Special Report: U.N. investigative reports, like a new one condemning Syria for alleged sarin use, are received as impartial and credible, but are often just more war propaganda from compromised bureaucrats, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Many people still want to believe that the United Nations engages in impartial investigations and thus is more trustworthy than, say, self-interested governments, whether Russia or the United States. But trust in U.N. agencies is no longer well placed; whatever independence they may have once had has been broken, a reality relevant to recent “investigations” of Syrian chemical weapons use.

There is also the larger issue of the United Nations’ peculiar silence about one of its primary and original responsibilities, shouldered after the horrors of World War II – to stop wars of aggression, which today include “regime change” wars organized, funded and armed by the United States and other Western powers, such as the Iraq invasion in 2003, the overthrow of the Libyan government in 2011, and a series of proxy wars including the ongoing Syrian conflict.

After World War II, the Nuremberg Tribunals declared that a “war of aggression … is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

That recognition became a guiding principle of the United Nations Charter, which specifically prohibits aggression or even threats of aggression against sovereign states.

The Charter declares in Article One that it is a chief U.N. purpose “to take effective collective measures … for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace.” Article Two, which defines the appropriate behavior of U.N. members, adds that “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state…”

However, instead of enforcing this fundamental rule, the United Nations has, in effect, caved in to the political and financial pressure brought to bear by the United States and its allies. A similar disregard for international law also pervades the U.S. mainstream media and much of the European and Israeli press as well.

There is an assumption that the United States and its allies have the right to intervene militarily anywhere in the world at anytime solely at their own discretion. Though U.S. diplomats and mainstream journalists still voice outrage when adversaries deviate from international law – such as denunciations of Russia over Ukraine’s civil war – there is silence or support when a U.S. president or, say, an Israeli prime minister orders military strikes inside another country. Then, we hear only justifications for these attacks.

Shielding Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations in 2012, drawing his own “red line” on how far he will let Iran go in refining nuclear fuel.

For instance, on Friday, The New York Times published an article about Israel conducting a bombing raid inside Syria that reportedly killed two Syrians. The article is notable because it contains not a single reference to international law and Israel’s clear-cut violation of it. Instead, the article amounts to a lengthy rationalization for Israel’s aggression, framing the attacks as Israeli self-defense or, as the Times put it, “an escalation of Israel’s efforts to prevent its enemies from gaining access to sophisticated weapons.”

The article also contains no reference to the fact that Israel maintains a sophisticated nuclear arsenal and is known to possess chemical and biological weapons as well. Implicit in the Times article is that the U.S. and Israel live under one set of rules while countries on the U.S.-Israeli enemies list must abide by another. Not to state the obvious but this is a clear violation of the journalistic principle of objectivity.

But the Times is far from alone in applying endless double standards. Hypocrisy now permeates international agencies, including the United Nations, which instead of pressing for accountability in cases of U.S. or Israeli aggression has become an aider and abettor, issuing one-sided reports that justify further aggression while doing little or nothing to stop U.S.-backed acts of aggression.

For instance, there was no serious demand that U.S. and British leaders who organized the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, should face any accountability for committing the “supreme international crime” of an aggressive war. As far as the U.N. is concerned, war-crimes tribunals are for the little guys.

This breakdown in the integrity of the U.N. and related agencies has developed over the past few decades as one U.S. administration after another has exploited U.S. clout as the world’s “unipolar power” to ensure that international bureaucrats conform to U.S. interests. Any U.N. official who deviates from this unwritten rule can expect to have his or her reputation besmirched and career truncated.

So, while harshly critical of alleged abuses by the Syrian military, U.N. officials are notoriously silent when it comes to condemning the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, Israel and other countries that have been “covertly” backing anti-government “rebels” who have engaged in grave crimes against humanity in Syria.

The U.S. and its allies have even mounted overt military operations inside Syrian territory, including airstrikes against the Syrian military and its allies, without permission of the internationally recognized government in Damascus. Yet, the U.N. does nothing to curtail or condemn these clear violations of its own Charter.

Breaking the Independence

The reason is that, for much of this century, the U.S. government has worked to bring key agencies, such as the U.N. Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), under U.S. control and domination.

At the start of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, President George W. Bush ordered the U.S. military to conduct a devastating aerial assault on Baghdad, known as “shock and awe”.

This drive to neutralize the U.N.’s independence gained powerful momentum after the 9/11 attacks and President George W. Bush’s launching of his “global war on terror.” But this effort continued under President Obama and now under President Trump.

