Disarmament Insight


Thursday, 5 June 2008

Ripples from Dublin

It was a bit of an anti-climax coming back to Geneva following the historic breakthrough in Dublin last week that led to the adoption by 111 States of a new, legally-binding Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM). (This will be opened for signature in Oslo in December and will enter into force as soon as 30 States have ratified it).

After the suspense, drama, emotions and celebrations of Dublin, getting back to ‘business as usual’ in Geneva has not been easy. Not that most Geneva-based disarmament diplomats have had any choice in the matter: On Monday morning it was straight into a week of meetings of the Standing Committees of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention. After two weeks of intense negotiations on cluster munitions, a further week of implementation discussions on landmines would not seem to me to be the ideal way to wind down. But the disarmament calendar has no mercy this year it seems.

The Conference on Disarmament (CD) also continues to plod along, trying - valiantly but with ever decreasing vigour it would seem - to break its now 11-year deadlock. Observing the CD's public plenary meeting on Tuesday morning was a rather surreal experience. The room looked strangely empty (probably due to the intersessional meetings of the Mine Ban Treaty going on at the same time down the street). Although this was the first CD meeting I’d managed to get to in over a month, the tone and tenor of the statements were much the same as the last ones I had heard. Nothing’s changed. The deadlock remains.

In the middle of proceedings, the Irish representative lobbed into this stagnant pool a report of what had happened in Dublin over the previous two weeks: A new treaty banning a whole class of conventional weapons; agreed in 18 months; setting a new norm and a new standard of international humanitarian law that will protect civilians and assist victims of these weapons. The contrast exposed by this statement could not have been starker, as was recognised by the CD's current President, the UK, who said that the success of the Dublin conference "flows directly from dissatisfaction at the existing international architecture for arms control and disarmament's ability to grapple with these issues" (see the 'Reaching Critical Will' CD report of June 3).

It will be interesting to see what ripple effects, if any, the Dublin negotiations will have on other areas of disarmament and arms control, including, but not limited to, the CD. Minds are already turned to this question. In its closing statement in Dublin, for example, Norway wondered how the lessons of the Oslo Process on cluster munitions could be applied to revitalising other areas of disarmament and arms control. Many others would like to know too, and this has, of course, been the focus of research by my Disarmament Insight colleagues at UNIDIR's Disarmament as Humanitarian Action project.

As foreshadowed in our last DI post, it will be particularly interesting to see the impact that the new Convention on Cluster Munitions will have on the remaining 5 weeks of negotiations that are scheduled to take place this year in the framework of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). The CCW, as reported in previous posts, is negotiating a 'proposal' on cluster munitions intended to balance military with humanitarian concerns. Many of the States that have just adopted the new Convention banning cluster munitions are also party to the CCW. Some of the big users and producers of cluster munitions that did not participate in the Dublin negotiations - such as the US, China, Russia, India, Pakistan and Israel - are too.

This should create an interesting dynamic when the CCW meets again in July. States that were in Dublin could find themselves in the awkward position in the CCW of negotiating relatively weak provisions on cluster munitions when they have themselves already agreed to ban them. States that were not in Dublin might wonder why they are negotiating with other States that have already committed themselves to standards that are much higher than the CCW is every likely to achieve.

The question then is, does the CCW still have something to offer on cluster munitions? I think yes. The Dublin conference focused on the weapons themselves - particularly on their humanitarian impact - and banned them. The CCW, given its membership, will not achieve this and is not attempting to do so. However, the CCW could make a contribution by seeking to moderate the behaviour of States that possess cluster munitions but that have not (yet) agreed to ban them. This could include strongly urging these States never again to use cluster munitions and/or getting them to sign up to strict regulation of their (potential) use of cluster munitions in the future (although we know that any further use of these weapons will result in severe condemnation by the rest of the international community).

Any contribution that the CCW can make along these lines cannot, however, conceal the fact that almost three-fifths of UN Member States have already agreed to ban cluster munitions. The weapon is already well and truly stigmatized and it will be this that defines the debate from now on, rather than anything the CCW might be able to achieve in the time left to it this year.

As a colleague of mine asked me this week: What do you get when you take the CCW and turn it upside-down? The CCM!

Patrick Mc Carthy

Photo Credit: The Dublin Spire by IrishPics on Flickr.