Disarmament Insight


Monday, 15 December 2008

2008: What a year!

2008 is drawing to an end. If you're concerned about the humanitarian effects of cluster munitions or you've just been a Democratic Presidential candidate in the United States it's been a pretty good year, but not so if you run a large car manufacturing company, or a bank, or indeed just have a mortgage. Indeed, the Roaring Naughties are well and truly over - with human security implications down the line I'm sure no-one can fathom yet, although already it looks like around a billion people will go hungry in coming months because of rises in food prices, the majority of them in the developing world. Why are people still going hungry in this day and age? Where have our priorities been?

In Geneva we've had a snowy cold snap in the last little while, so while the global financial meltdown continues we can at least snowboard while Rome burns, and watch the newly-bankrupted mega-rich huddle in their fur coats and Jimmy Choo shoes on the rue du Rhone around the Porsche Cayennes they've torched to keep warm.

Just kidding. But the festive season is coming, and so it's time for Disarmament Insight to sign off until January. Below we continue our long-standing tradition (well, okay, the one we started last year) of looking back at some of our main blogging themes of 2008.

It's hard to believe that this time a year ago the Vienna Conference of the Oslo process on cluster munitions was underway. Twelve months on and the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) is a reality after a tough meeting in Wellington, New Zealand in February, and the negotiations themselves over two weeks in May in Dublin, Ireland, not to mention a huge amount of effort from so many people over the last several years. It's been truly inspiring to participate in the Oslo process, and the week before last 94 states signed the treaty in Oslo, Norway, which just capped it all off. Disarmament as humanitarian action, indeed.

Things haven't gone so well in the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) talks in Geneva, which underwent something of a crisis in November as the Danish Chair's attempt to push through a protocol based on his draft text were rebuffed by a group of 26 states. A rather nasty blame game ensued, but the CCW managed to agree to come back for a week or two in the first part of 2009 to have another shot at trying to achieve something acceptable both to those cluster munition user/possessor states who shunned the Oslo process, and the majority of the CCW's membership that support the CCM. With the best will in the world, the CCW will have its work cut out for it in the New Year.

There was an extremely important domestic election for world politics in November. Yes, that's right, Helen Clark's Labour Government in New Zealand were voted out in favour of the centre-right National Party. Oh, yes, and there was that other election...of that Obama guy. Currently the arms control world - particularly inside the Washington beltway - is rife with speculation about what Obama's administration will do after taking up the reins of power in January '09 on nuclear weapons. President Obama pushing for successful U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty would be a great start it seems to me: it may not bring the treaty negotiated more than a decade ago into force thanks to the CTBT's international entry-into-force formula, but it would send a very positive signal and further embed the emerging global norm against nuclear testing.

And some leadership and clear momentum is needed right now on nuclear issues, especially if the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) 2010 review conference is to be a success. Issues over Iran and compliance continue to dominate its preparatory process, of course. But more generally there is the sense around that we may be on the cusp of something hopeful with respect to nuclear disarmament. While the last two decades have seen too many missed opportunities for the world to move closer to nuclear abolition, the next couple of years hold considerable promise if some of the new ideas and new coalitions that have emerged over the last year or two are taken up by states and Iran's alleged NPT non-compliance is substantively addressed. Meanwhile, paralysis in the Conference on Disarmament continues.

The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) initiative is evolving too, and an Open-Ended Working Group will meet in 2009. An ATT resolution in the UN General Assembly late this year was opposed by only two countries - the U.S. and Zimbabwe . The prospect of a negotiating process on an ATT seems tantalisingly close...

2008 was also a significant year for work on curbing the effects of small arms and gun violence. In July, Patrick Mc Carthy wrote that the UN small arms process is "back on track" in its implementation of the 2001 Programme of Action following difficulties in 2006 that prevented assessment of the PoA's overall impact and strengthening of implementation. Despite opposition from Iran and Zimbabwe, the 2008 Biennial Meeting of States in New York adopted a substantive and forward-looking final document.

We've had a bunch of other interesting posts on this blog covering all sorts of issues, from piracy to the Mine Ban Treaty to expertise in mediation and negotiation with respect to Zimbabwe, biological weapons and even why the Arcade Fire and Duran Duran are like the Oslo process and CCW. We've also had the odd book review, which have prompted some spin-off blogs.

Meanwhile, we've been very fortunate on the Disarmament as Humanitarian Action project at UNIDIR to have had two sterling Visiting Fellows this year, who've provided welcome intellectual argument, lots of coffee and prolific blogs. Maya Brehm came from Copenhagen University for three months and never left, which worked out very nicely for us. Our other visiting fellow, Rocky Horror Picture Show fan Virgil Wiebe, helped us to keep track of the CCW, but finally had to return with his family to tropical Minneapolis at the end of November. Ferney-Voltaire will never be the same again... We've seen some other departures too, with Patricia Lewis leaving UNIDIR and taking up a new role as Deputy Director and Scientist-in-Residence at the Monterey Institute. And Patrick Mc Carthy moved to a new role with UNDP from October concerning the Coordinating Action on Small Arms (CASA). His successor as Geneva Forum Network Coordinator, Silvia Cattaneo, has now come on board, so welcome Silvia, and good luck Patrick!

As 2008 ends, so too the Disarmament as Humanitarian Action project draws to a close after five years of research and outreach, four volumes of published work (our final volume will be out very shortly) and numerous articles, meetings and, of course, blog posts. A big thank you is due to our principal donor, the Government of Norway, as well as to the Netherlands along with all of those people who've helped us with input and support along the way (not least our guest bloggers).

However, this is not really the end of DHA. The Disarmament Insight blog will continue in the New Year, and we might run further meetings along the lines of the five symposia we've held with our partner the Geneva Forum, which have been very successful and culminated in our November residential seminar in Glion. And, Maya and I have been carrying out research since March of this year on a spin-off DHA project to research an analytical history of international efforts to address the humanitarian impacts of cluster munitions, to be published in late 2009. The CCM and the Mine Ban Treaty's implementation have shown that humanitarian disarmament is alive and well.

So, it's busy, busy, busy. I hope everyone who reads our blog has a wonderful festive season. Keep reading Disarmament Insight and commenting on it: we'll be back in the New Year.

John Borrie

Picture by John Borrie. We're tired out pussycats too.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

2008: The end of the beginning for the Oslo Process

The Signing Ceremony for the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) wrapped up at lunchtime on Thursday. (I would have blogged earlier, but I was out celebrating like the hundreds of other delegates present in Oslo. It's a cold city in December, but the welcome was warm...)

As of writing, 94 countries have signed the Convention (a list of 92 is here - add Cote d'Ivoire and Guinea Bissau), and more seem certain to follow in weeks and months to come. There are some surprises among them such as Afghanistan as mentioned in a preceding post.

Some big possessors and users of cluster munitions stayed away last week, of course, such as China, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia and the United States. Much has been made of this in the media, but it's by now really a non-event as these countries shunned the Oslo Process and so it was no surprise they would be no-show-ers. Instead the U.S State Department's spokesperson asserted from far away in Washington D.C. that "the CCM constitutes a ban on most types of cluster munitions; such a general ban on cluster munitions will put the lives of our military men and women, and those of our coalition partners, at risk." The fact that the majority of those coalition partners were represented in Oslo in order to sign the new humanitarian disarmament norm was omitted, since presumably it is at odds with this opinion.

Brazil, however, attended as an observer, and there are some signs that it may be reconsidering its opposition to joining the CCM - not least because of the support for the treaty from so many of its Latin American neighbours. Brazil's views on joining the treaty matter to countries like its traditional regional rival Argentina (which participated actively in Dublin, but hasn't yet signed the CCM), and vice versa. Let's hope that leaders in the two countries can turn the situation into what scholars call a 'trust game'. Both would be better off in security terms joining the Convention and disposing of their stocks of cluster munitions, rather than keeping them for use against each other.

