How close is too close?

In the past the Australian government has had an NGO representative on the delegation. In the last round of talks in Wellington the NGO’s decided that there was a distinct conflict of interest between the two. NGO’s have since pulled off the delegation. In the weeks leading up to the conference the government went shopping around looking for a new NGO delegate. The big problem here is if you are on the delegation then you are gagged from commenting on the proceedings. This greatly compromises any effectiveness you can achieve at a conference like this. All of the NGO’s approached turned down the government’s invitation until they came to World Vision and Australian Red Cross. They both took a seat with the government and have since been locked into their world. Now they have the problem of the official gag order. They can not comment on any of the delegations discussions and basically can not be that important bridge between NGO’s and governments. This also compromises them as they can only really engage with the government and not the NGO’s as they can discuss our NGO position to government but not discuss their position to us. This is certainly a one way street.

Doors open

As the first week of the conference unfolded it emerged that the Irish government has it at heart to have as open a process as possible. The initial exclusion of many from the proceedings has relaxed a bit and NGO’s can now enter most of the meetings as long as there is a seat for them. Governments with spare seats in their delegations have also helped by offering these seats up to the NGO’s. This has created a far more transparent and inclusive process for all and has assisted greatly in the NGO efforts to lobby governments. People can listen and see who makes what statement and more importantly get a feeling of the spirit that the statement was made in and then get meetings with the delegates outside of the conference hall.

As the week unfolded and countries true positions were revealed, the work on the text continued and developed. Some of the treaty articles have been developed extremely well while others are far more problematic. Victim assistance for instance has gone very well and the Australian Ambassador Caroline Millar has done great work in negotiating strong and practical provisions into the text.

Some of the more difficult issues regard transfer across sovereign territory and again definitions and interoperability. The developing text is getting better in some areas but still weak in others.

The interoperability text is ducking and weaving in many ways but still with loopholes well imbedded in the text. The most offending language that definitely opened specific doors in the treaty for coalition use has been slightly softened but in actual content you could still drop another load of cluster bombs through it.

On balance, the various provisions are tightening up which is isolating the problem points. This is positive. As this happens, this also flags the most problematic countries even farther. They are now feeling very exposed and whatever coalitions they had are now collapsing. The ‘Like Minded Group’ is turning in to the ‘Let me out of here group’.

Lobbying and this kind of results driven process has systematically dismantled opposition to this treaty and it feels like it’s within grasp.

The real problem countries to emerge are now Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom along with a few other first world belligerent countries.

Schmooz baby

One of the wonders of this diplomatic world is the never ending array of cocktail parties. For many nights in this two week process, one organisation or another have organised receptions in the evenings. These events I hate with a passion as it seems so many of these people are so removed from the reality of what they are actually here to negotiate about. It’s all very well to negotiate but it’s making a change that counts and a change based on field realities. The cocktail circuit, as repulsive as it is, is a great opportunity to lobby farther and the real advantage is many of them get quite well lubricated so their gums flap considerably more. Nothing like a pissed diplomat for a little “loose lips sinking ships.”

We all worked the crowd and even pretended that we liked a few of them and gathered a mass of intelligence. We even succeeded in bending a few wavering government ears and came away with a few more allies.

Hot and Cold

This is supposed to be a transparent process for both the NGO community and the media. There are of course times when privacy is essential but in general we should be seeing what is going on. From the difficult start regarding access for NGO’s, we have developed into a system of accessibility that is working reasonably well. We get as many seats as we can find on top of the few allocated to us by the conference organisers. The same more fluid situation can not be said for how the press is being treated.

They are having a terrible time in being allowed to film one thing one day then that same shot is banned the next. Anyone with a video camera is the most obvious target for a security service that would be more at home bouncing in a pub than the delicacies of a diplomatic conference. When one cameraman was filming general crowd shots a woman launched herself out of the masses and lunged in front of his camera saying in an aggressive manner that he couldn’t film this. Two hours earlier what he was doing was ok. This has been the tone from the security services to all of the media and now, in the second week of the negotiation, there is a tense stand off between them. Someone tries to film something, a security person hovers nearby then they turn this way or that and all hell breaks lose again. What they seem to be too stupid to realise is that this just paints Ireland as the host country as a bunch of hicks. The only damage will be done to them at an international level when many of the media organisations run the footage of them trying to mug the cameramen. This approach has not been extended to those who take a sound recorder and hold it to one of the TVs in the hall that has the conference running on it. They are ignored.

So, it seems that if you record the sound off the TV then that is ok. If you take still photos then that is ok. If you take notes of it all then that is ok but if you point a video camera in any direction then you become public enemy number one.

Now a host of Irish media jokes are circulating the security not knowing what sound recorders are and that they would never know what a note book was for as they couldn’t read one any way. It’s tit for tat. The security pushes the media and then they just push back. The only thing is that media has the ears and eyes of the world and the security doesn’t so who do you think will win this pissing match.

