Represented by Natascha Braumann and Hikmat Maleh
The IAEA does not only have the most unpronounceable acronym in the United Nations family, it is also a committee represented at NMUN by 144 Member States and one country with Observer Status (Togo). The IAEA is an agency with special affiliation status to the UN General Assembly. Its work within the field of nuclear energy is based on the three pillars of safeguards & verification, safety & security, science & technology. The IAEA’s activities usually go unnoticed in its Vienna headquarters, but the Agency and its Director-General Mohammed ElBaradei have been in the spotlight over the past years through the handling of the crisis in both Iran and the DPRK.
At NMUN 2008, the proposed agenda was the following:
1. Reintegrating Iran into International Regulations and Agreements;
2. Implementation and Strengthening of the Non-Proliferation Treaty;
3. Nuclear Materials Management.
Iran and Nuclear Materials Management concerned the safety & security pillar, and the Strengthening of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) related to the safeguards & verification pillar.
It should be mentioned that we benefited from a briefing about the IAEA during our UN Study Tour before the actual start of the conference. Tracy Brown, who works at the IAEA, told us in a very diplomatic fashion about the work in the Agency, its achievements and its difficulties.
We arrived in the first committee session to find a small room at the disposal of the committee. No tables were available and delegates were seated in great proximity. Furthermore, only one delegate from each country could enjoy the comfort of a seat, the partner remaining on the floor. The room was changed later in the conference and the new one, spacious and well-equipped, surely contributed to improving the work of the committee.
The first important step after an interminable roll-call in the committee was to set the agenda. This did not take a very long time, as a coalition of nuclear and non-nuclear states quickly emerged to favor the NPT over Iran, an issue that was felt as only concerning a few very involved states. While the nuclear states were mainly interested in the non-proliferation aspect of the NPT, the non-nuclear states wanted to concentrate on the sharing of nuclear energy. Another expected division occurred between states possessing nuclear weapons and others. The former countries were mostly concerned with the safeguards and verification side of the NPT, while the latter insisted on the commitment to a nuclear-weapon free world and the obligation to disarm.
Japan’s tragic history gives it a special role and a moral authority in the field of atomic disarmament. As the only country to ever suffer the devastating effects of nuclear weapons, Japan has a duty to remind the world of the destructive power of such arms. Japan is a very strong advocate of nuclear disarmament and has been presenting the UN General Assembly with a resolution on the matter every year for nearly two decades. While Japan does not possess nor pursue nuclear weapons, it is still dependent on nuclear energy. The peaceful use of nuclear energy, and hence a strong safeguards and verification system, are important to Japan’s policy.
In the IAEA committee, Japan’s role could therefore be seen as that of a moderator between countries focusing on disarmament and the ones worried about non-proliferation. Indeed, this is the way we proceeded in the committee, working as a bridge in a compromise-searching way between the various factions. Interestingly, the different groups and alliances in the committee were not divided along geographical lines. There was no true African, Latin-American, EU, Asian or Arab League group. Rather, many like-minded countries started writing working papers together. Not only were these groups heterogeneous in their composition, but the communication between them quickly led to an informal division of the work; each group focused on one issue that was identified as problematic and addressed it specifically in its working paper.
The two of us definitely benefited from our language abilities when creating strong ties to other delegates. We obviously had a privileged access to German-speaking delegations and also formed a strong and precious alliance with the U.S. delegation coming from Paris. While English remains the official working language of NMUN, other languages were still spoken during breaks or unofficial meetings and allow stronger ties. In forming close ties to various countries, we had access to a number of working groups that we were not directly involved in. This was the case with Ghana that was drafting a very interesting draft report segment, or Kazakhstan, who had also gathered a dedicated and like-minded group. Through close ties to those two countries – maintained continuously with written notes even during formal debate – we had friendly and competent points of contact for those working groups.
Whereas the division of topics among the various groups proved efficient in the first days of the conference, it was put under strain as the end of committee session approached. Some delegations, worried about awards they may or may not get, then started overlooking the search for compromise and pushing for their working papers to be turned in as draft reports as quickly as possible. We tried to prevent this from happening as much as we could, so that mergers of working papers or changes to them could take place before them irreversibly becoming drafts. However, at the time of voting on the different drafts, they still contained many redundancies and sometimes contradicted themselves. The final report is therefore very long, and many of its segments were not accepted unanimously.
As it is often the case in MUN conferences, some countries grew to a role and a stand that they would not dream of in actual negotiations. We could witness the Czech Republic being the closest partner of the U.S., or the Democratic Republic of the Congo leading the developing countries. On the other side, China or France were completely underrepresented and remained out of most of the negotiations. A few countries also were blatantly out of character: at some point, Israel distributed a working paper drafted with the Arab states calling for a nuclear-weapon free zone in the Middle East! It was only after we brought the U.S.’s attention to this that they could persuade the Israeli delegation that this did not necessarily reflect their foreign policy.
Some countries, known for blocking negotiations within the IAEA, took their role very seriously. Sudan motioned for closure of debate, a motion that requires a roll-call vote from the 144 Member States. Despite the chairs’ efforts to bring the Sudanese delegate to withdraw his motion, he held firm “with all due respect”.
Sudan was also responsible for another incident during voting procedure, amidst confusion on the kind of majority required to pass a draft report: majority of those voting or absolute majority? Unhappy with the outcome of the voting, Sudan challenged the Committee Director who was unable to calmly quote the relevant article from the rules of procedure. What followed was a 30-minute agora-fashioned debate, during which every delegate tried to explain the rules to Sudan, who would not budge, while the Director was shouting “Decorum, Decorum” and striking his gavel. Switzerland’s offer to mediate was strongly rejected by Sudan, who could only be brought to reason by the explanations of NMUN’s Director-General.
Voting procedure could then resume and we were very pleased that those report segments that Japan had been closely involved in working on – had either sponsored or become a signatory to – all passed with a comfortable majority. At the same time, we were also relived that those report segments which we felt would have detracted from the quality of the final report were not included, with one exception. We take this as a proof that our lobbying work was effective. After all, until the very last minute, we had rallied support for those report segments we considered important and of high quality, and also pointed out the weaknesses in flaws of those segments we did not, or could not, support.
And despite the turbulent voting procedure, the final report of the International Atomic Energy Agency is a respectable outcome of several days’ hard work in debating, negotiating, drafting and lobbying. The Delegation of Japan experienced a challenging and exciting conference and proudly motioned for adjournment of the debate until next year.