There was something of a party atmosphere throughout the Signing Ceremony week, especially as so many of those here who had been through the Oslo Process wringer together could now patch up any animosities, clap each other on the backs and have a galactic p*ss-up together. Perhaps some of this bonhomie permeated the party of NATO Foreign Ministers, who arrived en masse on Wednesday afternoon by charter plane from Brussels to make their statements welcoming the Convention and each sign the treaty before flying on to the Helsinki OSCE Summit. David Miliband - the object of British NGO Landmine Action's innovative campaign in Westminster Tube Station to get cluster munitions "Milibanned" - spoke in glowing terms about the new treaty. And French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner's statement was (perhaps to no-one's surprise) the most colourful as he proclaimed (in French) "Yes, we can! We can, and the US can sign this treaty, Russia can, and China can" adding that he'll press American President-elect Barack Obama to sign. Good luck with that.

Of course, all of these signatures to the CCM obscure a more concrete and significant fact: that already four countries of the 30 required to bring the treaty into force internationally have ratified (Ireland, Norway, Sierra Leone and the Holy See). At this rate the CCM may enter into force globally rather soon - it is possible the first Meeting of States Parties will be as early as mid-2010. Laos, usually something of an international recluse and the most seriously affected country from cluster munitions, has come forward to offer to host the First Meeting of States Parties.

And more attention is now turning to how the new CCM will be implemented, which entails settling some big questions about how a regime of doing and not just being a new humanitarian norm will be developed. There is a lot synergy, of course, with the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention and how its implementation regime has developed over the last decade, and many useful lessons were learned that fed in to improving the text of the CCM treaty itself in the Dublin negotiations in May. But there are also some differences. The number of cluster munition affected countries is much smaller than were seriously blighted by anti-personnel mines in 1997, and the overall number of survivors is smaller too. Moreover, some survivors are being assisted already because of the Mine Ban Convention. And of course the Mine Ban Convention has some serious issues of its own such as states missing deadlines for clearance and stockpile destruction, which Maya Brehm and Megan Kinsella discussed in an earlier post.

One big issue for implementation will be to develop a more accurate picture of the dimensions of the cluster munition problem. Neither the mine ban nor cluster ban treaties make specific provision for this beyond their (differing) national reporting requirements for state parties. This led to the emergence of the civil society Landmine Monitor initiative in the context of the Mine Ban Convention, and a key question for NGOs now is how that expertise and experience can be further leveraged for a sort of 'cluster munition' Monitor. This weekend they are mulling over just that in Oslo.

And this touches on one of the biggest challenges of all: to ensure that while momentum is maintained and even increased for entry into force, universalisation and implementation of the CCM, implementation of the Mine Ban Convention doesn't suffer as a result. Indications are that many governments central to the Oslo Process, the UN, ICRC and NGOs like the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and Cluster Munition Coalition are well aware of this.

2008 has been a huge year for international efforts to address the humanitarian impacts of cluster munitions as regular readers of this blog may have gathered from our ongoing commentary on the both Oslo and CCW processes. Indeed, we've followed the Oslo Process from the very beginning on Disarmament Insight.

Everyone now needs a rest (and some still celebrating in Oslo may also need a hangover cure). But 2009 will require continued effort, creativity and hard work to ensure that the CCM makes a difference to people's lives on the ground, even if it's not as immediately sexy and exciting as the negotiating phase we've just been through. Meanwhile, there are still the CCW meetings on cluster munitions to play out in Geneva in the first part of 2009...

John Borrie


Documents and media related to the Oslo CCM Signing Conference are accessible here.

Picture of Bernard Kouchner giving his statement on 3 December by John Borrie.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Wish You Were Here: Banning the (Cluster) Bomb, 1958-2008

The Philippine Campaign to Ban Landmines (PCBL) designed the postcard above for the Dublin Diplomatic Conference on Cluster Munitions in May this year. The postcard was distributed to participants there with a message to support a cluster munitions ban treaty this year, and also commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and its Ban-the-Bomb symbol – a symbol that later became the more broadly meaningful Peace Symbol.

It’s timely to bring this up again on the occasion of the Oslo Signing Conference for the new Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), which comprehensively bans them as a class of weapons, and which commenced on Wednesday. When we made the postcard before the Dublin Conference, achieving such a comprehensive ban treaty wasn’t yet certain. After the successful treaty negotiations at Dublin, the treaty is now about to become a reality in international law.

Through the main motifs in black and yellow orange on the front of our postcard, we wanted to show the continuing a link, from left to right, between the oldest (A-bomb) and the newest (cluster) bomb ban advocacies between 1958 and 2008. It reflects a historical continuum of 50 years of bomb banning and peace advocacy, as well as an element of solidarity with and outreach to other generations and causes in peace activism, especially those who have advocated nuclear disarmament.

The postcard was meant to recall and honour those who were generations ahead of the current Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) and paved the way for humanitarian disarmament campaigning.

The cluster bomb motif provided by CMC also indicates, aside from a cluster bomb itself, a victim’s hand and upper arm as if signaling “Stop!” or “No!”. That seems simple enough. That wasn’t the case though with the peace symbol originally designed by British anti-war activist-artist Gerald Holtom in 1958 for an Easter weekend protest march to an A-bomb research facility in Aldermaston in England. In his own words explaining it 15 years later in 1973:

“I was in despair. I drew myself: the representative of an individual in despair, with hands palm outstretched outwards in the manner of Goya’s peasant before the firing squad. I formalized the drawing into a line and put a circle round it….”
In Holtom’s original design, the lines were not so cleanly straight as they have been in more recent years (as adopted in our postcard), but instead were curved outward on both sides of the lines where the hands palm outstretched, the head and feet of the despairing figure were supposed to be.

Almost as an afterthought, Holtom also saw that the symbol represented a composite of the semaphore signals for the letter N (someone holding a flag in each hand stretched outwards and downwards) and D (a single flag held vertically above the head) – thus Nuclear Disarmament. So, in those earlier years in Britain, it was known more as the “disarmament symbol,” “ND symbol,” or “CND symbol.” Holtom himself was said to have regretted the connotation of despair and wanted the sign inverted to instead connote something more like hope, resurrection or elation. Also, the inverted image of a figure with arms stretched upwards and outwards represented the semaphore signal for U – Unilateral, as in unilateral action as the key to nuclear disarmament. But the original symbol is what stuck and caught on.

Bayard Rustin, an American activist in the 1958 march, took the symbol back to the U.S., where it eventually became the Peace Symbol globally. From a symbol of despair, it came to acquire near universal significance as a symbol of peace and protest, especially of the anti-war sort.

At the back of our postcard pictured above, we indicated in upper left the occasion and venue: “DUBLIN DIPLOMATIC CONFERENCE ON CLUSTER MUNITIONS, 19-30 May 2008, Croak Park, Dublin, IRELAND” with the Irish shamrock symbol to its immediate right. (We misspelled the name of historic Croke Park.) Because the venue was Ireland, we wanted to use the Irish colour green for this text, but decided to stick with black to economize on production costs.

And so that text and the Irish shamrock at the back of our postcard came out in black. When we showed the postcard to Irish peace activist friend Clem McCartney and his Chilean anti-war activist partner Roberta Bacic on meeting up with them in Dublin outside the conference, surprisingly they commended us for its “black shamrock,” – which we learned from them is an Irish symbol of mourning and resistance. Huh, PCBL had inadvertently used an Irish protest symbol?

And so – perhaps like Holtom – our postcard was loaded with anti-war symbols to a greater extent than we had originally intended. In fact, toward the end of the Dublin conference we actually came across that “Black Shamrock” symbol again on the T-shirt of an Irish anti-war activist who participated in a side event to the conference, a Public Talk on “Achieving a Cluster Munitions Ban: Blueprint for an Ethical Foreign Policy?” with former Irish Assistant Secretary General Denis Halliday, sponsored by Action from Ireland (Afri).