Day eight

The meeting has almost run its course and the final 72 hours is ahead. Day 7 ended with a long night and the president of the conference working incredibly hard to have a final text on the table by the morning. The president of the conference is called Daithi O’Ceallaigh and he has done a stunning job to try and balance all the relevant arguments and agendas to come up with a treaty that will be strong but also acceptable. No point in a weak treaty but also no point in a treaty so strong that no one will sign onto. It’s quite a tight rope act for him.

The way this all works is that there is the mass meeting that is the Committee of the Whole or as Eva calls it, the ‘COW’. This then breaks up into various working groups that take one article each and try and create text that will be workable and acceptable. The chairs of each of these working groups then digests what is said and slowly writes what will be the wording of the final treaty article. It’s reviewed then when most seem happy, or as happy as diplomats get, it’s submitted back to the president for him to turn into the president’s text. This is the treaty.

On Tuesday night, the end of day 7, the president took all work on all articles and said he would present a final text of the proposed treaty the next day. This is the moment when you hold your breath to see if the end result is good or bad.

Each of the various chairs of the article discussion meetings listens to all views and writes a text that they feel covers the meetings views and the balance of how much support there is for one feeling or another. It’s a very difficult job. What is critical is in these meetings the balance is struck by who speaks and about what. If a few very vocal countries continue to oppose something or want something inserted then this will happen if no one speaks up in opposition. It’s not just that people need to show their opposition but that many must show it as the amount who support or oppose an idea has direct bearing on the outcome. From an NGO point of view we had to have friendly governments be prepared to weigh in on our behalf and to keep the treaty text strong.

When the president took all of this away on Tuesday night it was obvious that the morning we would be very happy or in total outrage. The text he presents in the morning can be sent back to the drawing board to be re worked but there is also a lot of pressure to push through what has happened over the negotiating period.
The night came and went and Wednesday morning was a buzz in anticipation. The rumour mill was running at full speed and the appointed hour for the text was 10 am.

The Like Minded

The Like Minded group has been a loose coalition of wealthy states who want either a weak treaty or no treaty at all. They have largely been led by the delegation from Great Britain. The British ambassador takes bombast and superciliousness to new heights and he has the tone of that snobbish upper crust that gets under my skin at first syllable. It seemed like a return to the days of Empire and colony as Australia and Canada drew close to him. I though we were a reasonably self assured nation but obviously not as we were now drawn close to Downing Street for directions.

The tone from the British was one of arrogant self assuredness that knew they could bully and badger others to fall into line behind their views. They were the most outspoken in the meetings on interoperability, definitions and transition periods. They seemed prepared to wage these fight as long as a few others would fall in line behind them to lend credibility to their arguments.

Australia, Holland, Germany, Canada, Denmark and a few others were all here to erode what was to be a great and strong treaty. Their solidarity seemed a real problem for the possibility of a strong and effective treaty emerging. On the morning of May 22 The Times in London ran a front page story that the UK was reconsidering their position on cluster bombs. Gordon Brown had ordered the military to go back and have a rethink about their continued use. This sent shock waves through the conference and the so called ‘Like Minded’ group began to collapse. With the number one ally changing position then the whole argument began to fall apart.

Panicked conversations could be overheard in the hall ways as they all rang home for further instructions. The crack between them grew and grew till it became obvious that the UK back flip would have major implications.

It seems the change of position came due to direct pressure on Gordon Brown from the voting British public. The Labour Party in Britain is at an all time low in the opinion polls and Brown is not the preferred Prime Minister. Pygmies from the Amazon basin would poll higher than him at present and the general public is more than 95% in favour of a ban on cluster bombs. At this point if he went against the will of the people then he would bang a few more nails in his political coffin. It was a staggering example of the will of the people overthrowing the agenda of a government. Who said you have no power against the big end of town?

This put the ‘Like Minded’ group into a tail spin as they called home for more directions. The wall was beginning to tumble on down. It was like watching one of those game shows where they give the contestant three choices, call a friend, ask the audience or go 50/50.

The Treaty

Amb. McKay, John and.

The pressure was on as the first two days of week two came and went and the president was about to present the text so far. I feel he sensed the turmoil and made use of it by presenting a strong draft treaty. He can’t just make it up as it’s all a consultative process but what did hit the tables at 10 am on Wednesday was 95% fantastic.

Most of the treaty was never going to be controversial but the few sections that could be bad could undermine the whole thing. They were Transition periods, Definitions and Interoperability.

There were no transition periods. You sign on 100% or you don’t, up to you. You can not decide a weapon system is bad then argue that you will need it for a few more years just in case you want to use it. This was excellent news.

The actually definition of a cluster bomb was very good and would eliminate all types that have ever been used to date. There were a few things we would have rather not been in the definitions but in all it was a broad, field based, catch all definition.

The section for those injured by cluster bombs was exceptional and rose above any existing treaty to date. This was probably the single most important treaty for victims of war ever negotiated.

This left interoperability and the really bad wording was gone but the replacement text was not 100% at all. This was our last true concern. It took away the wording that directly allowed inducement and assistance but it negated the primacy of article 1 which set out the aims. This was not good.

