Disarmament Insight


Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Missile Crises?

On Friday, the world's media reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin - speaking after a summit with European Union leaders in Portugal - said that U.S. plans for a missile shield with bases in Europe could precipitate a situation similar to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis:

"Analogous actions by the Soviet Union when it deployed rockets on Cuba provoked the Cuban missile crisis," he said.

"For us, technologically, the situation is very similar."

He added that current tensions had not reached the pitch attained during the Cuban crisis."
Thank goodness for that. Let's hope that policy-makers on both sides of the Atlantic don't really believe they're living through a historical parallel of the "thirteen days".

There are signs that the Russians don't really think so. In a Moscow Times op-ed about President Putin's "rather audacious comparison" with the Cuban Missile Crisis, Alexander Golts opined that:
"It is clear that Moscow has no desire to reach a compromise on the missile defense issue. On the contrary, the Kremlin has a vested interest in preserving an ongoing, smoldering conflict with the United States over nuclear weapons and missile defense. Putin and his inner circle are convinced that this is the only way Russia can regain its status as a superpower and stand on equal footing with the United States - at least in the nuclear sphere."
Whether or not this is true, historical analogies like President Putin's make for evocative rhetoric, which is no doubt what they're intended to do - to underline Russia's strategic concerns.

On European missile defence, President Putin is by no means the first to pull the draw card of history. Earlier this month, for instance, the New York Times reported that Tomas Pojar, the Czech Republic's Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, said "his government's support for the defense plan is based not only on a shared worry about future missile threats but also a "moral, historical" sense of appreciation for American support for Czech democracy."

Solidarity with our friends is good, provided we don't categorize actors only in terms of their identities and so fail to take into account interests. Once we entrench ourselves - and others - into categories based on what they are, rather than how they actually act, we can make it difficult for ourselves to see the world any other way, and almost invariably the way it really is. It makes it that much harder to problem-solve.

History is a narrative we impose on a complex reality. Without extreme care, we can create views of the past that reinforce our pre-dispositions, rather than enlighten us.

And it means most historical parallels don't bear close examination. Issues related to missile defence issue in Europe are complex, long drawn out and involve multiple actors in an evolving strategic context. It's exactly the sort of situation in which historical analogies aren't going to help, because they over-simplify a fine-grained reality by ignoring some of its subtler but defining features.

Golts argued in his op-ed that, actually, "the nuclear factor plays an increasingly minor role in U.S.-Russian relations" - a gradual diminishing of importance that began soon after the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Today, Russia and the U.S. have a broad range of strategic interests potentially in common, and these are where the emphasis should be, rather than on the past. Moreover, there are a number of ongoing or unfolding international crises - whether over missile defence, Iran, North Korea, the situation in Iraq, climate change or whatever - in which open-minds and ideologically flexibility are at a premium.

We need more finer-grained - not course-grained - analysis to see our way through these challenges. Maybe historians need to remind those on all sides of the missile defence debate about what history doesn't tell us, and that any attempt to read the past into the present is fraught with risk. History is at best an uneven guide - certainly not a road-map.

John Borrie


"Putin warns of new missile crisis", BBC News, 26 October 2007.

Alexander Golts, "Dreaming of New Conflicts", The Moscow Times, 30 October 2007.

Associated Press, "U.S. Considering Missile Defense Delay", New York Times, 23 October 2007.

The October issue of U.S. Arms Control Association's magazine Arms Control Today focuses on issues surrounding European missile defense.

Photo of a U.S. Air Force Jupiter intermediate range ballistic missile from the Cuban Missile Crisis period courtesy of Wikipedia.

Monday, 29 October 2007

The Arms Trade Treaty that States Want

I've just arrived back to Geneva from an eventful week spent in New York at the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, the one that deals with disarmament and international security. In my last posting, I described the First Committee as a "carnival," and it certainly lived up to expectations. Imagine representatives of almost 200 States crammed into a conference-room, each trying to persuade the others to support draft resolutions on some aspect of arms control that they are preparing. And that's just what happens on the margins! Only when one puts on an ear-piece does it become apparent that, somewhere in the cacophony of noise, a delegate is actually making an official statement or participating in a thematic debate.

Last week was the week for thematic debates on such issues as conventional weapons, regional disarmament and security, and the "disarmament machinery." This week, States will be voting on all draft resolutions before the First Committee wraps up its work on Friday. Once all the votes have been registered, I will do a retrospective posting analysing what has been achieved this year (you can also follow what is going on, week by week, by subscribing to the First Committee Monitor).

For now, I would like to focus on a number of lunchtime events that took place last week on an Arms Trade Treaty (see our previous posts on this issue). To recap, last year's First Committee passed a resolution calling for a new treaty to regulate the trade in all conventional weapons. As a first step, States were encouraged to send their views to the UN Secretary-General on the feasibility, scope and draft parameters of such a treaty. To date, some 97 States have done so; an unprecedented number for such an exercise.

