Disarmament Insight


Thursday, 12 February 2009

CCW: From pause to play?

Next week, the big bag of diplomatic hurt the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) process on cluster munitions seems to have become will resume again in Geneva, for the first of what might be two sessions to see if something can be salvaged from last year's fraught efforts to "negotiate a proposal" on restrictions or prohibitions on the weapon.

At the end of 2008, Argentina bravely stepped up to the plate to chair the CCW's Group of Governmental Expert (GGE) sessions in February and (optionally) April 2009, and to try to fashion a consensus in that timeframe. This week, the incoming Argentinian Chair, Mr. Gustavo Ainchil, shared his views in consultations with states and others here in Geneva about how he intends to proceed.

In sum:

  • - Next week's agenda remains the same as the previous Group of Governmental Experts' meeting in November 2008;
  • - The Friends of the Chair (FoC) on various issues have been re-confirmed in their roles for next week's session, although the Japanese FoC (who was dealing with thorny international humanitarian law questions) has departed;
  • - The Argentinian Chair will not present any new papers before next week's meeting starts.
In effect, next week's GGE presses the play button after a three-month pause. Will the message on the tape now sound sweeter, or will it self-destruct? Mr. Ainchil's task of consultation to identify where some forward progress might be achieved on the contentious issues in the paper put forward by the 2008 GGE Chair, Ambassador Wigotski of Denmark (which was one basis for last November's talks and which looks set to continue for now) will not be easy.

The Argentinian Chair also stressed that he doesn't want to re-open issues for which he already considers there is consensus, preferring to focus only on contentious ones. But such delineations may not be easy to maintain in view of the nature of these negotiations in which "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed". He looks willing to take a shot at trying his hand at some compromise text, in any case.

So, we'll see what happens. Personally, I'm not hopeful anything will be achieved, especially as the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) has now been signed by 95 countries and the tactical importance of negotiating work in the CCW may have passed, both for those strongly supportive of the new CCM, as well as those unfriendly toward it.

But, of course I've been proven wrong before. Nevertheless, it's a pretty safe bet that if clear evidence of a consensus doesn't emerge in the course of next week's CCW GGE, the likelihood of a new, sixth CCW protocol on cluster munitions will be considerably diminished.

John Borrie

Image of 'Tape' by Ronald K, sourced from Flickr.


Anonymous said...

well, I hope it won't self-destruct while I'm in the room...!

Jeff Abramson said...

I, too, am skeptical that something will be achieved, but if the CCW could create a protocol close to the CCM, then getting those countries onboard who have opted out of the CCM would be meaningful... I guess that's why we're still paying attention.

On the U.S. front, 67 organizations sent a letter to the Obama administration asking them to review U.S. policy. Also, the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protect Act was reintroduced yesterday. In the House it is bill number H.R. 981. In the Senate it is bill number S. 416. See some info here.

Disarmament Insight said...

I don't think, unfortunately, there's any prospect of the CCW creating "a protocol close to the CCM". For example, Russia is very reluctant to consider any measures in the ballpark of the CCM.