The Fourth Committee of the General Assembly of the United Nations is the Special Political and Decolonization Committee, otherwise known as SPECPOL. Established in 1993, SPECPOL is the combination of the Decolonization Committee (formerly the Fourth Committee) and the Special Political Committee. These committees were merged in 1990 when the United Nations established 1990-2000 as the “International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.” This was particularly important considering at the time of the creation of the United Nations, 750 million people lived in colonized territory. Over 80 former colonies have become independent since 1945. Today, in part due to the work of the Fourth Committee, this number has drastically decreased to approximately two million people living in colonized territory, which SPECPOL is still determined to address.
Topic A: The Peaceful and Sustainable Uses of Outer Space
On 7 June 2019, the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced plans to develop a series of tourist expeditions to the International Space Station. These plans reflect a growing obsession worldwide with the increasing accessibility of space. The responsibility of the United Nations is to address the ways that existing legal and political structures govern the use of space. The guiding principles of United Nations involvement in space exploration originate from The Outer Space Treaty, which was ratified in 1967—two years before any human being reached the Moon. Space exploration has changed dramatically since the 1960s, and the United Nations must respond in kind with new governing documents that reflect a changing technological and political culture. Space exploration provides opportunities to more deeply understand the universe that Earth inhabits, to explore areas previously unknown to humankind, and to utilize the outer-space resources available to sustain life on Earth. Yet, in order to access these opportunities, the United Nations must first address a multitude of roadblocks: how will existing structures of global governance address sovereignty claims extending beyond the boundaries of Earth, including the resources obtained from asteroid-mining and possibly even other planets? How will the United Nations ensure peaceful cooperation and avoid the increasing risk of an arms race over the opportunities that abound in space? Who should be charged with managing the increasing levels of space debris?
Topic B: Supporting Political Reform in the Sahel
As of 2019, the Fragile State Index (based on measurements of state legitimacy, social pressures, development, and human rights abuses) classifies 31 states as being at risk of total state failure. African states make up 75% of these most volatile cases of political instability, and this instability is felt most significantly in the Sahel. Frequent government changes and the subsequent destabilization of states create a lack of constitutional order that prevents substantive state growth. Transitional governments, like that currently in place in Sudan, call for democratic practices while still using violent tactics to suppress protesters. These partial democracies are 70% more likely than both democracies and autocracies to experience a major regime change after the first 10 years of implementation. In Mali, frail democratic infrastructure has resulted in violent election cycles, which have created greater distrust between the government and its people. The Fourth Committee recognizes the important correlation between maintaining electoral timetables and peace; however, political unrest often prevents fair elections and acts as a catalyst for total state failure. SPECPOL has a responsibility to create greater constitutional order through strengthening transitional governments, ensuring democratic elections, and enacting structural political reform.