Challenging Critics: Thoughts on SCRAP’s UN Panel
Outside the creative bubble that is SOAS, University of London, SCRAP is difficult to defend. Even inside critics lament the project’s overly idealistic – or some would say ludicrous – aim to not only pursue total and complete global disarmament, but to propose an initial legal framework through which this might be feasible. It is within this context of general skepticism that SCRAP held a panel discussion on the subject at the United Nations Office in Geneva. Attended by members of the disarmament community, diplomats, and an international group of students, the event proposed to open up discussion on this impossible idea. The panel’s members gave the forum an immediate weight; the UN Acting Head in Geneva Michael Moller delivered opening remarks, while Ambassador Urs Schmid of Switzerland, Marc Finaud of the Geneva Center for Security Policy and the UN Institute for Disarmament Research, and CISD Director Dan Plesch contributed to a discussion chaired by Finish Ambassador Paivi Kairamo. SCRAP’s student ambassadors Alexandra Tsamados, Kevin Miletic, and Bodil Jacobsen added their unique views on the project.
The event served as a forum for a broad range of issues related to disarmament. Student representatives assisted Dan Plesch in presenting SCRAP’s updated draft resolution on a legally binding agreement for general and complete disarmament, a compilation of existing treaties through which the goal could become practical. The framework is a creative approach; as Dr. Plesch stressed, every agreement reached on the subject of arms control was said to have been unrealistic, yet now the core mechanisms for disarmament and enforcement exist. If there is to be an international treaty on any further disarmament, it will have to be rooted in existing frameworks. Marc Finaud stressed the importance of SCRAP’s holistic, multi-stakeholder approach, but argued that the draft resolution should go deeper into specific categories of disarmament and regional agreements.
The ambassadors from Finland and Switzerland focused their discussion on the issue of nuclear disarmament, which they both stressed is a necessary prerequisite for any further arms control agreements. Ambassador Schmid mentioned the shift underway from discussing nuclear weapons solely under a national security paradigm to a focus on their humanitarian dimension. The upcoming conference in Mexico of states and civil society on the subject has been eclipsed by the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, giving further impetus to the need to highlight the issue. On SCRAP, Ambassador Kairamo praised the out-of-the-box thinking that propels new, creative responses. She noted the importance of discussions such as these to battle progress’ common enemy, ignorance.
Acting Director General Moller also praised the unique thinking of SCRAP, calling the project “an inspiration”. He expressed a shared vision of a world without weapons and lamented that there is not enough impatience in the field of disarmament – yet he sees this impatience in SCRAP. Civil society, and public opinion more generally, is needed to challenge entrenched understandings in order to achieve real progress. The acceptance of the status quo is unacceptable.
It is likely that most skeptics walked away from the proceedings just as skeptical, and those on the fence may not have been convinced in one afternoon, but the event succeeded in its central aim: fostering discussion on a supposedly crazy idea. Overhearing private debates among students following the event, I was heartened. Perhaps SCRAP is a long shot; perhaps you do not agree with a single one of its aims, but it certainly initiated debate. This, as trite as it sounds, is progress. The international community needs students to brainstorm alternative visions for the future – we cannot allow SCRAP to do it alone.
By Sarah Marion Shore, MA Candidate, International Studies and Diplomacy, SOAS