At the end of the conference I chanced upon Finnish campaigner Jan Koskimies of the Peace Union of Finland/Committee of 100. He was wearing on his lapel a Peace Symbol pin of Holtom’s original design. Seizing the moment, I asked Jan if I could buy (yes, buy) his pin. He said, no, he would give it to me since there were many more of them back where it came from in his organization. It turns out that the Committee of 100 was the more widely known successor to the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War (DAC), which had planned the 1958 Easter weekend protest march to Aldermaston. To somehow return the favour, I could only give Jan our postcard – maybe not the fairest exchange.

Exchange? Yes, let’s learn the lessons from each other’s campaigning histories and so connect the dots between arms control, disarmament, humanitarian law, human rights, and peace. Let’s invoke the spirit of the best in humanitarian disarmament and peace campaigning. And we may yet develop a new, more interlinked and holistic, humanitarian disarmament network.

This is a guest blog by Sol Santos. Sol is Coordinator of the Philippine Campaign to Ban Landmines. Image courtesy of Kara M. Santos.

CCM: And the signing count is ...

At close-of-play of the first day of the two Signing Ceremony of the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) at 6 o'clock this evening, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr-Store announced that, so far, 92 countries have signed the treaty.

More will follow tomorrow. Whether the treaty will hit the symbolic 100 mark then is uncertain. But irrespective of whether it does, the fact that more than 90 countries - including the most heavily cluster munition-affected states including Afghanistan, Laos and Lebanon - sends a very strong signal of international support for this new humanitarian disarmament norm.

John Borrie

Newsflash! Afghanistan to sign CCM

Afghanistan's representative has just taken the floor at the Signing Ceremony of the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) to announce that his delegation has received new instructions from President Hamid Karzai. Afghanistan, some readers of this blog will recall, did not participate in the Dublin negotiations. Afghanistan said just now that this "principled position" concerning non-participation in the Oslo Process because of its national situation had now changed, and the country will immediately move to sign the CCM - I assume here in Oslo City Hall today.

Afghanistan's support for the CCM is very significant, being as it is a country affected by cluster munition contamination and in which a war is being fought. NATO forces have - apparently as a matter of policy - not used cluster munitions since 2003, on the basis that they are inappropriate weapons for the conditions. Afghanistan joining the Convention will cement this.

John Borrie

Convention on Cluster Munitions: Oslo Signing

This is a very quick post from Oslo City Hall, where I'm attending the Signing Ceremony of the new Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), a ground-breaking humanitarian disarmament treaty agreed in negotiations in Dublin at the end of May.

The Norwegians have played a major role - both as instigators of the so-called Oslo Process, and as members of the core group - and so it's very fitting that Norway host the signing. And, although a cold day outside, there is a very warm atmosphere in the meeting hall. The ceremony was opened by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and high level speeches followed from Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr-Store, International Committee of the Red Cross President Jakob Kellenberger, the United Nations and several Ministers of various governments including two key cluster munition affected states, Laos and Lebanon, set an upbeat tone.

Two of the most powerful statements were from the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), the civil society consortium that has worked in partnership with governments, the UN and ICRC to achieve the CCM. CMC coordinator Thomas Nash and spokesperson and Ban Advocate and cluster munition survivor Branislav Kapetanovic (pictured) each spoke movingly of the campaign's journey from voice in the wilderness to treaty, and Branislav also related some of his own experiences and the challenges of living as a survivor.

Signing of the treaty has already begun as I write this, and Ireland, Norway, Sierra Leone and the Holy See have indicated that they are also in a position to ratify the treaty straight away. It's unclear yet how many countries will sign the CCM in Oslo, but it should be at least in the high 80s. It's not inconceivable that the symbolic number of 100 is reached, but since very specific requirements have to be met in terms of letters of legal powers for delegations to be allowed to sign, there will be inevitable hiccups that might prevent that. We'll see, but it's great to be here to see after such a huge amount of effort over recent years.

John Borrie

Picture of Branislav Kapetanovic and Thomas Nash (CMC) by John Borrie.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Arrgh me maties, that illicit trade!

Pirates. Not the images that fill legends, sea tales or the covers of cereal boxes but young men, some still boys, armed with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, honing heavy necklaces of ammunition and overtaking vessels, crews and cargo to ransom. The piracy in the Gulf of Aden is a grim reminder of what the illicit market of small arms and light weapons (SALW) can perpetuate. The sheer size of the vessels and the value of the cargo—be it oil or (eyebrow-raising) arms deliveries—shows how a relatively small amount of guns has the physical and figurative power to take over a giant.

In 2008, at least 95 attempted acts of piracy have been reported in the Gulf of Aden, dozens in the last weeks alone. Successful ransom payouts for over a third of these incidents (amounting to about US$ 30 million) promote the idea that piracy pays well. But who wants to tell the families of the crews held hostage that the lives of their loved ones don’t merit a payout? And who wants to imagine the effects of 2 million barrels of crude oil released into the ocean by dissatisfied pirates or as a consequence of an explosion with the weaponry brought on board?

The insecurity also has broader implications for the 20,000 vessels that annually travel through the Suez Canal and the Gulf of Aden: Heightened prices for one thing as shipping companies adjust their travel routes and pay significantly higher insurance premiums. More militarized seas is another. NATO and other military vessels monitor the area and provide escorts to shipping vessels, but the amount of ocean that needs to be covered is simply too large and chasing pirates is a costly use of time and resources.

There is talk of having armed private security companies on commercial vessels for self-defense, but we need to be aware of the impact this would have on the proliferation of the already-hard-to-regulate private security industry. Armed security employees, equipped with enough weapons to defend vessels from increasingly daring pirates would be passing from one jurisdiction to the next with every change in port. Legislation and capacity would have to be strong (in every country) to monitor the weapons on board as they enter ports. It’s very easy to transfer commodities from one vessel to another undetected in the open seas. It strikes me that these weapons could all too easily find a way to the illicit SALW market…

But what about the factors that motivate piracy in the first place? There are some fundamental points that we understand (and forever preach) at a policy level, but look away from in practice. We all know that Somalia is branded a “failed state”, which, save for a bit of backstage anti-terrorism, the international community seems pretty much to have given up on. Most of the recent cases of piracy involve young men from the self-declared state of Puntland, one of the poorest areas in Somalia, where there is no industry, almost no public institutions and minimal future prospects. Waters off Somalia are heavily (and illegally) fished by commercial vessels from around the world, though its own fishing industry has collapsed. What Somalia does have is a rampant illicit market in small arms and an idle population that has become accustomed to violence.

Working on the issue of SALW over the past years, I am pleased that states overwhelmingly voted (or agreed in consensus) in favor of 6 resolutions on SALW at the 63rd session of the UN General Assembly. All of the resolutions provide at least incremental steps forward, such as establishing an Open-Ended Working Group for the Arms Trade Treaty in 2009 and a Group of Governmental Experts for surplus ammunition; calling upon states to establish national controls on illicit brokering; and aiming to better understand the interrelationship between armed violence and development. Another one, known as the ‘Omnibus resolution’,ensures that the UN process to address the illicit trade in small arms will proceed with some defined dates and solid direction for the coming five years.

Unlike so many of the other disarmament issues, SALW is not as trumped at the policy level. Governments are generally comfortable dealing with the illicit trade of SALW. But the gap emerges in the implementation of policies. Considering that the UN Programme of Action on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons (PoA) is in its 8th year of implementation, and considering we’ve recognized the inexorable link between security and development, we should be seeing by now more tangible improvements in the general capacity of states to address the illicit trade in SALW and the demand that beckons it. So why aren’t we? Is it that we are just not good at walking the walk once we’ve done the talk?

But it is true, even if the PoA and all other SALW instruments and resolutions past and present were fully implemented, Somalia would still be in a mess and armed groups would still have the immediate capacity to be pirates—Somalia needs more than any resolution the UN could muster.

