Regional cooperation: problems and solutions

May 12 2011, 3:15 PM  by Ray Acheson
The fourth day of the Open-ended Meeting of Governmental Experts (MGE) focused on the topic of regional cooperation. Chair Jim McLay opened the discussions with an overview of the thematic paper, which poses introspective questions for member states about regional processes with regard to the 2001 UN Programme of Action (UNPoA). Member states and organizations reflected on the shortcomings, as well as successes of regional Jessica Erdman, Global Action to Prevent War

At the regional level, the 2001 UNPoA specifically calls for:

(24) the establishment of a point of contact
(25) negotiations with the goal of adopting legally binding instruments
(26) strengthening and establishing initiatives for regions affected by the transfer and manufacture of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALWs)
(27) trans-border agreements and cooperation with information-sharing, 
(28) to introduce or implement relevant laws 
(29) safe stockpile management for SALWs
(30) support for disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration programmes
(31) regions to voluntarily develop “measures” to enhance transparency

Overall, states and organizations agreed that regional and sub-regional initiatives served as complementary functions to domestic implementation and legislation. However, the effectiveness of regional organizations varied, often troubled by lack of funding and resources. The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region echoed these shortcomings, also noting that the lack of public awareness of the dangers of SALWs was a problem. Apart from funding issues for regional organizations, the importance of sovereignty was brought up by the delegation of Cuba, who pointed out that with such assistance on the part of regional organizations come without conditionality for states. The delegation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo cautioned of regional and sub-regional organizations becoming too large, to a point where they are nearly international, which would defeat the purpose of such organizations.

As in previous discussions this week, the themes of poor marking, tracing, and inconsistent record keeping were addressed by states and organizations, but on the regional level. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) noted that poor quality of reporting, due to lack of a coordinated computer system for information sharing, has led to a limited implementation of the UNPoA. Furthermore, Brazil stressed organizational and capacity building on a regional level as a way for successful implementation of the UNPoA. Coordination between regional and national actors was believed to be a complicated dance, with the obstacles of different legislation among states, lack of information-sharing, and unclear point of contacts. Offering a solution to regional coordination problems, India suggested the UN Regional Centres should play a greater role in combating illicit arms trade.

Solutions to implementation issues included a range of ideas, from the national level to external actors. Both Iran and the Central American Integration System suggested taking a holistic vision of the supply and demand system of the illicit arms trade, and to understand the root causes associated with such activities. On the other hand, Guinea and other delegations believed that using regional organizations to strengthen states’ national commissions could be a solution to the implementation gap. Australia, Benin, and CARICOM demonstrated specific examples of successful initiatives that included civil society and external actors working in tandem with states.

There was not a clear, single answer on how best to approach and solve regional coordination problems, but rather, a multitude of examples of past practices that have been successful in small parts. Demonstrating this point, the Organization of American States gave the example of their program to strengthen national capacity to mark firearms through the Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacturing and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunitions, Explosives, and Other Related Materials (CIFTA). Thus, CIFTA demonstrates a convergence of legal, regional, and national measures to combat illicit arms trade through increased capacity to mark arms.

Judging by the UNPoA 2001 criteria, regional efforts have been varied and inconsistent. Key parts of the UNPoA, such as transparency, have not yet been adequately addressed. Although examples showed successful cooperation between states, as well as regional organizations, there are still unanswered questions about the extent to which regional cooperation has been truly attempted. Examples of trans-border agreements provide positive examples of implementation of the UNPoA, but there are still a great number of capacity gaps, specifically for states that are disproportionately affected by the illicit arms trade. Without adequate funding and resources for states and organizations, as well as more coordination on the part of states through regional organizations, attempts to combat the illicit arms trade will continue to spotty at best.