Disarmament Insight


Friday, 30 May 2008

Cluster Munition Convention: "Disarmament as humanitarian action"

Today, the new Cluster Munition Convention banning cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians was adopted by the Dublin Conference at around 10h10. There were no objections expressed from the floor.

A great number of delegations spoke to welcome the new treaty, which will enter into force internationally six months after 30 states have ratified or acceded to it. Given the speed at which the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention entered into force internationally almost a decade ago and the energy and commitment expressed in the conference chamber today, this may not take long.

The final version of the treaty in English, French and Spanish should be available on the Dublin Conference website shortly, in addition to the Conference's procedural report.

A couple of points stood out from the plethora of closing statements. The Ambassador of France said the Dublin Conference had been the most successful diplomatic conference he had taken part of in his career. I suspect many others - especially those involved in multilateral disarmament over the last decade - would agree.

Iceland's representative, a noted international legal scholar, set out his views on interoperability, which will be worth further careful study in the course of implementation of the new treaty, especially its Article 21. Of course, the United Nations, International Committee of the Red Cross and Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) spoke to welcome the new treaty, and the CMC presented its implementation action plan to Norway's Deputy Minister of Defence, who spoke along with Ireland's Minister of Foreign Affairs.

But Norway's working head of delegation and a key figure in the Oslo Process, Ambassador Steffen Kongstad, summed up the feelings of many when he noted that although "a moment of joy and gratitude" in practical terms, implementation of the treaty starts today. Moreover, he described the Cluster Munition Convention, and the Oslo Process leading to it as "disarmament as humanitarian action".

Those of us associated with UNIDIR's project on 'Disarmament as humanitarian action: Making Multilateral Negotiations Work' couldn't agree more. It is an historic day, indeed.

John Borrie

Photograph by John Borrie. Ambassador Dáithí O'Ceallaigh, President of the Dublin Conference, and its Secretary-General Colm Ó Floinn, prepare to open today's closing ceremony.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Dublin: Done Deal

In our last post, we anticipated a long evening of negotiations Wednesday to reach agreement on the text, proposed by the President of the conference, of a new Convention prohibiting cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians. In fact, it was all over by 8pm following a remarkable and moving show of support and accommodation by States participating in these negotiations.

The President of the Conference, Ambassador Daithi O'Ceallaigh of Ireland, introduced his text Wednesday morning and then immediately adjourned the meeting in order to give delegations a chance to study it and to give himself a chance to consolidate support for his text with regional groups and individual States. The meeting was scheduled to resume at 3pm, plenty of time to scan and detect subtle changes to the now familiar text and to debate theories of how the President would handle the crucial afternoon session.

Three o'clock came and went and anticipation mounted. Bilateral and group consultations dragged on until 4:30 at which time the Committee of the Whole re-convened. Ambassador O'Ceallaigh opened the session by reiterating points he had made in the morning - the text on the table struck a balance between the interests of all States participating in the negotiations and was, as such, a 'package deal'; it would prohibit all cluster munitions that have ever been used in war; and it met the objectives of the February 2007 Oslo Declaration that had launched the negotiation process.

And then, the clincher, he said that the Presidency text "was not open to amendment as such."

With that, he opened the floor to delegations. The first to raise their flag was Zambia, speaking on behalf of the African Group, which has played a pivotal role in the Oslo Process. Zambia's intervention was measured and masterly and set the tone for all that followed - African States were unhappy with some parts of the President's text but, in the spirit of compromise, they could endorse it, as is, as a package deal. If, however, Zambia warned, any delegation tried to re-open any part of the text, African States reserved the right to do the same.

The tone thus set and the message clearly sent, there followed interventions by about two-thirds of the States present, not one of which proposed amending the President's text. The tone of individual interventions varied from those expressing unequivocal willingness to adopt the text as it stood, to those that simply said they would forward the text to their Capital for consideration. That work will be done on Thursday and delegations will be expected to formally adopt the new Convention on Friday morning. Most, if not all states that spoke, mentioned that the President's text was not ideal but that the outcome represented a delicate balance and a compromise they could live with. Some pointed to the possibility of amending the text in the future and expressed their hope that, in time, the Convention could be further strengthened.

It was an uplifting experience to sit in the conference room as a wave of support for the President's text broke over it. A number of States were also clearly moved by the experience and made inspiring interventions, pointing in particular to the scope of the Convention's prohibitions, the absence of a transition period and of the possibility to make reservations, and to its groundbreaking provisions on victim assistance, which set a new standard in international humanitarian law.

Switzerland pointed out that, "from now on, cluster munitions are stigmatised." Austria equated the Convention to a child, "not perfect in every way, not beautiful perhaps, but we are proud of it." Norway described it as a "breakthrough." Italy said that the negotiations had been "fair and honest." The UK stated that the Convention would "make a real change to the conduct of war and to the lives of civilians" and informed the conference that Prime Minister Gordon Brown had issued instructions for the UK's two cluster munition systems to be withdrawn from service.

Jamaica said that the negotiated package was "steeped in good faith." Belgium said that the Convention "clearly combines prevention with cure" and that it was a "fair yet ambitious compromise." Germany said that it was "not happy" with the Presidency text but that it was "the best possible compromise" and "an important milestone for international humanitarian law." Iceland, in a statement much appreciated by lawyers in the room, made reference to the rules of international law - including international humanitarian law, treaty law and the law of State responsibility - that will guide the implementation of the Convention. Lao PDR said that the Convention would help to "heal open wounds" caused by past use of cluster munitions.

An intervention by the ICRC pointed out that explosive bomblets released from dispensers on aircraft, while prohibited under article 1, are not explicitly covered by some other articles of the convention and called on States, when adopting the Convention, to include in their Statements their understanding that explosive bomblets were, indeed, fully covered by the Convention.

The CMC underlined the achievement that this convention represents, but also invited States to make clear that non-State parties would not be allowed to stockpile cluster munitions on State parties' territory in perpetuity and that they would not allow intentional assistance with prohibited activities. Article 21 on interoperability it described as a "stain in the fine fabric of the text."

Today (Thursday), a much more informal atmosphere reigns in the Croke Park conference centre. Most delegates would seem to be out enjoying what is a nice spring day in Dublin while the translators and lawyers whip the final texts, in all official UN languages, into shape. In the CMC wing of the conference centre, demontage is already well underway. Only the final set-piece is left to play - formal adoption on Friday morning.

Patrick Mc Carthy & Maya Brehm

Photo by Patrick Mc Carthy.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Dublin: read all about it

This morning, the President of the Dublin Conference on cluster munitions, Ambassador, Dáithí O'Ceallaigh, distributed a new draft convention on cluster munitions as a presidency paper. This paper is available at the Dublin Conference website here.

O'Ceallaigh said that about two-thirds of the text of his paper is identical to papers already distributed during the Conference over the last week-and-a-half of work. The rest reflected the outcomes of various consultations - not least an intensive burst of activity during the course of yesterday when the President and his team met with dozens of delegations individually until late into the night.

The President told the Committee of the Whole this morning that his text represents his assessment of where the balance of interests lie, and would require compromise on all sides. (This is all boiler-plate language for multilateral negotiations.) Nevertheless, he felt the draft Convention text was extremely ambitious, especially in the scope of its prohibitions and its clearance, victim assistance and international assistance provisions, and would meet the objectives of the February 2007 Oslo Declaration.

We won't provide a comprehensive overview of the President's paper here. Briefly, on some major issues of interest:

Scope (Article 1): this now captures explosive bomblets, which are anomalous in that although they are, in effect, submunitions, they would otherwise not be captured because they're dispensed from an aircraft, rather than detaching from a parent munition.