These submissions have been analysed by two organisations, working independently. The United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) presented an initial statistical analysis of the submissions, constituting the first part of a two-part analysis that UNIDIR plans to complete by the end of the year. You can listen to the presentation at the UN Audio Library. A coalition of NGOs - including the leaders of the Control Arms Campaign; Oxfam, Amnesty International and IANSA - presented a comprehensive analysis of the submissions entitled, "A Global Arms Trade Treaty: What States Want." So what do these two studies tell us about the kind of Arms Trade Treaty that States want?

First and foremost, it would seem that most States agree that such a treaty is feasible. 153 States voted in favour of the Arms Trade Treaty resolution last year. Of the States that have submitted their views to the Secretary-General, 89 specifically state their belief in its feasibility. Also, a number of regional and international instruments relating to the arms trade already exist. Finally, an Arms Trade Treaty would largely collect and codify fundamental principles of international law that also already exist.

What States think about the scope of an Arms Trade Treaty can best be illustrated by a quote from the UNIDIR study:

"Most States indicated that an Arms Trade Treaty should cover 'all conventional weapons.' Many gave specific examples such as 'tanks and other armoured vehicles', 'combat aircraft', 'helicopters', 'warships' and so on. Most states included 'small arms and light weapons', 'landmines' and 'Man Portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADS)' in their lists.
In addition, some States included within the scope of the treaty such items as ammunition, parts and components, technology, and manufacturing equipment, as well as activities like brokering, licensed production and technical assistance.

The criteria that States consider most important to take into consideration before authorising arms transfers are: Security Council arms embargoes, human rights considerations, potential violations of international humanitarian law, and possible diversion to terrorists or use in terrorist acts.

The Geneva Forum will bring the authors of the two studies together at the beginning of next year to compare results and to help transmit any lessons learned from the analyses to the Group of Governmental Experts that will conduct an Arms Trade Treaty feasibility study beginning in February 2008.

Patrick Mc Carthy


Photo credit: Control Arms

Friday, 26 October 2007

The ICRC and cluster munitions: Great Expectations

Yesterday, the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Dr. Jakob Kellenberger, briefed Geneva-based diplomatic Missions and others on his humanitarian organisation's expectations for international efforts to tackle the effects of cluster munitions on civilians.

Briefly, by way of background, rumours are afoot that the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) may, after years of inertia, actually achieve a procedural negotiating mandate on cluster munitions at its next Meeting of States Parties this November. The catalyst for this has been the emergence of a new, free-standing international Oslo Process of at least 80 - perhaps by now 90 - states. The Oslo Process is avowedly ambitious in humanitarian terms. Miraculously, fears that small and medium-sized countries (many of them in the developing world) are "doing an Ottawa" - in reference to the achievement of the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention - have resulted in new flexibility among some big user and producer states in the CCW.

The ICRC was at the forefront of the Ottawa Process more than a decade ago. It has voiced its long-standing concerns about the humanitarian impacts of cluster munitions in the CCW and elsewhere too, and did much initial legwork in the face of widespread state apathy and even resistance to putting cluster munitions squarely on the international agenda. But substantial progress in international campaigning on cluster munitions has recently been made. This, and an updated UN position has led some to wonder what it all means for the ICRC's well-established posture.

Hence Dr. Kellenberger's briefing, which - without changing the ICRC's position an iota - set out specific "parameters" it is looking for in any negotiation on cluster munitions. Kellenberger added:

"States now face an important choice. Those which have not already done so can commit themselves to the urgent negotiation of a legally binding instrument which will prevent the endless repetition of the familiar pattern of civilian casualties and the slow, dangerous and often under-funded clearance efforts which occurs when inaccurate and unreliable cluster munitions are used. The growing awareness of the urgency of this issue and the many new commitments made by States in this field over the past year provide hope that an increasingly severe humanitarian problem in the coming years and decades can be prevented. Such opportunities to prevent untold human suffering do not occur often. The ICRC calls on political leaders and decision makers in all States to make the choices which will provide the strongest possible protection to civilian populations."

John Borrie


ICRC President's statement at the briefing on cluster munitions.

Photo courtesy of the author. At left is Philip Spoerri (ICRC Director for International Law & Cooperation within the Movement), ICRC President Dr. Jakob Kellenberger is middle, and Peter Herby, head of the ICRC’s Arms Unit is right.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007


Professor Danny Dorling of the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom reckons, “you can say it, you can prove it, you can tabulate it, but it is only when you show it that it hits home.”

Dorling and his colleagues are backing up this claim. Their research group on Social and Spatial Inequalities (SASI) has established the Worldmapper project in collaboration with Mark Newman at the Center for the Study of Complex Systems at the University of Michigan in the United States.

