Harmonizing differences and leveling the playing field

February 16 2012, 6:59 AM  by Ray Acheson

Wednesday’s discussions illustrated that many delegations are keen to address differences in opinion bearing in mind that this week represents the final opportunity to scrutinize such differences before official negotiations initiate. The Pakistani delegation made clear during Wednesday morning’s session that some delegations remain generally dissatisfied with the preparatory process and head into the July negotiations with trepidation and disappointment. The Pakistani delegate explained that although the Preparatory Committee was intended to serve as a vetting forum to harmonize differences of opinion on all aspects of the treaty’s framework, this mission has not been successfully accomplished. The delegate explained that opportunities have been lost and the July negotiating conference will now have to mend these schisms before more substantive work on treaty elements can move towards consensus, even as the issue of consensus still remains highly controversial and unresolved itself.   

by Katherine Prizeman, Global Action to Prevent War

Several delegations, including Pakistan, Syria, and Venezuela, have placed a premium on equality in all aspects of the process and have asked that a summary document of all states’ opinions be compiled to adequately address and portray the vast spectrum of positions that still remain regarding the treaty elements. The Venezuelan delegate referred to a policy of ‘no state left behind,’ such that all visions and opinions are equally addressed as well as state sovereignty rightfully protected heading into the negotiating conference. Furthermore, the Pakistani delegate expressed dissatisfaction with the reflection of states’ views in the most current Chair’s Paper from July 2011. As such, the Chair has been asked by some to provide a comprehensive report of all opinions that sufficiently underscores the variety that still exists. It seems that the desire to clearly reflect the differences in opinion is indicative of some states’ wish to make clear that there should be no illusions that the Preparatory Committee has yielded a common, universal position on any of the treaty elements or framework. These assertions also seem to indicate that some states feel this lack of harmonization will create significant challenges for the negotiating conference and will set back progress in July as this harmonization has not been settled in the PrepCom sessions.

Another important issue discussed during Wednesday’s proceedings was ‘leveling the playing field’ among delegations. Chair Ambassador Moritán referred to this issue in his opening remarks, noting that there is still the need to address the unequal capacity among delegations by finding mechanisms that ensure small delegations are on an equal footing when it comes to being informed on substance as well as procedure throughout the negotiations. This is an important undertaking for July, especially in light of the possibility of consensual decision-making, insofar as all delegations will have the responsibility to negotiate in good faith, which will require vast energy and capacity. The more capacity delegations have, the more likely informed decisions will be made and the treaty will progress in a positive direction for the majority of states. 

The discussion regarding ‘harmonizing’ differences of opinion and ‘leveling the playing field’ are broad issues that have permeated much of the ATT process to date. Some states have requested a comprehensive paper reflecting all issues addressed over the course of the four preparatory sessions that can serve as a reference document for the negotiating conference. This is often meant as an alternative to the Chair’s text—a collection of views rather than his “summary”. However, it is still unclear whether a composite could actually help reconcile views, though it could very well prove to be an interesting and helpful document. As the UK delegation pointed out earlier this week, states already had an opportunity to submit their views in writing, which were published in the UN Secretary General’s report in 2007—suggesting that delegations use this document rather than mandate the Secretariat to compile a brand new document.  It could be argued, however, that at least some state positions have surely changed over the last several years making the positions reflected in the 2007 document outdated and in need of revision.  As a general rule, it would be wise to be as clear and informed as possible regarding these divisions in the lead up to the July conference so that strategies for mending these differences in opinion can be thought about well before the start of the conference and such a summary document would be useful for strategizing and planning. The work to harmonize such opinions should not end this week when the PrepCom session concludes. 

Furthermore, the role of civil society could also be better utilized for delegations that lack personnel capacity. Non-governmental experts and practitioners could serve as beneficial sources of information on substance and procedure as well as consultants on possible scenarios forward. This strategy could be one of the mechanisms useful for filling such capacity gaps in the lead-up to and during negotiations.