Disarmament Insight


Thursday, 14 May 2009

Not so apocalyptic

'Where's Obama when you need him?'

It's hard not to feel a little bit like Cinderella at the moment as I plug away on completing a manuscript of a history of the Oslo process on cluster munitions, which is due to be published later this year by the United Nations. As I stare bleary-eyed and punch drunk at my computer screen, interesting developments for disarmament are happening on a couple of different fronts, one being the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Since he assumed office, there has been great optimism among many pundits (and a certain amount of dismay among some of the conservative Gaffney-types) that U.S. President Barack Obama would assume a much greater leadership role than the previous Bush administration on efforts at the multilateral level toward nuclear disarmament.

Obama seems to have become president in the middle of something of a 'perfect storm' - with a global financial crisis (including the near bankruptcy of huge American carmakers GM and Chrysler), a deteriorating security picture in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the ongoing Iranian and North Korean nuclear sagas and even a swine flu pandemic outbreak. Obama versus the four horseman of the apocalypse it would seem. So one might be forgiven for thinking that the Obama administration might put good intentions about nuclear leadership on the back burner.

And talk is cheap. The truth is, that until the NPT Preparatory Meeting that began at the beginning of last week in New York, no-one outside the U.S. government really knew what kind of tone the new administration would try to set, especially as its ambassadorship to the Conference on Disarmament has been empty, and it has generally kept pretty quiet in Geneva so far this year.

I attended parts of last year's second Preparatory Meeting in Geneva, and to be honest it was a bit of a depressing spectacle. Nevertheless, but for infernal book writing I would love to have gone to New York this May to see if the atmosphere has changed. By various accounts, the U.S. delegation, led by Rose Gottemoeller, seems to have set a very positive tone, reading a message from President Obama to the meeting, and delivering an assessment of the U.S.'s basic positions on the disarmament, non-proliferation and nuclear energy pillars ot the NPT.

From time to time, I've been reading Ray Acheson of Reaching Critical Will's very useful blog following the course of the NPT meeting, which said this about Gottemoeller's statement:
"She reaffirmed that the U.S would seek ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and negotiations on a Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty. Most importantly, she reaffirmed the decision to extend the NPT in 1995 and decision made at the 1995 and 2000 Review Conferences, including the 1995 Middle East resolution."
Good one. Nevertheless, theNPT Preparatory Meeting hasn't finished yet, and Acheson noted that it remains unclear whether it will be able to agree draft recommendations by the end of the week:
"The amount of time remaining could possibly allow for a second revised document to be offered Thursday afternoon, giving the PrepCom a last chance to adopt it Friday afternoon. However, if the Committee cannot agree to adopt the revised document on Thursday, it is likely that the Chair will have to forward it to the RevCon as a working paper, despite his aversion to such a solution."
Reaching Critical Will (which is a project of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom) also did great work in reporting on the Oslo process, which delivered the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) last May in Dublin, and which we also covered extensively on this blog. There are positive developments on the CCM front too.

The CCM needs 30 ratifications to enter into force. 94 states signed the treaty in Oslo last December, and now the count stands at 96 with seven (Austria, The Holy See, Ireland, The Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Mexico, Norway and Sierra Leone) having ratified. This is actually pretty good going, given the challenges involved in national legislation processes. It now looks like two pretty big countries - Germany and Japan - are likely to ratify by the end of May. This is great news, as is Germany's commitment to hosting a conference on cluster munition stockpile destruction issues in Berlin in June. And ratification is in the pipeline for a bunch of others, with results starting to emerge before the summer recess.

It means we could be looking at international entry into force of the CCM sometime in early 2010, all going well. Lao PDR (the most cluster munition affected country - bombed to smithereens in a secret U.S. bombing campaign in the 1960s and early 1970s) has offered to host the CCM's first meeting of states parties, which underlines the commitment of affected countries to the treaty. I believe planning for the meeting has (wisely) already started.

Under the Bush administration, the U.S. shunned the Oslo process, although American legislators like Leahy and Feinstein have been very supportive of it. It'd be great to see some of Obama's magic bridge-building in the context of the the CCM too.

John Borrie

Picture credit: Albrecht Dürer's The Revelation of St John: The Four Riders of the Apocalypse, 1497-98, Woodcut, 39 x 28 cm, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe. Image downloaded from Wikipedia.


Thomas Nash said...

Nice one John! If only Obama could send a message to the CCW MSP in November - we could give him some pointers...