Worldmapper is a collection of some 366 world maps, in which territories are re-sized according to a chosen variable of interest. Indicators they’ve mapped range from wealth, education and health to population movements, goods production and natural disaster casualties.

The Worldmapper database also includes cartograms depicting military spending as well as violence and war statistics. I was particularly interested in a map representing territory size as the proportion of worldwide landmine casualties from 2003 to 2005.

The first image below is a classic world map. The second is the Worldmapper version, which visually depicts where casualties are occurring by appearing to swell or shrink areas according to their proportion of landmine casualties (click on the pictures to enlarge).

“Landmine casualty” here is drawn from the Landmine Monitor definition to refer to any “individual killed or injured as a result of an incident involving antipersonnel mines, anti-vehicle mines, improvised explosive devices, dud cluster munitions, and other unexploded ordnance”.

During the time period from 2003 to 2005, Landmine Monitor reported around 7,000 casualties from landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) worldwide per year. However, this figure “represents only the reported casualties and does not take into account the many casualties that are believed to go unreported.” The real number of new casualties from landmines/ERW each year is estimated by Landmine Monitor to be between 15,000 and 20,000.

As we can see on the map, the most affected countries in the time period 2003-2005 included Iraq, Afghanistan, Cambodia and Colombia. Together, these countries accounted for almost 4000—or 57%—of the reported number of casualties.

Aurélia Merçay


Worldmapper’s website: http://www.worldmapper.org .

Social and Spatial Inequalities (SASI) research group’s homepage.

D. Dorling, Worldmapper: The Human Anatomy of a Small Planet, PLOS Medicine, January 2007, volume 4, issue 1, edition 1, freely available online.

Monday, 22 October 2007

What do survivors think of cluster munitions?

Did you ever wonder what a cluster munition survivor thinks of cluster munitions? We found out a few weeks ago during training in Belgrade, Serbia, for individuals from communities affected by cluster munitions in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Serbia and Tajikistan. Their answers were stunning, and touched on devastation, the death of parents and relatives, babies torn apart, terror, trauma, blindness, horror and poverty. There was also guilt and uncertainty - why am I the only survivor of the family? Why did ‘they’ kill my little brother, my mother, even our sheep? What should I do now? And, what do I have to live for, since cluster munitions have killed my family and neighbours?

Over two days, my colleagues Patrizia, Jelena, Firoz, Loren and I heard these moving stories from a small group of rather amazing people. We expected something strong to come out of the meeting but were not prepared for something as strong as that.

The main goal of this pilot project is to enable individuals from affected communities to take part and influence the Oslo process to address the humanitarian impacts of cluster munitions in a way that responds to affected communities’ needs. The project is born out of research on the human impact of cluster munitions that my organization, Handicap International, and our research partners conducted over the past two years (see Fatal Footprint and Circle of Impact, our two reports on the global human impact of cluster munitions). Beyond research into the impacts on the ground, we felt that there was a need to involve in the diplomatic process those people for which the Oslo process has been developed, in partnership with other NGO’s active in survivor and cluster munitions issues. In fact, you could see this project as a global community liaison project, establishing a two-way communication between affected communities and the diplomatic community.

After a few days of training the participants - Snezana, Sladjan and his wife Dusica, Umarbek, Dejan, Danijel, Milosav, Rasha, Ali and Jonuz - had become Ban Advocates, meaning that we’ll work together over the course of the coming year to explain to diplomats, military and the media why the Oslo process on cluster munitions is so necessary and how it should address affected communities’ needs. More than us, they know what a cluster munition is and why it should be banned. They know what the ‘victims’ needs are. And beyond the theoretical discussions that often take place in multilateral talks, they know what is needed in their communities and can inject a much-needed sense of reality. And they have already begun to do this, for instance at an international conference of cluster munition-affected states in Serbia earlier this month.

If you come to Vienna, Wellington or Dublin for the next international meetings of the Oslo process, you’re likely to meet these Ban Advocates. Please, listen to them. If you do, what they shall tell you is likely to radically modify your understanding of what a cluster munition is and what its effects are.

The Ban Advocates initiative will be launched officially just before the Vienna Conference on Cluster Munitions in December this year.

Stan Brabant

This is a guest blog by Stan Brabant. Stan is Head of Policy at Handicap International, Belgium, and coordinates the ‘Ban Advocates initiative’.


Photo of the Ban Advocates in Belgrade courtesy of Stan Brabant (front row left).

Friday, 19 October 2007

Satellites of Love?

"Satellite's gone up to the sky
Things like that drive me out of my mind
I watched it for a little while
I like to watch things on TV
Satellite of love ..."

