by Dr. Robert Zuber, Global Action to Prevent War
One of the issues that will come up in the course of discussions on a final outcome document for the UN Programme of Action (PoA) Review Conference has to do with the role that might be played by Meetings of Government Experts (MGE). Many PoA delegates will recall the MGE last year which was presided over quite successfully by Ambassdor McLay of New Zealand. That meeting was one of the more satisfying in my years of experience with disarmament-related events, in part because of its focused discussion, and in part because of the skillful way in which Amb. McLay handled the room. He seemed determined to make the best possible use of the allotted time and vigorously encouraged delegate participation in all aspects of the program.
Based on that experience, the New Zealand delegation has floated a proposal to identify and build support for a preferred pattern of meetings that can both “chart a clear path” for the PoA process moving forward and build technical and political capacity for enhanced implementation. The New Zealand statement statement on this subject respectfully affirmed the need for MGEs as an important means to enhance prospects for “practical implementation”. The delegation then listed several technical concerns to be taken up by an experts group, including enhanced management of SALW stockpiles, national frameworks to address illicit brokering and strengthen the capacity and effectiveness of customs and law enforcement agencies, and designing national action plans for implementing the PoA with the support of diverse stakeholders.
It seems to Global Action to Prevent War and Armed Conflict (GAPW) that a schedule leading up to 2018 characterized by two MGE-style meetings, one in the context of a larger Biennial Meeting of States (BMS) (as seem to be inferred by the revised "implementation" paper provided by the Chair), is the best strategy for building momentum on implementation and preparing for a successful Review Conference in six year's time. Regardless of the structure of meetings finally endorsed in the outcome document for this PoA, there will be gaps in attention to implementation by the international community that will need to be filled. However, we believe that the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs regional offices; a revitalized GIS process with a renewed commitment to “matching needs and resources,” focused First Committee meetings, and regional engagements by NGOs and other stakeholders are together more than sufficient to address those gaps and ensure a robust pattern of work leading to productive expert and plenary meetings.
We are convinced that the PoA process would be enhanced by more focused attention on the technical obstacles that impact the flow and impact of national and regional implementation efforts. There is certainly a need to revitalize political will and capacity assistance in that context, but a plan featuring alternate BMS and RevCon meetings as well as the ongoing work of the First Committee and other key stakeholders should be sufficient to keep governments and other stakeholders motivated and engaged.
One issue that will inevitably come up in suggesting a format with an expanded role for MGEs has to do with the role of NGOs. The context for this issue, of course, is that most of the NGOs who gather for events such as the RevCon have greater depth of policy awareness than the specific technical expertise needed to contribute significantly to the resolution of most of the issues raised in the New Zealand statement. Also, there are some states that prefer at times to hold discussions without NGOs in the room when involving experts from capitals, and that prerogative should be respected.
Nevertheless, it would be more than appropriate for states to designate NGOs on their expert teams for MGEs, in the same way that some delegations have done at this RevCon and for the ATT negotiations. And, depending on the sites designated for MGEs, it might also be wise to enlist regional or international NGOs whose job would be to monitor meetings and share summaries of key findings with diverse stakeholders and constituencies. There are pathways for negotiating the participation of advocates without distracting from attention to complex technical tasks.
In the end, our most important task as a PoA-related community is to enhance prospects for effective implementation of PoA objectives. A rational, predictable schedule of meetings that alternately prioritizes and then binds again the political and technical aspects of PoA implementation, seems to us to be both hopeful and viable. We urge diplomats at this PoA to affirm a "clear path" of meetings that wisely balances and integrates political and technical concerns and that finds the most appropriate spaces for meaningful stakeholder engagement.