Disarmament Insight


Friday, 17 April 2009

CCW cluster munitions: work without end ...

As suggested in my preceding post, although this was the last formal week of time allocated in 2009 for negotiating a proposal for a protocol on cluster munitions in the UN’s Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW)’s expert group (which had already missed its end of 2008 deadline and awarded itself two more sessions, of which this week’s was the second), its Chair came up with an effective fudge today to allow efforts to continue.

Basically, the group’s Chair, Mr. Ainchil of Argentina, told delegates that he would need more time: he would write to government shortly, he said. The upshot is that the Chair intends to hold ‘informal consultations’ later in the year – tentatively scheduled for the week of 17 to 21 August in Geneva.

The Chair then opened the floor and the Czech Republic (as European Union President), Brazil, Croatia, Japan, Canada, France, Austria, India, China, Ukraine, Switzerland, the United States, Norway, Germany, Russia, Israel, Turkey, Ecuador, Republic of Korea, Pakistan, Mexico and Cuba spoke. Some huffed and puffed about the need for flexibility (from others, mostly, of course), some tut-tutted about the weakness/rigorousness/absence/presence of specific provisions, but all assented to the further consultations.

What does this mean? It means – on the face of it – that the chances of some sort of Protocol VI on cluster munitions is increasingly likely to be presented this November at the CCW’s next meeting of State Parties.

To this end, the Chair was able to get his procedural report agreed, annexed to which is an updated ‘consolidated text’ based on his consultations bilaterally and in small groups over the course of the week. That this text has evolved further toward a final product since his last text issued in February is undisputed. But it has not grown noticeably any more robust in its provisions, and some argued that on key issues such as definitions, general prohibitions and restrictions, and articles on stockpile storage and destruction clearance, as well as rules on cluster munition transfers, the new text was a backward step.

States that have shunned the Oslo process and the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) such as Brazil, China, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia and the United States are the keenest to forge ahead. They insist that the CCM should not be the benchmark for the CCW’s efforts (certainly the strength of that Convention’s provisions make the ‘consolidated drafts’ proposals look wan indeed), and that any product of the CCW will automatically have substantial humanitarian benefit by virtue of the fact that (if they joined and applied its rather loose provisions) the protocol would apply to their large current stocks of cluster munitions. As it has argued before, the US argued that the text, if agreed, would have implications for 95 per cent of its cluster munition arsenal.

In the other corner are many countries, including many in the European Union, as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Cluster Munition Coalition who argue the CCW exercise has some way to go before it delivers real humanitarian benefit, will not conflict with the CCM’s more robust provisions or contain much in the way of meaningful prohibitions.

And, they argue their proposals to improve the text have not been reflected in the new version of the consolidated text to any great degree. Several pointed out that the emphasis on submunition reliability as a basis for acceptability in the consolidated text is based on assumptions about testing that were discredited during the course of the Oslo process, and that the Chair’s draft has little to say to address the inaccuracy of cluster munitions and the hazards that poses to civilians.

These are sound arguments, in my view. The problem for the maximalists at present is that however firmly they make their points, the psychological advantage lies with the more minimalist in the negotiation. It is easier for the Chair to believe that the latter may play procedural games to prevent an outcome too strong for their liking, rather than others blocking an agreement on the grounds that they perceive it to be weak.

John Borrie