Shipping companies will soon find better ways and means to fend off pirates, thus decreasing the opportunities for successful piracy. Strong arms control measures at the national and international level (and the capacity/commitment to actually practice those policies) would mean pirates would have less access to the types and quantities of arms and ammunition they currently have.

But addressing arms and opportunity is not enough. We have to deal with the motivation for arms and piracy in the first place (in SALW language “demand”). The case of piracy in the Gulf of Aden reminds us that economic and humanitarian hardships (or soft issues as they are sometimes called) are not as extractable from the hard strategic interests of states at large. For those who continue to refute the relationship between arms, poverty and violence, all I can say is arms+motivation+opportunity=problem. Argh! Shiver me timbers, it ain’t rocket science.

This is a guest blog by Kerry Maze. Kerry manages the UNIDIR project on 'Multilateral Assistance for Implementing the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms'.

Photo Credit: 'Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day! ARRRGH!!' by CORDAN on Flickr.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

The UK’s Last Word ?

States parties to the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty (APMBT) are holding their ninth Meeting of States Parties (MSP) in Geneva this week. The first part of the week was primarily devoted to the so-called ‘Article 5 extension requests’. It is the first time that states parties have had to consider such requests and many acknowledged that this would be one of the first true tests of the Convention.

Under Article 5(1) of the APMBT ever state party is under an obligation to:

…destroy or ensure the destruction of all anti-personnel mines in mined areas under its jurisdiction or control, as soon as possible but not later than ten years after the entry into force of this Convention for that State Party.
For 16 of 42 states parties that still have anti-personnel landmines (APM) on their territory (or under their jurisdiction) the destruction deadline elapses in 2009. One of them, Uganda, plans to finish work in time. The other 15 submitted requests for an extension of this deadline in accordance with article 5(3) of the Convention.

By Wednesday afternoon all requesting states had had the opportunity to present their case, receive comments and provide clarifications. Most states' requests met with general support, many receiving praise for their detailed and comprehensive submissions and good cooperation.
States identified adverse climate, lack of financial and technical resources, and limited access to mined areas as the main reasons for failing to meet the destruction deadline – and birds: Denmark noted with some pride that mine-induced lack of human activity on the island of Skallingen resulted in an exceptionally large bird breeding place there and the UK expressed great concern that penguin rookeries on the Falklands should not be adversely affected by mine-clearance activies.

Not all requests were well received, though. Venezuela has not undertaken any demining activities since the APMBT entered into force for it in 1999. Neither did the UK in the Falklands. Some states parties therefore took issue with these requests. In their view, not to undertake any clearance during the initial 10 year period was contrary to the spirit of the Convention and may amount to a violation of states' obligation to destroy APMs as soon as possible. Venezuela responded to such criticism by advising 'people without proper knowledge of the work of deminers' not to make such ‘unhealthy value judgements’.

States were even less pleased with the UK for requesting the maximum allowable period of extension - 10 years. Pushing the deadline so far into the future seemed to many to be at odds with every state party's undertaking to do its utmost ‘to face the challenge of removing anti-personnel mines placed throughout the world, and to assure their destruction’. They recommended that the UK revise its request, start demining operations, set a firm deadline for completion and submit a more detailed plan. To this the UK responded that it could do no more and that the statement tabled was its 'last word'. Overall, talks on article 5 were held in a constructive atmosphere but the UK accusing the ICRC of 'unwisely overstepping the neutrality of the institution' sucked some air out of the room.

The decisions on the extension requests will be taken on Friday. In spite of the APMBT foreseeing a decision by a majority vote, many states expressed a wish to proceed by consensus, as has been the practice so far. Others, like Canada, cautioned that 'consensus by all means but not at any cost' should be the objective. We will have to wait until Friday to see who has the last word. Clearly, though, many states are deeply concerned about the negative precedent that accepting the UK’s request in its present form could set for the Convention’s future.

The second major issue the MSP has to deal with concerns Belarus, Greece and Turkey who are currently in violation of their obligation to destroy their stockpiles of APM. Several other states risk finding themselves in a similar situation soon. Greece and Turkey have at least set new deadlines for completing destruction, but Greece has yet to destroy a single APM and Belarus wasn’t able to given an indication about how to resolve the issue.

On a positive note, Indonesia surprised many by announcing that it had destroyed all its stockpiles, 3 years before its deadline. This is an achievement that will hopefully inspire others to follow suit and served as a reminder that most states do in fact honour their commitment.

Megan Kinsella and Maya Brehm.

Megan is a graduate student at Norman Patterson School of International Affairs in Ottawa and presently an intern at UNIDIR.

Photo Credit: 'Expressive Rockhopper' by man_with_noname on Flickr

Friday, 21 November 2008

Learning to adapt and succeed in disarmament as humanitarian action

This week hasn't seen much Disarmament Insight blogging action, as we've been at the other end of Switzerland's Lac Leman in beautiful Glion (above Montreux), hosting DI's fifth event since the initiative's inception in March 2007 - a two-day residential seminar entitled Learn, Adapt Succeed: Potential Lessons from the Ottawa and Oslo Processes for other disarmament and arms control challenges.

Our seminar drew together more than thirty individuals from invited governments, UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross, researchers and representatives of transnational civil society. Consistent with our aims as an initiative, the idea was to create some breathing space from what has been a frenetic year for everyone, in order to foster some initial collective dialogue about whether lessons-learned from recent humanitarian disarmament achievements such as the Oslo and Ottawa Processes have any relevance to other international initiatives in the field of reducing or preventing armed violence. Those other initiatives include (but are by no means limited to) curbing the illicit trade in small arms, the Geneva Declaration on armed violence and development, the Arms Trade Treaty and the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. And, just as importantly, how can experiences from each of these respective initiatives be transferred and capitalized upon? Some of our participants also introduced some new tools for humanitarian dialogue in disarmament and arms control, including in analysing responses to the delivery of explosive force in populated areas.

The seminar was conducted according to the Chatham House Rule. And there isn't space in this post to go into detail about its discussions - especially as participants (like me) are still in the process of digesting the many important and interesting observations raised during the meeting. But if there is one thing I came away with it's that opportunities like this for cross-community dialogue are all too rare, not least because in a wired-up age, day-to-day matters press ever more on multilateral practitioners, and can get in the way of ensuring time for reflection and to listen to other perspectives.

Hopefully the Glion meeting has recharged peoples' batteries a bit, and stimulated some further creative thinking in achieving disarmament as humanitarian action. 2009 is going to be another busy year.

John Borrie

Image credit: 11820013 (cmmorel): Lake Leman by sunset, view from Victoria Hotel, Glion, Montreux, Switzerland downloaded from Flickr. John wishes his photos had turned out this nicely...

Friday, 14 November 2008

CCW: Let's do the time warp again...and again in 2009

For the last two days, the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) has been holding what is, in effect, its annual general meeting. It follows a week of difficult cluster munition expert group talks (see preceding DI blog posts), and annual meetings of two of the CCW's protocols earlier this week - on explosive remnants of war (Protocol V) and mines and booby traps (Amended Protocol II) respectively.

Although general in scope, the High Contracting Parties meeting that concluded this afternoon has been dominated, of course, by the saga of cluster munitions. With no prospect of collective agreement on Chairman Bent Wigotski of Denmark's text of a protocol this year, there have been some ill-tempered exchanges and blame game politics going on.

The U.S. and Israel, in particular, yesterday tried to lay the blame squarely at the feet of the 25 or more countries who told the expert group meeting last week that the Chair's text in its current form would not be an acceptable outcome for them. Israel - failing to mention the strong objections it raised over the course of this year about key provisions of the Chair's text as recently last week - was particularly strident. The U.S. argued that failing to agree on the Chair's text was a missed opportunity, since the users and producers of cluster munitions had moved so far in dealing with the issue. Some states who shunned the Oslo Process bemoaned its (alleged) insidious effects in making states unrealistic (that is, too ambitious) about what could be achieved in humanitarian terms in the CCW. Looking around the room, this observer noted that many eyes rolled at this - and it is not clear to me that even those saying such things really believe it.