In 2002, after opening the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and effectively waiving the Geneva Convention’s protections for prisoners of war, Bush bristled at criticism from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary C. Robinson.

Soon, Robinson was targeted for removal. Her fierce independence, which also included criticism of Israel, was unacceptable. The Bush administration lobbied hard against her reappointment, leading to her retirement in 2002.

Also, in 2002, the Bush administration engineered the firing of OPCW’s Director General Jose Mauricio Bustani who was viewed as an obstacle to the U.S. plans for invading Iraq.

Bustani, who had been reelected unanimously to the post less than a year earlier, described his removal in a 2013 interview with Marlise Simons of The New York Times, citing how Bush’s emissary, Under-Secretary of State John Bolton, marched into Bustani’s office and announced that he (Bustani) would be fired.

“The story behind [Bustani’s] ouster has been the subject of interpretation and speculation for years, and Mr. Bustani, a Brazilian diplomat, has kept a low profile since then,” wrote Simons. “But with the agency [OPCW] thrust into the spotlight with news of the Nobel [Peace] Prize [in October 2013], Mr. Bustani agreed to discuss what he said was the real reason: the Bush administration’s fear that chemical weapons inspections in Iraq would conflict with Washington’s rationale for invading it. Several officials involved in the events, some speaking publicly about them for the first time, confirmed his account.”

The official U.S. explanation for getting rid of Bustani was incompetence, but Bustani and the other diplomats close to the case reported that Bustani’s real offense was drawing Iraq into acceptance of the OPCW’s conventions for eliminating chemical weapons, just as the Bush administration was planning to pin its propaganda campaign for invading Iraq on the country’s alleged secret stockpile of WMD.

Bustani’s ouster gave President Bush a clearer path to the invasion by letting him frighten Americans with the prospect of Iraq sharing its chemical weapons and possibly a nuclear bomb with Al Qaeda terrorists.

Dismissing Iraq’s insistence that it had destroyed its chemical weapons and didn’t have a nuclear weapons project, Bush launched the invasion in March 2003, only for the world to discover later that the Iraqi government was telling the truth.

Compliant Replacements

In comparison to the independent-minded Bustani, the biography of the current OPCW director general, Ahmet Uzumcu, a career Turkish diplomat, suggests that the OPCW could be expected to slant its case against the Syrian government in the current Syrian conflict.

Yukiya Amano, a Japanese diplomat and director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Not only has Turkey, a NATO ally of the United States, been a key player in supporting the proxy war to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but Uzumcu also served as Turkey’s ambassador to Israel, which has long sought regime change in Syria and has publicly come out in favor of the anti-government rebels.

Another one-time thorn in the side of the U.S. “unipolar power” was the IAEA when it was under the control of Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, an Egyptian. The IAEA challenged the Bush administration’s claims about Iraq having a nuclear program, when one really didn’t exist.

However, being right is no protection when U.S. officials want to bring an agency into line with U.S. policy and propaganda. So, early in the Obama administration – as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was pushing for a hardline on Iran over its nascent nuclear program – the U.S. government engineered the insertion of a pliable Japanese diplomat, Yukiya Amano, into the IAEA’s top job.

Before his appointment, Amano had portrayed himself as an independent-minded fellow who was resisting U.S.-Israeli propaganda about the Iranian nuclear program. Yet behind the scenes, he was meeting with U.S. and Israeli officials to coordinate on how to serve their interests (even though Israel is an actual rogue nuclear state, not a hypothetical or fictional one).

Amano’s professed doubts about an Iranian nuclear-bomb project, which even the U.S. intelligence community agreed no longer existed, was just a theatrical device to intensify the later impact if he were to declare that Iran indeed was building a secret nuke, thus justifying the desire of Israeli leaders and American neoconservatives to “bomb-bomb-bomb” Iran.

But this U.S. ploy was spoiled by Pvt. Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning’s leaking of hundreds of thousands of pages of U.S. diplomatic cables. Among them were reports on Amano’s hidden collaboration with U.S. and Israeli officials; his agreement with U.S. emissaries on who to fire and who to retain among IAEA officials; and even Amano’s request for additional U.S. financial contributions.

