Amplifying the Moral and Practical Missions of the United Nations: Parliamentarians, Diplomats and Engaged Citizens Working to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

October 11, 2007
United Nations, New York
A GSI-PNND Project Report by Rhianna Tyson

“What’s a model have to do with nuclear weapons?” asked Christie Brinkley, speaking at a panel event on the subject at the United Nations on October 11. 

Ms. Brinkley, however, is not just a model, or even a supermodel.  She was one of the engaged, informed, and empowered women speaking at a special panel event hosted by the Global Security Institute (GSI) and the Parliamentary Network for Nuclear Disarmament (PNND) entitled “Amplifying the Moral and Practical Missions of the United Nations: Parliamentarians, diplomats and engaged citizens working to abolish nuclear weapons.”Joining the American cultural icon on the panel was the Hon. Marian Hobbs, parliamentarian and former Minister for Disarmament of New Zealand, Ms. Cora Weiss, a longtime peace activist and leader for gender equality at the UN, and the Hon. Alexa McDonough, a senior member of the Canadian parliament. Moderated by GSI Senior Officer, Rhianna Tyson, the event brought together women who are working on all levels to prevent conflict involving nuclear weapons.

Such an all-women panel, as the Chairwoman pointed out, is a rare occurrence at the UN, particularly an event geared towards delegates attending the General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security.  This rarity, however, “does not reflect the reality of the movement to abolish nuclear weapons,” said Ms. Tyson, “a movement in which women have always played a leadership role.”  It was particularly timely then, that this nuclear abolition panel was held on the eve of the seventh anniversary of the adoption of Security Council resolution 1325, which calls for greater women’s participation at all levels of conflict resolution and prevention decision-making.

Bolstered by the dazzling, impassioned presentation by Christie Brinkley, the event received major media coverage.  In addition to a featured spot on the entertainment news show Extra, her admonition of the unilateralism that led us into the quagmire of the Iraq war was covered by the Associated Press, the International Herald Tribune, Fox News and others.  A full listing of the media coverage can be found here: (

With decades of anti-nuclear activism under her belt, Ms. Brinkley admonished the Bush administration for their “do as I say, not as I do” attitude towards nuclear proliferation.  “How can we expect to persuade other nations not to develop weapons of mass destruction while we rely so heavily on them?” she asked. 

As a citizen of the country that first developed nuclear weapons, the US, she said, “bears an enormous responsibility to change the course of how nuclear weapons are treated.” She heralded the analysis of Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, Sam Nunn and William Perry that was published in the Wall Street Journal in January of this year, whereby these conservative, establishment thinkers called for universal disarmament and identified practical steps to get there.   

Despite ongoing proliferation threats and the dangers from the prolonged existence of nuclear weapons, “It’s not all doom and gloom,” said the second panelist, the Hon. Marian Hobbs.  The former headmistress of an all girls school concentrated her remarks on the practical way forward.

Those steps, she said, have been articulated several times by the laudable experts in the community.  In 2000, all states agreed to the 13 practical steps to disarmament. Just last year, the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, a.k.a. “The Blix Commission” offered a multitude of practical recommendations, but these opportunities, Ms. Hobbs said, “are slipping past us.”  While the expertise is out there, we have failed, she argued, “to coordinate our efforts and to engage the people of the world in our quest for a world free from nuclear weapons.” For this reason, she offered her special thanks to Christie Brinkley, whose “ebullience and fame” will undoubtedly help with public engagement.

There are some positive steps already in play, Ms. Hobbs said. Efforts such as those undertaken by the International Atomic Energy Agency and their work to safeguard nuclear facilities, or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, which is working all over the world to establish a robust verification system, even without the global consensus on the treaty that created it.  She also heralded the leadership role of Canada in promoting a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, and Mexico’s role in strengthening Nuclear Weapon-Free Zones and the work of NGOs, such as the Middle Powers Initiative (MPI) and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, groups which “have been here all along,” offering their expertise and guidance and steadfast support.

Ms. Hobbs supported the recommendation of the Blix Commission for a World Summit, some sort of massive gathering of leaders and experts as a way to focus and coordinate all of these efforts, to identify blockages and give support to progressive action, such as the brave initiative of the Central Asian states in signing a Nuclear Weapon Free-Zone Treaty.  “Considering who their neighbors are,” she said, “They have gone out on their own.  That is courage.”

The Summit would also be a way to generate public interest and engagement, she said.  The issues surrounding nuclear weapons are complex, she said, and the general public must be informed both of the threats these weapons pose and of the attempts being made by civil society to rid the world of them.

Drawing from over 50 years of activism and organizing, Cora Weiss, President of Hague Appeal for Peace and recent recipient of the William Sloane Coffin Peace Award, discussed the ongoing movement to eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons, noting such efforts as the 1961 gathering of women in Washington, DC to stop atmospheric nuclear testing (resulting in the Partial Test Ban Treaty) and the Central Park Rally and march by the UN of 1982.  Despite these laudable efforts, nuclear weapons remain with us, because, Ms. Weiss argued, we have failed to sustain momentum among civil society.

The progress we have made towards the abolition of nuclear weapons is largely due to the efforts and leadership of women, Ms. Weiss pointed out, citing, for example, Jerome Weisner, the Science Adviser to President Kennedy, who “gave the women credit for educating the public on the dangers of atmospheric atomic testing.” Ms. Weiss spoke at length of the merit and value of Security Council resolution 1325, which calls for greater participation of women in all levels of conflict prevention and resolution.  Recognizing that more women are needed in positions in power, she also emphasized that it is not women per se, but the values that women traditionally encompass, such as cooperation, mediation and a reverence for human security.  She insisted that every Security Council resolution must take resolution 1325 into account and for its principles to be harmonized with national state and local legislation.

As the final panelist of the day, Hon. Alexa McDonough, a trailblazing woman in Canadian politics, discarded her notes that she had planned to use as the basis for her remarks.  Duly inspired by the presentations of her co-panelists, Ms. McDonough echoed the calls by Brinkley, Weiss and Hobbs for a nuclear weapon-free world. 

Ms. McDonough expressed her “personal and political appreciation” for leadership by Senator Douglas Roche, Chairman of the MPI, and a leading figure in Canada.  She heralded his new book Global Conscience, as an inspiring model for how to infuse hope with practical actions.”  Like Senator Roche, Ms. McDonough claimed that “all of my life, I have been a passionate believer in the potential of the United Nations.” After spending several days at the UN as the guest of PNND, GSI and MPI, she is not only “a more passionate believer than ever, but I’m also feeling more desperate than ever that we do what we can in our own countries to get them to recommit to the UN as an ideal as well as an instrument.” 

As a leading Member of Parliament, Ms. McDonough called for greater leadership by Canada in rejecting the security framework asserted by the US and other nuclear weapon states and redirecting resources for the strengthening of human security.  The practical steps that can be taken now to achieve a nuclear weapon-free world have been articulated, and what is needed now is real leadership on the part of her government, and the governments of other non-nuclear weapon states, to turn those ideas into reality.  

» Click here for a full photo gallery
» Click here for the full text of Christie Brinkley’s statement
» Click here for the full text of Cora Weiss’s statement
» Click here for Rhianna Tyson’s introduction


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