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U.S. delegation to the CCW: Statement on the work of the GGE
November 13, 2008

U.S. delegation statement on the work of the GGE

Delivered by Stephen Mathias, Head of the U.S. Delegation to the
Meeting of States Parties to Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW)

Mr. Chairman, my delegation finds it deeply disappointing that a group of states has blocked progress on this important humanitarian effort because they have remained completely focused on unrealistic results here and have not worked constructively to achieve a balanced, positive result.  During the course of the negotiations these last two weeks, and in particular over the last couple of days, it has become clear that further progress in 2008is impossible given this approach by a number of delegations.

Our failure is all the more disappointing because the opportunity to agree to a protocol that would have had substantial humanitarian benefits was within our grasp.  Let me be quite precise on the substance of the benefits that we have let slip by.

  • The major users, producers, and stockpilers of cluster munitions were ready to agree to a protocol that would have required a major overhaul of the existing stocks of cluster munitions in order to meet tough new technical standards.  Last week you heard from both my delegation and the Russian delegation—arguably two of the largest stockpilers of cluster munitions—that the provisions of Article 4 would require both nations to significantly overhaul their existing stocks.
  • The Chairman’s text would have prevented the transfer of any and all cluster munitions to non-state actors.  Today, and in the foreseeable future, there is no international legal prohibition that will prevent non-state actors from acquiring or a state from transferring cluster munitions.  Non-state actors frequently ignore the IHL principles of distinction, discrimination, proportionality, and often times purposely target civilians and civilian objects. The significant humanitarian benefit of prohibiting transfers to these non-state actors has been lost.
  • Most of the current stockpiles of cluster munitions do not even have a single safeguard.  To address the existing stockpiles, the chairman’s text created restrictions during a transition period concerning use, stockpile management, and transfer of these munitions.  Left on the table was a means of realistically and constructively addressing the current stocks of cluster munitions.  The technical improvements and other restrictions outlined in the chairman’s text would have saved lives and contributed to a substantial humanitarian benefit.
  • Additionally, the approach taken in the chairman’s text established an effective balance between the national security obligations of states and the potential humanitarian impact of cluster munitions, which is precisely the objective of the framework of the CCW and exactly what our mandate demanded of us.  So, not only have we left humanitarian benefits on the table, but we have proceeded in these negotiations in a manner that impacts the credibility of the CCW framework.

It is important to recall that at the outset of these negotiations, a number of major producers, users and stockpilers of cluster munitions doubted the need for a protocol and appeared very reluctant to consider much of anything beyond non-binding best practices.  To understand how far we have come, it is very important to keep this recent history in mind and to focus on the extensive obligations on which we came close to agreeing.

I would like to express my government’s disappointment that in the end, the perfect became the enemy of the good in this process.  We left significant humanitarian benefits on the table, with a number of delegations arguing that their decision to do so was motivated solely by humanitarian concerns.

We must now turn to the question of what do we do next in the CCW on the subject of cluster munitions.   My delegation is flexible on the wording of a mandate to continue these negotiations next year.  Let’s be honest with each other —  the wording of the mandate we had this year was in no way part of the problem that led to our failure to conclude a protocol.  Accordingly, we hope that we will not spend a great deal of time today debating this issue.

Because we continue to believe that an agreement is within reach if all delegations want to achieve it, we are prepared to see the negotiations resume next year.  However, we are also very concerned about engaging in fruitless negotiations.  As of right now, it remains very unclear to us whether anything will change next year, or whether the delegations that blocked progress this year will continue to do so next year.  Accordingly, we would support a mandate to meet only once or twice next year.  If we are serious about concluding a protocol, one or two meeting are all that we will need.  One solution might be to agree to one week of additional negotiations, at the end of which the GGE could determine whether additional weeks are needed and might be fruitful.

We should emphasize one other aspect of our work next year on the issue of cluster munitions.  In order not to lose the momentum we have achieved over the last year, we feel strongly that the GGE should not start from scratch next year.  Instead, we should work on the basis of the excellent draft prepared by the Chair prior to the beginning of the session last week.  Of course, delegations will all be free to make proposals to add to this draft and the new Chair will be in a position to reflect his or her own changes to it – no one would suggest otherwise – but this draft remains the best place to start our work.

Finally, Mr. Chairman, let me conclude by offering my delegation’s sincere thanks to Ambassador Wigotski and his team for their tireless effort on this very difficult project.  It is customary for delegations to lavish praise on whoever is chairman of a multilateral negotiation at every opportunity, even where they may be working to systematically undermine the Chairman’s efforts.  However, I want to assure you that, quite apart from the usual diplomatic niceties, my delegation truly does appreciate the extraordinary efforts made by Ambassador Wigotski and his team over the last year.

Thank you.