On 26 January 2016, the Mission of Norway in Geneva hosted a lunchtime discussion about the underrepresentation of developing countries in international initiatives on disarmament and the protection of civilians, and how this issue might be confronted. The meeting looked at the question of how, in turn, progressive disarmament initiatives can be strengthened through ensuring the engaged participation of a broad base of countries as well as other actors. Introduced and chaired by Cathrine Andersen, Minster-Counsellor at the Mission, and attended by representatives from twelve countries, as well as UN offices and NGOs, the event heard four presentations:

Elizabeth Minor from Article 36 presented some key findings from research on developing country participation in multilateral disarmament forums. Article 36 has analysed five years of data on the meetings of thirteen forums dealing with disarmament and weapons issues. Minor noted a general pattern that the lower a country’s income group (using OECD DAC categorisations), the less likely they were to be a member of any given treaty or process, to attend or speak at any given meeting, or to hold formal office (see below).

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Some processes performed better than others in this analysis, potentially suggesting ways of working that are more conducive to the participation of developing countries. For example, meetings of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty, Convention on Cluster Munitions, and conferences on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons showed the most equal rates of participation across country income categories, with the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and the Conference on Disarmament showing the least.

Minor also discussed the underrepresentation of women at these forums. Across the data, on average, only around a quarter of official country delegates were likely to be women at any given meeting, and less than a fifth of statements were likely to be given by a woman. Almost half of all country delegations at any meeting were likely to be composed entirely of men.

Dr John Borrie, Chief of Research at UNIDIR, presented research on the value of diversity in multilateral disarmament work. They key thesis of UNIDIR’s 2008 study on the subject is that including a diversity of perspectives in multilateral forums helps to generate more productive discussion, and so assists in solving difficult problems at the international level with respect to disarmament. Borrie noted that functional diversity – the differences in how different individuals’ thinking is informed, or their “cognitive toolboxes” – was more important than diversity in identities in producing results, but that the two can overlap somewhat. He highlighted the importance of including outside actors such as NGOs in multilateral processes to increase diversity in this regard, and so to increase the likelihood of successful outcomes.

Borrie also drew attention to the fact that the means to achieve multilateral agreement should be shaped by the goals of the process, rather than the other way round. Being tied to certain forums or rules of procedure can lead to a focus on differences in instrumental rather than fundamental preferences, which is unproductive.

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Photo: Mission of Norway in Geneva

Ahmad Arafa, Counsellor at the Mission of Lebanon in Geneva, spoke in a personal capacity about his experiences of working in multilateral disarmament forums and the issue of developing country engagement. He stated the importance of including affected states, the perspective of victims and survivors and a diversity of states in processes. He noted that affected states were often developing states, and that these states experiences and roles in conflict shaped their attitudes to disarmament initiatives and to participation. Discussing the different factors affecting developing country participation in disarmament meetings – such as resources, expertise, and the need to prioritise – he noted that the framing of weapons issues and their solutions in ethical and humanitarian terms, and in ways which show the issues to be a priority or more immediately relevant, can assist developing countries’ participation and productive engagement.

Richard Moyes of Article 36 discussed the links between disarmament and development as international agendas, noting that the effective inclusion of a greater number of developing countries in multilateral discussions would also not necessarily mean a larger number of voices in favour of disarmament, or the generation of more progressive initiatives. He commented on structures of working and means for achieving progressive goals, noting that open and enabling processes were not only more inclusive but also seen to have produced successful outcomes more effectively. Previous experiences in this regard hold lessons for current initiatives.

During the discussion, participants raised the importance for progressive initiatives of individual diplomats’  motivation, informal tracks of engagement and the involvement of developing countries in agenda-setting activities to a greater degree. The different levels of engagement experienced at different points of a treaty process (e.g. negotiations vs. subsequent meetings of states parties) were also discussed. Representatives from different countries shared their experiences of dealing with resource and capacity issues, weak institutions, small delegations and closed forums, as well as addressing women’s participation in multilateral forums. Bringing the disarmament and development agendas closer together in a way that is responsive to what is happening outside of multilateral forums and in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals was also discussed, with one participant noting that the connection is currently being made effectively with respect to the international agenda on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

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The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway has funded Article 36 to research and map participation at multilateral disarmament forums, and this discussion event will inform the final publications of this project.

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Article 36 has released two discussion paper as part of this project:

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