Commendable Effort: Small Arms; Big Problems

08/08/2001
A special General Assembly meeting on small arms tried to chart a plan for international cooperation in curbing the illicit arms trade. During the first week, 143 speakers gave their views, and NGOs presented in the second week. It seemed like an exercise in for-the-record diplomacy: the expected statements were delivered to polite but subdued applause. But the media's attention was drawn to the National Rifle Association's lobbying against the conference's objectives, as well as the effective UN effort to set the record straight. DPI professionals were much needed, especially the spade work of Susan Markham, chief of the issues (she doubles as a spokesperson to the General Assembly President), and the team of Mikhail Seliankin and Yesuhiro Ueki , under the general supervision of Director Therese Gestaut.

The session was the first major gathering, at headquarters, for Disarmament Under Secretary General Dhenapola, who had a handsome approach, overseeing negotiations, encouraging a consensus, dealing with media questions, and ensuring that key players were on board, avoiding unnecessary confrontations and facing potential problems head on.

That a strong group within the US was against the draft declaration did not help the declaration's prospects for passing. Member states would rather have the host country---and its most powerful member---included in any final decision. There was no point in taking a majority vote. When national politics are increasingly complicating international mechanisms, effective action is naturally neutralized. This does not detract from the superb effort by USG Dhenapola and his team, who deserve full credit.