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 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.
"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."
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.
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.