4 September 2012, Vol. 5, No. 6
Dr. Robert Zuber | Global Action to Prevent War
After a long week of textual deliberations and helpful side events, and with a long holiday weekend looming, it would have been completely understandable for PoA delegates to have been a bit 'short' with each other on Friday afternoon. Instead, we were treated to a session characterized by kind and flexible discussions that were handled quite effectively by the Chair and even carried over a few minutes into vacation time.
In part due to the fact that this PoA review does not carry the weight of a treaty negotiation, such as many of us participated in just one month ago, tolerance of dissenting views during this first week has seemed quite high. There has been in evidence a spirit of problem solving during plenary meetings and in a series of helpful side events. Some delegations continue to recommend strict adherence to what they see as the original PoA intent, perhaps fearing the establishment of a precedent for change that might occur too quickly or with too little deliberation. But many others such as CARICOM are more than open to a discussion of 'emerging issues’—a 'hybrid' of formerly agreed text responding to new implementation challenges.
The main topic for Friday afternoon was how often and in what context delegations would meet under a PoA framework prior to the next Review Conference in 2018. Many delegations were mindful of what the US and others called 'meeting fatigue,' perhaps reflecting the robust rate at which the UN disarmament community meets in formal and informal sessions each year. Thankfully, there was broad (though not universal) agreement on the need to incorporate meetings of government experts (MGE) to help supply a rigorous technical lens to implementation-related problems that are largely couched in political contexts during Biennial Meetings of States (BMS) and Review Conferences. Whether MGE sessions should be authorized as stand-alone obligations or built into 'hybrid' meetings which also take up political considerations will require more discussion, as will the role of non-government experts in such discussions (a point raised with enthusiasm by Norway). Still, the interest by delegations in incorporating a process that can focus full attention on technical barriers to full PoA implementation was most welcome.
In this context, though, the delegation of Cuba offered what we believe (and many delegations seemed to believe as well) to be a necessary caution regarding efforts to advocate (as Global Action to Prevent War does) for an expanded schedule of MGEs. Participation of experts from developing countries at the first MGE was quite encouraging (as rightly noted by New Zealand) but still a bit less than optimal. This might have been a function of the 'newness' of the MDG format, or it might have been related to the level of available resources to bring experts to New York and provide adequate accommodation, etc. It might even have been a function of perceived imbalances in the levels of in-house technical expertise available to delegations, setting up the prospect of technical meetings being dominated by larger countries and the experts they bring or otherwise fund. Government experts far from New York might think twice about participation in a situation where they would feel overwhelmed and under-utilized.
Fortunately, there remains high sensitivity in the conference room to the notion that any schedule of meetings must take into account both the need for robustness on implementation and the need to ensure relatively balanced access. The UN, as we have mentioned often, can be a profoundly un-level playing field, a factor which probably contributes to more state resistance to reasonable proposals for change than we might otherwise believe. Thankfully, through the generosity of several state donors, provisions were made and commitments reiterated to help guarantee broad participation at future experts meetings.
As many delegates affirmed on Friday the PoA is an implementation-driven instrument. Frameworks have an important place, but success is ultimately a function of illicit weapons disposed, porous borders made more secure, weapons marked in ways that cannot be manipulated, etc. Diplomats can agree on a schedule of meetings and topics for deliberation that strike the balance we need to see between the political and technical dimensions of full implementation.
Thus, while this was not the intent of Friday discussions, there are actually several variants of 'hybrid' to consider as we move to the next phases of PoA implementation—not only the format of scheduled meetings, but the interplay of more traditional and emerging implementation concerns, the interplay of political and technical dimensions to full implementation, and the need to harmonize capacity support from the outside with strong policy and technical leadership from within.
It appears more and more that 'hybrids' are the key to sustainable development and fulfillment of PoA objectives.