The views contained in this article are those of the author and not of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Profile: My name is Natasha Barnes, I have recently completed my Masters Degree in political science at the University of Canterbury (on nuclear disarmament). I am currently working at the Disarmament and Security Centre in Christchurch.
Role: Non-governmental advisor on the New Zealand delegation at the 2010 Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference.* This means that I am not employed by the New Zealand government, but I get to sit in on the negotiations and briefings so that I can bring another perspective to the table.
Location: United Nations Headquarters, New York City.
Wednesday 28th April It took 28 hours of travel, but I am finally in New York, one broken suitcase later. I am exhausted and well over all those long queues! What happened to that private plane I thought the Foreign Service had for such important travel?
Friday 30th April I suddenly realised how lucky we are to live in NZ. I just assume women can do anything but have realised this is not always the case as I am struck by the ‘sea of men in suits.’ There are however, a lot of awesome NZ women breaking new ground here: most of the NZ delegation including our disarmament Minister Georgina te Heuheu and MP Nicky Wagner
Saturday 1st May @ the DisarmNow conference, Mayor Akiba (of Hiroshima) described nuclear deterrence as “like parents flooding their basements with gasoline to stop their children from playing with fire”
Saturday 1st May Attended a youth workshop run by some colleagues from Europe. We role-played how to engage experts and diplomats in “dialogue.” Most useful outcomes: the importance of finding common ground, developing you arguments, researching thoroughly, showing respect for the person you are speaking with (they have been doing their job for a long time), listening, and understanding other perspectives.
Sunday 2nd May In Times Square, over 10 000 people marched to the UN to protest about the many states who continue to rely on the 23 000 nuclear weapons still in existence some 20 years after the Cold War ended - that’s 700 times the explosive power of every weapon used in the World War II!
Monday 3rd May Sat in the UN General Assembly Hall in the NZ seat! President Ahmadinejad (Iran) is about 20 metres away and Hillary Clinton is about to speak! There are representatives from nearly all 192 states in one room. It feels like a very small world!
Tuesday 4th May The UN is really not as far out of reach as I used to think. There are literally hundreds of young people here from around the world who are passionate about disarmament and the environment.
Wednesday 5th May Diplomats in bow ties... awesome! Go the Chinese and Canadian Ambassadors
Thursday 6th May Even though NZ is a small country, we have a very impressive history. Nuclear-free since 1987, we are a member of the New Agenda Coalition, which plays an important role in getting states to recognise their obligations to disarm these weapons. We are also pushing for the Nuclear Weapons States to take their weapons off ‘High Alert’ (4,000 nuclear weapons are still ready to be launched in under a half an hour at any one time - equivalent to 40,000 Hiroshima bombs.) With all the research that is being done on the impact of climate change we now know the sort of catastrophic human and environmental damage even a limited or accidental strike of these weapons would bring. The disruption in Europe caused by smoke from the Eyjafjallajokull eruption is just a small taste of what would happen if nuclear weapons are ever used. Check out : http://www.nucleardarkness.org (external link).
Friday 7th May While the diplomats work through the official conference program and review where we are at with nuclear weapons, the non-governmental people (activists, research institutes, former diplomats and politicians etc) host side events. Today’s events included a breakfast meeting on the new START Agreement, and a lunch meeting on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (external link). This afternoon covered the state of fissile material (external link) in the world today, security without nuclear deterrence and how to get to “global zero”
Monday 10th May There are multiple things going at once here at the UN HQ. The Commission on Sustainable Development, a UNESCO Art exhibition about the effects of urbanisation in Uganda, Michael Douglas is here to launch an exhibition about the impact of nuclear weapons tests and a new doco that is coming out called Countdown to Zero (by the director of An Inconvenient Truth)(external link).
Wednesday 12th May It is almost surreal sitting here talking about the number of nuclear weapons states should be allowed to possess. The global defence budget is $1.4 trillion. $74 billion is spent every year on nuclear weapons alone... only $54 billion of this would be needed to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals. When people say “you get what you pay for” it is very true. We should be talking to the Sustainable Development people in the conference room next door!
Thursday 16th May Just saw the trailer to a new doco called Where the Clouds Come Home (external link) made by Small Seed Films. It’s about the impact of Uranium mining on the Meghalayan people.
Friday 17th May The Official Draft documents have just been released by the Chairs of the three main committees and a special sub-committee on nuclear disarmament. We will spend the next 2 weeks working over what they say to make sure every state is comfortable and agrees with what will be announced as a conference outcome. Will everyone agree? Not sure. Will we make progress? Nobody knows. Will we eventually disarm these weapons? It better be in OUR lifetime!**
Monday 17th May Morning meeting with the delegation covering the plan of action for the next week and division of tasks. It is going to be an intense week of consultation.
Thursday 20th May Quote of the Day: Mr Chairman, I would like to point out that today is Thursday, tomorrow is Friday...” Chair responds “Thank you to the distinguished representative of ----- for that intervention.”
Friday 21st May Sitting in the NZ seat behind the Ambassador as she gives an intervention. Consensus on these issues will be hard won.
Monday 23rd May In the middle of a very interesting debate on the Article X right of withdrawal from the NPT, a colleague stated... “a good debate can change hearts and minds, but not our instructions.”
Wednesday 26th May Quote of the day: “nuclear weapons are a perverse addiction, like making a pact with the dark side of the force.” This was only the second Star Wars reference of the day.
Wednesday 26th May Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has just written a letter to the Conference urging all delegations to come to consensus as the stakes are too high to let the Conference fail.
Thursday 27th May Penultimate day of this conference, we have broken into four sub-groups to carry out informal negotiations. New Zealand is chairing one of the groups, which is no easy task. It looks like it will be extremely difficult to find consensus on the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements and Additional Protocol so late in the day.
Quote of the day: “I am feeling somewhat like Alice through the looking glass, we are running as fast as we can just to keep up with ourselves, though the reference to the Red Queen is no reference to you Madam Chair"
Friday 28th May The Chairs draft was adopted by consensus, in context this is a huge achievement, it accurately reflects the state of play. It contains some concrete steps for progress, but there is still a long way to go on the most pressing issues.
Students, diplomats, the experts, the UN Secretary General - we are all just people. The UN system is not perfect. It is very human – with all the tragedies, frustrations and triumphs that make us human. And it is all we have to work with. Now we really do need to figure how as time may not be on our side.
* the NPT is the treaty between all states (except India, Israel and Pakistan) that determines how we deal with nuclear weapons. The states that have nuclear weapons promised to disarm, the states that don’t have them promised never to acquire them, and all states are permitted to use nuclear energy and technology for peaceful purposes (for example in hospitals)