In our third volume of research, Andreas Persbo and Michael Crowley from the London-based Verification Research, Training and Information Centre (VERTIC) looked at the roles Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) play in the monitoring and verification of international arms control and disarmament agreements. They observed that:

"one area of NGO activity that has not been adequately studied has been the crucial role played by the NGO community in monitoring, and in some cases verifying, international agreements. Indeed, non-governmental monitoring, sometimes referred to as "citizens' reporting", "inspection by the people" or "civil society monitoring", has become an important element in the international community's evaluation of how effectively states implement their treaty obligations on a wide range of issues."
Once upon a time, technologies like satellite imaging were restricted to a few governments, and during the Cold War were initially harnessed for surveillance of the adversary's territory and activities. Eventually, satellites emerged as important elements of arms control verification. And, over time, the cost of space satellite imaging technology has come down and been increasingly commercialized for a huge range of uses - to the point where an ordinary schmo like me can look up Google Earth (which almost seamlessly blends satellite and aerial imagery) on the internet for free to see if I can see my home (I can).

Unsurprisingly, some civil society actors have woken up to the fact that such technologies could be helpful in trying to hold governments accountable for their actions, for instance for human rights violations or failure to protect civilians in conflict. In June of this year, for instance, Amnesty International launched a website in partnership with the University of California at Berkeley to keep watch over imperiled villages in the Darfur region of Sudan, and to post images online in order to enlist help to prevent violence. These images show, for instance, before and after photographs of scores of apparently destroyed settlements.

Earlier this month, the journal Science reported that its publisher, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), had released similar satellite images of Myanmar, showing that dozens of villages in the eastern part of the country had been uprooted or razed to the ground. Science displayed images of a village near Kewy Kee in east Myanmar photographed by a commercial satellite on 5 May 2004, which had disappeared in an image taken on 23 February 2007.

It remains to be seen how effective such images will be in motivating the international community to step in to prevent such violence. But commercial satellite imagery is certainly very powerful in documenting abuses. And, it can provide plausible alternative interpretations to those put forward by government officials. Occasionally, it might even embarrass the intelligence community. One organization doing good work in this regard is the Federation of American Scientists, which has used openly available satellite imagery - some of it from Google - to pinpoint the launch, for instance, of new Chinese nuclear ballistic missile submarines.

A few weeks ago I was invited to a conference in Italy to talk about developments on the horizon in the life sciences with potential for hostile misuse. To illustrate the difference in scale between nuclear and biological facilities and challenges for verification, I showed my audience some satellite images of the Bushehr and Natanz nuclear facilities in Iran, alongside pictures of the Palo Alto district in Silicon Valley, California. An Iranian official in the audience afterward demanded to know where I had obtained these "sensitive" pictures. I told him I'd obtained them from Google Earth. I kid you not: "Who is this Google Earth?" he demanded to know.

It's serendipitous that Lou Reed's song, Satellite of Love (quoted above) came from an album entitled 'Transformer'. Not everyone's heard of Lou Reed yet, or is going to be a fan once they've listened to what he has to offer. Sounds like the same may be true of my pal, Google Earth - but hear from him and his ilk they will.

John Borrie


"Myanmar's Secret History Exposed in Satellite Images", Science (vol. 318), 5 October 2007.

"Satellites to Watch for Darfur Violence", Associated Press, 6 June 2007.

U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum+Google Earth website on 'Crisis in Darfur'.

Andreas Persbo & Michael Crowley, "The Role of Non-Governmental Organizations in the monitoring and verification of international arms control and disarmament agreements".

Photo of the beginning of the burning of Um Zelfa village courtesy of Brian Steidle, Alert/Sudan.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

The First Committee Carnival Begins

Last week, the UN General Assembly's First Committee, which deals with disarmament and international security, began its annual 4-week marathon of arm-twisting and horse trading that will result, at the end of the month, in a crop of draft resolutions on almost every conceivable aspect of disarmament, arms control and international security. From guns, mines and missiles; through chemical, biological and nuclear weapons; to preventing an arms race in outer space; all this, and much more, will be discussed, debated and voted on in New York over these four weeks.

It's difficult, to say the least, for a casual observer to get an overview of what goes on at First Committee (not to mention understanding it all). We can be very grateful, therefore, for the excellent reporting provided by the First Committee Monitor produced by the Reaching Critical Will project. Even so, there's a lot of information to keep abreast of. 192 States (yes, all UN Member States are also members of the First Committee) barter and persuade, offer and demand concessions, in order to push through "their" draft resolutions, preferably without a vote (which implies consensus agreement) or with the highest number of votes possible.

In the first 2007 edition of the First Committee Monitor, Ray Acheson of Reaching Critical Will described the First Committee as being "generally redundant." While many may agree - and I would certainly agree that it could be approaching its work in a more effective manner - there is, nevertheless, something to be said for this annual orgy of disarmament debate.

