Like many Millennial and Gen X New Zealanders of my generation, my knowledge of New Zealand’s nuclear history has been told through my parents’ stories. My mum protested after the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior in the 1980s and my dad traveled throughout the Middle East when the Soviet Union was the dangerous part of the world to travel to. But aside from studying these events and time periods in high school history, I have little firsthand knowledge and understanding of the impact nuclear weapons have had on our society. Despite the Soviet Union collapsing only a few years before I was born, I really have no idea what it was like to live in a society which feared nuclear war.
We don’t really appreciate how lucky we are to live in an isolated country where exposure to nuclear weapons is unlikely. We don’t live in fear, although being nuclear-free is a big part of our identity. Our generation is actually largely apathetic towards nuclear issues as we feel the war has already been won. It’s hard to imagine the destruction which these types of weapons have caused the planet or to imagine that we could still potentially experience it again in our lifetimes.
The Cold War is over, the arms race is over. Despite this, there is still a risk that nuclear weapons will continue to pose a threat to the world. They are difficult to disarm in a way which ensures their very existence is a continuing threat. In the wrong hands, one nuclear weapon has the potential to destroy the world as we know it, hence the need for disarmament and neutralization of nuclear weapons. As much as they may form part of a state’s identity and sense of pride, they pose grave danger to the rest of the world.
While nuclear energy can also form a crucial aspect of a state’s energy reserves, it can too pose a grave danger if left unchecked. Nuclear disasters such as Chernobyl and Fukushima demonstrated the deadly and destructive power of nuclear energy, even when they are not weaponized. The nuclear forces of today are hundreds of times more powerful than the weaponized bombs of World War II, and could destroy our planet with a mere press of a button.
With the 2019 delegation of the Global Development Tour being announced, I thought it was a good opportunity to share some of the 2018 delegations experience, in the hope that it can inspire the next delegation and encourage those wanting to apply in the future.
In January this year I was fortunate enough to be part of the 2018 Global Development Tour delegation.
We travelled around Europe and to New York learning about global development, international cooperation, and the role the United Nations plays in both. In essence we were shown the world through a future lens – as it could be in 2030, meeting policy makers, businesses and NGOs and being shown how they are working to meet the Global Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.
Each of the cities we visited represented a theme within the Sustainable Development Agenda and we looked at the SDGs from three different angles; Policy, Business and Community. It was incredibly inspiring to see the work and connectedness of these organisations in different parts of the world.
We also were very lucky to attend a Model United Nations conference at Columbia University in New York. CMUNCE hosts delegates from all over the world and it gave us an opportunity to actively participate and engage with like-minded delegates from varied backgrounds and the chance to engage in real-world diplomacy and listen to some fabulous speakers! My role as China on the Security Council debating the situation in Myanmar enabled me to further interact with Human Rights NGO’s and learn about the real work that is being done on the ground.
The trip is a chance to meet new friends and create amazing memories. This has been an incredible life-changing experience and for those, thinking about applying in the future, DO IT, you will not regret it.
Further Reflections from other delegates:
Being one of the few delegates coming new into UN Youth in the GDT group, the trip had very different impacts on me. I had heard of the organisation but had not engaged with the events offered to people my age until the application for the Tour. I was honoured to have been picked from so many outstanding candidates and veterans of the organisation. The Tour changed my life because it opened me up to so many new people and new experiences. On the Tour we met many amazing people doing important jobs to attain the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, people who could make real differences. We had the chance to listen to their past achievements, plans and future goals; while picking their brains and giving our own suggestions. Along the way we got to interact with the landscape of the world, living the cultural and historical differences. Since getting back from the Tour I have strongly kept in touch with others from the delegation as we all embark upon new chapters of our lives. I was inspired to give back to the organisation and enjoy frequently volunteering at UN Youth events, meeting new people and making connections. GDT changed my outlook on sustainable development, helped me make lifelong friends and connected me with an organisation which encourages civics interaction through youth facilitating youth events. It is fair to say my life was clearly changed for the better.
– Emily, 18 Wellington
When people call something life-changing they usually mean it in a cliched way, and I guess it’s unfair to say that GDT totally changed my life, but it did make it better and it made me better. I’m now a much more confident, assertive person than I was before embarking on the tour. Seeing the world has given me experience that is directly applicable in the law and arts conjoint I’m studying. GDT was an amazing experience and I’m feeling it’s impact still. I’d recommend it and other UN Youth events for anyone and everyone. It was such a great time.’
– Chris, 18 Auckland
The Global Development Tour was an incredible experience and something I had dreamed of for a long time. The message that stood out to me the most from our meetings was that development and sustainable development was not an isolated problem that only impacted small parts of the world far away from me, instead if we truly want change and progress, then a concerted united global effort was necessary. This has completely changed how I viewed a number of global issues. Following the tour, I have had the chance to speak to groups about my experience and helped to organise Victoria University’s very first Sustainability Week. But more importantly to me, it has shifted how I talk about international issues such as the health of our waters, gender equality and ending poverty. I have realised that I can make a difference in my own life, in my community and in my country – which all contributes to changing the world and being a global citizen.
