Reflections on Evolving International Security Landscape | Sunday Observer

Reflections on Evolving International Security Landscape

Ambassador Azeez chairing the UNCTAD Trade and Development Commission in Geneva, November 12-14, 2018.    (Pic: Courtesy UNCTAD)
Ambassador Azeez chairing the UNCTAD Trade and Development Commission in Geneva, November 12-14, 2018. (Pic: Courtesy UNCTAD)

The security landscape in most regions, as well as globally in general, is becoming increasingly constrained by the day. It is, therefore, timely to reflect on some trends and developments in the international security landscape, and to seek to persuade the parties or forces that shape them, to take all possible steps in the direction of assuring and strengthening international peace and security.

The Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty is in jeopardy. Dialogue needs to be encouraged between the States concerned. As expressed by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, it would do well if parties could consider extending the New START Treaty for another term, from when it is due to expire.

It is noted that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was welcomed by many countries as it was concluded in 2015. It is crucial that the JCPOA continues to be honoured by all its current parties, with the IAEA’s crucial role in verification.

The Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which was the last treaty negotiated by the Conference on Disarmament, before its final adoption, has come a long way in achieving near-universality, but remains still short of essential ratifications to come into effect, although the Preparatory Commission of the CTBTO, its Executive Secretary, and the Secretariat in particular, should be appreciated for the innovative ways in which they use the treaty provisions to benefit humanity in vital areas of its mandate.

The use or threat of use of other types of Weapons of Mass Destruction remains still a possibility. The perception being created that the use of nuclear weapons is less of a possibility today than that of other WMDs is just what it is; perception. It seems evident that confidence among non-nuclear weapons states in the continued wisdom of non-use or in the ability of restraint is steadily eroding.

The evolving prospect of Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS), with advances made in Artificial Intelligence dominating regional and global security landscapes, devoid of meaningful human control, remains a matter of grave concern. It is clear that implications of such weapons systems for human rights and international humanitarian law are far-reaching.

2019 – A significant milestone

While several regions have their own nuclear weapons-free zones and take responsible measures to ensure that intra-regional peace and security holds despite challenges, such arrangements, however, appear to be a luxury for a few others. Now, the concept has even expanded to include all other Weapons of Mass Destruction. The 1995 NPT Review and Extension package remains unimplemented in most areas, and one of the most glaring is the lack of commitment to move forward towards negotiating a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East. These are, however, only a few; and several other challenges that have the potential to place humanity at peril still remain.

It is in the backdrop of this constraining global landscape that we have stepped into the year 2019. This year, though, marks several landmarks in the global disarmament discourse, including 100 years of multilateralism in disarmament since the founding of the League of Nations, the 40th anniversary of the Conference on Disarmament (CD), the final Preparatory Commission of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and the 20th anniversary of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC).

There are other landmarks, too, directly or indirectly connected to disarmament and non-proliferation discourses. Some lie in the human rights arena: the 40th anniversary of the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which follow close on the heels of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the 25th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, and 10 years since the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2018.

All these are relevant for the assurance of human security in all its aspects. It is also important to recall that the year 2020 will mark two decades since the adoption of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.

However, not everything is bleak. Many share the hope expressed by the UN Secretary General at the High-Level Segment of the CD that the Conference should build on the positives and work harder on narrowing the differences that exist, in the common interest of humanity.

Having faced a continuing impasse for over 20 years, the CD received an impetus temporarily in 2018 through its Decisions 2119 and 2126, providing an opportunity to break this stalemate and move forward. Substantive deliberations followed.

Nevertheless, a major step forward is yet to be taken towards a Program of Work agreeable to all. The 40th anniversary of the CD is the right opportunity, if used wisely, to build on the momentum achieved through the productive work in the last year, to develop an understanding of commonalities, and in parallel, or alongside, to progress towards negotiating a comprehensive and balanced Program of Work.

SG’s Agenda for Disarmament

The launching of the ‘Securing our common future: An Agenda for Disarmament’ by the UN Secretary General in Geneva in May 2018, marked a significant step forward. It called for a breakthrough in the current impasse and aimed to create forward movement in the disarmament agenda, through practical suggestions and ideas. There was great expectation that it would help bring the global focus back on disarmament in all its aspects, and put in place sustained, effective and meaningful processes to advance disarmament.

It is encouraging that several countries have taken ‘ideas’ from the Secretary General’s Agenda for Disarmament and have introduced, or are introducing specific multilateral initiatives. The hope is that they are doing so believing in the intrinsic value of such initiatives, as the world is beset by a number of challenges, including new and emerging.

At the same time, however, it is unfortunate to note that some should have interpreted this Agenda only from the perspective of their own strategic priorities, rather than seeing how best the ideas contained therein could cohere into making the policy and legal architecture for advancing disarmament and non-proliferation in a much more forward-looking manner.

