Disarmament Insight


Monday, 15 December 2008

2008: What a year!

2008 is drawing to an end. If you're concerned about the humanitarian effects of cluster munitions or you've just been a Democratic Presidential candidate in the United States it's been a pretty good year, but not so if you run a large car manufacturing company, or a bank, or indeed just have a mortgage. Indeed, the Roaring Naughties are well and truly over - with human security implications down the line I'm sure no-one can fathom yet, although already it looks like around a billion people will go hungry in coming months because of rises in food prices, the majority of them in the developing world. Why are people still going hungry in this day and age? Where have our priorities been?

In Geneva we've had a snowy cold snap in the last little while, so while the global financial meltdown continues we can at least snowboard while Rome burns, and watch the newly-bankrupted mega-rich huddle in their fur coats and Jimmy Choo shoes on the rue du Rhone around the Porsche Cayennes they've torched to keep warm.

Just kidding. But the festive season is coming, and so it's time for Disarmament Insight to sign off until January. Below we continue our long-standing tradition (well, okay, the one we started last year) of looking back at some of our main blogging themes of 2008.

It's hard to believe that this time a year ago the Vienna Conference of the Oslo process on cluster munitions was underway. Twelve months on and the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) is a reality after a tough meeting in Wellington, New Zealand in February, and the negotiations themselves over two weeks in May in Dublin, Ireland, not to mention a huge amount of effort from so many people over the last several years. It's been truly inspiring to participate in the Oslo process, and the week before last 94 states signed the treaty in Oslo, Norway, which just capped it all off. Disarmament as humanitarian action, indeed.

Things haven't gone so well in the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) talks in Geneva, which underwent something of a crisis in November as the Danish Chair's attempt to push through a protocol based on his draft text were rebuffed by a group of 26 states. A rather nasty blame game ensued, but the CCW managed to agree to come back for a week or two in the first part of 2009 to have another shot at trying to achieve something acceptable both to those cluster munition user/possessor states who shunned the Oslo process, and the majority of the CCW's membership that support the CCM. With the best will in the world, the CCW will have its work cut out for it in the New Year.

There was an extremely important domestic election for world politics in November. Yes, that's right, Helen Clark's Labour Government in New Zealand were voted out in favour of the centre-right National Party. Oh, yes, and there was that other election...of that Obama guy. Currently the arms control world - particularly inside the Washington beltway - is rife with speculation about what Obama's administration will do after taking up the reins of power in January '09 on nuclear weapons. President Obama pushing for successful U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty would be a great start it seems to me: it may not bring the treaty negotiated more than a decade ago into force thanks to the CTBT's international entry-into-force formula, but it would send a very positive signal and further embed the emerging global norm against nuclear testing.

And some leadership and clear momentum is needed right now on nuclear issues, especially if the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) 2010 review conference is to be a success. Issues over Iran and compliance continue to dominate its preparatory process, of course. But more generally there is the sense around that we may be on the cusp of something hopeful with respect to nuclear disarmament. While the last two decades have seen too many missed opportunities for the world to move closer to nuclear abolition, the next couple of years hold considerable promise if some of the new ideas and new coalitions that have emerged over the last year or two are taken up by states and Iran's alleged NPT non-compliance is substantively addressed. Meanwhile, paralysis in the Conference on Disarmament continues.

The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) initiative is evolving too, and an Open-Ended Working Group will meet in 2009. An ATT resolution in the UN General Assembly late this year was opposed by only two countries - the U.S. and Zimbabwe . The prospect of a negotiating process on an ATT seems tantalisingly close...

2008 was also a significant year for work on curbing the effects of small arms and gun violence. In July, Patrick Mc Carthy wrote that the UN small arms process is "back on track" in its implementation of the 2001 Programme of Action following difficulties in 2006 that prevented assessment of the PoA's overall impact and strengthening of implementation. Despite opposition from Iran and Zimbabwe, the 2008 Biennial Meeting of States in New York adopted a substantive and forward-looking final document.

We've had a bunch of other interesting posts on this blog covering all sorts of issues, from piracy to the Mine Ban Treaty to expertise in mediation and negotiation with respect to Zimbabwe, biological weapons and even why the Arcade Fire and Duran Duran are like the Oslo process and CCW. We've also had the odd book review, which have prompted some spin-off blogs.

Meanwhile, we've been very fortunate on the Disarmament as Humanitarian Action project at UNIDIR to have had two sterling Visiting Fellows this year, who've provided welcome intellectual argument, lots of coffee and prolific blogs. Maya Brehm came from Copenhagen University for three months and never left, which worked out very nicely for us. Our other visiting fellow, Rocky Horror Picture Show fan Virgil Wiebe, helped us to keep track of the CCW, but finally had to return with his family to tropical Minneapolis at the end of November. Ferney-Voltaire will never be the same again... We've seen some other departures too, with Patricia Lewis leaving UNIDIR and taking up a new role as Deputy Director and Scientist-in-Residence at the Monterey Institute. And Patrick Mc Carthy moved to a new role with UNDP from October concerning the Coordinating Action on Small Arms (CASA). His successor as Geneva Forum Network Coordinator, Silvia Cattaneo, has now come on board, so welcome Silvia, and good luck Patrick!

As 2008 ends, so too the Disarmament as Humanitarian Action project draws to a close after five years of research and outreach, four volumes of published work (our final volume will be out very shortly) and numerous articles, meetings and, of course, blog posts. A big thank you is due to our principal donor, the Government of Norway, as well as to the Netherlands along with all of those people who've helped us with input and support along the way (not least our guest bloggers).

However, this is not really the end of DHA. The Disarmament Insight blog will continue in the New Year, and we might run further meetings along the lines of the five symposia we've held with our partner the Geneva Forum, which have been very successful and culminated in our November residential seminar in Glion. And, Maya and I have been carrying out research since March of this year on a spin-off DHA project to research an analytical history of international efforts to address the humanitarian impacts of cluster munitions, to be published in late 2009. The CCM and the Mine Ban Treaty's implementation have shown that humanitarian disarmament is alive and well.

So, it's busy, busy, busy. I hope everyone who reads our blog has a wonderful festive season. Keep reading Disarmament Insight and commenting on it: we'll be back in the New Year.

John Borrie

Picture by John Borrie. We're tired out pussycats too.