17 June 2014, Vol. 6, No. 2

Conditions in conflict
Dr. Robert Zuber | Global Action to Prevent War

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One of the core areas under discussion at this BMS5 concerns states’ need for capacity support in meeting their PoA implementation responsibilities.

As we have written elsewhere, capacity support is in many ways the lifeblood of the UN system. Discussions around capacity support are increasingly cognizant of the need to integrate South-South and 'triangular' cooperation between and among states into the capacity support framework, and most delegations at this BMS would enthusiastically affirm the core importance of such support. They recognize that many of the items on the BMS agenda, including stockpile management, border control, and the marking and tracing of weapons, require technical assistance that is beyond the immediate reach of many states. Without such assistance, it is highly unlikely that commitments made in the area of illicit arms will ever become commitments kept.

At this BMS5, a number of delegations are focusing, beyond capacity support itself, on addressing the 'conditions' for such support. These states claim that political 'interests' throughout the UN system can impact the fairness of responses to capacity applications. In other words, some states have (legitimate, GAPW believes) concerns that requests for capacity support too easily bend in subtle or not-so-subtle ways to the political exigencies of the larger donor states.

There is a growing ideological gap between states that would reject all 'conditions' to capacity support and states that would seek to impose a structural framework to capacity support. In GAPW's private moments, we wonder if this is entirely necessary.

While working in Harlem in the late 1980s and 1990s, a group of pastors and activists decided to file suit against banks that were deliberately 'redlining' entire neighborhoods, meaning the creation of arbitrary criteria that restricted access of local residents to capital that could help them rebuild their homes and neighborhoods. Once our suit was pursued and won, several of us applied for loans. Though the criteria issue had largely been sorted out, this was not the end of the conditions; but now they were couched specifically in the form of assurances that I could both pay off the loan and that the money loaned would be used for the purposes intended.

These two assurances might both be interpreted as 'conditions' according to the criteria applied by some delegations in the PoA, especially the second one which has more direct relevance. However, though we continued not to trust the banks fully, the condition of 'fidelity to outcome' was not a deal breaker. Indeed we felt it was of dubious benefit to impede assurances that recipients of capacity support will be accountable to the objectives that defined the application in the first place.

Certainly at the PoA level, the imposition of 'conditions' for assistance has significant abuse potential and this must be swiftly addressed in whatever form it manifests itself, including 'conditions' related to projects that turn out not to be as feasible as was initially thought or otherwise don't work out as intended. That said, it is surely not too high a bar for a state requesting assistance to be accountable to the ends for which the assistance is sought. Indeed, the 'matching needs and resources' program of UNODA implies that needs can be clarified and that appropriate capacity responses can be defined. But should it not also imply a commitment to do all we can to ensure that, for the sake of the many persons worldwide impacted by arms-related violence, PoA requests result in positive public outcomes? Thankfully, it seems that many states already see the wisdom in this.

It is important to refrain from politicizing capacity assistance. But it is also important to make the best use of scarce available resources to increase security and alleviate violence. There is no perfect system, nor is there perfect intent, but a clarification of 'conditions,' adoption of peer-reviewed implementation benchmarks and/or best practices from UNSCAR and other UN trust funds, along with persistent demands for fairness by state funding sources, can create more trustworthy conditions for what we hope will be a much more robust capacity engagement under PoA auspices.

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