As a political science graduate from UTSC, I often read of international negotiations about grave global issues throughout my studies . From the UN Security Council debates leading up to the War in Iraq, to the Copenhagen Climate Change Conventions, nation states seek consensus on serious issues. However divisions, mistrust and self-interested policy proposals often lead to failed talks that do not produce tangible results.
As the Youth Ministers of Defense began negotiations on Day 2 of the 2011 G8/G20 Youth Summit, the challenge was to reach consensus on arguably the most serious global peace and security concerns: stopping nuclear weapons proliferation; stabilizing Afghanistan, Pakistan and North Korea; and ending piracy on our global seaways. Complete reform of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s efforts was also high on our list of agenda objectives.
Of these issues, the agenda was dominated by a comprehensive reassessment of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in the context of the Iranian nuclear program. In the real world, negotiations with Iran over possible military dimensions of their nuclear energy program have stalled repeatedly over the last eight years. Concerns about Iran achieving nuclear “breakout” potential are driving other nations in the openly express fear about the prospect of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.
Each youth delegate’s position on the agenda topics had been discussed and debated online through Google Groups in the months leading up to the event. By analyzing the topics independently and critically examining each other’s proposals prior to the Youth Summit, we had narrowed down our potential agenda in an effort to avoid unnecessary arguing at the actual event in Paris.
As the Canadian Minister of Defense, I expressed a deep desire to see the G8 Youth extensively examine national policy on the counter-terrorism campaigns in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Given that the Government of Canada has already committed to a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in July 2011, I lobbied my delegate colleagues to agree to a comprehensive post-combat reconstruction plan. Generally we reached consensus on the best way forward for the people of Afghanistan and our respective governments.
As negotiations over Pakistan, North Korea and Iran progressed, I was surprised at how closely we began to follow our national government’s actual stated policies. While we were in no way required to mimic our governments’ positions, the youth delegates showed an obvious degree of pride by standing up for their own national policies. Nonetheless, numerous concessions were made in the interest of achieving positive consensus. NATO allies including Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the United States formed a bulwark within the G8 defence discussions, providing a strong, if not united front in reaching consensus.
Once the basic agenda preparations had been completed, we began to use Google Documents, connected via a laptop to a projector, to collaboratively draft our consensus decisions for the final communiqué. This process of simultaneous editing provided an incomparably efficient and transparent way of reaching an accord. All eight delegates could see each and every word as it was written, and likewise could object to any wording that they deemed controversial.
By infusing our confident grasp of modern communications and productivity technologies, the majority of our negotiations were rightly focused on the heart of the agenda issues. When talking about the proliferation of nuclear weapons, this was critical to ensure that we wasted no time on minor form and syntax issues.
In my next post, I’ll delve into to the most contentious aspects of our discussion and give an inside perspective on just what it means to ‘compromise’ in international negotiations.