Sitting Down to Negotiate – Day 3 of the G8/G20 Youth Summit

The Defense Committee (far right: Rob Onley)

The Defense Committee (far right: Rob Onley)

The G8/G20 Youth Summit offers an unparalleled opportunity for university students to enter a world known only to the highest ranks of global governments. Canada’s army may be small in direct comparison to our G8 friends, but within the context of the G8, Canada’s voice is equal, unlike the exclusive UN Security Council.

Given this influential role, I took a stance on defense policy that was arguably broader than the Canadian government can actually enact and represent in reality. Nonetheless, the Ministers of Defense bore the heaviest moral and consequential burden at the G8 Youth Summit. As the military leaders of the world’s strongest democracies, we are tasked with addressing issues which threaten the overall peace and stability of the world, while simultaneously possessing the overwhelming military capacity to intervene and defend the lives of innocent human beings, as recently seen in Libya.

Canada is a peaceful nation that is promoting and helping to create stability through a number of military and defense missions abroad. Canada is well-respected internationally with much global goodwill. These missions include the NATO-ISAF operation in Afghanistan, the NATO-led air campaign against the Gaddafi regime in Libya and the rebuilding effort in Haiti.

The Western world is at the most dangerous crossroads of recent history. With revolutions sweeping the Middle East, arch-terrorist Osama bin Laden dead and the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran in the very near future, the Defense Ministers of the G8 are confronting the most uncertain future it has ever faced. The time has come for resolute decision-making. Rather than draft idealistic, unrealistic and far-out solutions that will only ‘kick the can down the road’, I believed in strong policy statements that were actionable, so that these issues are not still issues one day later in my life, should I end up working in a similar role.

When negotiations over strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) began, I opened by arguing that the very existence of the NPT was at stake, and called for policy that “Guaranteed the Survival of the NPT.” In line with the Canadian government, I stated that if Iran develops nuclear weapons in direct defiance of the NPT provisions, then the world faces the grave risk of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. In a region that has seen so much instability in so many countries, the last thing the international community needs is the widespread development of the globe’s most deadly weaponry.

While agreeing to this ‘survival’ theme was simple, achieving consensus on how to actually “stop” Iran from developing nuclear weapons presented a massive hurdle for our negotiations. In reality, Iran and the Western powers have attempted several rounds of negotiations, designed to reach an understanding on the nature and extent of Iran’s nuclear program. The Iranian government has continually denied it is seeking nuclear weapons, while the Western powers, notably the United States, have viewed Iran’s program with deep suspicion, based on a variety of intelligence gathered by the IAEA in its inspections.

Deciding how to proceed with diplomacy was difficult, simply because the negotiation process has dragged on for decades. Some see a negotiated settlement as a dead end. However, on the flip side, no one at the G8 Youth Summit was arguing that the only solution is to use military action to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

Instead, the G8 Youth Ministers of Defense worked exhaustively on developing a “Grand Bargain”, designed to entice the Iranian government to come to the negotiating table with open hands and come clean about its nuclear intentions. In return, the G8 presented Iran with a massive package of economic, social and technological incentives to fully normalize relations with Iran and promote the creation of mutual trust, understanding and peace. This is the only path toward peace.

Through nearly two full days of negotiation, we, the G8 Youth, were finally able to reach consensus on this Grand Bargain. Along the way, nearly every possible realistic method of enticing Iran to negotiate was discussed, analyzed and critiqued. In the end, the G8 concluded that if indeed Iran was only developing peaceful nuclear energy, then they would absolutely have to come to the negotiating table, open up their nuclear program to full inspection, and in doing so, put to rest all fears that they are developing nuclear weapons. Any other response, even non-response, would be deemed conclusive evidence that Iran was in all likelihood covertly developing nuclear weapons.

This was the proposal set out in our final communiqué: whether or not the real G8 nations will present Iran with a similar offer remains to be seen. As the Youth Ministers of Defense, we can only hope that the real G8 is reading our work and taking note. The alternative — the death of the NPT — would represent the beginning of a dark period in world history, as other nations race to develop their own nuclear arsenals.

In my next post, I will assess the impact of the G8/G20 Youth Summit on networking and the influence of youth leaders.

Robert Onley
Students’ Law Society 2011-12
Juris Doctor (2012), University of Windsor, Faculty of Law Honours Bachelor of Arts

(2009), University of Toronto

About uoftscarborough

The University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) is home to a community of active learners drawn from all over the globe, determined to use what we discover – through investigation, collaboration and experience – to make our world a better place. Our campus is an integral component of Canada’s leading research-intensive university, a place where faculty contribute to cutting-edge knowledge, where the finest students are taught by the finest professors. Upon graduation, our students have earned one of the most rigorous and respected post-secondary degrees in the world. At UTSC, we are working together to find answers to tomorrow’s most important questions. And because the search for knowledge must always be conducted in a meaningful way, our campus is continually alive with innovative programming, engaging discourse and dynamic experiences that feed our spirits and enrich our minds. This is how to prepare students for the best possible future. This is how our scholarship contributes to a better world. This is our promise. Because tomorrow is created here.
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