Definitions (Article 2): this provision has, if anything, become more robust. There are several criteria here. A munition must meet all of these criteria in order not to be captured by the definition of a cluster munition.

A cluster munition, in O'Ceallaigh's text, means a conventional munition designed to disperse or release explosive submunitions each weighing less than 20kg, and includes those explosive submunitions. However, it doesn't mean the following:

- A munition or submunition designed to dispense flares, smoke, pyrotechnics or chaff; or a munition designed exclusively for an air defence role (this new text on air defence is a bit softer than the formulation in last week's informal consultations).

- A munition or submunition designed to produce electrical or electronic effects.

- a munition, that in order to avoid indiscriminate area effects and the risks posed by unexploded submunitions, has all of the following characteristics:

(1) Each munition contains fewer than 10 explosive submunitions;

(2) Each explosive submunition weighs more than four kilograms;

(3) Each explosive submunition is designed to detect and engage a single target object;

(4) Each explosive submunition is equipped with an electronic self-destruction mechanism;

(5) Each explosive submunition is equipped with an electronic self-deactivating feature.

Therefore the weight formulation is back in - with a change from 5kg as originally proposed to 4kg. In layperson's terms it means all submunitions under 4kg are categorically banned. Submunitions between 4 and 20kg are allowed if they and the parent munition meet a number of stringent criteria as listed above. Any munition above 20kg is not covered by the treaty. In effect, this removes almost all weapons conventionally regarded as cluster munitions in use today, including the M85 used in the Southern Lebanon conflict in 2006. We understand that the SMART155 and BONUS sensor-fuzed munitions meet the exemption criteria and would therefore not be banned.

Clearance, destruction and risk education (Article 4): Ambassador O'Ceallaigh noted that consensus on this article hadn't been possible in consultations; the language here is his shot at a compromise.

International cooperation and assistance (Article 6): the President had directed Canada to carry out consultations to try to achieve consensus on what had been para 9/9 bis, efforts that had run into difficulty yesterday. Canada had another try, and O'Ceallaigh's text contains the outcome of those consultations in its para 10, which he told the CoW he hopes will achieve general agreement.

Entry into Force of the cluster munition convention (Article 17): the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) had an EIF threshold of 20 countries; the Mine Ban Treaty had 40. These two options dominated talks on this Article at the Dublin Conference, so the President told the CoW he had split the difference and chosen 30, to many chuckles around the room.

Reservations (Article 19): O'Ceallaigh has kept the text of the earlier draft Convention here, which does not allow reservations. As mentioned in a preceding post [link to Friday's post], this issue will be settled only as part of the final package agreed.

"Relations with States not Party to this Convention" a.k.a. interoperability (Article 21): see our preceding posts for background on this issue, especially our last one today. This text, O'Ceallaigh said, is based closely on yesterday's Swiss Friend of the President informal paper, seen by "almost all delegations as a very good basis for work." It is unclear how this will pan out. Watch this space.

There are no provisions for transition periods in the President's paper, which he said reflected the wishes of a large number of countries.

This afternoon, the CoW will resume at 15h after delegations have had a chance to reflect on the President's paper. We anticipate a long evening of meetings tonight.

John Borrie, Maya Brehm & Patrick Mc Carthy

Photo of Canadian Cluster Munition Coalition marchers on O'Connell Street, Dublin, last Saturday, by John Borrie.

Dublin: Fitting together the final pieces

“In war it is not always possible to have everything go exactly as one likes. In working with allies, it sometimes happens they develop opinions of their own.”
Winston Churchill

As previous posts on this blog have foreshadowed, the issue of “interoperability” proves one of the politically most contentious and toughest to solve. After a week of informal consultations, Switzerland, as Friend of the President (FoP), passed on a text to the President of the Conference on Tuesday, which forms the basis for further bilateral consultations.

As the heading of the present draft article indicates, the issue termed “interoperability” concerns in essence the relationship between States Parties to a future cluster munitions convention and States not parties to it. Challenges of military interoperability can be seen as the result of increasing interstate cooperation in the military field, be it in the framework of a military alliance (e.g. NATO), ‘coalitions of the willing’, troop contributions to operations carried out or authorized by an international organisation (e.g. UN, EU, AU) or on a bilateral basis.

Among the causes for interoperability challenges are differences in technology (e.g. communication systems), procedures, national policies, and – of particular relevance here – differing national and international legal obligations of participating States. Many aspects of military cooperation could create problems for States Parties to a future cluster munitions convention, including: the transit of a non-State Party military aircraft through the airspace of a State Party, transport of equipment by a non-State Party through a State Party’s national territory, access to and use by a non-State Party of a State Party’s ports and infrastructure, or the establishment of military bases or prepositioning of equipment (e.g. stockpiling of cluster munitions) by a non-State Party on a State Party’s territory, joint defence preparations, joint training exercises and joint deployment of troops.

The interoperability issue has been a concern at the fore of many national delegates’ minds over the last year. A number of proposals were made relating to interoperability by various countries at the Wellington Conference in February and were included in the compendium of proposals, each of which were issued as working papers at the outset of the Dublin Conference.

According to many media reports and the scuttlebutt here, the United States (which is not participating in the Oslo Process) has put considerable pressure on perhaps as many as 115 countries to take account of its interoperability concerns. A number of European NATO countries plus Japan, Canada, Australia have said that not having such a provision would be a ‘deal-breaker’ for them, and even Oslo core-group countries like New Zealand have said such a provision is a good idea. But many other countries say they are unhappy with the way things are shaping up.

A number of working papers proposed amending the general obligations and scope of application (Article 1) of the draft cluster munitions convention. Such a solution would have been problematic for many reasons, not least because Article 1 is the home of the general prohibitions of the treaty and tampering with it would – in political terms – be as risky as … well, tampering with an unexploded submunition. By the middle of last week, however, the FoP indicated general support for leaving Article 1 alone, and either amending the national implementation Article (Article 9) or coming up with a new Article, an option which by the beginning of this week had the greater momentum.

The draft article on interoperability aims, first, at preventing, in these varying instances of military cooperation with non-Party States, the engagement of States Parties’ responsibility under international law for acts by non-State Parties that State Parties themselves cannot control and, second, aims at ensuring that members of a State Party’s armed forces (and possibly their nationals) do not incur individual (criminal) responsibility in such situations. At the same time, even States that consider such a provision to be necessary, say that they do not want to create a loophole in the convention. It is evidently not easy to achieve all this without compromising the object and purpose of the convention, or undermining the general undertaking, “never under any circumstances” to engage in a prohibited activity listed in art.1.

The draft article, as it stands now, imposes on every State Party a positive obligations to “encourage” non-State Parties to accede to the convention, to “notify” them of States Parties’ obligations under the convention, to “promote the norms” it establishes and to “make its best efforts to discourage” non-State Parties from using cluster munitions. The second part of the draft article is more controversial and has been the subject of debate in formal and informal sessions. A previous version of the text was criticised for being too complex, lengthy, unclear, unpractical, or was considered to undermine the goal of stigmatising cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians. At the same time, certain terms used in the current draft, such as ‘military cooperation’ or ‘exclusive control’ were criticised for being too vague. A suggestion to restrict the effect of the interoperability article on the provisions of article 1 concerning assistance, encouragement and inducement (art. 1(c)) only was not retained in the current text.

The implications of the current text for State Parties’ obligations relating to foreign owned stockpiles on their territory and the use of their ports by vessels transporting prohibited cluster munitions will have to be assessed in light of States’ understanding of the phrase ‘may engage in military cooperation’ and in accordance with States obligation to take all appropriate measures to prevent and suppress prohibited activities undertaken on territory under their jurisdiction (draft article 9). But is does look like under the present text a State Party may, “expressly request the use” of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians “in cases where the choice of munitions used” is not “within its exclusive control”, i.e. in all cases where it is not its own armed forces that carry out the attack.

