons convention at a side event today, as well as a contingent of youth from Nagasaki. The Nagasaki Youth delivered a thoughtful presentation yesterday, including tips for effective activism on disarmament.

Scene at a rooftop garden in Brooklyn. This is the apartment block of one of the NYC-based campaigners. I went to Brooklyn with a group of campaigners yesterday.

There is a real sense of solidarity amongst the civil society delegates. We appreciate the devastating impacts of nuclear weapons, we share a drive to eliminate them, and we are frustrated by nuclear-armed states who continue to evade their international commitments. Civil society delegates may be associated with particular organisations, but everyone knows one another, and there is a great deal of collaboration across organisations.

At 10am I help Reaching Critical Will distribute the daily NPT News in Review. We stand at the doors to the council chambers and hand out our newsletters to diplomats. They are normally very willing to take a copy, as it provides them with a recap of events and statements, as well as Ray Acheson's editorial and a calendar of events. We get a lot of positive feedback on the publication. I'm excited that my event reports have been included each day; it's cool to give out something which I've contributed to. Then there's a meeting through the morning, although sometimes I personally use this time to read articles, write my blog or meet delegates -- there are only so many statements you can hear before you zone out! Unfortunately this is a common problem: countries give statements, but most of the time everyone is only listening with one ear as they are busy sending emails, meeting people, and attending other educational events.

I couldn't resist uploading this photo.
This is a bunch of exhausted diplomats in the Qatar Lounge.

Lunchtime is not a break, as this is when the most interesting events take place. (I think it was Patricia Lewis who commented ironically that the "side events" should be the main events as they are the most engaging!) There are multiple events taking place at once, so I am tasked with a particular one to attend and report back on to Reaching Critical Will. Events also take place in conference rooms into the afternoon, finishing at 6pm. I've been to events like the gender one, one today on the morality of nuclear weapons, and others have focused on NATO, nuclear security, and the Middle East nuclear weapons-free zone proposal. The most hilarious event from civil society's perspective was the nuclear-armed states presenting a "glossary" of nuclear weapons terms and acting like it was something really special. (Most of the terms, oddly enough, were focused on non-proliferation, and apparently "underground testing" is defined as "nuclear weapons tests that take place below the ground.") Come on nuclear weapons states! Is this all you can come up with, five years after the 2010 Review Committee? It's laughable, frankly.

ICAN Campaigner with the "glossary of key nuclear terms."
Is this the best nuclear weapons states can do?

At this stage it is too early to know what this conference will result in. Civil society wants the conference to result in a really strong commitment to move forwards and to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons. This is the best case scenario: less palatable scenarios include consensus not being reached, the conference making no progress on 2010, or states moving backwards on their past commitments. There is definitely a feeling that this is the last opportunity for nuclear-armed states to decide to fully co-operate with a nuclear prohibition treaty. If nuclear-armed states continue to repeat the same old story about not wanting to reduce stockpiles anytime yet, the non-nuclear states will go ahead and create a treaty themselves. The treaty would reflect the views of the majority of states on the matter, clarify the legal status of nuclear weapons and stigmatise the possession (not just the use) of these weapons. It would force nuclear-armed and nuclear-reliant states to come clean on their policies. Exposed to the full criticism of the international community and their own citizens, nuclear-armed states would be forced to make radical shifts in their national policies. This is the change we want to see.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Faith communities call for disarmament, and Pope joins the fun!

Faith communities have a special role to play in bringing concerns about the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons to the forefront of disarmament discussions. They have a unique authority and moral voice to speak out on the issue. An obligation rests with them to look out for the most vulnerable in society - such as the victims of nuclear tests, and to recognise a duty of stewardship over our natural environment which would be destroyed in a nuclear war. Many people of faith are speaking out for the elimination of nuclear weapons, and increasing numbers are joining them.

From a panel near the Trusteeship Council, UNHQ.

Faith organisations are well-represented at the NPT Review Conference. Amongst them we see: the United Religions Initiative (which draws together people from a number of different religions), the World Council of Churches, the World Conference on Religion and Peace, Soka Gakkai International, the Religious Society of Friends, Pax Christi International, Franciscans International, and the Christian Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Speaking from an Christian tradition, I personally believe nuclear weapons represent an affront to humanity and an expression of hatred and violence far removed from the love and peace which is envisaged in scripture. I am heartened that churches in New Zealand speak out on this issue - for instance, Wellington's Saint Andrews on the Terrace has symbolically declared itself 'nuclear-free' and often hosts speaker events on disarmament. However, there is much more that we can and must do. I want to share some thoughts articulated by the Papacy on this topic, as Pope Francis (who apparently has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize) has come out in vocal condemnation of nuclear weapons. I am drawing from Nuclear Disarmament: Time for Abolition, prepared by the permanent mission of the Holy See to the United Nations in December last year.