And evidence of that movement was hard to see in Russia's interventions. Yesterday afternoon's Russian statement showed scant movement in substance from their position a year earlier. And Russia again said it would not agree to a mandate for continued work on cluster munitions - this time for 2009 - containing the word 'protocol' (2008's expert group mandate talks of "negotiating a proposal"). Pakistan, the incoming CCW president for 2009, urged everyone to keep calm: everyone agreed they wanted a mandate for continued work, the Pakistani ambassador said, and everyone knew what the mandate would mean in substance, if not in precise form. Rather, the real issue was political will to complete the negotiation, not the wording of the mandate. The refrain of many Western states, especially the Dutch: Why can't we just call a protocol a protocol then? Nyet, came the reply.

Subsequent consultations - both inside the CCW chamber and in private - were thus concerned about actually summoning the flexibility the most vocal protagonists in this debate all said they possessed. And, lo, the CCW did achieve a mandate, which was agreed this afternoon. It is as follows:

"The Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) will continues its negotiations, taking into account document CCW/GGE/2008-V/WP.1 and other present and future proposals by delegations, to address urgently the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions, while striking a balance between military and humanitarian considerations.

"The GGE should make every effort to conclude its negotiations as rapidly as possible and report to the next meeting of the High Contracting Parties.

"The work of the GGE will be supported by military and technical experts.

"The GGE will meet, [sic] up to two weeks in 2009, from 16 to 20 February 2009 and subsequently, if required, from 14 to 17 April 2009."
The mandate doesn't mention a protocol. Nevertheless, it means that in the New Year the CCW will have another window of opportunity to try to come to a consensus on the work it has started on agreeing a protocol/proposal/instrument/thingummy.

So the CCW seems to be on a trajectory to achieve something on cluster munitions in its expert group: the question is how robust that outcome will be, and that probably has a bearing on how legally-binding it is, which is perhaps where the Russians are coming from in saying they won't agree to a protocol until they see what's in actually in it. The ICRC warned at the end of today's meeting that in view of 2008's developments, cluster munitions could no longer be considered as just another weapon able to be dealt with adequately by general international humanitarian law rules: whatever comes out of the CCW, all states need to take relevant national actions. The Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), for its part, was in no doubt about what it thought of the situation: it immediately issued a press release stating that, in the CMC's view, the talks had failed despite a renewed expert group mandate.

Of course, the political constellation next year will also be different, following the Oslo CCM signing ceremony this December and changes of government in various places. But will 1 or 2 weeks of extra time in 2009 be enough to transform the Wigotski text into something that isn't too strong for cluster munition producers and users, while at the same time not too weak for those countries concerned about whether it will deliver sufficient humanitarian benefit? I'm not particularly optimistic.

John Borrie

P.S. Best of luck and many thanks to Virgil Wiebe, who has been our visiting research fellow for the last three months. Virgil is returning to his day job at the University of St Thomas, Minnesota next week. Kia kaha (stand strong) Virgil, and thanks for all the blogging!


The procedural report and other documents from the CCW meetings over the last fortnight can be found - or will shortly be found - on the UN's website here.

Random picture of a penguin (made by Lizzy Borrie) celebrating further CCW work for 2009 by dancing to the Rocky Horror Picture show vid from the preceding blog. Photo by John Borrie.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

CCW and Cluster Munitions: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again

Stay Tuned in 2009 . . .

The Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) 2008 cluster munition protocol saga has stopped, in order to continue. The Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) met last week for the fifth and last time this year to ‘negotiate a proposal to address urgently the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions, while striking a balance between military and humanitarian considerations ’ and report back to the CCW Meeting of States Parties (MSP) that takes place Thursday and Friday this week.

But at 5pm last Friday evening, when the GGE should have wrapped up its work, Chairman Bent Wigotski announced that there was growing support for 'stopping the clock' in order to push the process forward. Several states, among them France (on behalf of the European Union), Japan, China, Israel, the U.S. Pakistan, Brazil, and Turkey, spoke out in support of the plan. The Swiss ambassador, President-designate of the Tenth Annual Conference of the High Contracting Parties to Amended Protocol II taking place on Wednesday this week, offered an hour out of that process in order to complete the GGE’s work. Other states were merely lukewarm or clearly against the idea of 'stopping the clock'.

Despite rather secretive efforts over the weekend and on Monday and Tuesday, the Chairman and those working closely with him were unable to secure any additional progress. On late Tuesday afternoon, Wigotski was allowed to address the delegates at the CCW Protocol V Review Conference.

He stated that he would recommend an Amendment (in bold below) to paragraph 13 of the Draft Procedural Report for the GGE:

13. At its final plenary meeting of 12 November 2008 the Group of Governmental
Experts heard reports of the Chairperson and Friends of the Chair. The GGE did not conclude its consideration of document CCW/GGE/2008-V/WP.1 and recommended to the MSP that further consideration takes place in future meetings of the GGE in 2009, including but not limited to a one week session, without prejudice to any future proposals made by delegations.

Assuming the GGE adopts this procedural report, and assuming the MSP agrees to a continued mandate later in the week, the cluster munition process in the CCW will continue to limp along in the year to come. But don’t be surprised if we have to return to these pages to report on additional twists and turns later in the week.

Stopping the Clock

So what happened on Friday? And what does it mean to 'stop the clock' in the world of international negotiations? Such a step is occasionally taken in international negotiations when there’s genuine hope for reaching a final agreement but the parties face a hard and fast deadline. Parties agree to continue negotiations, usually deep into that same night and into the early morning hours, pretending that the pre-set deadline has not passed. Examples in recent memory include the negotiations around the final declarations of the second review conference of the Chemical Weapons Convention in April 2008 and the review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in April/May 2000.

So why stop the clock here, and then go home for the weekend? The States Parties to the CCW had decided in 2007 that the GGE’s work in 2008 would end on 7 November, enabling it to report to the Meeting of States Parties on the progress made. At that meeting on coming Thursday and Friday, States Parties could extend the GGE’s mandate into next year. Failing to reach an agreement in the GGE, while a disappointment, would not prevent the possibility of future progress.

Even the Chair acknowledged during the late Friday afternoon session that he didn’t have the ambition to try to finish these negotiations. He nonetheless proposed this extraordinary step of stopping the clock in order to make it possible for a future GGE to produce a 'consensus as broad as possible'.

Misgivings about process

The praise heaped upon the Chair by some states during Friday afternoon, lauding his wisdom, professionalism and expertise stand in stark contrast to the frustrations expressed by a considerable number of states with his handling of the process.

Earlier in the day on Friday, the collapse of negotiations had been likened by one state to a funeral. Following a long afternoon, sentiments, as noted above, had changed somewhat in a hopeful direction. At the late Friday session, some states (like Canada) expressed limited support for the idea of a 'resurrection', so long as propositions made during the week and worked through by Friends of the Chair were incorporated into any new Chairman's paper. These suggestions were characterized by opponents (like Brazil) as turning the clock back to July.

New Zealand expressed a willingness to continue work, but raised a number of questions. With respect to 'stopping the clock', the delegate noted that it is not a normal procedure. It is done on occasion when there is an absolute deadline. Here there is a different situation: States Parties can agree to continue the mandate. He also asked about procedure for continued negotiations. Would there be a small group? Who would be in the group? Would there be a report to the GGE? Or to the States Parties meeting on Thursday and Friday? At what stage would that group's work be available for consideration?

Croatia voiced concern (echoed by Norway and Costa Rica) about being able to participate in ongoing negotiations on cluster munitions when faced with a full schedule of meetings in the CCW this week. In reponse to this the Chairman appealed to delegates' stamina and requested and told them to work harder: 'we’re not retirees here'.