Nobody expects that military interoperability will achieve substantive agreement before a final endgame in which it’s negotiated alongside the other thorny issues of definitions and a possible transition period on use. Once they see how these jigsaw pieces fit together, delegations will have to assess whether the draft treaty meets their needs as well as the humanitarian imperative of the Oslo Declaration. The next stage in that process – a composite text, in which all of the different bits of the draft treaty (including alternative options in certain instances) are placed alongside one another in the same text – is due Wednesday morning at 10am…

Maya Brehm, John Borrie & Patrick Mc Carthy

Photo: "Liquid Jigsaw" by pbrien49away on Flickr

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Dublin: A spirit of compromise

Having observed the Dublin Diplomatic Conference on cluster munitions from a distance during its first week, I finally arrived in Dublin over the weekend and observed its sixth full day of negotiations on Monday (a new convention prohibiting cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians is due to be adopted this Friday).

As John Borrie’s posts below illustrate, during last week, negotiators made remarkable progress on some complex but less controversial issues on the table – including, notably, the issue of assisting victims of cluster sub-munition explosions, the draft article which is being hailed here as setting a new international standard in this area. Delegations also used last week, however, to stake out quite divergent positions on some of the more contentious issues that remain to be resolved here this week. These include (1) the definition of a cluster munition (that which is to be prohibited), (2) joint military operations and other forms of cooperation with States not party to the new Convention (the so-called “interoperability” issue), and (3) a transition-period after entry into force of the Convention during which States would still be allowed to stockpile and use cluster munitions.

Whereas States used last week to stake out their initial negotiating positions on these issues in fairly unequivocal terms, the tone of the debate on Monday was quite different, with many delegations indicating a willingness to compromise on issues on which, up to now, they had taken a relatively hard line. Complaints are still being voiced in private that not enough compromises are forthcoming from the ‘other side,’ but Monday’s debate in the Committee of the Whole gave a strong indication that States participating in the Dublin conference want a Convention by Friday and that they are willing to enter into the deals and compromises that will make this possible.

This will be no easy task given the deadlines faced by the conference. Although the new Convention must be ready for adoption by lunchtime Friday, in order to have enough time to translate and prepare the convention text, the final English version must be completed on Wednesday. Let’s take a brief look then, at how things are shaping up on the three issues mentioned above.

Joint military operations / Interoperability:
The textual proposal on interoperability prepared by Switzerland (as Friend of the President) foresees a new article and would leave article 1, which contains the convention’s prohibitions, unchanged. The new article would allow States party to the Convention to “host” States not party to it, meaning that the former would be allowed maintain bases, possibly containing cluster munitions, on the latter’s territory. It would also allow a State party to the Convention to engage in joint military operations with States not party to the Convention that uses cluster munitions “so long as a potential use [of cluster munitions] in a specific operation… is out of the effective control of the State party.”

Reactions to the proposal Monday divided into two camps; those delegations that saw no place in the Convention for such a provision and those that thought more work was needed on the proposal. Switzerland convened a further side-meeting on interoperability late Monday afternoon to work further on this.

Definition of a cluster munition:
New Zealand is taking the lead as Friend of the President on definitions. The proposed article 2 contains a straightforward enough definition of what a cluster muntion is, followed by a number of exclusions specifying what they are not. The first two sets of exclusions had so far been relatively uncontroversial since they cover such things as munitions that disperse flares, smoke, etc. or that produce electrical or electronic effects. The recent inclusion in the text, at the request of the UK, of an explicit exclusion for “air defence systems,” however, caused some confusion among other delegations Monday, despite assurances from the UK that such systems would be covered by the cumulative criteria contained in article 2 (c). A number of delegations pointed out that, if air defence systems were indeed covered by another part of article 2, then there was no need to mention them specifically.

“2 (c) or not 2 (c), that is the question” was how Sweden aptly characterised the crux of the debate on definitions. Article 2 (c) currently contains a set of 4 criteria, all of which would have to be met for a weapon to escape being defined as a cluster munition and, therefore, prohibited. These are (a) that the munition contain fewer than 10 sub-munitions, (b) that it can locate and engage a point target (i.e. sensor-fuzed sub-munitions), (c) that sub-munitions have an electronic self-destruct mechanism and (d) that sub-munitions have an electronic self-deactivating feature.

There is a formal proposal on the table to delete article 2 (c) from the draft Convention text but even among those States that have proposed this there is now a new spirit of flexibility that could envisage 2 (c) remaining as long as the so-called cumulative criteria are as tight as possible. Lebanon, one of the States that proposed deleting 2 (c), on Monday showed flexibility and a possible path to a compromise solution by proposing that a requirement to review, report on an evaluate the sufficiency of article 2 (c) be built into the Convention, an idea explicitly supported by Canada and Austria.

There were renewed expressions of support for including the weight of sub-munitions among the cumulative criteria. This proposal was introduced by Norway last week but did not make it into the current proposal by the Friend of the President. The proposal is to categorically prohibit all sub-munitions that weigh under 5 kg and to prohibit all sub-munitions that weigh between 5 and 20 kg if they are not sensor-fuzed and contain self-destruct and self-deactivation mechanisms. Sub-munitions that weigh over 20 kg would be allowed. Norway circulated an explanatory note on Monday that pointed out that this weight criteria would prohibit up to 99 percent of cluster munitions currently stockpiled and 100 percent of existing cluster munitions that have ever been used in war.

Transition Period:
Germany reported back on Monday on consultations it had been holding, at the request of the President, on the question of a transition period during which it would be possible for States party to the Convention to continue using cluster munitions. There is still a great deal of opposition to this idea and Germany did not have any breakthroughs to report from its discussions with other delegations. The conference President announced that he would now hold consultations on this issue.

This is just a taste of some of the main issues discussed on Monday during what was an intense set of discussions in the Committee of the Whole. Other important developments included the forwarding of two more articles to the plenary session that will take place later in the week – article 3 on storage and stockpile destruction and article 8 on facilitation and clarification of compliance - and side negotiations, led by Australia, to finalise the preamble.

Work is proceeding well and the atmosphere in the conference seems very constructive. Delegates are acutely aware, however, of the time pressures that they are now under, made even more pressing by the frequent reminders of the conference President, Ambassador Daithi O’Ceallaigh, that “there will be a Convention by Friday.”

Patrick Mc Carthy

Photo: US Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), left, speaking to a CMC briefing for delegates and media Monday on "The US and Cluster Munitions." The United States is not participating in the Dublin negotiations on cluster munitions. On the right is Lord Alfred Dubs of the UK. Photo by the author.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Dublin: Treaty negotiations at the half-way point

Half-way through the two-week negotiations in Dublin on a treaty to ban cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians, where do things stand?

As noted in preceding posts, there are a couple of big issues - defining cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm, and military interoperability among them - that are claiming a lot of attention and are tough nuts to crack. Indeed, much of my week has been spent observing meetings working on these topics. But that shouldn't be taken to mean that considerable progress hasn't been made overall. Below I provide a brief article-by-article state of play on the draft Convention text. A copy of the draft Convention text and other official documents can be downloaded here.

Article 1 (General obligations and scope of application): this Article contains the treaty's core prohibitions. Over the course of the Oslo Process there have been proposals to amend this article, most for reasons bound up with the interoperability issue. By general agreement, draft Article 1 has been left alone, with the Swiss Friend of the President's (FoP) work focusing on developing potential additional provisions on the issue of interoperability in other Articles.