The U.S. embassy cables revealing the truth about Amano were published by the U.K. Guardian in 2011 (although ignored by The New York Times, The Washington Post and other mainstream U.S. news outlets). Despite the silence of the major U.S. news media, Internet outlets, such as Consortiumnews.com, highlighted the Amano cables, meaning that enough Americans knew the facts not to be fooled again. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Did Manning Help Avert War with Iran?”]

A Collective Collapse

A heart-rending propaganda image designed to justify a major U.S. military operation inside Syria against the Syrian military.

So, over the years, there has been a collective collapse of the independence at U.N.-related agencies. An international bureaucrat who gets on the wrong side of the United States or Israel can expect to be fired and humiliated, while those who play ball can be assured of a comfortable life as a “respected” diplomat.

But this reality is little known to most Americans so they are still inclined to be influenced when a “U.N. investigation” reaches some conclusion condemning some country that already is on the receiving end of negative U.S. propaganda.

The New York Times, CNN and other major U.S. news outlets are sure to trumpet these “findings” with great seriousness and respect and to treat any remaining doubters as outside the mainstream. Of course, there’s an entirely different response on the rare occasion when some brave or foolhardy human rights bureaucrat criticizes Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Then, the U.N. finding is just a sign of anti-Israeli bias and should be discounted.

In the far more frequent cases when a U.N. report is in line with U.S. propaganda, American journalists almost never turn a critical eye toward the quality of the evidence or the leaps of logic. We saw that happen this week with a thinly sourced and highly dubious U.N. report blaming the Syrian government for an alleged sarin incident on April 4. A major contradiction in the evidence – testimony given to OPCW investigators undercutting the conclusion that a Syrian warplane could have dropped a sarin bomb – was brushed aside by the U.N. human rights investigators and was ignored by the Times and other major U.S. news outlets.

But what is perhaps most troubling is that these biased U.N. reports are now used to justify continued wars of aggression by stronger countries against weaker ones. So, instead of acting as a bulwark to protect the powerless from the powerful as the U.N. Charter intended, the U.N. bureaucracy has turned the original noble purpose of the institution on its head by becoming an enabler of the “supreme international crime,” wars of aggression.

*This article was originally published on consortiumnews.com

UNFOLD ZERO: About Organization

UNFOLD ZERO is a platform for United Nations (UN) focused initiatives and actions for the achievement of a nuclear weapons free world.

UNFOLD ZERO aims to unfold the path to zero nuclear weapons through effective steps and measures facilitated by the UN General Assembly, UN Security Council, UN Secretary-General and other UN bodies.

Zero nuclear weapons

The aim of zero nuclear weapons – the prohibition and complete elimination of nuclear weapons under strict and effective international control – was first affirmed by UN General Assembly resolution 1 (I) on January 24, 1946. A reliance on nuclear deterrence by some countries in response to regional and international tensions since then has thwarted the achievement of this goal. However, a number of recent developments bring this goal into sight. These include globalization, the strengthening of international law, a growing public aversion to all weapons of mass destruction and the increasing effectiveness of the United Nations and other cooperative security mechanisms to address core security issues.

Why focus on the United Nations?

The UN provides the principal environment for the international community to implement the collective obligation and the global common good to achieve a nuclear weapons free world.

The UN brings together all the key players relevant to the achievement of a nuclear weapons free world. This includes the nuclear-armed countries, the countries under extended nuclear deterrence relationships, the non-nuclear countries that have demonstrated the possibility to achieve security without relying on nuclear weapons, and civil society actors engaged in nuclear disarmament.

The UN includes key organs through which nuclear disarmament agreements can be negotiated and their implementation monitored and enforced, including the UN General Assembly, UN Security Council, Conference on Disarmament, UN Office of Disarmament Affairs, and the International Court of Justice. In addition, the UN provides a cooperative security framework for addressing security challenges without recourse to the threat or use of nuclear weapons.

Relationship to other nuclear abolition networks and campaigns

Nuclear abolition will require action at all levels (public, city, national, regional and international) and in many forms, not just the United Nations. UNFOLD ZERO aims to complement, enhance and empower existing nuclear abolition networks and initiatives, through action within the UN system. UNFOLD ZEROalso links to platforms for the abolition of other inhumane weapons and weapons of mass destruction, and to platforms for general and complete disarmament.

UNFOLD ZERO is a project of PragueVisionPNNDBasel Peace OfficeMayors for Peace 2020 Vision Campaign, Aotearoa Lawyers for Peace and Global Security Institute.

*This article was originally published on unfoldzero.org.