There was a mad dash for copies of the treaty and NGO’s and governments alike scrambled to their respective corners to paw over it with a fine tooth comb. A treaty is a large document of legal speak and every word needs to be weighed to make sure as to which has primacy over what etc. Normally this would take a few days at least but we only had a few hours. The president was going to reconvene in the afternoon.

As we huddled in our various corners dissecting the text we were amazed at how strong the draft of this treaty was. I can only describe it as brave and ambitious. One article after the next was read, reread, then approved. If this actually gets up then this treaty will make a real difference for the conduct of future wars. The definition of a cluster bomb was ok and there were to be no transition periods. Victim assistance was excellent and stockpile destruction periods realistic. Article after article was all good till we were almost at the end and there was article 21. This article is a qualifier for the issue of interoperability.

Its amazing how the subtlest word can change a document and here was the catch. Paragraph one and two were ok but paragraph three was an escape clause for coalition operations.

Article 21.
Relations with States not party to this Convention
1. Each State Party shall encourage States not party to this Convention to ratify, accept, approve or accede to this Convention, with the goal of attracting the adherence of all States to this Convention.
2. Each State Party shall notify the governments of all States not party to this Convention, referred to in paragraph 3 of this Article, of its obligations under this
Convention, shall promote the norms it establishes and shall make its best efforts to discourage States not party to this Convention from using cluster munitions.
3. Notwithstanding the provisions of Article 1 of this Convention and in accordance with international law, States Parties, their military personnel or nationals, may engage in military cooperation and operations with States not party to this Convention that might engage in activities prohibited to a State Party.
4. Nothing in paragraph 3 of this Article shall authorise a State Party: (a) To develop, produce or otherwise acquire cluster munitions; (b) To itself stockpile or transfer cluster munition

Notwithstanding. What a word. It is a loophole word and allows all of the requirements of Article 1 to be broken in regards to coalition operations. There was the escape clause for the difficult countries but to be realistic, the UK and others like them would never sign this without such a clause.

Now all were faced with the dilemma of do you agree to a text with such a clause or trash the draft text and head back to the drawing board. At this point the decision is largely in the hands of the governments. Can they wear it or not. Many do look to the NGO’s for approval but the final call is theirs.

The few hours ticked by and we talked to friendly governments about the options of accepting this wording or trashing it. Reluctantly it was decided not to throw the baby out with the bath water and accept the treaty. A strong statement must be made in opposition to Article 21 but acceptance of the over all treaty was important.

1300 hrs

Wednesday at one and the conference reconvened. The floor was open for comments and we braced for the barrage of for or against. One by one the countries who wanted to make their statements did and one by one they agreed with the draft text. It was going to pass though unopposed. We even heard that the Japanese would sign as would most of the others. The participating countries finished their statements and the meeting closed till Friday for the closing ceremony.

On Friday the room was packed and the press were allowed to film inside. Comment after comment was made and all talked of the idea of compromise. No one got 100% of what they wanted but all were prepared to accept the strength of the whole for a treaty that needed to exist.

As the governments finished their statements the floor was passed to Steve Goose on behalf of us. As usual, Steve made an accurate and astute statement that boiled the treaty down to its reality. It was good, it was acceptable and it was going to work, it was a compromise. When he came to comment on article 21 he called it ‘a stain on an otherwise perfect treaty’.

The conference adjourned and the world took a small step into a slightly safer future. History was being made.

The end came short and fast and all were struck dumb by the lack of opposition. As we filed into the halls there was a sense of anti climax for many as this was the end of the road for many who had fought for this moment for so long. When you are keyed up to fight fight fight and then your opponents says ‘ok, I agree’, it’s a shock and one that takes time to sink in. There was much back slapping and hugs and we handed out a commemorative poster to all delegates.

I sat for awhile to the side and watched diplomats exit and it was interesting to sum up the ones I had got to know over the past two weeks. Most were career diplomats who were grey people with grey personalities who take the dollars and do the bidding of their governments. Then there were the others. Those who made a real difference in this negotiation process and had eloquent interventions that brought the whole process back to the human catastrophe we were there to address. The Lebanese diplomat walked out and he was one of those as was Don McKay, the New Zealand ambassador followed then by my personal hero in this process, the Norwegian ambassador Stefan Kongstad. If it wasn’t for him pushing this forward over many years then we never would have arrived here today.

There was now just clearing up. Break down the exhibitions, get rid of the Ban Bus back to the hire company and have a bloody good blow out of a party.

We all converged on a private bar and instantly cut loose. These people are some of the most inspiring you could ever hope to meet and together we made history. Along with all the campaigners from the far flung corners of the globe were a few government people who were the good guys in our eyes. All were welcome and all were making a dint in the Guinness barrel. Out from the bar comes Earl the Canadian. We grin at each other both knowing each had fought a hard fight. “To you my friend” he says. “And you mate” as I raise my glass to him. The work and political manoeuvring was now behind us. Tonight was to be a night of dancing, partying and a huge hangover for the morning. All were to be justly fulfilled and that was the treaty in the bag.