Article 2 (Definitions): this article has been a major focus of attention in informal consultations. New Zealand ambassador Don Mackay has focused work as FoP on the crucial definition of a cluster munition and - more specifically - the nature of any exemption from the definition of a cluster munition under tiret (c). This afternoon he presented a new proposal for everyone to think about for the weekend, basically an earlier proposal by Germany but without the weight criteria for cluster munitions and submunitions suggested earlier in the week.

Other definitions in Article 2 were handled by Irish Colonel Jim Burke, as "friend of the friend" of the President. Considerable progress was made, especially to ensure these are consistent with other international agreements such as protocols of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW).

"Cluster munition victims", although in Article 2, were defined as part of work on victim assistance in Article 5.

Article 3 (storage and stockpile destruction): Ambassador Steffen Kongstad of Norway - FoP for this Article - reported that he was close to finalizing a new draft based on morning discussions in the CoW. Issues raised include consistency with the provisions of Article 4, and submunitions retained, ostensibly for the development of and training in cluster munitions and submunitions detection, clearance or destruction techniques, or for the development of cluster munition counter-measures. Agreement seems close, however, and it hoped that there can sufficient agreement emerging early next week for the President to transmit the text to the Plenary as a paper, to join the many other such Articles (see further below).

Article 4 (clearance and destruction): there was considerable progress here. There has been a change in the clearance deadline from 5 to 10 years.

Article 5 (victim assistance): there was a fantastic discussion in the CoW on this Article of paramount humanitarian importance this morning, following a number of consultations on this issue throughout the week. Great credit is due to Markus Reiterer of Austria as FoP on this Article: the President told the CoW today he would transmit language on this Article, which breaks new ground for helping cluster munition survivors and their families, as Presidency text.

Article 6 (international cooperation and assistance): the Irish are carrying out consultations on this, and a new non-paper was to be circulated today for discussion early next week. There is little to worry about here: it was difficult to make a lot of headway in finalizing a proposal on this Article until work on other areas of the draft Convention, such as victim assistance, clearance and destruction had made some progress, which they now have.

Article 7 (transparency measures): Irish-led consultations are underway and "going well", the President told the CoW today. This Article also depends on other articles to be sketched out in sufficient detail to move toward finalizing a proposal, especially Articles 3,4,5 and 6. Likewise, facilitation and clarification of compliance (Article 8) consultations continue, guided by FoP South Africa.

Articles 9 to 12 (national implementation measures, settlement of disputes, Meetings of States Parties, Review Conferences) have been forwarded as President's texts to the Plenary.

Articles 13 (amendments): President's texts, along with guidance from the UN's Office for Legal Affairs (OLA) have been forwarded to the Plenary, as well as one other proposal.

Articles 14, 15 and 16 (costs, signature and ratification, acceptance, approval or accession) have been forwarded as President's texts to the Plenary.

Article 17 (entry into force) has been discussed in the CoW, but the President has decided to come back to it later. In my view, this is sensible, as this a question usually settled late in multilateral negotiations, when delegations have a better sense of a treaty text overall and its implications for them.

Article 18 (provisional application): the President said no difficulties had been identified with this Article, but there is, of course, a German proposal for a transition period for cluster munition possessing states, and there are two other proposals for a separate article to the same effect. Today, the President asked Germany to consult with other delegations over the weekend with a view to narrowing differences next week. The latest Swiss FoP's proposal today circulated to the CoW still does not specify which Article interoperability text - if it is agreed - would reside in. At least 35 delegations said today that they oppose such a provision, with half a dozen or so speaking in favour.

Article 19 (reservations): this is being set aside for now, probably because it might prove to be a source of options on the interoperability issue, it seems to me.

Article 20 (duration and withdrawal) text has been transmitted by the President to the Plenary.

Likewise Article 21 (depositary) and Article 22 (authentic texts). Treaty depositary is to be the UN Secretary-General, like the Mine Ban Treaty and CCW.

There is also a proposal by one country for an additional Article on the relationship between the cluster munition convention and other treaties. It's unclear to me whether this will be taken up.

In addition to what's going inside the conference chambers, there is a lot of other stuff going on. The Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) have been extremely active, and I'd recommend Katie Harrison's very comprehensive daily updates on the proceedings of the Dublin Conference on the WILPF website if you wish for more detail. There is a cluster munition survivor's blog I've already mentioned, a CMC/ Handicap International 'Ban Bus' blog, a daily campaign newsletter and, of course, a huge amount of media coverage of the Conference out there.

John Borrie

Photo courtesy of Mary Wareham of Aotearoa New Zealand Cluster Munition Coalition. Survivors of landmines and cluster munitions at a photo call for media in O'Connell Street, Dublin on 22 May. From left to right: Ny Nhar (Cambodia), Soraj Ghulam Habib (Afghanistan), Tun Channereth (Cambodia), Youen Sam En (Cambodia), Branislav Kapetanovic (Serbia), Pham Quy Thi (Vietnam) and Berihu Mesele (Ethiopia).

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Dublin: No hysteria over criteria (yet)

As I've noted in previous blog posts, defining a cluster munition is essential to the negotiation of the cluster munition convention because its obligations and general scope are structured in such a way that what is defined as a cluster munition will be banned.

The way things seemed to be shaping up yesterday after extensive - some might say exhausting even - discussions of a variety of criteria for exemption is as follows: there is general agreement that no single criterion is enough. Instead, any solution will be comprised of multiple criteria in combination, or what is termed by those negotiating it as the cumulative criteria (sic).

Having had a run-through on Monday of elements for discussion a new outline was produced first-thing this morning, which summarised various proposals made in the Oslo Process on 'cumulative lists of criteria' marked from 'A' to 'H'.

Very soon, the argument became about whether, for example, a numerical criterion was needed and, if so, what that number should be. Strong supporters of a complete ban on cluster munitions found themselves in the slightly unfamiliar position of defending a criterion in combination that they hadn't been enamoured of in isolation. And so it goes.

As it that wasn't enough excitement (jeesh, listen to me) a written proposal was made in Tuesday afternoon notable for the fact that it includes the weight of a submunition as a criterion. This is an idea that's been floating around in the background since at least last September, and was talked about quite a bit this morning. This idea has focused minds, and has staked out a new potential parameter for inclusion in a draft definition. More numbers for the numerates.

Once the dust had settled from this bit of numerology, the Friend of the President hustled off with his happy helpers to craft some text tonight to try on delegations tomorrow morning. It puts him on track to make good on his promise to have something to offer the Irish President before the close of play Thursday, although Murphy's Law ("anything that can go wrong, will go wrong") is of course still relevant.

Other wheels have been turning too. The Committee of the Whole worked through the rest of the draft Convention text numbered above Article 2, and the President has circulated text to be transmitted to the Plenary for eventual decision on at least a couple of articles (11 and 12 that I've seen, and there may be others). Other Friends of the President have been beavering away, with meetings on issues like victim assistance and storage and stockpile destruction of cluster munitions . These efforts have thus far produced an informal discussion paper containing at least a couple of unexploded sub-issues, not least that of submunitions and cluster munitions for training and development, which is rather controversial.

Military interoperability has been interactive both privately and in a small group format. Interoperability has become a totemic political issue for some. So a first try, when it emerges, will have to have a large dollop of skill and luck to win enough hearts and minds - especially as it's bound up with the eventual outcome on the scope of the definition and, to some extent, to the phrase that currently none dare speak its name, that of transition periods.

John Borrie

Photo of Croke Park by author.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Dublin: the bunfight begins

As Patrick Mc Carthy observed in the preceding post on this blog, the Dublin Conference on cluster munitions commenced yesterday. I'm here in Dublin at the Conference throughout its duration, and a lot is going on - hence this post at midnight, and it's only the second day.