A passage from Isaiah (2:4) is inscribed on a wall opposite the United Nations.

It seems that, whilst the Vatican has always condemned the use of nuclear weapons and has called for their elimination, for many years the Church tolerated the possession of weapons by nuclear-armed states on the understanding that these weapons would soon be destroyed. However, in recent years as more information has come to light about the devastating effects of nuclear weapons, the Church has reviewed its position. The Vatican now argues that nuclear weapons states have not fulfilled their promise to disarm, that the international system is fundamentally unjust, and that international tensions and risks of accident make the doctrine of deterrence - if ever it contained validity - too shaky a premise on which to build an international peace. These passages elucidate the Holy See's position:

"While a consensus continues to grow that any possible use of such weapons is radically inconsistent with the demands of human dignity, in the past the Church has nonetheless expressed a provisional acceptance of their possession for reasons of deterrence, under the condition that this be a step on the way towards progressive disarmament. This condition has not been fulfilled - far from it. In the absence of further progress towards complete disarmament, and without concrete steps toward a more secure and a more genuine peace, the nuclear weapon establishment has lost much of its legitimacy.

We need to resist succumbing to the limits set by political realism. While recognizing how these concepts can provide a prudent curb on unwarranted exuberance, we must ultimately reject them as the defining outlook for our common political future."

Illustration from a panel at the United Nations.

The Holy See frequently refers to ideas of a common future throughout its treatise. Its view is that the problem of nuclear weapons concerns all of humanity: all humans, all living creatures, and also our future generations. Another recurring theme is that we should aim to establish genuine peace around the world - and nuclear weapons do not make the cut!

"Nuclear deterrence is believed to have prevented nuclear war between the superpowers, but it has also deprived the world of genuine peace and kept it under sustained risk of nuclear catastrophe. Since the end of the Cold War more than 20 years ago, the end of the nuclear stand-off has failed to provide a peace dividend that would help to improve the situation of the world's poor.

A genuine peace cannot grow out of an instrument prudence that establishes a precarious ethics focused narrowly on the technical instruments of war. Peace does not consist in the mere absence of war, but rather in enjoyment of a full set of rights and goods that foster the complete development of the whole person in community."

This photo was a finalist in the Contemporary Lithuaniun Press Photography Awards. It is on display in a UN exhibition.

The inequality of the current global system (which I alluded to in my recent blog post on hypocrisy) was also vehemently condemned by the Vatican.

"In the grand bargain at the treaty's foundation, the non-possessing powers granted a monopoly on nuclear weapons to the possessing powers in return for a transformative good faith pledge by the nuclear weapons states to reduce and disarm their existing nuclear arsenals. What was intended to be a temporary state of affairs appears to have become a permanent reality, establishing a class structure in the international system.

Without solid progress towards disarmament as pledged under the NPT, questions continue to grow over the legitimacy of the system. Non-possession begins to appear inconsistent with the sovereign equality of nations and the inherent right of states to security and self-defense. Nuclear capability is still regarded in certain countries as a prerequisite of diplomatic influence and great power status, building incentives for proliferation and thus undermining global security."

This photo shows a police officer in Haiti cutting up rifles.
This disarmament work was aided by the UN's Mine Action Service.

Finally, it was recognised that not only does nobody win from nuclear weapons, but some people lose more than others. Again, it is the most vulnerable in society who suffer the greatest wrongs from our continued infatuation with weapons of mass destruction.

Today, the production, maintenance and deployment of nuclear weapons continue to siphon off resources that otherwise might have been made available for the amelioration of poverty and socio-economic development for the poor.

The re-allocation of funding from arms to development is essential to social justice. Re-allocation of resources from wasteful and dangerous weapons programmes to the constructive and peaceful purposes of global human development would undo shameful imbalances in public funding and institutional capacities.

The Pope on tour in the Philippines.