First of all, voting happens. Unlike other arms control fora where the consensus rule or practice essentially hands every State a veto over every decision - e.g. the Conference on Disarmament, the Biological Weapons Convention, the Inhumane Weapons Convention, etc. - States have to publicly display their colours at the First Committee. They must vote either yes or no, or abstain, on every draft resolution. At First Committee, there is nowhere to hide. This is a huge bonus for civil society, since it tells them exactly where every State stands on every issue presented, allowing them to fine-tune their advocacy work as a result.

Even the permanent members of the Security Council, accustomed as they are to their Security Council veto, must sink or swim in the First Committee's flat organisational structure where the concept of sovereign equality reigns. This sometimes allows the First Committee to be instrumental in initiating important new arms control initiatives. At last year's meeting, for example, a resolution calling for a new treaty to control the trade in all conventional weapons (a so-called Arms Trade Treaty) was passed with 153 votes in favour and one against, the lone vote cast by the United States. This process is now underway and the United States is deciding whether to join an expert group that will conduct an initial feasibility study.

Some interesting new initiatives are already beginning to emerge at this year's meeting. For example, Chile, New Zealand, Nigeria, Sweden and Switzerland are reportedly manoeuvring to introduce a draft resolution calling on the nuclear weapons States to de-alert their nukes (i.e. to remove them from "launch on warning" status).

I'll be attending First Committee next week and hope to get an up-close view of what's going on. I'll provide my analysis in a later posting. In the meantime, I encourage you to tune in to the First Committee Monitor to find out where your country stands on these important issues.

Patrick Mc Carthy


Photo credit: Joe Kaehny on Flickr.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Let’s polish up the crystal ball

The World Future Society recently released the Outlook 2008 Report as part of the November-December 2007 issue of its magazine “The Futurist”.

This report includes some 70 forecasts covering developments and breakthroughs in technology, energy and the environment, international relations and society in general.

Among the thinkers who have contributed to “The Futurist” magazine in the past years are current climate change activist (and just-announced Nobel Peace prize co-winner) Al Gore, former United States Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

So, what should we expect in the coming years? Here are the top 10 forecasts of the Outlook 2008 Report, some of which are directly relevant to human security and multilateral disarmament diplomacy:

1. “The world will have a billion millionaires by 2025”, as a result of globalization and technology innovations.

2. “Fashion will go wired as technologies and tastes converge to revolutionize the textile industry.” Smart fabrics – such as colour-changing or perfume emitting textiles –, digital wallets and computer shoes are just a few examples of the new technologies that will radically transform the textile industry.

3. “The threat of another cold war with China, Russia, or both will replace terrorism as the chief foreign-policy concern of the United States.” According to Luttwak, terrorist attacks are a relatively minor threat to the United States that Soviet missile capabilities.

4. “Counterfeiting of currency will proliferate, driving the move toward a cashless society.”

5. “The earth is on the verge of a significant extinction event. The twenty-first century could witness a biodiversity collapse 100 to 1,000 times greater than any previous extinction.”

6. “Water will be in the twenty-first century what oil was in the twentieth century.”

7. “World population by 2050 may grow larger than previously expected, due in part to healthier, longer-living people.”

8. “The number of Africans imperiled by floods will grow 70-fold by 2080”. The predictions indicate a 38cm increase of sea level by 2080. If this is the case, the number of Africans affected by floods is estimated to grow from 1 million to 70 millions.

9. “Rising prices for natural resources could lead to a full-scale assault on the Arctic”. According to Brigham, the control over arctic natural resources will be a major political challenge in the next decades.

10. “More decisions will be made by nonhuman entities”. Because of the ever-increasing complexity of the world, artificial intelligence will play an increasing role in decision-making processes.

Of course, “The Futurist’s” predictions could well be proved wrong. That’s the problem with prediction – hence we’re not getting around in jet cars or rocket-powered backpacks despite assertions that it would be the case by today a few decades ago. Conversely, few saw the Internet or the iPod coming.

Humans often make their predictions based on current evidence and past experiences. If there’s one thing we’re learning in an increasingly interdependent world it’s that plenty of social phenomena are non-linear and inherently unpredictable. In complex systems – and complex social systems in particular –, actions sometimes have unintended consequences.

So, while forecasts like those in “The Futurist” are stimulating, I’m sure we’re in for some even more way-out surprises it didn’t predict – both good and bad.

Aurélia Merçay


The top ten forecasts from the Outlook 2008 report by the World Future Society are available online.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

New podcast - the physics of social behaviour

How groups of people make decisions, form opinions, and determine social norms has traditionally been the focus of sociology, anthropology and political science. But physics too has a long tradition of studying systems of many interacting components and has developed tools for understanding how such systems can generate collective social behaviours that can't be anticipated by studying their components or their interactions in isolation.

One recent book exploring this topic, and how physical understanding of the world is relevant to social problem-solving, is 'Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another'. Its author, Dr. Philip Ball, is a science writer and broadcaster, and consultant editor at the science journal Nature. Critical Mass has inspired our work on the Disarmament as Humanitarian Action project, especially two chapters of our third volume of research discussing a "physics of diplomacy" and examining the mechanisms involved in demand for small arms. Quite simply, the ideas Ball writes about are relevant to multilateral decision-makers and the ways they frame issues.