Conference proceedings got off to a smooth start on Monday morning. Consistent with Ireland's emphasis on getting down to work as soon as possible on negotiating a treaty to ban cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians, the opening high-level segment was mercifully short. The Irish Foreign Minister, Micheál Martin, spoke. There was a video message from the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon. Also addressing the Conference was Ad Melkert, Associate Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), who emphasized the devastating impact of cluster munitions on development and humanitarian action. And President Jakob Kellenberger gave a hard-hitting statement on behalf of the International Committee of the Red Cross, as did cluster munition survivor and Cluster Munition Coalition representative Branislav Kapetanovic.

Irish Disarmament Ambassador Dáithí O'Ceallaigh was elected as president, as expected, and the agenda was adopted. So far so good. There had been uncertainty in the lead up to the Conference about whether its rules of procedure would be agreed without challenge - it's understood that a few (mainly European) countries had been apprehensive about the level of civil society participation in Conference talks, and they had of course probed hard in Wellington in the hope that their national proposals would be put on a par with the draft Convention text. Nevertheless, these rules were agreed without comment.

President O'Ceallaigh lost no time in setting out how he intended to proceed in leading the throng of 700 or so delegates - including from 109 or so participating states and around 19 observer states, as well as many civil society representatives - to culmination of a treaty text by 28 May. (In principle, at least, there will then be a couple of days for the treaty text to be prepared before final agreement on 30 May.)

General statements, which the President discouraged, could take place in the plenary, which would run until the speakers' list exhausted, O'Ceallaigh said. Few would be there to listen however, because from lunchtime on the first day the Committee of the Whole would begin meeting one floor below at the cavernous Croke Park facility.

O'Ceallaigh duly began taking those present in the CoW through the draft treaty text from Article 1 from 3 o'clock on Monday, spinning off trickier issues to Friends of the President as he did so. Meanwhile, most unusually (and most welcome) for a diplomatic conference of this size, the plenary wound up its speakers' list by the middle of Monday afternoon.

The two biggest challenges for these negotiations are defining what cluster munitions (which will be banned) are for the purposes of the treaty, and satisfying concerns about interoperability for states involved in the future in joint military operations. There are a host of other issues, of course, but these are the biggies. O'Ceallaigh was very clear in his opening remarks on Monday that he would make every effort to bring the Conference to a consensus on a treaty, and avoid voting. At the same time, he was very firm: there would be a treaty come Friday 30 May, he said.

With the plenary having adjourned its meeting, today the Committee of the Whole ran in parallel with informal consultations on interoperability (facilitated by Switzerland) and then definitions (New Zealand) from early this morning.

There was (to me at least) what seemed to be a significant breakthrough in these informals on the interoperability issue, which a number of (mainly Western) states have maintained over at least the last six months is a potential deal-breaker for them. There is general agreement that Article 1(c) of the draft Convention text, which is based on the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty, is not enough. Even New Zealand and Norway - two Oslo core-group countries - said so today. Moreover, there was widespread support for a separate article, to clarify and reconcile potentially conflicting obligations in Article 1 (general obligations and scope of application) and 9 (national implementation measures) of the cluster munition treaty.

The Oslo Process, and the Swiss in particular, are certainly not out of the woods and onto the meadow yet. But the interoperability challenge has now been re-framed from a question of whether there needs to be specific provision to have a common understanding on interoperability in the treaty, to how it will be drafted. The Swiss are continuing their work on this text in private consultations for the time being.

If the Swiss are expecting a tough time in developing a textual formula on interoperability in the next couple of days, Ambassador Don Mackay of New Zealand made it clear that he intends to spread the pain around in his informal consultations on definitions. These talks began at 10h30, and the Friend of the President informed delegations that informals would continue all day and every evening if necessary - starting today - until something emerged he could take back to the President. He was true to his word: today's proceedings finished at 20h30.

Time is a big constraint here: there is still considerable work to do to consensus-build around a workable formula for what will be exempted from the definition of a cluster munition. There are more than a dozen textual proposals for amendment of Article 2 on the table, some dating from Wellington, and many of them are competing approaches. And discussions on definitions over the course of the Oslo Process have become sprawling, and have tended to go around in circles.

Today was no exception, as useful returns diminished from late afternoon. Ambassador Mackay may sense that some of the more self-assured delegations need to wear each other down attritionally, and he and his team seem resigned to facilitating this - armed also with some probing questions for those delegations becoming repetitive or implausible. He and his team are probably right. At, indeed, at the end of the day many delegations across the political spectrum left feeling tired and irritable after working through Mackay's elements paper. However, some hard yards have been gained.

It's an important point to bear in mind that although there are tough negotiations ahead, it is only the end of day 2 of the Dublin Conference. The President and his Friends have already made surprising progress. Just as importantly, the psychological heat is already being turned up.

John Borrie


The Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki Moon gave a televised address to the opening plenary of the Dublin Diplomatic Conference on Cluster Munitions in which he called on governments to create a "visionary" global treaty prohibiting cluster munitions, which he called "inherently inaccurate, particularly indiscriminate and unreliable." (19 May 08). Photo courtesy of Mary Wareham (Aotearoa NZ Cluster Munition Coalition Flickr photostream).

The Cluster Munition Coalition launched a new, improved website yesterday. Embedded in it is the UNSG's video address as a YouTube clip.

To find out more about what cluster munition survivors think about the Dublin negotiations, visit the Ban Advocates blog.

Plenary statements, official and national working papers from the Dublin Conference are available on its website.

Monday, 19 May 2008

All eyes on Dublin to put cluster munitions beyond the Pale

I found it a bit hard to concentrate in the office today, knowing that a two-week diplomatic conference with the aim of banning cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians was kicking off in Dublin.

The conference is the culmination of the Oslo Process on cluster munitions that began relatively small with a conference in Oslo in February 2007 and has since grown in size and momentum through further global meetings in Lima, Vienna and Wellington to reach where it is today. More than 100 governments have sent plenipotentiaries to Dublin and the scene is now set for tough negotiations on what has the potential to be the most significant disarmament treaty in a decade.

For those of us who can't be in Dublin, there are fortunately many good ways of keeping up to date with what is going on there. One, of course, is this blog. My colleague John Borrie is participating in the conference in Dublin and will be posting updates and analysis here during this week. I will be joining him next week when we hope to be able to post more or less every day. This blog also contains a wealth of background on the issue of cluster munitions (we have been posting on this topic for more than a year now). Do a keyword search for "cluster munition" or "cluster bomb" to find out more.

There are also a number of other excellent sources of up-to-date information, such as:

-- The Ban Advocates blog: The NGO Handicap International has been working with survivors of cluster bomblet explosions from all over the world and helping them to become effective advocates for a comprehensive ban on these weapons. One of these advocates, Mr. Branislav Kapetanovic, who lost both legs and both hands to a cluster bomblet, spoke at today's conference opening ceremony. The Ban Advocates blog follows these remarkable people as they lobby governments for the strongest possible ban in Dublin.

-- The Aotearoa New Zealand Cluster Munition Coalition blog: Mary Wareham of Oxfam New Zealand, who is at the conference, is posting regularly on goings on in Dublin, particularly on civil society activities. New Zealand's capital, Wellington, was the venue for the most recent conference of the Oslo Process in February.

-- RTE News: The Irish broadcast agency, RTE, is one of the few to offer free streaming video news on the web. It should be covering the conference during the course of the next two weeks and has already posted almost 8 minutes of video footage of the opening day on its Six One news programme. Also check out the Nine News programme for shorter video updates.

-- The Cluster Munition Coalition of NGOs has a brand new website which contains regularly-updated "cluster ban news," as well as the CMC video press-release for the Dublin conference. A nice touch is the countdown, in seconds, to the deadline for a new Cluster Munitions Convention - noon on Friday, May 30.

