As we foreshadowed in December, 2008 is gearing up to be a busy year for disarmament in Geneva. From 21 January, the Conference on Disarmament (CD) will resume talks to try to get back to work after a decade of blockage and inertia, for instance. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will meet for the second preparatory meeting to its upcoming five-yearly review conference 2010 in Geneva from late April, after a tough start in Vienna last year . And, next week, representatives of member governments of the 1980 UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) will begin work to "negotiate a proposal to address urgently the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions, while striking a balance between military and humanitarian considerations".
So, 2008 will be busy for disarmament. The real question is - will it be productive? Though Geneva-based disarmament processes like the Biological Weapons Convention are quietly boxing on, there are some wider doubts. Officials doggedly try to be positive about the CD, and the tenor of talks there do seem to be gradually improving. But it's unclear whether anything has changed sufficiently to enable a breakthrough that would allow vital work like fissile material cut-off negotiations to get properly underway.
Dynamics also remain difficult in the NPT. Iran made it clear in last summer's PrepCom in Vienna that it would hang tough against perceived attempts to isolate or coerce it, and its position only seems to have hardened - Tehran's alleged non-compliance will continue to be a flash-point this May.
And then there is the CCW, which has become rather a grumblefest. Representatives from certain CCW states grumble about the Oslo Process, which they regard as a loopy attempt to re-create the Ottawa Process of more than a decade ago, resulting in the 1997 Mine Ban Convention. There is no need for it now that the CCW has achieved its work mandate, so the argument goes. There are jitters about what exactly banning cluster munitions that "cause unacceptable harm to civilians" will mean in the Oslo Process. And in pro-ban circles it may be possible to detect some sniffiness about the CCW, which ever so coincidentally only seemed to get its act into gear after the Oslo Process emerged in 2007.
It all reminds me a bit of being stuck at an outdoor rock festival in the rain. The clouds come over and the rain starts, and despite there being a choice of two main stages, and you're all in it together, some misery-guts starts a contagion of hand-wringing, paranoia (okay, maybe that due to something else) and tent-lurking negativity. People complain about how far they have to slog to commune with their chosen music act. People offer dire portents about the weather worsening. People, whether Deadheads or metallers, hippies or punks, even begin engaging in dumb arguments about whose artist of choice is better.
Oh puh-lease, give us all a break. The CCW and the Oslo Process shouldn't descend into a "my band is better than your band" contest. There's a place for both.
Yet both face big challenges. The CCW is Duran Duran at the moment: it was a big act in the 1980s, but has only been able to create a couple of decent albums in the 90s and the 00s. It's had ... creative difficulties. (A recent album produced by Justin Timberlake also probably didn't help its street cred.) But people who say it's a spent force are probably wrong. The difficulty to be faced though, is that some of its song-writers have had irreconcilable difficulties over a recent important creative project - "mines other than anti-personnel mines" - and producing an outcome on addressing the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions is going to have to transcend these types of dynamic if it's going to make something better than bland, over-produced mush only hard-core fans will buy. But it can do it.
The Oslo Process is the Arcade Fire. Never heard of the Arcade Fire? You will, don't worry. A big, messy, international ensemble who seemingly emerged from nowhere not long ago, and on paper at least, should never have worked. At times they resemble a misfit church orchestra crossed variously with U2, Bjork, The Beatles and Radiohead. Cripes! Yet, they've produced two amazing albums so far, and live were the best act I saw in 2007. They're young and keen and seem to lack the jaded cynicism of true rock survivors. Oh oh.
The Arcade Fire/Oslo Process juggernaut is the buzz right now. But two albums and one tour do not the pantheon make. In Wellington in February and Dublin in May, the Oslo Process must produce the goods on the big issues that will determine whether it will produce a "Sgt Peppers" or "Dark Side of the Moon" - something that's great music to many ears in addressing the humanitarian effects of cluster munitions. Exceptions to a prohibition on cluster munitions and issues surrounding military inter-operability are immediate challenges, and elegant arrangements to weave solutions regarding these need to be part of its coda.
Even if I'm a bigger fan of the The Arcade Fire right now (I think they're more likely to do exciting things) don't write off Duran Duran. Let's hope they both do good work, and as I already said you can like'em both at the same time. Just like the CCW and the Oslo Process, which are - in the words of the UN Secretary-General - "complementary and mutually reinforcing".
Music to our ears. We'll review (I mean report on) both in the course of this year. In the meantime, enough grumbling already, there's work to be done.
John Borrie likes to his listen to his music collection and invent new ways to mix metaphors badly, preferably with a Stratocaster or Les Paul in hand. He is easing very gently into another serious year of Disarmament Insight blogging.
Photo of anonymous classical rock chick courtesy of author.