The South African delegate raised serious objections, saying that his head of delegation was on the plane back to South Africa, and that he, too, would shortly be returning to South Africa. He saw the text as having nine lives, rather than being resurrected. 'If I’m 10,000 kilometers away the issues of stamina will not matter.' He reiterated frustrations with his and other countries being locked out of the process thus far and was not in support of more of the same. The Russians, while not going as far in their criticism, did note that the majority of their experts were flying out on Saturday – continued consultations were one thing, but negotiations another.

Mexico, Honduras, the Netherlands, and Croatia all expressed concerns about the lack of transparency and the inability to participate in the negotiations – effort was not the question, but ability to participate.

The misgivings also seemed to have the effect of driving opponents of a broad agreement back to original positions. India stated that proposals will be measured by whether they can take states closer to consensus. India also raised the issue of exceptionalism: Why was it that one category of weapons has been singled out by a convention and has since been an obstacle to progress for the GGE?

Where things stood on Friday

By the end of the week, patience on all fronts had worn thin. The Chair did not want to consider proposals to which the so-called major users and producers would not agree. States outside of the small group of countries being regularly consulted felt locked out of the process and complained about a lack of transparency. Those from non-English speaking states felt even more frustrated. Depending on one’s perspective, the Chair’s sometimes indelicate language could be taken as refreshing diplomatic frankness or rude dismissal. The expectation on Friday afternoon nonetheless was that the Chair would produce yet another draft text – the seventh if my counting is correct – to springboard into next year’s negotiations.

Monday and Tuesday’s (Non) Developments

Come Monday morning, rumors circulated that there had been ongoing consultations, with the United States, India, Brazil, the UK, France, Israel and perhaps a handful of other states being consulted. By the end of the day, no clarity had emerged. Little had leaked out about what might be found in the new text – rumors circulated that the non-text that had been floating around the EU might form some basis for negotiations. By Tuesday morning, rumors as yet to be confirmed circulated that discussions were taking place 'campus' (i.e., not at the United Nations complex). By Tuesday afternoon, efforts had failed, as reported above.

A small lesson learned from this may be that the extraordinary 'stop the clock' procedure should be used only when the moment is truly ripe for agreement. That was not the case here.

Signs of Hope

Through all of the bluster and ill will, there are some signs of glacial movement. As a close observer of the CCW for well over a decade, I take some hope from the fact that some producers and users have agreed to the CCM and are pushing for a meaningful instrument in the CCW. I also take hope from the fact that producers and users who chose to forego the CCM have felt compelled to pick up pace of the CCW and acknowledge the humanitarian problem caused by cluster munitions. The structure of the CCM (particularly in terms of the basic definition), if not yet the substance, has been taken on board. Victim’s assistance has been acknowledged as a necessary component of any new protocol. But a final accord remains beyond reach this year.

Virgil Wiebe

Video Credit: 'The Time Warp!' available on YouTube

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Friday, 7 November 2008

CCW: The wailing wall

In the preceding post on this blog on Wednesday, I observed that the Chair of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW)'s determined efforts to achieve agreement on a cluster munitions protocol based on his own text this week was not without risk - that trying to force an agreement (or, as importantly, being perceived to be doing so) could see work fail.

That afternoon in CCW session, Costa Rica read out a statement on its behalf and that of Austria, Belgium, Benin, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Chile, Croatia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Holy See, Honduras, Indonesia, Ireland, Lebanon, Mexico, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, Uganda, Uruguay and Venezuela. Senegal also subsequently associated itself with the statement, which said:

"We have been encouraged to see the growing recognition of the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions within CCW since 2006. We have constructively engaged in working towards a credible outcome that would effectively address the grave humanitarian problems caused by the use of cluster munitions.

"The Chair's text as it stands does not, however, meet that standard. Instead, by allowing states to choose from a menu of vaguely-worded options, we do not see how it would provide sufficient added value over the current situation, and it could be used as a justification for the continued use of cluster munitions that have already proven over the past decades to cause exactly the humanitarian consequences that we are trying to address.

"For these reasons, the Chair's text as it stand is not acceptable to our delegations.

"The credibility is measured by its substantive outcomes, and whether they make a contribution to the strengthening of IHL [International Humanitarian Law]. This protocol could set a dangerous precedent in allowing the CCW to fall behind stronger existing standards [i.e. the Convention on Cluster Munitions]. To ensure a strong and credible CCW any outcome must represent a significant development of IHL, rather than affecting its clarity and coherence. We are prepared to work constructively towards this end."

There were some strong reactions in response, including from India, the Czech Republic and Russia, against attempts - as Russia saw it - to carry over the logic of one process (the CCM) to another (the CCW). For its part, the Cluster Munition Coalition told the meeting that, in its view, "we believe that the text as drafted will not enhance the CCW's reputation or credibility. Instead, it will hurt the CCW's reputation and credibility because it is fundamentally flawed".
The Chair, Ambassador Bent Wigotski of Denmark - clearly one very unhappy man - said he would hold private consultations on Thursday morning to try to sort out the situation. But these did not appear to make much head-way. That afternoon, he told another meeting of the CCW group of experts in plenary that, as a result of his intensive consultations, he didn't see any possibility of arriving at an agreed Chair's text, and that he did not plan any more initiatives from the Chair. Moreover, Wigotski said he had become a "mobile wailing wall" for delegations.

This morning, the last allotted day of 2008 expert work on cluster munitions under the current CCW mandate, the plenary convened again for general statements. Most in the room were bracing themselves for the almost inevitable commencement of the blame-game. And so some of the statements proved to be. Countries which had earlier in the week criticized a Chair's text that they claimed violated their national red-lines on multiple, substantive points such as Pakistan, Brazil, China, Russia, Israel and India could now be heard praising it as the basis for agreement and bemoaning attempts to exert the influence on the CCW of standards set elsewhere (that is, in Dublin in May) - and thus now the national red-lines of many others present - as a sort of fifth column. The U.S. said it was unrealistic to expect it to adhere to any kind of prohibition related to cluster munitions: they remained lawful weapons, in its view, and critical to its national security interests.

Another target for their ire were the re-issued amendment proposals of some of the Costa Rican group as well as a Mexico-New Zealand-Norway proposal for an alternative protocol text containing only the CCM definition of a cluster munition and provision for a complete transfer ban on the weapon. That proposal aside, the amendments had largely been re-issued existing proposals (done so at the Chair's request) because one reason for the joint-statement on Wednesday had been growing frustration that the views of these countries were not being reflected in any of the Chair's series of texts. This allowed the Chair to say he hadn't heeded them because he didn't think they would fly, which to this observer seemed to be at odds with the earlier surprise he had expressed that such views still existed. For good measure some of these re-issued proposals were attacked as "unrealistic" by certain cluster munition possessor states in the CCW although, of course, most were less ambitious than provisions agreed by 107 states at the CCM negotiations earlier this year.

On the whole, those countries associating themselves with Wednesday's statement read by Costa Rica kept their powder dry and their microphones switched off today, although Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras and Croatia did speak. Croatia argued, in particular, that the CCW needed to get beyond the orthodox national security mindset so dominant, and think more deeply about the human consequences of what it did or didn't do in terms of the difference it would make to people on the ground.

So where does that leave things? Consultations continue in the margins, but there is little time left. The procedural report and meeting wrap-up session is due to commence at five o'clock this afternoon (CET). The tone of many of those who spoke today, both among the 25 and their critics, was that work needs to continue to achieve a consensus on a CCW protocol. Although there are persistent rumours of textual compromise proposals in certain back-pockets, it's unlikely the gulf in views can be bridged between now and next Friday, when the CCW's annual general meeting wraps up. But that conference may well agree on a mandate extension for cluster munitions for one more year (the ninth that the CCW has been working to 'urgently' address humanitarian problems related to cluster munitions in one form or another). Or, as Canada suggested, a couple more weeks in spring 2009 might be sufficient.