On the eve of newly-elected South Korean President Moon Jae-In’s first visit to Washington, D.C., Global Zero’s Nuclear Crisis Group (NCG), a newly-formed team of seasoned diplomats, military leaders and national security experts from ten nuclear-armed and allied countries, has released a set of urgent recommendations to avoid the use of nuclear weapons and call on national leaders to act now to reduce the unacceptably high risk of nuclear conflict.

Co-chaired by Ambassador Richard Burt, General (Ret.) James E. Cartwright and Ambassador Thomas Pickering, the NCG met in Vienna, Austria in Spring 2017 to review the security and political situation in four nuclear flashpoints: the Korean Peninsula, US/Russia/NATO, South Asia and US-China. In all four areas, the group unanimously expressed its alarm about the risk of conflict and escalation – intentional or otherwise – to the nuclear level and endorsed immediate steps that can prevent conflicts from escalating to nuclear weapons use.

The NCG urgently calls for the United States and North Korea to establish direct discussions to reduce the risks of a nuclear exchange. All NCG members support the resumption of broader talks to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula but understand that process will take time and cannot be allowed to delay urgent nuclear risk reduction discussions between Washington and Pyongyang.

Other recommendations include urgent resumption of US-Russia strategic stability talks and avoidance of using nuclear threats and assets as part of military exercises; agreement by Indian and Pakistani leaders to non-deployment of battlefield or land-mobile nuclear weapons and commitment to avoid the use of nuclear weapons; and full implementation by the United States and China of existing accident-avoidance agreements to avoid steps that could lead to military incidents, including medium-altitude reconnaissance flights and militarization of newly-formed islands in the South China Sea, and expansion of military-to-military and diplomatic talks to include nuclear doctrine and transparency.

The Nuclear Crisis Group will continue to closely monitor nuclear flashpoints and to update its recommendations as international developments unfold.



Global Zero is the international movement for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Powered by a visionary group of 300 international leaders and experts who support our bold, step-by-step plan to eliminate all nuclear weapons by 2030, the relentless creativity, energy and optimism of young people and half a million citizens worldwide, Global Zero is challenging the 20th century idea of basing national security on the threat of mass destruction – and together we are making real progress on the road to global zero.

Global Zero leaders understand that the only way to eliminate the nuclear threat – including proliferation and nuclear terrorism – is to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, secure all nuclear materials and eliminate all nuclear weapons: global zero.

We’ve spent years building a nonpartisan, international community of influential political, military, business, civic and faith leaders – matched by a powerful global grassroots movement. We’re not tilting at windmills. We’ve got a plan. And it’s backed by experts and leading newspapers worldwide. The challenge now is getting world leaders to act on it – and only unified, international public pressure can create the necessary political will to make it happen.

So we’re taking that challenge head on and working hard to build the movement. We’re signing up more and more activists, cranking up our public mobilization and sharing our vision for a world without nuclear weapons with opinion-leaders and decision-makers.

Passionate and dedicated activists are reaching out to new communities to help expand our efforts and intensify the fight. We’re nimble in the face of new challenges and opportunities and refuse to surrender to the minority of fanatic skeptics who insist the world cannot change.

This movement is propelled forward by your commitment to a better, safer tomorrow.

When we eliminate nuclear weapons, it will be because of you.


Donald Trump has Complete, Unchecked Authority to use Nuclear Weapons

Donald Trump has Complete, Unchecked Authority to use Nuclear Weapons

DW: Does the US military chain of command give President Donald Trump the unilateral authority to order the use of nuclear weapons? 

Bruce Blair: The protocol that has been set up for this purpose is streamlined and designed for speed and efficiency, not for deliberation. And this protocol gives the president carte blanche – complete unchecked authority to order the use of nuclear weapons.

Bruce Blair (Max Whittaker)Bruce Blair is a nuclear security scholar at Princeton University and a co-founder of Global Zero

Now some people argue that that authority can violate the constitution if the president orders the first use of nuclear weapons, others say the constitution provides this authority through Article 2, which designates the president as commander in chief of the armed forces. So you get into a little bit of debate about what is constitutional or not. But the system, the protocol, is designed to allow for one person with a single verbal order to launch nuclear weapons.

Can you describe the nature of this protocol and how the use of nuclear weapons would be carried out in practice?

The way that would work is that the president would consult as he desires with his top advisors. He is not obliged to consult with anyone, including the Secretary of Defense or the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff or the national security adviser.