This, it seems, is as strict as deadlines come since all delegates will have to vacate the conference centre at that time to make way for hoards of fans of Celine Dion, who plays a concert that night at the same venue, Croke Park, a sports stadium that also doubles as Ireland's largest conference centre.

916,385 seconds to go; and it won't be over 'til the thin lady sings.

Patrick Mc Carthy

Photo Credit: Photo by Mary Wareham retreived from Flickr.

Friday, 16 May 2008

NPT: States in the Sin Bin

It is the poems you have lost, the ills
From missing dates, at which the heart expires.
Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills
(Missing Dates by William Empson 1999)

Sin is a concept that has resonance in most cultures. It is variously described as wrongful behaviour in specific situations or even a state of mind. Immoral, shameful, harmful, or alienating acts (or thoughts) are considered sinful. The designation of immoral and shameful varies from culture to culture, even within a single religion or philosophy.

A great deal of attention has been paid to the spectrum of good and bad behaviour. From lesser or venial sins (stealing cookies from the tin, lying to save another’s dignity etc.) to those of the grave or mortal variety (murder, rape, pedophilia and so on) the range of sinful behaviours is broad.

The degree of seriousness attached to each type of sin prescribes its future impact on the sinner and the sinned against – and each exacts a different penalty ranging from small penitential acts to utmost damnation. For example in Islam, there are several gradations of sin ranging from mistakes to transgressions to utmost wickedness and depravity. Buddhism has a code of ethics, the Pañcasīla, and in Hinduism, sin is an intentional transgression of divine law – a course of action that results in negative consequences. Judaism teaches that sin is an act, not a state of being. There is intentional sin, accidental sin and transgression through being unaware and through no fault of your own.

Then there is the distinction between sins of commission and sins of omission. The sin of omission is a failure to act when one should. It is a failure to achieve goodness, rather than a deliberate act of evil. It is therefore seen as less grievous than a sin of commission which involves a deliberate act of bad – an intentional act of evil.

One of the key features of the 2008 NPT PrepCom has been an emphasis on what constitutes compliance with all articles of the Treaty. In carrying out an article-by-article assessment of compliance with the Treaty, we get a much better sense of overall compliance with the Treaty and passion for the aims of the NPT.

But, it’s important to look at compliance in the context of the gravity of non-compliance. For the purposes of this blog, I am going to examine what possible non-compliance actions may occur through the lens of different types of sin.

Let's take Articles I and II of the NPT:
Article I Each nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly; and not in any way to assist, encourage, or induce any non-nuclear weapon State to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, or control over such weapons or explosive devices.
Article II Each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to receive the transfer from any transfer or whatsoever of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or of control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly; not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices; and not to seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.
A mortal sin against the Treaty would be the sin of Commissioning (acquiring, manufacturing, transferring, receiving…) a nuclear weapons programme. A less appalling, but still mortal, crime would be one of commissioning a nuclear weapons hedge programme – i.e. a programme that would develop the technology necessary to make nuclear weapons but not go as far as to make them. Both of these serious sins would probably involve deceit, betrayal of trust, bare-faced lying and theft. Most certainly the perpetrators would be guilty of pride, lust and envy while about it (a reminder here of the seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride). Both would strike a mortal blow at the essence of the Treaty. More venial sins committed against Article I could include, for example, turning a blind eye to front companies and their exports, excusing government scientists carrying out “little experiments” or not even prosecuting those caught red-handed at such exploits.

In Article III, States Parties undertake to accept safeguards from the IAEA and to do so within a given timeframe. A generous interpretation for the forty or so states that have yet to conclude their safeguards agreement with the Agency would be to call that failure a sin of omission. A more grave sin would, for example, be the supply of nuclear material without the application of full-scope safeguards.

Article IV regards to the inalienable right of all the Parties to the NPT to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of the Treaty. Transgression of this inalienable right could well take the form of denial of license to companies wishing to sell and export technical know-how to a State that is suspected of violation of key NPT provisions, although this could be the result of a false judgment. On the other hand non-conformity with Articles I and II whilst attempting to import nuclear knowledge would constitute the more serious sin in that it would involve lying continually. It would constitute a fundamental betrayal of trust.

In the case of Article VI in which: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control” context is all important. States without nuclear weapons, while being required to comply with the article, do not possess the same degree of responsibility for the execution of Article VI as the nuclear weapons states.

Failure to pursue negotiations year after year on effective measures relating to nuclear disarmament is, at the very least, a repeated sin of omission. As Ogden Nash put it, repeated acts of omission are the second kind of sin, that lays eggs under your skin (see reference at end). They lie there, irritate, cause agony and eventually hatch, affecting the health of the sinner, sometimes in a grave manner. When coupled with more serious sin – such as bad faith in negotiations or a profession of desire for disarmament while saying how nuclear weapons are fundamental to the security of the possessor state ad infinitum – then the soul of the Treaty is in mortal danger.

At the end of the Treaty text, Article X reads:
Each Party shall in exercising its national sovereignty have the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country. It shall give notice of such withdrawal to all other Parties to the Treaty and to the United Nations Security Council three months in advance. Such notice shall include a statement of the extraordinary events it regards as having jeopardized its supreme interests.
If a state withdraws from the NPT when in violation of the Treaty – perhaps causing others to withdraw for the reason that their supreme interests are thus jeopardized – then it has committed a heinous sin. Such a act has betrayed just about every substantive article in the Treaty either before or during the act of withdrawal (of course if it then fails to notify properly, well that is indeed something to get worked up about). If afterwards, the state refuses to repent and continues to commit crimes against the Treaty (such as carrying out a nuclear weapon test), then what can be done to restore faith in the NPT and in the whole regime?

This brings us to the issue of repentance and atonement. In all the world’s main religions and in the humanist philosophical approaches, there is a way back from sin. This almost always takes the following form:
  1. an admission of guilt;
  2. an apology;
  3. penance/atonement of some kind - usually in the form of righting the wrong committed;
  4. Forgiveness of the sinner by the sinned against.
In the case of the transgression, betrayals, sins of commission, omission, venial and mortal against the NPT over the last forty years, there must be a way for the sinners to atone and for the rest to forgive. In many cases the sinners are also the ones sinned against, so considerable tolerance on all sides is required – as is an understanding that to go forward, we have to put the past with all its wrongs behind us.

This will require a huge amount of trust among all parties – which is of course, for the most part, sorely lacking in the nuclear non-proliferation regime. But for all that, we must start somewhere.

One way to right a wrong and begin a process of building trust would be for the US and other signatories to ratify the CTBT and bring it in to force. This would restore trust in the process (including in the CD) and in the countries not yet party to the CTBT.

Another important step would be to engage all states in the Middle East in a negotiation towards a zone free of WMD. Another would be to ensure that all transgression of Articles I and II are taken to court either within the country that they are committed or within another country that has an interest. Also all NPT States could ratify the Additional Protocol and make that a condition of supply.

There are many more suggestions for atonement and building trust I could make but I suggest instead that you click on www.wmdcommission.org and read “Weapons of Terror” if you haven’t already done so. I can’t resist one last critical suggestion however and that is to resolve the DPRK nuclear weapons problem with full disclosure and complete, verified disarmament, so that North Korea could, one day, return to the fold.

This is a guest blog by Dr Patricia Lewis, UNIDIR Director. Patricia’s other blogs on the NPT can be located by typing ‘NPT’ into the search box at right.


“It is the sin of omission, the second kind of sin, that lays eggs under your skin. The way you really get painfully bitten is by the insurance you haven't taken out and the checks you haven't added up the stubs of and the appointments you haven't kept and the bills you haven't paid and the letters you haven't written”. (Portrait Of The Artist As A Prematurely Old Man, Ogden Nash).