A new year, and with it a new mandate and Chair (Ambassador Wigotski is no doubt sick to the back teeth by now of anything to do with cluster munitions), may well change the tense atmospherics that have developed this year in the CCW. Maya, Virgil and I will provide further thoughts in the course of next week, once we've had a chance to reflect on what has been a turbulent few days.

John Borrie

Picture of the CCW conference room by John Borrie.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

CCW: Update on 5th cluster munition GGE

Half-way through the latest and last week of the 2008 work of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW)'s group of experts, how are things shaping up in light of a new Chair's text released last Friday? (See our preceding blog post.)

Frankly, it is too soon to say. Reaction has been mixed. While welcoming Ambassador Bent Wigotski of Denmark's paper, some delegations complained on Monday that they had only just received it, and then only in English and not all of the official UN languages - too soon to have properly considered it and have received instructions from authorities in their home countries.

Delegations also pointed to a range of specific problems the contents in the paper pose for them, especially concerning the scope and strength of its core obligations, how cluster munitions are defined, on transfer restrictions, transition periods and the deferral of its obligations. These concerns have been expressed from both ends of the political continuum - not only from those states concerned that a protocol may conflict or undermine the Convention on Cluster Munitions agreed in Dublin in May, but from some cluster munition users and producers who shunned the Oslo Process. The U.S. delegation has said clearly that it wants a protocol achieved this session, or it would seem to some before the next administration formally takes over in Washington D.C. in January (for current U.S. policy see the Pentagon's June cluster munition news release). But Russia, Israel and Brazil have questioned several parts of the Chair's paper on the conference floor, echoed on some points by others such as China and India.

After a languid summer session in July, in which many expert sessions finished early as delegations could not seem to fill the time, and an, at times, testy further week of talks in September, the Chair is now cracking the whip: there is only the rest of this week left to stand a hope of achieving agreement on his take on a protocol in 2008. Consequently, he has been consulting furiously by means of bilaterals to try to establish whether a consensus actually exists, and whether and how these differ from the signals that delegations are sending on the conference floor. (We don't know what he is being told in those private meetings, and how much this differs from what is being said in the big room.) Meanwhile, Ambassador Wigotski's Friends of the Chair are taking the expert group through issues such as definitions in the hope of whittling away differences, but this is slow and so far with mixed results.

Going into this meeting, I thought the most likely outcome for the CCW expert group's talks on cluster munitions this year would be a continuation of the mandate to work to 'negotiate a proposal' in 2009 in view of the differences of opinion apparent on many substantive issues and the amount of convergence still needed. Even if not having achieved a protocol per se, the Chair could then justifiably claim to have advanced the CCW's work in this area.

The Chair, however, signaled very directly this week that he wants a protocol based on his text to be agreed, if not by the end of this week, then in time for the CCW's annual meeting of states in the second half of next week. His single-minded determination is not without risk - trying to force an agreement could, of course, see the work fail.

But he might also succeed. In any case, I would agree with the International Committee of the Red Cross, which observed this week that the basic criterion for an agreement of value is not, as a few states have argued, primarily whether it has all of the big users and producers of cluster munitions involved. (Comment: the structure of the CCW framework convention means such states could agree to a protocol without any intention of joining anyway, and its transition period and deferral obligation options as drafted are extremely generous, to the point where most of its obligations don't have to be implemented for years or even decades.) The value of any agreement is rather in terms of what difference it makes on the ground in reducing the humanitarian impacts of cluster munitions. Otherwise, a CCW protocol on cluster munitions could simply act as a fig leaf for business as usual concerning use of a weapon of particular and proven hazard to civilians. What will transpire remains to be seen.

Watch this space for further updates.

John Borrie

Friday, 31 October 2008

CCW: Hark, a new Chairman's text

In our post of 24 October ('A Global Year of Cluster Munitions') we noted that preparations are underway for the fifth round of expert talks as part of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons' attempts to "negotiate a proposal" on cluster munitions. One element impatiently awaited was a new text by the Chairman of the group of experts, Ambassador Bent Wigotski of Denmark, containing his take of a possible draft protocol.

At an informal consultation earlier this week, and having just arrived that morning from UN 1st Committee in New York, Ambassador Wigotski told those present that despite delays, he would bring out a new text before the end of the week. And so he has. As of earlier today this text could be downloaded from the webpage of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs in Geneva.

A key Article in this Chairman's text - as he highlighted at his informal consultation - is Article 4, which contains general prohibitions and restrictions on cluster munitions. These were always likely to be less comprehensive or far-reaching than those of Article 2 of the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) agreed in Dublin, Ireland on 30 May in view of the CCW's membership (including some big cluster munition user and producers who shunned the Oslo Process). The formulation of these provisions became a key point of difference at the preceding sessions of the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) this year.

The newest version of Article 4 in the Chairman’s text is as follows:

"Article 4. General prohibitions and restrictions

1. It is prohibited for a High Contracting Party to use, develop, produce, transfer or otherwise acquire cluster munitions that do not meet the criteria in paragraph 2.

2. The prohibition in paragraph 1 shall not apply if:

(a) The cluster munition is capable of being directed to a pre-defined target area and each explosive submunition possesses one or more of the following safeguards that must effectively ensure that unexploded submunitions will no longer function as explosive submunitions:

(i) a self-destruct mechanism;
(ii) a self-neutralization mechanism;
(iii) a self-deactivating feature; or
(iv) two or more fuzing features.


(b) The cluster munition is capable of being directed to a pre-defined target area and incorporates a mechanism or design which, after dispersal, results in no more than 1% unexploded ordnance across the range of operational environments.

3. A High Contracting Party may defer compliance with Paragraph 1 of this Article for a transition period not exceeding [8/10/12/15] years from the Protocol’s entry into force for it. This deferral shall be announced by declaration at the time of its notification to be bound by this Protocol. In case a High Contracting Party is unable to comply with paragraph 1 of this Article within this [8/10/12/15] year period, it may notify a Conference of the High Contracting Parties that, with the exception of transfers, it will extend this period of deferred compliance for a period of up to [5] additional years.

4. Notwithstanding a High Contracting Party’s deferral, pursuant to paragraph 3, of the application of the provisions of paragraph 1, each High Contracting Party undertakes, immediately upon entry into force:

(a) Not to develop new cluster munitions which do not meet the requirements of paragraph 1;

(b) To use cluster munitions that do not meet the criteria in paragraph 1 only after approval by its highest-ranking operational commander in the area of operations;

(c) To take steps in any design, procurement, or production of cluster munitions to minimize the unexploded ordnance rate or incorporate additional safeguard mechanisms or designs;

(d) To improve, to the extent possible the accuracy of their cluster munitions;

(e) To endeavour to use only cluster munitions with the lowest possible unexploded ordnance rate, consistent with military requirements; and

(f) To complete an evaluation of the military requirements and remove the stocks of cluster munitions in excess of these requirements from active inventory as soon as possible and designate these stocks for destruction.

5. The obligations in this Article do not apply to cluster munitions acquired or retained in a limited number for the exclusive purpose of training in detection, clearance, and destruction techniques, or for the development of cluster munitions countermeasures.

6. The High Contracting Parties in a position to do so are encouraged, through bilateral or multilateral mechanisms established between them, to facilitate the exchange of equipment, material, and scientific and technological information that will lessen the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions."

We have only had a preliminary look at the new text. While we commend the Chairman for his efforts in drafting a text that he hopes might be adopted by consensus as a new protocol to the CCW, we are nevertheless slightly bewildered at the formulation of Article 4. The key question in our minds is: Will this version move the different poles of opinion within the CCW on the nature of core prohibitions closer together?

For instance, we were struck by the absence of previously included provisions, such as cumulative criteria that weapons would have to fulfill in order to be allowed (similar to Article 2 of the CCM), or a requirement that all submunitions be capable of engaging single point-targets. The brackets around the concept of a transition period have now been removed. Accordingly, a state party may defer application of article 4(1) for 8,10,12 or even 15 years, and even extend that period by another [5] years, if the concerned state feels it is unable to comply. Next week’s discussions at the CCW are going to be very interesting.