He likely would and the teleconferencing protocol has been designed to patch in his top advisors into a secure conference call if they are not in the room with him, including the commander of the strategic forces in Omaha, Nebraska. In this case, he would have a discussion with his advisors if he chose to do so.

The atomic bomb explodes over Hiroshima (Imago/United Archives International)The US is the only country to use a nuclear weapon against another country, dropping two atomic bombs on Japan in World War II

The main talker in this conference call is the commander, the four-star general in charge of our nuclear forces in Omaha, Nebraska. He is the person who talks to the president about what options are available and what the consequences would be and he would ask the president about what kind of conditions the president would like to impose on the use of nuclear weapons, for example whether or not he would like to withhold strikes against urban populations. So that conversation is the main one in this protocol and other advisors may be invited to weigh in or may not.

And then the president makes a decision and then conveys that decision to another critical party that is patched into this emergency teleconference, and that is the emergency action center, the so-called war room at the Pentagon. So the president makes a decision, chooses among the options to him and instructs the war room, which is patched into this call to carry out that order.

At which point the war room requires the president to verify his identity using a special code, known colloquially as “the biscuit,” also known as “the gold code.” And if the president gives the right codes to the Pentagon, the Pentagon transmits an emergency message or a launch order to the forces designated by the president’s choice.

That launch order, which is roughly the length of a tweet, would be formatted and would include special codes to unlock missiles and to provide instructions to the executing commanders in the field as to the time the war plan should be carried out. And then the crews would receive that message within five minutes of the president’s decision and begin to carry it out.

Seoul: Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un on a TV screen (picture alliance/dpa/AP/A. Young-joon)Trump has issued heavy-handed threats to the regime in Pyongyang

How long would it take for the president’s order to be carried out?

In the case of land-based rockets in the middle west of the United States, of which there are 400, each with one warhead, those crews can carry out the order in one minute from the time they have received it. The missiles could be leaving their silos en masse in one minute from the time they have received the order. Crews on submarines would take about 10 minutes longer to carry out the order because they have extra steps that they need to carry out.

Could there be opposition among the senior advisors that’s so strong that they would try to intervene not only to oppose, but to disobey orders and to instruct the chain of command in the Pentagon war room not to carry out the order?

There you are entering into a psychological arena, and I can’t really speculate more than anyone else how that might play out.

And the fact that the military is already planning conventional and nuclear operations against North Korea, that there is already a nuclear plan for North Korea, the fact that that is an ongoing process of fine tuning, is an indication that that is already accepted that nuclear weapons might be used against North Korea. And the mere planning for that by the military indicates the accommodation and acceptance of a presidential decision to order that plan be carried out.

North Korea rocket test (Reuters/KCNA)US intelligence authorities claim North Korea can mount a nuclear missile on a rocket

Once an option is chosen by the president in this protocol of decision making that I described to you, someone like the commander of the strategic command might be saying, “Mr President I think this is ill-advised, we have conventional non-nuclear options to deal with this threat and furthermore the nuclear option you prefer is probably a violation of the law of war under the circumstances.”

He may well receive that kind of advice in the emergency conference, but he can ignore it and proceed and I believe that – based on my conversations with people in the military that would be involved in situations like that – they would give their best advice and then they would carry out the order that the president gives, even if it were viewed as ill-advised, misguided and a violation of the law of war. I believe the system is very strongly predisposed to accept and carry out the president’s wishes.

Bruce Blair is a nuclear security scholar at Princeton University and a co-founder of Global Zero, an international initiative dedicated to the elimination of all nuclear weapons. He also served as a member of the US State Department’s International Security Advisory Board from 2007 to June 2017.

The interview was conducted by Michael Knigge.

*This article was originally published August 10, 2017, on dw.com.



The fact that one person can potentially destroy the world is explained in the article by nuclear security expert and co-founder of Global Zero, Bruce Blair.  His vivid description of how the President of the US can launch a nuclear attack is chilling — think of a one to a fifteen-minute window, and then it is too late.

Global Zero and UNfold Zero are nongovernmental  organizations who believe that the danger from nuclear weapons is an ongoing emergency, and like Democratic World Federalists, have sprung into action.  DWF’s strategy aims to correct the flaws in the United Nations itself, defects in the UN Charter which allow wars, nuclear weapons, and global anarchy.

