26 May 2005, No. 19

The diplomatic theory of relativity
Rhianna Tyson | WILPF

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Main Committee (MC) I emerged yesterday as the strongest success story coming out of this Review Conference. With only four committee meetings and two meetings of its subsidiary body on disarmament, MC I was rife with disagreement over most all its substantive issues. By the end, it submitted only a technical report (one which confirms the number of meetings they held, when they were held, who the Chairs and participants were, etc.) with the reports from the Chair and the subsidiary body affixed as appendices to the report. (It is noted in the technical report that appendices are not agreed upon text, and will not be included in any final product as such.)

While a banal technical report void of any substantive recommendations or conclusions may not sound like success, when compared with the work of the other two committees, MC I is a resounding diplomatic triumph.

For the other two committees could not even agree to disagree. Several creative diplomatic solutions to the impasses were debated: annexes, asterisks and other innovative formulations for the disputed substantive texts. After extended debates that continued even after the interpreters left their posts, Main Committee III died without any sort of agreement. It will not even submit a technical report outlining how many meetings they held and what papers and issues they considered.

Main Committee II met a similar fate. Hotbed issues such as Iran, Israel and North Korea log-jammed the few substantive meetings that they were able to hold, and the Committee could not agree to allow Chairman Molnár to continue his search for a solution.

Main Committee I, therefore, which could at least figure out a way to submit some sort of proof of their meetings, emerges by default as the diplomatic victor of this Conference- a diplomatic theory of relativity.

The Drafting Committee convened Wednesday afternoon. One would think that without hefty pages of agreed upon text to pore over, their meeting would have been relatively short. Yet hours passed by as they argued over how to properly reference the asterisk in the agenda. Seriously.

(For those of you whose brain might have turned to mush in this labyrinth of procedural debacles, the infamous asterisk refers to the statement that President Duarte read aloud upon the belated adoption of the agenda the second week. The drafting of these dozen or so words in itself consumed a few days’ worth of debate.)

This sort of outcome may have been predicted four weeks ago, had we employed the diplomatic theory of relativity. After all, without heavy-hitting pressure for success from high-level governmental officials, without the intervention and pressure from the top echelons of the United Nations and void of substantive media coverage worthy of the NPT, the outcome (or lack thereof) of this Conference remains relative to the political capital that was put into it.

So what’s left for this procedural quagmire called a Review Conference? President Duarte still must offer his concluding remarks, which, depending on whether he chooses to offer a bland, substance-free declaration, or if he bravely issues a more controversial text, may yet salvage some sort of political weight from this Conference. Though with prospects this low, it’s all relatively speaking, of course.

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