On 25 September, the Disarmament Insight initiative hosted a workshop near Geneva with multilateral practitioners from diplomatic Missions, international organizations and civil society representatives to engage them on the theme of 'complexity and diplomacy: Understanding the implications for arms control'. The aim is to encourage participants to think differently about human security, and prompt new, constructive responses.

Our speakers included Philip Ball and we recorded his 45-minute talk. We have the pleasure to announce a podcast of his presentation on the physics of social behaviour is available from today. We've also included Dr. Ball's slides in the podcast to aid the listener. These are viewable in iTunes or in Quicktime Player in sync with the audio.


John Borrie

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

30% less pupils in Helmand province

According to IRIN (the Integrated Regional Information Networks of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)), more than 30,000 pupils attending school in the Helmand province in southern Afghanistan last year were absent in 2007. This represents a reduction of more than 30% in school attendance:

“This year we have 70,000 students in 90 functioning schools in Helmand province,” said Saeed Ibrar Agha, head of the provincial education department.[]
In 2002, less than a year after the Taliban were toppled, there were 224 functioning schools all over the province [].”

Insecurity explains why most schools are shuttered in the Helmand province. In the past 15 months, according to Saeed Ibrar Agha, Taliban insurgents and other armed groups targeting schools as symbols of the government have burned down more than 20 schools and killed 17 students, teachers and other staff.

The deterioration of security conditions has led to a flow of children to Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province. Today, half of all provincial pupils (i.e. 35,000 children) are to be found in Lashkar Gar. The 27 schools open in the city have been unable to keep pace with demand and some classes have to be held in the open.

To end on a positive note, the number of female students – who were denied the right to attend school under the Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001 – has increased from 12,228 in 2006 (12%) to 14,500 in 2007 (21%) in the Helmand province. This is important. As a 2006 Human Rights Watch report observed, increasing females’ access to education not only benefits girls and women, but also the country’s development:
“It is now well-established that increasing girls’ and women’s access to education improves maternal and child health, improves their own children’s access to education, and promotes economic growth. For example, research has shown that an additional year of school for girls can reduce infant mortality by 5 to 10 percent, and that reducing the gender gap in education increases per capita income growth. Indeed, studies have found greater returns through higher wages on school investments for girls than for boys, particularly for secondary education.”

Aurélia Merçay


AFGHANISTAN: Boys' education slides in Helmand, IRIN’s report, 8 October 2007, available online at http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=74690 .

Human Rights Watch, Education in Afghanistan and its Importance for Development in Lessons in Terror: Attacks on Education in Afghanistan, July 2006, available online at http://www.hrw.org/reports/2006/afghanistan0706/3.htm.

Photo by Jim Birt retrieved from Flickr: brightly coloured burqas worn by Afghan girls on their way to school in Gereshk, Helmand Province (Afghanistan, May 2007).

Monday, 8 October 2007

Announcement: New Oslo Process resource website

There is a new website specifically dedicated to documents and other resources about the Oslo Process to address the humanitarian effects of cluster munitions. You can find it at:


The idea behind the website is to act as a gateway for information about the cluster munition humanitarian process for participants and interested actors. It's meant to be fact-oriented, up-to-date, and easy to access and navigate even for slower internet connections - eschewing photos, animations and other bandwidth-heavy attributes.

On this site we've gathered two main categories of information. The first category concerns information produced for the Oslo Process such as the Oslo Declaration, the Lima Discussion Text and a calendar of events.

The cluster process website also contains broader information on the cluster problem and efforts to tackle it, with links to other meetings, publications, organisations and initiatives of interest - including Disarmament Insight.

The website is a work in progress, but will be updated and adjusted continuously. It's sponsored by the states hosting conferences in the Oslo Process so as to facilitate the need for access to documents and general information on its work.

I hope you find the site useful.

This is a guest blog by Christian Ruge, a consultant to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and technical editor of the Oslo Process website.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Re-humanize yourself: The Belgrade Conference of states affected by cluster munitions

Unexploded ordnance clearance experts are among the unsung humanitarian heroes. Their work is tricky, often tense and - because rendering unexploded munitions safe is an art rather than a science - also sometimes unavoidably dangerous. Disposing of unexploded submunitions is one of the worst jobs because these weapons are anything but "duds": they're unpredictable, difficult to locate (being small and hard to see), unreliable and yet often deployed in large numbers.

These brave, ordinary people ultimately put themselves at risk to protect civilians. Bad things can and do happen to them.

