Text Message: The BMS Draws to a Close

23 Jun

Editor’s Note:   This essay was one of GAPW’s contributions to the Small Arms Monitor organized by Reaching Critical Will. Access to all essays and all monitors is available at:  
http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/disarmament-fora/salw/2014/sam

Thanks to determined leadership by Ambassador Tanin (Afghanistan) and the Bureau of the Fifth Biennial Meeting of States (BMS), as well as the willingness of states to ‘walk away’ from some Programme of Action on Small Arms (PoA)-related policies dear to their hearts, consensus on a BMS outcome document was reached at around 5PM last Friday.

While we tend not to regard textual consensus as major feature inspiring implementation of PoA objectives, it was nevertheless heartening to see this fine group of diplomats come away with an outcome worthy of applause.  As GAPW has noted from the beginning, as much as diplomats seem to enjoy wrestling with and negotiating text, the purposes of the PoA are likely to be better served through an examination of successfully multi-lateral efforts already undertaken within the key activity frameworks endorsed by the PoA.  As Qatar seemed to imply on behalf of the Arab Group, the consensus sought at this BMS is as much about the value of the PoA itself as about the specifics in the outcome document. Such a document has uses as a window on state priorities, but it is unlikely in itself to force serious reassessment of or increase levels of commitment to PoA implementation.  That motivation will come from elsewhere.

Sometimes what is not said in these documents is more important that what is said.  Australia, CARICOM and others noted issues that were neglected, or omitted altogether – Security Council resolutions, security sector reform, the role of UNSCAR, border-related issues, and of perhaps greatest concern, ammunition.  In addition, there were also closing statements by Israel, Canada, the US and the EU distancing each from language linking self-determination and actions to eliminate small arms.

Nevertheless, the ‘good mood’ largely persisted in the room during the course of the week, in some cases through long meetings that challenged diplomats and civil society to forsake World Cup matches. This was both satisfying and a credit to BMS leadership, including the widely-praised Anthony Simpson.  As Venezuela noted with pleasure, ‘there is still a disarmament process which can still achieve consensus.’  Indeed, this might be the single most powerful message that this BMS sends out to a weapons-weary world.

Clearly, with or without this text, the PoA seemed destined to move forward.   States and civil society will continue to identify small arms-related security problems.   Capacity support will be solicited and offered.   We will continue to seek technology for marking, tracing and physical security of stockpiles that can stay one step ahead of those who seek to undermine its benefits.  We will continue to highlight PoA norms and face squarely the challenges (noted by Egypt, Indonesia and others) of implementation based on national and regional priorities.

And we will continue to count victims of needless gun violence; victims of small arms trafficking, of unrestricted flows of mostly second hand weapons, of arms manufacturers pushing weapons like dealers push heroin, of rabid gun lobby groups who refuse to acknowledge, as my late, gun-using father once said to his then gun-possessing sons, that gun rights are at best a relatively minor part of the myriad rights and responsibilities that make up a great country.

What this BMS made clear is that, as welcome as consensus on text is, there is only so much momentum that text alone can build.   The real momentum, the real hope for the victimized and the fearful, is in the many stories of success that the PoA has leveraged; the borders that are more secure, the streets that are safer, the gang members and insurgents who have been disarmed, the illicit ordinance that has been sent up in flames.

China warned on Friday that there is so much further we need to travel to remove the scourge of weapons-related violence.   It is through stories of progress as much as through textual norms from which the impetus to continue on this challenging and life-saving journey will come.

Dr. Robert Zuber

 

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