John Borrie and Maya Brehm

Photo Credit: 'le ring' by sgoralnick on Flickr.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Uprooting the Evil in the Fields

“Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till.” Gandalf in J.R.R. TOLKIEN, The Lord of the Rings

As mentioned in an earlier post on this blog a team of UNIDIR researchers working on the project “The Road From Oslo: Analysis of Negotiations to Address the Humanitarian Effects of Cluster Munitions” recently spent a week in Southern Lebanon, with the generous support of the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre (UNMACC) there.

The 2006 conflict, during which Israel launched massive amounts of cluster munitions into Southern Lebanon, and its aftermath undeniably played an important role in pushing international efforts to ban cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians forward. Although much has been written about how unexploded submunitions pose a humanitarian hazard and constrain development, to see the contaminated fields with one’s own eyes and hear the stories of survivors with one’s own ears conveys a different, deeper understanding of what it means to live and work on land that is contaminated by hundreds of thousands of unexploded submunitions.

Two years after the end of the conflict, people are still falling victims to dangerous unexploded submunitions lying around in their orchards and fields. 20 civilians were killed and 195 injured between August 2006 and September 2008 according to UN MACC (figures up until June ‘08 are available here) Farmers having no other source of income find themselves forced to harvest their crops and till their fields, knowing full well that these have not yet been cleared, or are only free of submunitions on the surface. Explosive submunitions can be ploughed into the earth or move underground because of rain and snow, and surface again much later. We met one farmer who suffered serious injuries to his arm when his tractor drove over a submunition in a field that he had ploughed around a dozen times since the end of the conflict.

Clearance personnel too have paid a heavy price already. 39 have been injured and 7 killed in clearance accidents, as per end of September 2008 according to UNMACC. One of the most recent victims was a Belgian UNIFIL deminer who died in the beginning of September.

Despite the urgency of preventing more cluster munitions victims and making the land save for agriculture and reconstruction, the interest of donor countries is at risk of dwindling, and clearance organizations fear running out of money for their operations in South Lebanon . When we were there, many of them told us that they would have to demobilize at least some of their clearance teams by the beginning of next year. One organization already shut down operations in the middle of this month. More recently, there are positive signs donors such as Australia and the U.S. are stepping up to the plate with further funds.

Cluster munitions clearance is a complicated affair, in many regards different from de-mining and it may be difficult for donors to understand why initial cost and time estimates continue to be revised and new funds are being asked for.

Cluster munitions clearance in South Lebanon has to take account of many factors and constraints besides the availability of financial resources and qualified personnel. Clearing residential areas, cultivated land and land required for infrastructure projects are given priority. The agricultural cycle has to be taken into account to allow harvesting of tobacco, olives and bananas in time, as well as seasonal constraints, moving clearance to coastal regions in winter when snow is falling inland. Systematic clearance of submunitions lying on the ground may be sufficient in some areas, but depending on soil conditions, others require additional sub-surface clearance, a much more time consuming and resource intensive process. All the wile, ensuring the safety of clearance personnel is paramount, though difficult.

Contrary to a systematically laid mine-field one cannot predict with certainty how many unexploded submunitions are within a cluster strike’s footprint and where the individual submunitions are located in the area to be cleared. In the days following the cease-fire, many unexploded submunitions were removed from streets and orchards by the Lebanese Army, Hezbollah and landowners (some Lebanese farmers paying Palestinians to collect the submunitions littering their plantations). This removed an immediate threat to civilians’ lives but because the locations of these submunitions were not recorded, it is all the more difficult to accurately determine the centre of a cluster munition strike today. And of course, there is the distinct possibility that more strike areas are yet to be discovered. In January this year, it was 10 new clearance sites per month.

Consequently, estimates concerning priorities, number and extent of areas to be cleared, and the resources and time required have had to be periodically revised.

The availability of Israeli cluster strike data would greatly facilitate matters. Israel "supplied maps to UNIFIL identifying areas suspected of containing unexploded ordnance, including cluster munitions", but these are inadequate for clearance purposes. With detailed, accurate and complete information about the quantity, type and location of cluster munitions dropped, UNMACC would know how many more strike areas there are and how many more square metres remain to be cleared. Clearance organizations would be in a position to better plan ahead and distribute their resources more efficiently. It should therefore be in everybody’s, not least in donors’ interest to call on Israel to release this data, as France did in September this year.

Maya Brehm

Photo: "Looking out from above Safaad al Battikh M42 clearance zone" by J. Borrie

Friday, 24 October 2008

A Global Year of Action on Cluster Munitions

Although in many senses, 2008 has been a whole global year of action on the weapon, next week (27 October - 2 November) has been declared Global Week of Action Against Cluster Munitions by the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), the consortium of Non-Governmental Organisations active in the Oslo Process that achieved a Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) in May.

The CMC hopes that the Global Week of Action will encourage all governments to sign the Convention at the Oslo Signing Ceremony on 3 December, and to promote awareness of the treaty. 107 states adopted the CCM in Dublin on 30 May, so it's a reasonable expectation that many - if not most - will sign on the dotted line (so to speak) in Norway.

In the meantime, there are a number of cluster munition-related events happening. Many are in support of the CCM: there have been regional meetings in Sofia for Southeast European countries, in Kampala, Uganda for African states, a meeting this week in Lao PDR for ASEAN states, and one in Croatia. There will also be a workshop in Beirut in the second week of November for field practitioners in the region focusing on cluster munition clearance and a regional conference for states in Ecuador next month.

There is also the annual conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), which will embark on its final week of work according to its November 2007 mandate to "negotiate a proposal" on cluster munitions, as well as time allocated to implementation of Amended Protocol II (on mines and booby traps) and Protocol V (on explosive remnants of war).
In the meantime, most disarmament diplomats in Geneva are in New York attending the annual UN General Assembly's First Committee, at which there will be both CCM and CCW resolutions. These are not in competition, and are basically procedural, so the expectation seems to be that both may attract consensus, or at least near consensus. (The good folks at WILPF are providing ongoing commentary of the First Committee, including on the CCM resolution, here.)

New York, of course, is also a good opportunity for the Chair of the CCW's Group of Governmental Experts, Ambassador Bent Wigotski of Denmark, to consult with delegations about how to proceed, following the events of the last round of talks in September.

There are two big, related questions: firstly, over whether Ambassador Wigotski will put forward a proposal for a draft protocol to CCW states, and whether they will be in a position to accept such a proposal by consensus. The CCW's September session saw some discord, and concern among many states that talks were headed toward a low common denominator outcome - one which might undermine or conflict with the obligations of the CCM already agreed. On the last day of those talks, the Chair allowed square-brackets to be inserted into key articles of his paper, which to some seemed to move the meeting's dynamic further away from (rather than nearer to) agreement.

The CCW Chair subsequently said he would develop a new text of his own to circulate to states by now, but one has yet to emerge publicly (at least to my knowledge). A proposal might well emerge shortly, or the CCW might decide to continue work next year, which at the very least would allow Denmark to conclude its 2008 period at the helm having taken the CCW cluster munition talks forward.

November's CCW meeting, then, will be interesting. For those who would like to know more about the story of the emergence of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, and the winding path of CCW work on these weapons over the last several years, you can of course read previous postings on this blog. In addition, I've just had an article published in 'Disarmament Diplomacy', which might be of interest.

John Borrie


John Borrie, 'How the Cluster Munition Ban Was Won: Oslo Treaty Negotiations Conclude in Dublin', Disarmament Diplomacy, Issue No. 88, Summer 2008.

John Borrie, 'The Road From Oslo: Emerging International Efforts on Cluster Munitions', Disarmament Diplomacy, Issue No. 85, Summer 2007.

Photo: 22/05/2008. Cluster Munitions Dublin Diplomatic Conference. Cluster bomb conference participants lying in O'Connell Street to make a cluster bomb shape with their bodies. Photo: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland.