Friday, July 6, 2012

It's not the despair, it's the hope I can't handle

© Jesper Waldersten
Day Five was another frustrating experience in the negotiations. Two parallel main committees were convened for the first time to discuss substantive issues, which represents progress of sorts, but considerable time was spent re-discussing questions of procedure. When we finally got going, it was only to listen once more to a series of restatements of national positions already exposed during the preparatory committees.

Rather bizarrely, both committees chose to use an empty Word document on large screens, presumably hoping that the blank page would inspire us out of writer's block into creating flowing prose of epic proportions. If that was the intent, sadly the reality was rather more prosaic. Committee 2, which was tasked with addressing the scope of the treaty, managed to finish the day with three words in its nascent Word file: "scope", "items", and "activities". 

Apart from that, we heard statement after statement from delegations, most reiterating that the seven categories of the UN Register of Conventional Arms plus small arms plus ammunition should be covered. One delegation even suggested that drafting of the scope could be simply "all arms except for biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons" would be the way to go. This is the common definition of such weapons. Cuba, however, questioned the desirability of such an approach. The US reiterated its opposition to the treaty covering ammunition. 

Meanwhile, Committee 1 was tasked with addressing the goals and objectives of the treaty. Quite why we need any goals and objectives in the body text remains something of a mystery, but delegations leapt into the fray with something approaching alacrity. Iran asked whether we were trying to negotiate a trade agreement, a human rights treaty, or even an environmental accord. Pakistan suggested that the development and production of arms were missing from the aims of the proposed treaty. Norway and France stated that the goals and objectives were "a given" as they were set out clearly in General Asembly resolution 64/48: the need for commonly agreed and binding international standards governing arms transfer. This and similar positions was set out by many other delegations. Interestingly, Tanzania called for supply of weapons to pirates to be cut off (they would probably not be caught by other draft provisions, at least in the President's Discussion Paper). Overall, however, it was clear, that consensus on this topic remains as elusive as ever. Surely we could just drop the whole section altogether and save us some of the heartache?

More broadly, there is no agreement on working methodology for week 2 of the diplomatic conference. Parallel sessions and NGO access are being balanced with a threat to re-open the question of the status of Palestine in the conference. Another day will probably be lost on Monday to procedural questions and more general "high-level" statements. Thirty hours gone and only ninety hours of negotiations to go. Can we still do it? As John Cleese famously said in the 1980s film Clockwise, "It's not the despair, I can handle the despair, it's the hope I can't deal with."