Global Zero has put together a “Nuclear Crisis Group”  which attempts to intervene in potential hot spots like North Korea, US/Russia NATO, and US-China.  Global Zero says it has  “300 visionary leaders and experts”  with a step by step plan to eliminate all nuclear weapons by 2030. Their goal is to inspire enough public pressure to get world leaders to act on their plan.

UNfold Zero describes itself as being a “platform” for United Nations initiatives and actions to achieve a nuclear free world.   Their plan involves working within the present UN system — the UN General Assembly, the UN Security Council,  the UN Secretary General, and so on.

But if we are to obtain a nuclear free world and end war, world federalists believe that we must transform the UN itself, otherwise, cooperation and treaty agreements at the UN will ultimately prove to be inadequate.  Top thinkers like Einstein and Hawkins have agreed with the world federalists — that to succeed and bring the world to safety we will need a world government.

Unfortunately for the world community, the UN is not a world federal government.  The UN does not have adequate enforcement powers.  Powerful nations, especially the Security Council’s P-5 with the veto,  ignore the UN whenever it suits them.  Their leaders feel free to violate international law knowing that, thanks to the obsolete UN Charter,  they have impunity and are above the law.

Bully nations hide behind the mantra of  “national security” and “mutually assured destruction” (MAD!) in an obsessive compulsion to keep their beloved nukes.  They stubbornly insist upon their right to endanger the entire world.

A nuclear free world will require a “new UN”
Democratic World Federalists have launched THE SAN FRANCISCO PROMISE, a strategy to get the UN General Assembly to launch a review of the UN Charter.  A review was legally promised at the signing of the Charter in San Francisco but never carried out, a fact frustrating to the peace loving nations of the world tired of wars and the threat of nuclear annihilation.

Despite the recent Nuclear Weapons Ban passed at the UN, the US and the other nuclear powers are free to start a nuclear war, and the UN cannot stop them.  This is because at the global level there is no law and order, no global sheriff to ensure the peace.

Cooperation and treaties to eliminate nukes are a useful initial step, but history shows that treaty agreements are not strong enough to hold.    Although the important work being done by Global Zero and UNfold Zero deserve respect,  it is a disturbing fact that the UN lacks the tools needed to end war or to permanently eliminate weapons of mass destruction.

THE SAN FRANCISCO PROMISE launched by DWF must reach the public and the UN General Assembly.  A charter  review can open the door for a “new UN.”  World federalists know what’s wrong with the UN Charter.  The Constitution for the Federation of Earth is a model world charter/constitution available as a guide for a “new UN” to establish a world federal union government to replace the current geopolitical war system with a global peace system.

Roger Kotila, Ph.D.

How a U.N. treaty on nuclear weapons makes international security policy more inclusive

How a U.N. treaty on nuclear weapons makes international security policy more inclusive

The 2014 Nuclear Security Summit. Credit: Voice of America


Reactions to the recently-adopted U.N. Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons focus on the fact that none of the states possessing nuclear weapons were part of the negotiations. This is a valid concern, as these countries have shown no interest in joining the treaty. However, something different caught my attention when I read the new agreement. The final three paragraphs of the preamble are unusual for aweapons of mass destruction (WMD) disarmament treaty. In those paragraphs, the treaty negotiators recognize the role of women, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and education in addressing nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. In other words, the agreement acknowledges the importance of an inclusive process that engages civil society in maintaining international security, one founded on the principle of an educated global citizenry.

Progress on nuclear disarmament

The new treaty, negotiated by over 130 countries, represents a positive step forward in nuclear disarmament, though naturally, it has its challenges. The crucial provisions call on states with nuclear weapons to “remove them from operational status and destroy them as soon as possible but not later than a deadline agreed by the first meeting of States Parties.” The treaty also requires states possessing nuclear weapons to report on their progress until disarmament is completed.

These essential provisions will prove difficult for states possessing nuclear weapons to accept, especially since they opted out of the negotiation of the agreement itself. However, the treaty has the potential to set the stage for making tangible progress on the long-awaited goal of nuclear disarmament. The treaty has reaffirmed the desire of many states to move toward the conclusion of a treaty to rid the world of nuclear weapons and strengthen the global norm against their use, which is in itself a very positive result. The agreement’s ultimate success, however, will depend on how the states possessing nuclear weapons react to the treaty and whether they decide to take steps toward joining it.

