By Joan Erakit*
NEW YORK -- Striving to promote the interest of future generations through policy making, The World Future Council gathers each year to review strategies that are progressive and change the way our global community functions.
The process begins with a serious question: what are the most important topics of our time and which countries are addressing them with such vigour, others take notice?
This is the task given to the World Future Council in partnership with the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) – a trifecta with the goal of affecting positive change.
On October 23, 2013, United Nations officials, civil society and international delegates gathered at the UN Headquarters in New York for the 2013 Future Policy Awards.
With performances by the UN Symphony Orchestra and a special song by Colombian musician Cesar Lopez who transformed an AK-47 into a guitar, the award ceremony made sure to point out the importance of policy making as a means to peace and security.
This year’s theme focused on the best disarmament policies, and with three distinguished categories, awards were given out to various countries whose work to demolish the existence of weapons – both small arms and nuclear – proved exemplary and sustainable.
Affirming the importance of disbanding weapons of all forms, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has called disarmament “a global public good of the highest order” and pledged his continued support to the efforts of the UNODA.
According to the World Future Council, global military spending was well over 1.7 trillion in 2012 – a shocking number when poised against the funds spent to combat poverty and disease and on environmental issues.
It can be said that the very existence of weapons poses a threat to society. And the trafficking of weapons continues to be an issue for many governments and also undermines the process of peace while fuelling armed violence and killing innocent civilians.
Disarmament then becomes an essential piece to the puzzle of sustainable development and the protection of people, an idea that could not be more pronounced at this year’s awards ceremony.
And The Winner Goes To
After inviting various nominations, a policy award jury of eight deliberated in early July of 2013 and decided on the winners who were honoured in New York. Over 25 policies were reviewed from 15 different countries, in six regions.
The diversity of policies presented is what really ignited the theme – let alone matched the diversity of countries nominated. Some of the policies focused on the elimination of specific weapons, whereas others zoned in on the complete destruction and disarmament of nuclear weapons.
Alexandra Wandel, Director of the World Future Council and host for the awards ceremony explained to IDN the significance of the policy awards in regards to the current global atmosphere:
"Many people around the world are desperate. Everyday we have negative news about armed conflict and guns being spread; therefore the future policy award is supposed to inspire people and governments that positive examples exist all over the world, and that it's possible to disarm and improve the living conditions for today and for future generations."
With four honorable mentions, the Future Policy Award celebrated the work of Belgium and their amendment to the Belgium Law on Arms and Ammunition of 1995, which banned anti-personal mines, and also their law regulating economic and individual activities with weapons of 2006, which worked to ban cluster munitions.
Costa Rica was also given an honorable mention for its Article 12 of the Constitution of Costa Rica of 1949, which abolished the national army after a five-week civil war in 1948.
Mozambique and South Africa also picked up honorable mentions for their 1995 initiative of cooperation and mutual assistance in the field of crime combating, while Mongolia was acknowledged for its law on a nuclear-weapon free status, created in 2000.
The winners of the Silver Award were New Zealand and Argentina. Argentina was recognized for its 2006 programme for the Voluntary Surrender of Firearms, a monumental stride to prevent unnecessary gun violence.
Following suit, New Zealand picked up the award for its Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament and Arms Control Act of 1987, setting a strong legacy for the perseverance of health and the environment during the nuclear testing of the South Pacific.
But at the end of the day there could only be one winner, and with an initiative that has lasted over half a century and affected many countries, the Gold Award went to Latin America and the Caribbean for the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean, also know as the Treaty of Tlatelolco.
Established in 1967, this special treaty set the precedence for creating cooperative regional security using nuclear disarmament. Inspired by the Cuban Missile Crisis, two years later in 1969, the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (OPANAL) was built to secure the main principles of the Treaty of Tlatelolco and ensure that peace and security continued in the region.
With standout characteristics such as the prohibition of manufacture, use, testing, installation, storage, acquisition and possession of any nuclear weapons, the Treaty of Tlatelolco proved its commitment to addressing the immediate threat of nuclear weapons in the region from external powers. However, it also looked at the future as many Latin countries were starting to develop nuclear energy industries with potential of future development of nuclear weapons. Years later in 2013, the policy is still relevant today as it was in the 1960s.
"What's so special about the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean is that they managed to have a nuclear free zone and they inspired others. The southern hemisphere is without nuclear weapons which should be an inspiration to other regions and other nuclear weapon power states, because it's a threat to our peace that we still have nuclear power." Wandell said.
The Future of Disarmament
And as the respective winners take their awards back to their home countries and continue to do the work to protect our global community, one has to ask what the future of disarmament will mean for the next generation.
In a telling piece written for the second issue of the Nuclear Abolition Forum, Rob van Riet refers to the largely unaware population who will have to soon grapple with the possibility of living in a world where nuclear weapons are common place. Recalling a speech that U.S. President Barack Obama gave in April of 2009 in Prague, van Riet revisited a crippling aspect of ambivalence towards nuclear deterrence:
“The commentary proved concurrently sobering however, in that it reminded a young generation, largely unaware of the extent of nuclear danger, that the fall of the Berlin wall did not lead to the fall of the wall of nuclear weapons, still poised and ready to obliterate the world.”
A sad truth made even more real by the fact that most young people – those of Generation Y (the generation born between the late 1970s and the mid-1990s) who will most certainly have to sustain the effects of a nuclear world, are less likely to be aware of policies surrounding disarmament.
An action of the past has become a condition of the future, and the policies brought forth by the Future Policy Award ceremony highlight this phenomenon with great clarity.
Many of the policies date 30 or even 40 years back. Civil wars, global unrest and misuse of power weighed heavily during those times – as they do now. In retaliation, there were a few individuals who were inspired enough to come together and create policies that governments could implement as to not allow history to repeat itself.
When world leaders gather to discuss the future of nuclear weapons, one can only hope that those plans include the generations to come. Or at least call upon Generation Y to ponder the relationship between peace and disarmament. Through a re-evaluation of ideas towards weapons, education on policies that protect communities and involvement in local and national government, insightful steps to sustaining the future are possible.
Disarmament strengthens international peace and security, and as witnessed through the eyes of the Future Policy Awards – creates a domino effect of change.
*Joan Erakit is an American writer and journalist currently based in New York, reporting among others for Inter Press Service News Agency from the United Nations. Joan attended Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she studied cultural anthropology and worked as a freelance writer. Her website/portfolio page: http://joanerakit.com/ [IDN-InDepthNews – October 27, 2013]
Photo: World Future Council awardees | Credit: Lusha Chen