In 2000, Branislav Kapetanovic, a Serbian UXO clearance expert, was working to render an unexploded submunition safe when it detonated. Branislav was lucky: he lived. But he lost both legs and the ends of his arms and now gets around in a wheelchair. The rehabilitation process has been long and hard, especially in a country in which resources are scarce - as they are in all but the richest nations of the world.

This week, I was fortunate to meet Branislav, who has become a spokesperson for the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) - a network of civil society groups dedicated to banning these weapons - in Serbia at the Belgrade Conference of states affected by cluster munitions. I've just returned from that Conference, and thought I should offer a few impressions.

The idea behind the Belgrade Conference was to allow affected countries to share their experiences and jointly produce some recommendations to feed into international efforts to deal with the humanitarian consequences of cluster munitions. The Conference agenda focused on survivor assistance, explosive ordnance clearance, and international assistance and cooperation.

It was preceded by a half-day civil society forum organized by the CMC on 2 October, in which cluster munition survivors talked about their horrific, real-life experiences - as they were also able to do during the latter Conference.

Well, so what? After all, affected states have long played a major role in the implementation of the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, and a special emphasis put on ensuring the participation of landmine survivors. Indeed, a slogan of the Landmine Survivors' Network - a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) - is "nothing about us without us".

But, in the disarmament field, the Mine Ban Convention has largely stood alone. Talks on cluster munitions in the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) have, for years, been largely of military, legal and technical nature. They've often felt rather remote from the actual concerns of those living with the effects of this weapon - whether victims like Branislav, relatives of victims, or communities adversely affected by unexploded submunitions.

In February of this year, a new international track emerged, the so-called Oslo Process, with much more ambitious objectives to "address the humanitarian problems caused by cluster munitions". Since February, the number of states associating themselves with the Oslo Process has grown to more than 80 and it prompted the Belgrade Conference.

The Conference was important in several respects:

- It was specifically intended to bring together representatives from affected states (including survivors), interested countries, UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the CMC and others to discuss how a new treaty should effectively address the specific needs of states, communities and individuals affected by this weapon.

- It highlighted the plight of individuals maimed by cluster munitions from places such as Afghanistan, Croatia, Cambodia, Lebanon, Laos, Serbia and Tajikstan and their needs. Hearing their stories, while often painful for them and shocking for all, has helped to humanize the issue. It's one thing to talk about international measures concerning cluster munitions in the abstract - quite another when you've met victims face to face. Medical and ordnance clearance personnel also shared their practical experiences.

- It's added additional impetus to the Oslo Process. Despite many evident political and practical challenges over the year ahead to achieve a treaty, there was much to gain strength from.

- Notably, civil society campaigning on cluster munitions has grown markedly in sophistication and effectiveness over the last 12 months, and this Conference added yet more impetus and energy.

- And, increasingly, affected countries - who are mostly developing countries with scant diplomatic resources and who are usually marginalized in discussions dominated by cluster munition user and producer states in the CCW - are speaking out too.

I was particularly affected by the story of one Serbian cluster munition survivor, a clearance expert like Branislav (I didn't catch his name) who lost an arm and a leg to a submunition. He told the Conference that initially he didn't want to talk about his experiences as a survivor, because he didn't think it could make a difference. Imagine what he must have been through, and yet be made to feel like that? But emerging international efforts, primarily the Oslo Process, had changed his mind, he said.

It's vital that we don't let these people down. As Emil Jeremić, Regional Representative of Norwegian People’s Aid in South East Europe told the Belgrade Conference, “Negotiating a ban treaty is not all about technical issues and military interests. It is first and foremost about protecting human lives”.

Next time you're told something can't be done, be reminded about the real costs of failing.

John Borrie


CMC Press Release, "Contaminated Countries Embrace Ban on Cluster Munitions" (2 October 2007).

Photo by John Borrie.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

When is it acceptable to harm civilians?

My colleague John Borrie is in Belgrade this week participating in a meeting of States against whom cluster munitions have been used (he previewed the meeting in his last posting and will report back to this blog at the end of the week on how things went). The Belgrade meeting forms part of the so-called Olso Process on cluster munitions, which aims, by the end of 2008, to produce a new treaty banning cluster munitions that cause "unacceptable harm" to civilians.

As I suggested in a previous posting entitled, "Facing the facts on cluster munitions," the crux of the Oslo Process negotiations will be defining what "unacceptable harm to civilians" actually means. The fault-lines of this debate are already being drawn.

NGOs in the Cluster Munition Coalition claim that all cluster munitions cause unacceptable harm to civilians due to a combination of their wide-area affects at the time of use and to the fact that they leave behind unexploded duds that continue to kill civilians - a high proportion of them children - for years afterwards. The burden of proving that some cluster munitions do not cause unacceptable harm, argue the NGOs, falls on the governments who wish to continue using such weapons.

