Thursday, July 5, 2012

Out of the paddock and into the sheep dip?

© Jesper Waldersten
Day Four of the Diplomatic Conference resumed after the July 4th holiday in the USA with a series of uninspiring general statements. Delegations reiterated positions that were already well known, adding little of value to the discussions. The best suggestion came late in the day from Portugal, which suggested an end to “liturgical” statements, only to be slapped down rather undiplomatically by the President.

Towards the end of the morning, the President returned to the podium to present his proposal for the Conference’s method of work. The three basic principles that would guide the work would be NAUEA (nothing’s agreed until everything’s agreed), transparency, and inclusivity. He then suggested two “Principal Committees” be established in accordance with the Rules of Procedure (Rule 46 allows for unnamed subsidiary bodies to be set up). Committee 1 would deal with the preamble, principles, goals and objectives, and criteria. Committee 2 would address scope, implementation (including cooperation and assistance), and the final provisions.

The President had not yet finished his presentation when a series of delegations asked for the floor in what appeared to outsiders as a pre-orchestrated delaying tactic. Iran sought to provoke by referring to its satisfaction at having Palestine and the Holy See as “participating states”; no one rose to the bait. It also opposed the establishment of any subsidiary body that would meet in parallel sessions with any other conference body. Algeria suggested that the President was as talented a dribbler as Lionel Messi. It claimed the Chair’s new text was inconsistent with the principles he had just espoused for the Conference and asked how delegations should deal with the earlier text. It also appealed for a single group to agree on the objectives for the treaty.

A few other no-no states (“no treaty, no way”) then took the floor one after another to support Iran’s call for no parallel meetings: Cuba (twice), Syria, Iran (again), and DPR Korea. Once again, the debate substantially ran over time so the interpreters left for lunch. The President then called time on a predictably depressing segment, agreeing to consult with concerned delegations.

The afternoon session continued with “more-of-the-same” general statements. Of note was a statement by the USA on behalf of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council that called for a simple, short, and easy-to-implement treaty that would not hinder the legitimate trade in arms or the legitimate right to self-defence. It suggested 65 ratifications was normal for such treaties (surprising given that an ATT will likely be sui generis, and that the only other comparable treaty that has such a threshold is in the disarmament field—the Chemical Weapons Convention—and let’s not forget that chemical weapons are deliberately excluded from an ATT based on the General Assembly mandate. The P5 also appeared to call for entry into force to be triggered only when the major exporters have adhered to it, but hopefully this was just misheard as this could preclude an ATT ever entering into force.

President Moritán returned at the end of the afternoon session (how the interpreters must love him) to try and force through an agreement to start consultations and formal discussions in the two parallel committees. India asked a series of pertinent questions about process, including whether the sessions would be open-ended, suggesting that delegations should “not be constrained by deadlines or headlines”. The UK intervened to describe delegations delicately as “sheep” waiting to be “released from the paddock” so they could “run uphill”. She seemed to be keen to get to the negotiating stage, which is clearly welcome and indeed long overdue. As the no-no states returned to the charge, questioning the President’s proposed method of work, Spain became the first brave delegation to refer indirectly to the four-letter “V” word, stating that it was necessary to “decide one way or the other”. A two-thirds majority is required for a vote on procedural matters, but this can occur only after all efforts to secure consensus have been exhausted. Yet some of us are mentally exhausted already, and we haven’t even started to really work.

Tomorrow we will, we hope, start to talk substance. Yet it will be the treaty goals and objectives that will be discussed, surely the most unnecessary of all the elements in the President’s Discussion Paper, as well as the (clearly far more important) issue of scope. There are rumours that many delegations preferred the Chair's July 2011 text to his July 2012 offering. (Just who did draft the latest version?) And only 96 negotiating hours to go. Out of the paddock and straight into the sheep dip?

1 comment:

  1. I like the way the report is written by describing the situation and atmosphere of the meeting. Keep up the good work.