The United Nations Human Rights Council is a body that seeks to strengthen, promote and protect human rights. A task that is not only important, but seemingly more and more relevant. Anyone living in a democratic nation would almost automatically assume their government would support such a venture. So it would seem at first glance odd that the United States, a country that places freedom and democracy so highly, would withdraw from the Human Rights Council. Yet for anyone watching closely this was no shock at all. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, calling the US departure “disappointing, if not really surprising.”
The US rationale for leaving the Council centres on one topic – the Israel/Palestine conflict. The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, firstly accused the Council of a having a “chronic bias” against Israel, and followed up by labelling it a “hypocritical and self-serving organisation that makes a mockery of human rights.” This comes after a vote in May deciding to send war crime investigators to Gaza to investigate violations and abuse of civilian protestors. Since protests began in March of this year, Israel has killed 106 Palestinians, including 15 children. These figures do nothing to sway the American stance – that too much focus is put on Israel by the Human Rights Council.
The withdrawal from the Human Rights Council is a consequence of a larger problem, a persisting, one-sided, and frequently inaccurate narrative that runs through American rhetoric. The US government continuously attributes outbreaks of violence to Hamas, the de facto governing body of Palestine widely considered a terrorist group. Following protests and killings in May, spokeswomen for the US State Department claimed any “misery” faced by the people of Gaza was entirely because of Hamas.
Yet this ignores two vital elements to the reality of this conflict. Firstly, those killed in protests are generally unarmed civilians – videos from cellphones continuingly affirming this. In addition, there is no acknowledgement of the role that Israel has played in the suffering of Palestinians. The occupation of the Palestinian territories by Israel is the longest in history, dating back to 1967. The Blockade of Gaza Strip has carried on since 2007, banning both necessities, such as blankets or shoes, and seemingly harmless goods, including crayons, chocolate, and shampoo. Israel has been an active participate in the suffering of Palestinians, regardless of what crimes have been committed by Hamas.
What is most concerning is the underlying idea that the politics of the moment trump human rights. The United States have long supported Israel, but that does not invalidate Palestinians entitlement to basic rights and protection. No matter who is at fault in this conflict, there are innocent men, women and children suffering in Gaza. Instead of addressing this head on, the United States has again reverted inwards and avoided international cooperation. The High Commissioner commenting that, “given the state of human rights in today’s world, the US should be stepping up, not stepping back.”
You do not need to be a political expert to know that Donald Trump has long hated the Iran Deal. As with almost everything, Trump made his thoughts emphatically clear. In 2016, he labelled it the “worst deal ever.” On 8 May he finally acted on his dislike for the deal, withdrawing the United States from the agreement. Yet while Trump is always happy to share his opinion, in a political sphere there should always be a logical rationale attached to an opinion. The Iran Deal is a real agreement and pulling out will have very real effects – so it matters what Trump’s reasoning for pulling out was.
On the spectrum of international agreements, the Iran Deal (formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the JCPOA) is relatively simple. It is a classic trade-off: economic sanctions on Iran will be alleviated, in return Iran would dismantle or limit its current nuclear program. The result is that Iran is now incapable of building a nuclear weapon, which seems to be an inherently positive achievement. Yet Trump is not the first American politician against the agreement. Before it was even finalised, feelings on the Iran Deal were divided down partisan lines. In 2015, senator Tom Cotton canvased 47 Republican senator’s signature for a letter to the Iranian leaders. It warned them that this deal would likely not last, as it could be reversed “with the stroke of a pen” with a new President.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently gave a speech that not only highlighted Trump’s reasoning for withdrawing, but the general Republican stance. Firstly, the workability of the deal is questioned as the Iranian’s entered in “bad faith” and “continues to lie” today (although the UN has repeatedly confirmed Iran’s compliance). Additionally, they see the deal as enriching Iranians and leading to their “cost-free expansion” of power. Overall though, there is a belief that the deal simply does not go far enough to limit a nation who supports violent regimes in the Middle East, such as the Taliban, Hamas, and the Assad government.
It is not that the Trump administration does not want a deal with Iran. They want a better deal. Pompeo listed 12 demands, including releasing American hostages and withdrawing forces from Syria. Until Iran agrees, the US will use “unprecedented financial pressure.” The question is whether this will be enough in light of the bridges Trump has burnt over the past month. The European countries in the deal – including Britain, France and Germany – are unlikely to lend support as they grapple to save the deal. Especially as Iran’s requirement for remaining in the deal is that they cover the cost of US sanctions. There also appears to be little consideration given to the history of the US and Iran relationship. From the era of the Iranian Revolution onwards, it was a relationship defined by tension and distrust. America withdrawing from their agreement and issuing threats poses the potential of reverting back to this state. If so, Iran’s co-operation would be anything but an easy road.
The specific details of why Trump pulled out may matter less than what it more broadly reflects. His approach to the Iran Deal demonstrates that he believes international affairs should be dealt with by using strength, aggression, and ultimatums. He is placing himself in direct divergence from the norms that have developed over the past hundred years, norms of diplomacy and peaceful cooperation. The fallout from his withdrawal will give an indication of the consequences of such a strategy.
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