Follow-up mechanisms for the UNPoA

March 20 2012, 7:03 PM  by Ray Acheson

Tuesday afternoon’s discussion at the UN Programme of Action (UNPoA) preparatory committee (PrepCom) focused on follow-up mechanisms to the Second Review Conference, to be held later in 2012. At stake is the effective implementation of the UNPoA and theInternational Tracing Instrument (ITI); many states are keen to develop a six-year implementation plan leading up to the 2018 Review Conference in order to seize key opportunities and tackle key challenges in making sure the UNPoA achieves its objectives. However, as dialogue continued throughout the afternoon, it became clear that at least a few states are hesitant to consider new formulas for moving ahead, arguing that any new mechanisms for implementation would be outside the scope or mandate of the original UNPoA.

by Ray Acheson, Reaching Critical Will of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

The debate began with the Japanese delegation’s non-paper on follow-up mechanisms. In order to make further progress in implementing the UNPoA, Japan is calling for a basic programme for the next round of intersessional meetings leading up to the Third Review Conference in 2018. In order to do this, the non-paper says, states will need to prioritize the issues they wish to address over the next six years. Japan’s suggestions include stockpile management and reporting though the paper also lists the manufacture of small arms, public awareness, and DDR programmes as other possibilities.

Furthermore, the paper outlines possible structures and fora for meeting. Should the Biennial Meeting of States (BMS) continue? Should more Meetings of Government Experts (MGEs) be incorporated? Would a Group of Government Experts (GGE) be of any value?

Japan’s non-paper proposes four possible options, though in its statement on Tuesday afternoon the Japanese delegation made it clear that this is not an exhaustive list. Its preference is that during the next review cycle, states convene an MGE on stockpile management and destruction; a GGE on developing a reporting template; an MGE on a second issue; and then a PrepCom and Review Conference.

Overall, Japan’s non-paper received wide support. In terms of process, many delegations, including Belize, the European Union, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Switzerland indicated their interest in having MGEs worked into the next review cycle. The Cuban delegation expressed support for MGEs with clearly defined mandates. The Italian delegation said it would support further MGEs provided they are able to give added value to the process. India’s delegation said it can agree in principle to MGEs, which have the advantage of being open-ended and inclusive as compared with GGEs. However, the Indian delegation also emphasized that the BMS format should be preserved. The US delegation said it would prefer that the BMS bring together technical experts and practitioners to exchange best practices. The Egyptian delegation argued that the BMS process cannot be replaced by other meetings.

Regardless of the types of meetings, Belize, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, and other delegations issued support for developing some sort of structured approach to the next review cycle. Swiss Ambassador Fasel argued, “The creation of a structured, predictable inter-sessional meeting programme would help promote continuity and complementarity amongst the meetings of the PoA. We believe this would provide a pragmatic and operationally-driven mechanism through which to strengthen PoA follow-up.”

Other delegations, such as Italy and the United States, cautioned delegates to avoid holding “meetings for the sake of meetings”. The US delegation said adding more meetings is not the solution to overcoming an unsatisfactory meeting; the solution is to “fix” what went wrong. The Cuban delegation said increasing the number of meetings per review cycle is unnecessary. Pakistan’s delegation said it sees value in planning in advance but that a multiplicity of meetings will not necessarily advance UNPoA objectives or its implementation. It voiced preference for adherence to the follow-up mechanism as set out in UNPoA as written.

Several delegations, including the European Union, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands, called for the Review Conference to agree on benchmarks or indicators for success. The EU suggested the Conference to agree on an implementation action plan for the next review cycle that includes concrete objectives, activities, and performance indicators. Pakistan’s delegation, on the other hand, argued that “statistical models” for implementation would not be useful and that implementation is a long-term goal that requires political will, adequate resources, and patience.

The European Union, France, Germany, and the Netherlands also highlighted the need for self-assessment and peer-review mechanisms in order to determine the progress of implementation and identify gaps and needs.

In terms of potential topics for consideration over the next review cycle, many delegations—including the European Union, France, Norway, and Sweden—issued support for the inclusion of stockpile management. Norway also suggested the implementation of the ITI, taking stock of relevant technical and scientific advances, end-user certificates, and border controls as possible topics. Mexico and Norway agreed that munitions would be an important topic for further consideration. The US delegation reiterated its opposition to ammunition being included in the UNPoA process.

Others highlighted the importance of national reporting as a future topic. Sweden’s delegation noted that reporting is not only important for transfer controls but serves more generally to build confidence among states. Japan’s delegation suggested that questions in the reporting template could be made more specific in order to assess gaps in implementation and to match potential donors and recipients. Cuba’s delegation argued that national reports should continue to be voluntary and that presentation of reports biannually would increase the number of reports and enhance their quality. It also said that standardized forms are fine but that states must have the possibility of including any information they consider relevant.

Algeria and Cuba said that enhancing international cooperation and assistance would be an important for any follow-up mechanisms to consider. The Norwegian delegation, however, described it as a cross-cutting issue.

Several delegations, including those of Algeria, Cuba, and India, cautioned that the selection of some subjects should not overshadow others and that areas selected for focus should reflect a balance of priorities among different groups and regions. Egypt’s delegation argued that any UNPoA meeting should deal with the Programme in all its aspects.

Some delegations also commented on aspects of the Chair’s indicative non-paper on follow-up mechanisms. The US delegation liked the idea of linking regional meetings with the global process, including aligning regional meetings with the UNPoA six-year cycle. The Cuban delegation said it does not object to early identification of thematic items for consideration at the BMS or MGEs as long as states have enough time to convene broad consultations and the items reflect shared priorities. The Mexican delegation agreed with taking into account regional meeting contributions to avoid duplication and capitalize on specificities of each meeting.

A debate broke out after Venezuela’s intervention, in which the delegate cautioned against going “beyond the scope of the UNPoA”. The Venezuelan delegation expressed its concern that by trying to pursue “new” commitments, states will fail to implement actions to which they are already committed. It also suggested that some countries are shifting the goal posts of implementation and asked, if some states keep trying to change UNPoA, how are we expected to fulfill new requirements and demands?

Several delegations responded to these comments. New Zealand’s delegate acknowledged the concerns of some states about making changes to review cycle, noting that the case for changes will need to be made clearly and convincingly. However, he also argued that the history of the UNPoA is one of evolution, pointing out that significant changes have already been made within the process since 2001. New Zealand believes further refinements are possible and desirable in order to focus the UNPoA more sharply on addressing key opportunities and challenges and emphasized that changes to the review process would not be a change to the UNPoA’s mandate but to its tools to ensure its implementation. The Mexican and Norwegian delegations agreed with New Zealand that delegations need to remain open-minded in pursing new formulations to enhance the implementation of the UNPoA.

From a civil society perspective, fine-tuning a process in order to make it more responsive to reality on the ground is part and parcel of developing any instrument, agreement, or norm. Flexibility is always necessary in any arrangement that requires long-term implementation. So are benchmarks and indicators of implementation—in the realm of nuclear disarmament we have seen how the absence of concrete timelines and benchmarks have led to the disregard of disarmament obligations; hopefully we can avoid similar problems in the small arms field. Indeed, we look forward to a fruitful discussion during the rest of the week and at the Review Conference as delegations assess and determine the optimal way to move forward, now that we have more than a decade of experience working with the UNPoA behind us.