Recognizing women’s role in dealing with hard security issues

The treaty’s preamble recognizes the importance of “equal, full and effective participation of both women and men” for promoting peace and security, as well as the engagement of women in nuclear disarmament. It also acknowledges the role of peace and disarmament education in “raising the awareness of the risks and consequences of nuclear weapons,” and also highlights the efforts of the NGO community in calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

As a woman of color who has worked in the area of arms control and non-proliferation, as well as WMD threat reduction for over 20 years, I am always pleased when policies represent the input of experts from throughout society. I am therefore especially pleased that women are finally being highlighted for what they do and can bring to the table on weapons of mass destruction issues. In my experience at the former U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and as legal advisor to U.S. delegations negotiating arms control treaties and to treaty implementation bodies such as the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), I do not recall any particular effort to ensure women’s voices are a part of such negotiations or any language in prior treaties advocating for peace and disarmament education.

The recognition that women are valuable agents of change in advancing peace and security, and yet are often absent in peace and security negotiations is what prompted the adoption of U.N. Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, which calls for women to participate in peacebuilding and end gender discrimination. The resolution reaffirmed the importance of women’s “equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.” At a time when we are facing increased threats to international security, from North Korean nuclear weapons, terrorism, and cyber attacks, to climate change and infectious diseases, diverse expert input, including the voices of women, is essential to devising and implementing effective policy responses.

Since I began working in this field in the 1990s, the number of women in influential positions in international security, both in government and in NGOs, has steadily increased, though gender parity remains a far-off goal. Female diplomats such as Elayne Whyte Gómez played an important role in negotiating the text of the new treaty. It is important to recognize the inclusion of gender-related language in the convention, even if only in the preamble. Demonstrating global engagement of women on an issue long dominated by men would advance the goals expressed in UNSCR 1325 and help ensure the more of the best minds work on the important issue of nuclear disarmament.

Beyond governments: The role for NGOs in addressing global threats

Also, while NGOs have previously engaged in treaty implementation and negotiations—notably, the significant role of the Chemical Manufacturers Association in the negotiation of the Chemical Weapons Convention—no previous WMD disarmament treaty has recognized the importance of nongovernmental organizations. In the past few years, several initiatives set up to prevent and respond to WMD terrorism, such as the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Material of Mass Destruction, increasingly incorporate entities outside of government. Those organizations attend official meetings as observers, and their views can be represented in final documents. UNSCR 1540, which recognizes WMD proliferation as a threat to international peace and security under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, also encourages partnerships with civil society as a means of enabling states to meet their non-proliferation responsibilities.

The NGO community was very active in engaging the U.S. public on the importance of ratifying the 2010 START treaty with Russia. In the lead-up to the ratification of the treaty, NGOs mobilized college students and conducted outreach to senators about the importance of ratification, convening monthly meetings to develop strategies, and launching a major grassroots effort to educate citizens and editorial boards around the country. A more educated citizenry helped to ratify a treaty to strengthen global security.

On transnational threats such as WMD and infectious disease, the Obama administration engaged in significant outreach to entities outside government, reflecting a recognition of the importance of a multi-sector approach that includes all relevant voices. In preparations for the four Nuclear Security Summits that took place between 2010-16, the U.S. government sought to include the nuclear industry. The Nuclear Energy Institute, for example, hosted side events at each of the summits with an international audience of industry representatives, in order to highlight the importance of nuclear security in their activities.

Similarly, on global health security, I led outreach efforts to the private sector, academic and research institutions, foundations, humanitarian organizations, and others. For instance, the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) Private Sector Roundtable (PSRT) and the GHSA Consortium of NGOs were established to sustain civil society engagement around the goal of preventing, detecting, and responding to infectious disease threats. The Roundtable has been instrumental in bringing private sector perspectives to the efforts to advance global health security through its direct engagement with the World Health Organization and the establishment of several working groups, including one focusing on supply chain issues. In addition, the GHSA Next Generation brings an international youth perspective to issues of infectious disease.

The preamble to the new U.N. Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons recognizes the role of various sectors and entities in nuclear disarmament. It also acknowledges the importance of ensuring a global community that, through education, becomes more aware of nuclear weapons issues. The text can be an important aspect of the treaty and enhances the critical principle of representative governance in international security, whether or not the agreement succeeds in promoting tangible progress toward disarmament.

*This article was originally published July 8, 2017, on www.brookings.edu.

NOTE: The Democratic World Federalists are committed to expressing a wide range of views on the vision of creating a peaceful, just, and sustainable world through a democratic World Federation. The views expressed in this article represents that commitment and not necessarily our official position.