Picture: William Hogarth, Satan, Sin and Death (A Scene from Milton's `Paradise Lost') circa 1735-40, part of an exhibition at the Tate.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Mind the Gap!

Last year we blogged about Swedish medical doctor and public health researcher Hans Rosling. Although Rosling is a well-respected teacher of international public health at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, he's well-known for two other reasons: his role in co-founding the non-profit organisation Gapminder, and a stunning presentation he delivered to the Technology, Entertainment Design (TED) symposium in California, which became an internet sensation.

Last evening I had the privilege to attend a lecture by Rosling, co-organised by the United Nations Economic Commission on Europe (UNECE) and the Permanent Mission of Sweden in Geneva. (If there was ever a country to appreciate statistics, it would be Sweden don't you think. Who knew they have a "Swedish Statistician of the Year?" ;-) )

If you weren't previously familiar with Rosling's entertaining and slightly 'nutty professor' style of delivery, the attraction of a one hour lecture at the end of the working day on the topic of 'the value of statistics' might conceivably be lost on you - especially as the earnest chaps at UNECE thought they'd provide the answer in the lecture invitation:

"Statistics allow us to measure and demonstrate progress, providing evidence for effective decision-making about how and where to target development programs."
Fortunately, the fun of the journey is in the getting there. Rosling's talk was indeed fascinating. And he was visibly enjoying himself as he gently pulled the legs of various important Swedish eminent persons and statisticians along the way.

Rosling also made some serious points. Not least of these, he showed through the graphics and animations Gapminder has developed to display statistical trends in development and public health that many of the assumptions held in the 'Western' world' are - and I'm quoting Rosling here - "bullshit". Rosling observed that many of the premises students accept date from when their teachers first read a textbook. He asked his students, for instance, what distinguished family structure in OECD countries from that in developing countries. The answer he was given: rich world = long lifespan, small families; developing world = short lifespan, large families.

The problem is, this is not true. Many parts of the so-called developing world radically differ from this model. Moreover, Singapore - a so-called developing country - has lower child mortality than Sweden. Vietnam's public health indicators put it approximately where the United States was when the Vietnam War ended. And South Korea's progress in the last forty years has been nothing short of stunning.

So life is getting better for some. But not all. What is striking from Rosling's talk is the level of disparity in wealth, not just between countries or regions but within countries. While around 20 percent of South Africa's population, for instance, has a standard of living similar to that of people in rich Western European countries, a significant proportion of its people have a similar standard of living to Uganda. Latin America has massive disparity in wealth, both within the region and within countries.

While recent decades have seen an increasing proportion of the world's people pulled out of abject poverty, Rosling observed that absolute numbers of the poorest people - those living on less than a dollar a day - has remained about the same. And these people may be living nearer to you than you think, for instance if you live in Eastern Europe, or Latin America or the Middle East.

This has big implications for security, not so much of the traditional national kind, but of the human kind. In my view, it perhaps isn't any coincidence that some of the most violent societies on earth - think armed robbery, murder, illicit gun possession - are among the most socioeconomically unequal.

Rosling raised another interesting point, one that doesn't arise in his TED video: rapid development to date has been based on use of fossil fuels. How will a world trying to respond to climate change reconcile these apparently conflicting imperatives? Rosling is an optimist - he notes how inefficiently resources are used at present, citing the huge cost of agricultural subsidies in many OECD countries, for instance. If these were to be reallocated "less stupidly", he argues it would make a huge difference to the world in developmental terms.

To me, there are other dimensions though, some of which link up to concerns in arms control. At present, compelling alternatives to fossil fuel-use to drive growth and development are in short supply not just for financial reasons, but because the technology doesn't exist. Even assuming that technology can lead to new alternative sources of green energy if enough resources are thrown at key problems, it's going to take time for these to come onstream.

In the meantime, nuclear power is an increasingly compelling alternative - as was clear from discussions on civil uses of nuclear technology at last week's NPT PrepCom. Environmental concerns to one side, there are major non-proliferation challenges ahead. So, Rosling's talk provides much to think about for arms controllers as well as development and statistics boffins.

John Borrie

You can have a go with Gapminder software here. If you had been wondering when Hans Rosling's amazing Gapminder data visualization tools would ever emerge from 'beta', it seems they have been sold to Google, which intends, he said, to put them on the internet for free eventually. Good on you Google... Now make it happen, and for Macs as well as PCs please!

Saturday, 10 May 2008

NPT: Man Friday

Following the tabling of his draft Chairman’s summary, the mighty Ambassador Volodymyr Yel’chenko of Ukraine (pictured above) held a final meeting of the PrepCom on Friday morning the 9th May. Throughout the two weeks of the PrepCom, Ambassador Yel’chenko had been trying – with increasing irritation – to get states to engage in an interactive debate. Not until this last session did the delegations reward his entreaties. The Nigerian representative’s reference to Ambassador Yel’chenko’s smooth performance being akin to how you never see a monkey sweat (because of its thick hair, apparently) was lost on most delegations, although it’s notable that the NPT Chairman does have a some luxurious locks that could just be hiding mild perspiration in the face of the task of getting a successful outcome.

The Chairman’s summary (now the Chairman’s working paper as it was not adopted by the meeting) is an attempt to reflect the main points of debate made in the two weeks of meetings. Working papers are closely read and ideas are taken from them, speeches made are listened to carefully and any suggestions are added into the pot. Of course not every small suggestion makes the cut. Much depends on how many times a point is made, how strong is the support and how contentious is the issue.

Issues such as disarmament and non-proliferation education made it up the charts (paragraph 29 out of 63 – no longer an issue relegated to an afterthought), a paragraph on the WMD Commission, the Reykjavik Revisited initiative from the Hoover Group, and reference to the environmental consequences of uranium mining all resonated in the text. Many other key issues were there and, as Chair’s texts go, it was very comprehensive; the major points made during the two weeks were there.

However, there were a couple of notable exceptions.

During the two weeks, much of the fire was fanned by the issue of what lay behind the attack by Israeli forces on a Syrian facility last September. Those of you who have yet to see the CIA footage on the Syrian facility should click here and see for yourself. In addition, the concerns over Iranian activities, the IAEA findings and the UN Security Council process, along with the E3+3 process that met in London on 2 May were cause for much debate.

Many states clearly have major concerns about Iran’s enrichment programme. However, as the US pointed out, the Chairman’s text goes easy on both Syria and Iran compared with the strength of the discussion and the content of papers during the PrepCom. In addition, the paper omits completely the charge made by the US that the DPRK was involved in the building of the Syrian facility. So DPRK gets let off the hook in that regard, as well as in others.

Dr Christopher Ford of the US delegation asked if the Chairman’s text was influenced by Iran’s intransigence last year in the 2007 Vienna PrepCom – at which all debate was held up by Iran. Was there indeed a fear that, if strong language on Iran and Syria had been included in the text, either country (or another for that matter) would hold up the adoption of the report as a whole and the PrepCom would end in disarray? Ford contended (just prior to when Syria was to take the floor) that there was no way that Syria could possibly feel hard done by the Chairman’s working paper and thus could not possibly complain about it. He added that despite US disappointment and reservations about the text, it did not intend to impede proceedings or hold the adoption of the report hostage, as had occurred last year.

In that way, I think he demonstrated that often those delegations that cause more fuss and are prepared to hold the meeting hostage to their demands, gain more in a meeting room than those who try to find compromise and behave well.

However, we shouldn’t lose heart. The meeting room isn’t real life. Bad behaviour in a meeting room might gain you a few negotiating score points. But, out there in the real world, such antics can attract a payback. As long-term readers of this blog well know, Tit for Tat is a game often played for real.