There are a lot of other really good points in the essay, so if you're interested, I highly recommend reading the whole document (link at the start of this post.) It is hugely significant that the Pope is making this issue one of his priorities. Just think of the millions of Catholic supporters the Pope can amass when he travels to places like the Philippines and Brazil to speak. If even a fraction of those people follow his example and start campaigning for nuclear disarmament, civil society will suddenly get a massive boost of support!

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Gender and Nuclear Disarmament 101

Women have been advocating for peace and disarmament for decades. In 1915, a delegation of women from around the world met in The Hague to convene a congress on ending the First World War. The women founded an organisation which became known as the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, WILPF, (the NGO I am assisting here at the UN). Those women had to operate in a male-dominated environment and deal with patronising comments, allegations that they were acting in an unseemly way, and the laughing away of their serious concerns. As we know, their calls were not heeded. Undeterred, the organisation continued campaigning for peace and WILPF has only grown in importance over the years. Today, WILPF has national societies in 37 countries and consultative status at the UN. It campaigns on human rights, sustainability, violence against women and disarmament (Reaching Critical Will is its disarmament campaign.) WILPF Aotearoa New Zealand joined with other groups protesting nuclear testing in the 70s and 80s, contributing to our country's firm anti-nuclear stance.

Women are instrumental in advancing peace around the world. Source.

In England in the 1980s, women from around the world marched to Greenham Common and based themselves at a peace camp where they participated in protests and human chains around the missile base. Despite having been active in peace and conflict resolutions processes around the world, women are still underrepresented in these areas, and the UN Security Council Resolution 1325, adopted in 2000, recognised that there must be concerted efforts to involve more women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts. It is argued that women can bring a unique perspective to discussions, and their inclusive manner of working can help progress negotiations. Furthermore, women are affected in different ways to men during times of conflict, notably through exposure to sexual violence which - as the Red Cross has recognised - is widely used as a weapon of war to terrorise civilian populations and ridicule warring forces.

Illustration of WILPF in 1915. Source.

A side event held yesterday, organised by the governments of Sweden, Austria, Denmark, Costa Rica and the Trinidad and Tobago, (quite a contingent!) explored the issue of women and disarmament. It emerged that women are impacted more severely by radiation than men. Ms. Mary Olsen, biologist and Nuclear Information and Resource (NIRS) director, has recently released a study which tracked the lives of male and female victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. The study concluded that for every two men who died from exposure to ionising radiation, three women would die. Amongst those victims exposed to radiation as children, young girls were twice as likely as boys to later develop cancer. The reasons why women are more vulnerable to radiation are not yet known - it could be linked to women having more fatty tissues - but the implication is clear: women are more vulnerable than men to the effects of nuclear tests and explosions.

From the panel discussion on gender at lunchtime yesterday.

This is important because up until now, research into the impacts of nuclear weapons on humans (e.g. studies commissioned by nuclear-armed governments) has focused on the effects of weapons on "average people": normally conceived of as able-bodied men of a certain age. This has skewed results and under-estimated the impacts of nuclear weapons on populations who are more vulnerable. We can appreciate now that the impacts of nuclear weapons would be far more disastrous for women than previously suspected. And we must not forget that if a pregnant woman is exposed to radiation, it is not just one generation, (as if this wasn't enough!) but three generations that are damaged: the woman's child and also her grandchildren since her child's gametes are already present in the foetus.

What should we do with these results? Dr. Patricia Lewis, Research Director at Chatham House, declared that women should have more say in disarmament discussions, since they would, after all, be more severely affected by a nuclear explosion. Henrik Salander, Swedish former disarmament ambassador, expressed the view that these research findings should give new impetus to disarmament discussions. The implication was that women all around the world should follow these discussions and speak up - this concerns our future. Dr. Mo Hume of the University of Glasgow's Pols Sci department, wanted women to be viewed not simply as potential victims, but as agents for change. This gets back to the appreciation that more women need to be involved in international peace negotiations.

Helen Clark, now head of the UNDP, is a great role-model for women.

The link between gender and disarmament is one that has been mentioned in the past, but it is just now gaining traction in these discussions. It is pleasing to see that a number of governments, like the Swedish and Irish governments, are making it one of their priorities to advance work in this area. Personally, I am really excited that the link has been made with gender equality. Nuclear disarmament is an issue draws in people from many sectors of society representing diverse interests: peace activists, lawyers, environmentalists, physicians, mayors, politicians... bringing in individuals associated with the feminist and women's rights movements will add yet another string to our bow! So if you are reading this and are concerned about women's rights, please make your presence heard and join the movement calling for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.