Disarmament Insight


Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Unacceptable Harm: Geneva launch

On Friday UNIDIR launched a new book I wrote entitled Unacceptable Harm: A History of How the Treaty to Ban Cluster Munitions Was Won at the Palais des Nations, the home of the United Nations in Geneva.

Chaired by the Norwegian Permanent Mission in Geneva, the lunchtime event featured four speakers: Dr. Gro Nystuen (Chair of the Council on Ethics for the Norwegian Government Pension Fund – Global), Richard Moyes (policy and research director at Landmine Action and co-chair of the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC)), the CMC’s Coordinator Thomas Nash, and myself. Turn-out was very good, with a full room and some interesting discussion following the presentations.

The chair of the meeting, Norwegian diplomat Hilde Skorpen, recalled the origins of the project. It grew out of a proposal I made in 2007 to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For several years, we at UNIDIR had carried out research analysing a range of negotiating processes as part of a project on Disarmament as Humanitarian Action : Making Multilateral Negotiations Work, and in the course of that work we found a lacuna in the policy and academic literature on the landmine negotiations : while some good stuff had been written about the Ottawa process, no narrative historical framework existed to tell the story of the achievement of the Mine Ban Treaty as a coherent whole – from its origins to its agreement – for a wide audience.

Memories fade quickly, and hindsight can obscure what we can learn from success and failure in multilateral negotiations. Myths can arise and take hold. This isn’t necessarily helpful when it comes to try to distill lessons learned with a view to improving the performance of multilateral negotiators. So my proposal on UNIDIR’s behalf was a simple one : shouldn’t someone try to capture what would happen on cluster munitions ; that is, if we really are to learn and so improve our performance as negotiators?

This idea must have seemed a little risky. At that stage nobody knew how the emerging Oslo process or in the CCW would turn out! To their credit the Norwegians decided to fund the project. (And then, like a good funder of such research should, they stood back to let us get on with it.)

The rest, as they say, is history. A history though that would be a larger and more complicated task than we originally envisaged in researching and writing ‘Unacceptable Harm’…

But now the book is 'out there'. Thanks to all of the speakers and those who came out for the launch on a cold, bright Geneva day. With Unacceptable Harm no longer under embargo, those readers who are on UNIDIR’s publication circulation list or those (like a considerable number of CMC campaigners) who have placed orders for the book should receive their copies through the mail before too long. In due course the book should also become available in the UN's bookshops in Geneva and New York, and eventually on Amazon.

There will be further events associated with the launch of the book in the New Year. We’re anticipating something in Oslo on 12 January and perhaps elsewhere. Read this blog for further updates.

John Borrie

Photo courtesy of Tamar Gabelnick, International Campaign to Ban Landmines.


Rae McGrath said...

In between Ethiopia and Sumatra, just got my copy of Unacceptable Harm - important book and excellently written John - it makes good reading, not a dry 'UN report', you do the subject justice. Well done, and thanks. Rae