Disarmament Insight


Thursday, 27 November 2008

The UK’s Last Word ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Megan Kinsella and Maya Brehm.

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

Photo Credit: 'Expressive Rockhopper' by man_with_noname on Flickr

Friday, 21 November 2008

Learning to adapt and succeed in disarmament as humanitarian action

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

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

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

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

John Borrie

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

Friday, 14 November 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Borrie

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


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

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

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

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

Stay Tuned in 2009 . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stopping the Clock

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

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

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

Misgivings about process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where things stood on Friday

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

Monday and Tuesday’s (Non) Developments

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

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

Signs of Hope

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

Virgil Wiebe

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

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Friday, 7 November 2008

CCW: The wailing wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Borrie

Picture of the CCW conference room by John Borrie.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

CCW: Update on 5th cluster munition GGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch this space for further updates.

John Borrie