by Arthur David
It is not everyday that we are able to see what lies ahead of us, to help guide us and reinforce our desires and aspirations. For a few short days in October, six other fellow graduate students (Alexis Nigro, Anne Durning, Brad Greyeyes-Brant, Danielle Mcdonald, Meagan Bell, Nihit Narang) and myself were able to get a glimpse of what the future might entail for us.
As part of Professor Trevor Findlay’s class on Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-proliferation, we were fortunate enough to have been awarded the Barton Travel Bursary. This gave us the opportunity to visit permanent missions of various countries to the United Nations and to attend a series of lectures at Harvard University. We were each given topics relating to issues within the First Committee which was going to be in session during our stay in New York.
On the morning of 26 October, we all gathered at Ottawa International Airport. Once boarded, our flight took us to Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto with the final destination being Newark. After a somewhat turbulent flight due to high winds we were able to land safely. From the airport, we took the train to Penn Station and had our first of many experiences at hailing cabs to get to our hotel.
New York City really is a bustling, living concrete jungle. The sheer number of people is always overwhelming, not to mention the seemingly countless of ongoing plots of skyscrapers that are mesmerizing. We were only tourists for a short amount of time however before our real experience began, so we decided to make the most of it. Some of the highlights included: an amazing dosa café which satisfyingly appeased everyone’s hunger, shopping through various markets, Times Square, an evening stroll on the Williamsburg Bridge and a few late night dinners.
Our work week started with a hearty breakfast at Pershing Square Café, opposite the historic Grand Central Station before meeting with representatives of the Indonesian Mission to the UN. Third Secretary of Political Affairs Anindityo Adi Primasto graciously hosted us and attended to our questions. He provided our first insight into the workings of international diplomacy and how a country keeps its interests anchored in the midst of international events.
That same day we were able to attend a special luncheon event sponsored by the Global Security Initiative (GSI) at the United Nations. Along with having the amazing experience of dining within the UN, the event was highlighted by key speakers including Angela Kane, UN High Representative for Disarmament and former Ambassador Tom Graham. Some important highlights included Ms. Kane’s remark on the existence of nuclear weapons, and regarding international reaction to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, stated: “Why can’t we have the same outrage for nuclear weapons?”
Afterwards, in a more private setting, we were fortunate enough to meet with Dr. Randy Rydell, who is the Senior Political Officer for the Office of the High Representative. We were astounded at the wealth of knowledge he possessed and shared openly with us. Admittedly, he conferred with us his deepest worries regarding the current status of international treaties, and what possible steps may be taken to create small changes.
When visiting the UN bookstore after our meeting (and a miniature private tour of the Office for Disarmament Affairs) Dr. Rydell’s work and influence was made apparent when he pointed out that one of the quotes from a speech by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on a wall display. It read “The world is over armed and peace is underfunded” and as he pointed out had actually been his work.
Not having time to fully appreciate the amazing level of intellect presented to us, we made our way down 51st Street after collecting souvenirs to meet with representatives of the Singaporean Mission. Our meeting with them was well organized, as we were required to submit questions pertaining to our First Committee issues in advance. We were astounded however at the level of directness and honesty towards our questions. Perhaps what was even more significant was the openness of the lead representative in summarizing his goal plainly as making sure that the issues of today didn’t spiral out of control for future generations to deal with. This was truly a candid moment which was very rare when meeting other Missions.
The following day was an equally busy one, with the opportunity to meet with director Ray Acheson of the non-governmental organization (NGO) named Reaching Critical Will. This was unique in the sense that we were able to hear the concerns of an organization that worked without the constraints of governmental oversight. Ms. Acheson explained that an NGO’s influence may be successfully spread though grass roots campaigning and a bottom up approach. Critical Will’s main research focused on how countries modernized their nuclear arsenals.
We made our way to meet with the Australian delegation at their mission headquarters in the impressive Socony Mobil Building. We were given a detailed talk on the process of drafting resolutions at the UN. Based on their personal experiences, the delegates underlined three main components which are always essential: the legal ‘scurb’, substance changes and the final draft. They also pointed out their interest in seeing some stalemate issues (nominally negotiations at the Conference on Disarmament) move forward which were made more complicated with a change in government back home. This was a unique insight into the workings of political negotiations on the international stage from a personal experience.
After a quick lunch break in the beautiful but congested Grand Central Station, our final visit in New York was appropriately with the Canadian Mission. The Counsellor and Deputy Permanent Representative for Disarmament, Kelley Anderson, made us feel at home and provided answers as to how Canada was being presented at the UN and what issues mattered to our government. Ms. Anderson highlighted the technical process of a ‘request for instruction’ where recommendation from Ottawa would be needed in order to vote on certain issues.
Armed with new information from our numerous visits, we commenced the voyage via Amtrak to the second leg of our visit towards Boston. New York had been an experience none of us could have been prepared for or even imagined. We were ready nonetheless to make the best use of it when we would meet with the intellects of Harvard University.
Editors’ note: Stay tuned for an upcoming post on the visit to Harvard University.
Photo credit: Nihit Narang