This is a guest blog by Dr Patricia Lewis, UNIDIR Director. Patricia’s other blogs on the NPT can be located by typing ‘NPT’ into the search box at right.


Statements and other documents from the NPT PrepCom can be found at its official website here. As of posting, the Syrian and UK ‘right of reply’ statements were not available.

Rebecca Johnson of the Acronym Institute has been providing ongoing analysis of the NPT Prepcom on the Acronym's website here.

Picture of Ambassador Yel'chenko is from the NPT PrepCom site.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

"How arms control's past shapes its future"

Some of us took a break yesterday from the grind of the second week of the NPT PrepCom to attend a Geneva Forum brown bag lunch featuring University of Michigan historian of science Dr Susan Wright.

Susan spoke about some of her recent research, around the topic "how arms control's past shapes its future: biological disarmament as a case study". Originally trained as a natural scientist, Susan has done a great deal of research in American and British archives on how the process that led to the 1972 Bacteriological and Toxin Weapons Convention emerged - the BTWC, usually known as the Biological Weapons Convention.

The escalating nuclear arms race after World War Two had led, by the late 1960s, to schools of strategic analysis in both Britain and the US concerning arms control that viewed war as a recurrent but inevitable tragedy. This epistemic community's views were well represented by both the work of economist Thomas Schelling ('Strategy and Arms Control) and Aussie-Brit political scientist Hedley Bull's 'The Control of the Arms Race', both published in 1961. Using differing frameworks, these two reached similar conclusions - in the Cold War context, strategic stability rather than disarmament was the dominant concern. Moreover, like war, arms control was about seeking strategic advantage, according to Susan.

This concept of arms control came to dominate US official thinking during the 1960s, and was a major thread in British officialdom too. Although an Australian by birth, Hedley Bull was - remarkably - invited to head its arms control office in 1965, which he did for two years and produced a number of influential internal government reports. Moreover, Wright's archival research exposed the considerable extent of the classified work Bull did for the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office, something not generally known before.

One of Bull's special reports focused on chemical and biological weapons (CBW). At that time, the US was using chemical agents on an increasing scale in South East Asia, including riot control agents like CS gas as well as BZ agent and chemical defoliants. Many countries, including the UK and US, had active germ warfare programmes, not to mention those of the Warsaw Pact.

Against the backdrop of a burgeoning domestic nuclear disarmament movement in Britain and internal government concern about the potential harm to the UK of retaliation for allied CBW use, Bull suggested to the Labour Government that biological weapons weren't really useful. This kicked off a long internal policy debate, which eventually resulted in a UK proposal to the 18-nation Committee on Disarmament in Geneva (a precursor of the Conference on Disarmament) late that decade after much departmental in-fighting, and initial reluctance by Britain's key ally, the US.

In Susan's view, the UK's initiative to ban biological weapons was the product of its national strategic goals, rather than the pursuit of a particular disarmament paradigm. The UK government figured it and others could renounce BW without changing the balance of power with the Warsaw Pact - in fact, it would place more weight on nukes. The UK proposal (and, eventually, the BTWC agreed in 1972) didn't address chemical weapons, which at the time were viewed as the greater menace - a point the Soviet Union and Non-Aligned states were quick to point out. And, neither the UK proposal nor the eventual BTWC provided for a verification regime. The public rationale was that the Warsaw Pact wouldn't buy it. But Susan's archival research indicates, she said, that both the UK and US recognized it wasn't in their strategic interests either in case there were secret activities they had that they would prefer remained that way, alongside concerns about protecting proprietary commercial information.

In other words, the eventual BTWC's flaws weren't there by accident. And, on verification, the BTWC - and the world - are still living with this decision, as the Convention still lacks such a regime a generation later. In the NPT context, it is still painfully clear that many states use the language of disarmament while still in the mindset of strategic stability or advantage in the narrow sense. On the plus side, there is now the Chemical Weapons Convention, which is non-discriminatory and has a strong and comprehensive verification system.

The disarmament community's achievements shouldn't be underrated, but sometimes there is a tendency to impute motives to those involved in past initiatives that don't necessarily reflect what was going on behind the scenes. What people say in public doesn't necessarily reflect what they're actually thinking. Susan's research demonstrates the importance of viewing the past with a critical eye.

Just as importantly for those who feel overawed or discouraged about difficulties in current disarmament efforts, it shows that we stand on the shoulders of human beings, rather than mythical giants.

John Borrie

Image by judy_breck retrieved from Flickr.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

NPT: Right of reply?

This week, the second preparatory meeting for the 2010 review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) got off to a smooth start in Geneva, although following on from a pretty rocky PrepCom in Vienna last year.

Perhaps the start was a little too smooth considering the release of information last week from the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on the Israeli destruction of a Syrian facility last year. The CIA has identified, for public display, the facility as having been a secret reactor similar to those built most recently by North Korea. Not unnaturally, a number of states referred to the CIA disclosures expressing concern and requesting clarification. Syria responded with a “Right of Reply” statement at the end of the day in which it denounced the CIA’s allegations as lies and falsehoods.

On Tuesday, Iran went on the “full spectrum compliance” attack. Singling out The USA, France and the UK, Iran accused “certain nuclear weapons states” as being in non-compliance with their obligations particularly with the provisions of Articles I, IV and VI of the NPT. These three articles form the three “pillars” of the NPT and so, said Iran, the future of the Treaty has thus been put at stake. France in particular was a focus of Iran’s concerns quoting President Sarkozy when he reiterated that France’s nuclear forces are a key element in European security. Iran accused France of manipulating intelligence and creating fear in order to promote programmes that the French people would not otherwise support.

The UK’s decision to go ahead with the next generation of the Trident submarine was mischaracterized by Iran, which cast it as in contravention of Article VI of the NPT and setting back global efforts to bolster nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

Well, the UK was not going to sit back and take this on the chin, particularly given the country’s new push on nuclear disarmament and the joint disarmament laboratory initiative with Norway, announced in Geneva a few weeks ago. And so a right of reply was duly sought and delivered.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the first day was not in the Palais des Nations but over the road at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy at a meeting marking the 40th anniversary of the NPT. Thanks to an excellent group of speakers, this seminar in gave shape to the real discussions around the NPT – or rather the real discussions that ought to be happening in the NPT. As Professor William Potter of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS) put it:

“I am not sanguine about the state of the NPT. In part, this perspective is shaped by the surreal quality of the debates that too often characterize the NPT Review Process, as well as the complacency I observe about pressing nuclear dangers. More often than not, for example, the core nuclear proliferation and disarmament challenges are neglected while we haggle over procedural issues. In this regard, we are too inclined to define "success" of an NPT Prep Com as the avoidance of major disputes even if that means shunting aside the most serious proliferation challenges we face and embracing a lowest common denominator approach. To do so may allow ambassadors from Geneva to pass along the problem to their successors at the next PrepCom or Review Conference. That approach, however, also runs the very real risk of making the NPT review process irrelevant. I believe very strongly that if we continue to conduct business as usual and fail to agree on meaningful recommendations to the 2010 Review Conference, these is a real possibility that a number of states will conclude that the 1995 package of decisions and one resolution is no longer viable or worth defending.”
I share this view. More on the NPT later.

This is a guest blog by Dr Patricia Lewis, UNIDIR Director. Patricia’s blogs on the first NPT PrepCom in Vienna in May 2007 can be located by typing ‘NPT’ into the search box at right. Photo of NPT meeting chamber by John Borrie.


Statements and other documents from the NPT PrepCom can be found at its official website here. As of posting, the Syrian and UK ‘right of reply’ statements were not available.