We should endeavour to use the ideas to construct our collective approach for a better and safer world. We should refrain from seeking to reduce the Secretary General’s Agenda for Disarmament to a book of beautiful quotes – for selective quotation to suit the specific stake that one or the other appears to maintain in the disarmament discourse. 

As much as the positive developments are welcome, worrying is the possibility of some critical ideas being neglected. While some ideas are taken from the Agenda for Disarmament in good faith, for transformation into multilateral initiatives, some other ideas that the UN Secretary-General has suggested with a view to bridging the divides on some vital concerns, still remain ‘unpicked’. A fear exists, therefore, that the current emphasis on ‘picking the pick-ables and leaving out the rest’ may, in one way or another, perpetuate the imbalance that already exists.

Urgent need for progress within the CD

Considering the current precarious state of the international peace and security landscape, the significance of the year 2019 in the global disarmament calendar, and in particular, as we advance towards the 2020 NPT Review Conference, it is imperative that the CD explores all means possible to create momentum for serious and committed negotiations on all core issues.

In this regard, one needs to appreciate the efforts made to seek the support of the CD membership to evolve a draft decision that would have paved the way for substantive informal deliberations through subsidiary mechanisms, broadly on the lines of the decision adopted during Sri Lanka’s Presidency in 2018, and building further on it, and further narrowing the gaps in our understanding.

If swift progress is not achieved in the common interest of humanity towards engaging in substantive negotiations aimed at putting in place legally binding international instruments on disarmament and non-proliferation, the gains of multilateralism and its achievements in peace, security and social and economic development for all, could no doubt run the risk of being rolled back or negated for a long time to come.

There should be ‘enabling’ or ‘permissive’ mechanisms and methods and procedures that yield outcomes. Working methods and rules of procedure are to aid, not prevent, deliberations on substantive issues. Deliberations should, in turn, aid negotiations. The CD being the single disarmament negotiating forum, it is important that it is harnessed to better deliver on its core mandate and to take forward negotiations on all critical concerns.

It is also important that the CD becomes more inclusive and representative of the whole range of views and perspectives expressed on critical issues in disarmament and nonproliferation. In this respect, two factors are essential to infuse fresh thinking and initiative, namely, (i) addressing the acute need for education and training in the disarmament and non-proliferation arena; and (ii) ensuring the full integration of a gender perspective into disarmament and non-proliferation discourses.

The UNODA, UNIDIR and all Member States can play a significant role in strengthening work in these areas, which are crucial to empowering the younger generation on disarmament, particularly in the developing world.

Sri Lanka’s priorities

Within the parameters of Sri Lanka’s approach to international peace and security, the following remain among some important priorities in the disarmament arena:

- Comprehensive disarmament, realising through a step-by-step approach, underpinned by the adoption of legally binding frameworks and also addressing legal gaps that may exist;

- Full compliance with, and effective promotion of, the implementation of the NPT without further delay, and respect for its three pillars and the delicate balance built into the structure of the treaty in favour of eventual achievement of nuclear disarmament;

- Support for the preservation of all existing disarmament architecture and the positive gains realised;

- Continuing commitment to achieving a legally binding instrument on Proposed Prevention of an Arms Race in Space (PAROS) Treaty, as a country which has steadfastly pursued the objective of an outer space free of weapons;

- Advancement and promotion of respect for the objectives of the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention and continue to call for their effective and non-discriminatory implementation;

- Effective implementation of the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism;

- Exploration of possibilities and steps towards establishing WMD-free zones, building upon the nuclear free zones and, in particular, in regions where such zones are not in place, as confidence-building initiatives;

- Strong commitment to negotiations on a binding instrument on Negative Security Assurance.

- Maintenance of clear positions, diligently advancing humanitarian disarmament in all its aspects. Sri Lanka’s accessions to the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC) in December 2017 and the Convention on Cluster Munitions in March 2018 testify to the importance that the country has given to humanitarian disarmament. The list is not exhaustive, and the remaining set of priorities includes identification of and negotiation on new and emerging issues such as the LAWS.

Disarmament and the SDGs

We are living in an increasingly inter-connected and inter-linked world. There is a direct link between development and security; security and human rights; and human rights and development.

Lack of movement in these critical areas will severely impact progress in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with many of the Sustainable Development Goals likely falling behind their targets and many others slipping into further regression. SDG 16 on Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions and SDG 17 on Partnerships for Goals, in particular, are of paramount importance in this context, if we are to ‘leave no one behind’.

The lead-up to 2020 is an important and critical period not only for the aforementioned international landmarks, but also because of the 2020 UN General Assembly Review of implementation of the UN Development Agenda. Peace and security, that underpins and forms the basis for sustainable development and human rights, is a key determinant of the progress that humanity makes in all spheres including economic and social development.

The writer is Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN in Geneva
[Courtesy: IDN-InDepthNews)

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