As the guardian of International Humanitarian Law - otherwise known as the Law of War - the International Committee of the Red Cross argues that what leads some cluster munitions to cause unacceptable harm to civilians is their inaccuracy and their unreliability. The ICRC suggests that technical solutions could be found to these problems, such as sensor fuzing, for example, or reducing the failure rates of sub-munitions. Harm to civilians could also be reduced by not using cluster munitions in, or even close to, civilian areas. At the core of these arguments is the international humanitarian law rule of proportionality, which balances military advantage against civilian casualties.

As for the States participating in the Oslo Process - now over 80 of them - most have still to declare their hand on this question and are most likely planning not to do so until the hard negotiating begins next year.

That is why the Belgrade meeting is so important. In Belgrade, over 20 States that have had cluster munitions used against them will share their experiences of living with the legacy of the attacks and of the explosive remnants left behind. This will be an important reality check for the Oslo Process; one that should persuade participating States to make up their minds sooner rather than later on the "acceptability" of the civilian harm caused by cluster munitions.

In the words of Branislav Kapetanovic, a Serbian clearance expert who lost both legs and arms in an accident while at work in 2000, "We know what it means to live through cluster bomb attacks and the consequences of unexploded submunitions, we know the painstaking and dangerous work it takes to clear them, and we know the challenges of assisting those who survive an accident caused by cluster bombs."

One may hope that, by the end of this week, this knowledge will be more widespread than it was before.

Patrick Mc Carthy


Cluster Munition Coalition press release on the Belgrade Conference of States Affected by Cluster Munitions, "Contaminated Countries Embrace Ban on Cluster Munitions" (2 October 2007).

Photo Credit: truelovecj on flickr

Monday, 1 October 2007

Discovering Geneva’s Peacebuilding Potential

In 1995, when 50th anniversaries were everywhere, I was asked to give a speech on “50 years of peace.” My first reaction was to think that I’d misunderstood the title.

How could anyone look at the world in 1995 and describe the previous 50 years as having been peaceful? But then I began to think about the institutions, norms and treaties that existed in 1995 that could only have been imagined by the visionaries and pragmatists who sought to put in place the peace system that was intended by the founding of the United Nations. As I did so, I began to see the increasingly complex web that has been woven among peoples and nations to build security and overcome war.

This web may be thin, or even absent, in many places, but it nevertheless represents a constant striving that, despite serious setbacks and dire threats, provides us with the means with which societies can function and sometimes thrive, rather than decline and perish.

In 2005, the nations of the world took another tentative step in this direction by creating the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission. In practice, this new body—aimed at preventing countries emerging from conflict from again descending into violence—is barely one year old. It seeks to provide one of the missing links in the array of peacekeeping, conflict prevention, and peacemaking components of the UN system and to take its place alongside its many economic and social components aimed at creating sustainable conditions in which peace can prevail.

A cynic might look at the compromises made in establishing the Peacebuilding Commission and conclude that this body does not stand a chance. Forecasts based on one-year’s experience may not inspire much optimism. But here, a longer-term perspective is helpful. No system created by human beings emerges fully formed or mature. Some remain stunted and underdeveloped. But others, like the layering of international law that has been laid down over centuries, provide elements of robustness. This experience demands that we give this fledgling body a chance to put on weight, to develop its muscles, and to learn to walk before we expect it to run.

Since the creation of the Peacebuilding Commission, some of us in Geneva have been reflecting on what this city might contribute to its work. Geneva has come to be known as a disarmament hub, a humanitarian capital, a human rights centre and, more recently, the heartbeat of global action against the proliferation and misuse of small arms. Why? Because of the expertise, experience, vision and practice that has progressively come to be concentrated in Geneva. Could the same be true for peacebuilding? We are some way from knowing the answer, but we are beginning to find out.

On September 12th, the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, along with its partners (among them the Quaker UN Office, the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces, and the Programme for Strategic and International Security Studies of the Graduate Institute of International Studies) launched the International Geneva Peacebuilding Guide. This on-line, searchable database currently contains information on some 70 Geneva-based inter-governmental and non-governmental bodies. Many of these organzations, when first asked to complete a survey, replied that they did not see themselves as peacebuilding bodies. This changed, however, when they were presented with the four categories that underpin the work of the Peacebuilding Commission—security and public order, justice and reconciliation, governance participation, and social and economic well-being.

So far, this database is just a set of information providing a fascinating snapshot of the rich array of research and practitioner bodies that make up our Geneva community. But this is only the first step. If Geneva is to build on this peacebuidling foundation and make its proper contribution, not only will we need further analysis of what this information tells us, but the players themselves will need to take action, individually and collectively, to realize this potential. This is a work in progress which hopefully will help to enhance the peacebuilding capacity of the UN system, thus adding strength to the existing peace system web.

This is a guest posting from David Atwood, Director of the Quaker United Nations Office in Geneva


International Geneva Peacebuilding Guide

Photo credit: Tony Burbage on flickr