Disarmament Insight


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.