Disarmament Insight


Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Once more unto the breach ...

This week is a rare pause in a fairly comprehensive schedule of multilateral disarmament meetings that stretches until June. We've reported on the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons' (CCW) work earlier this month, and last week and this week there were regional events on cluster munitions in Mexico City and Bangkok.

While all of this was going on, the second five-yearly review meeting of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) met in The Hague. With the mainly bilateral focus of other diplomatic activity there, those involved in the CWC - not least on the civil society side - sometimes find the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) a bit of a lonely outpost compared with the multilateral hothouse atmospheres in Geneva, New York and even Vienna. In his very useful daily reports on the CWC review conference, researcher Richard Guthrie had this to say:

"The Hague remains less NGO-friendly than Geneva, New York or Vienna. A major part of this derives from less experience engaging with NGO activities. The experience of this Review Conference seems to be that a greater number of delegates appear to recognise that NGOs have a useful role to play in the efforts to reduce the global threat from the hostile uses of poisons."
It's about time, although, historically, the CWC is by no means alone in the arms control field in resisting diverse inputs. Meanwhile, this time around the CWC didn't have an easy time of it in attempting to achieve a review meeting outcome, which took until the early hours of Saturday morning. A declaration text has yet to emerge publicly, but my understanding is that wording on terrorism (including whether UN Security Council resolution 1540 could be specifically mentioned) and what to do about countries about to miss their treaty-mandated deadlines for destruction of their chemical weapons were at issue. You can read all about it, including Richard's daily reports, on the civil society web resource page Daniel Feakes and his colleagues set up for the Second CCW Review Conference.

Next week, the second preparatory meeting of three for the 2010 review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) commences in Geneva. Disarmament Insight blog readers may recall that the first PrepCom in May last year in Vienna was very tough, with various Iran-related procedural shenanigans right up until the end of the meeting.

It's difficult to see how this second NPT PrepCom will be easier, but let's cross our fingers. Many Geneva-based disarmament diplomats in the corridors of the Palais already have a faintly harried look - the meeting hasn't even started! - although caucusing of various kinds has, of course, been underway for some time. And, there will be a great number of side events associated with the NPT. We hope to bring you updates from time to time on these nuclear doings.

As if the NPT wasn't enough, the Conference on Disarmament resumes on 12 May - although hopes it would achieve a work programme in 2008 after a decade of deadlock look once again to be fading. There is also the Dublin Conference to negotiate a treaty banning cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians from 19 to 30 May, which many from Geneva will attend. Then there are the intersessional meetings of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention back in Geneva for a week from 2 June, the IAEA Board of Governors meeting in Vienna at the same time....it's all go.

Fortunately, there is a way to keep track of most of this. Geneva Forum, which along with UNIDIR collaborates in bringing you Disarmament Insight, has a very useful disarmament calendar on its website. It's worth bookmarking in your web browser.

John Borrie

Photo by author of space sculpture in the Palais des Nations grounds.