Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Truth or consequences

by Dr. Robert Zuber, Global Action to Prevent War

The latest draft text has been picked over robustly by delegations and NGOs, some of which object to language, some to themes and concepts, and some to what they feel is a willful ‘ignoring’ of their previous suggestions.

This is clearly an anxious time for negotiations. With a few days to go, the energy of the room seems split in what we feel are understandable ways. Delegates continue to push hard to ensure that a treaty is adopted by week’s end that justifies this processes’ massive financial, political, and emotional costs. But there is also a feeling, mostly whispered in the common areas around the Vienna Lounge, that this process might be better off back in the General Assembly where the burdens of consensus will have been lifted and state ‘red lines’ become options for policy rather than potential deal breakers.

Diplomats continue to tinker with treaty text, some of the time in ways that we find worthy of support, but mostly without reference to the consequences of their positions, both in terms of conditions on the ground and in terms of prospects for surviving the week with a consensus-driven process that promises to do more good than harm on transfers. If we adopt a particular policy, what will likely be its effects in the world? How will stakeholders, from states to potential victims, be affected? Statements by some delegations, including the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), have attempted to promote clear linkages binding policy and practical consequences for communities, but this doesn’t happen often enough. Sadly, as we approach the finish line, textual suggestions are more and more abstracted from the processes and the human lives they purport to impact.

But there are also consequences of delegate objections for a consensus treaty process, and these are also being developed with little clarity or transparency. While many suggestions for amendment have been presented (as well as even more strident objections), there is little attempt to rank any of these concerns in terms of how they might impact the outcome of the negotiations. Will objections be employed as the basis to block consensus? Are objections just strong enough to cause a state to abstain once the treaty is put to a formal vote? Or are objections merely nagging concerns that will dissolve as the pressure mounts to get a treaty done?

As the sun sets on this GA mandate for formal negotiations, diplomats are urged to consider more consequence-based interventions. If suggested textual revisions cross a state redline, diplomats must be clear about the impact of their suggestions on consensus. And all delegations must be clearer to distinguish the concerns which are ‘nagging’ and those which will jeopardize their ability to formally endorse the outcome. Not all objections are equal, and objections that matter deeply at this stage should be more clearly identified so that other delegations (and Amb. Woolcott) can take urgent notice.

It may be that some delegations, through their suggestions and objections, are already positioning themselves to impact a GA-driven process if negotiations fail. If presentations are actually intended to influence the next iteration of this process rather than to improve language within the current consensus-driven process, then this ‘hedging of bets’ should be made transparent as well. We have run out of time to play this game without all cards on the table. Not just what delegations want to see in the treaty text, but the consequences of what they want on prospects for a successful outcome worthy of urgent needs and collective sacrifices.