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19 May 2005, No. 14

The Conference that cried wolf
Rhianna Tyson | WILPF


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It’s official: the Main Committees will begin their work today, on the fourteenth day of this Review Conference.

At the close of the afternoon session on Wednesday, President Duarte announced the adoption of his proposal, CRP.3, declaring that “substantive work will be done as of tomorrow morning in the Main Committees.”

Or will it?

Over the past few weeks, it had seemed that agreement to begin substantive work was just around the corner, right after the last remaining procedural issue was settled. Yet every time this “remaining” procedural issue was settled, another, equally divisive- and equally arcane- procedural disagreement arose. As one delegate sadly admitted, “Every day I leave here feeling optimistic, like tomorrow we’ll get down to work. Then, every morning, when I hear about the newest disagreement, I’m depressed and pessimistic all over again.”

There’s only so many times that one can keep one’s hope alive on a promise of work, a promise that never seems to materialize.

Why then, should we muster up any optimism for this “success”, (upon which, the president declared, “all of us are to be congratulated,”) since, once again, “remaining” procedural issues, well, remain?

The President left it up to the Main Committees themselves to hash out the allocation of time, a precious commodity for this Conference since so much of it has been wasted over three weeks of procedural wrangling. In 2000, for instance, there were 11 meetings of each Main Committee, with 4 meetings for their respective subsidiary body. By this point, however, each Main Committee (MC) is left only with 6 possible sessions, leaving only 2 meetings for its subsidiary body, if they are to follow the same ratio of the past.

The Conference did, however, settle another procedural issue on Wednesday- the election of the Chairs for these infamous subsidiary bodies. At first, there was a proposal for the Netherlands to chair MC I, Spain to chair MC II and Chile to chair MC III. Not quite satisfied with this regional composition, the Non-Aligned rejected the appointment of a NATO member to chair MC I, and successfully lobbied to replace him/her with a member of the New Agenda Coalition.

So yes, it is true that the Committees will convene today, starting with MC I in Conference Room 3 and MC II in Conference Room 4. Yes, it is true that the deadline for the Committees to submit their reports to the Drafting Committee has been extended until Wednesday. Yes, it is true that some States parties have demonstrated their commitment to this Conference by concurrently wrestling, over the past two days, with procedure while engaging in substantive work.

But by this time, the potential of the Main Committees seems to have lost some of its appeal. There is still the General Debate of each MC to get through. There still remains the obstinacy of the US against making any progress on key issues such as negative security assurances, irreversibility and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Maybe we’re all just worn down from the past three weeks of inter- and intra-regional arguing. Maybe our brains are just too tired from trying to follow the ping pong blame game of the procedural squabbling. Or maybe, the way we would dismiss the boy who cried wolf one time too many, we find it hard to believe that the Committees, long overdue in their work, will truly produce some sort of result that will effectively strengthen the disarmament and nonproliferation regime.

Perhaps, however, we will be pleasantly surprised. The wolf, after all, did eventually come, even if the villagers were too tired to believe the warning calls.

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