VERTIC anniversary conference closes with final sessions

Jun 04 2011
VERTIC Blog >> Arms Control and Disarmament

David Cliff, London

Today saw the final two sessions of the VERTIC 25th anniversary conference held, with great engagement from participants, in the beautiful Wilton Park setting that the VERTIC staff have been pleased to call home for the last three days.
The day began with William Walker, Professor of International Relations at the University of St Andrews, and Gregory Briner, an environmental consultant at the OECD, delivering presentations to a session built around the difficult question of how effectively existing verification regimes are performing. Amidst the subsequent discussion was a lamenting by some participants over the extraordinarily slow rate of progress exhibited by many multilateral processes. The CTBT, conceived decades ago and still not in force, was held up as a prime example, and the role of ‘spoilers’ (whether they stem from ideological or political objections, from particular personalities or from divisions among regional state groupings) discussed at some length.
That said, the conference has also heard over the last few days that while progress is often incremental (albeit with occasional spurts of activity, such as that surrounding the advent of the Chemical Weapons Convention), multilateralism and multilateral verification have nonetheless come many leaps forward in the last 25 years. A forward movement that will hopefully continue for the next quarter-century and beyond.
This first session also heard some participants note the exclusion often felt by those small states who can struggle to get their voice heard in multilateral fora. On a very practical point, some raised the issue of the logistical problems faced by some small states, whereby at large international gatherings (such as UN climate change summits) those countries who send only small delegations are hampered by the simple fact that their representatives cannot physically cover every meeting and side-event in the way that large countries with large delegations can. As a result, these small states can sometimes lack the kind of first-hand holistic overview of proceedings that they would otherwise be able to obtain and make use of.
More directly on the issue of climate change, a number of participants spoke in this session of the problems associated with trying to persuade people to make sacrifices today for the sake of all those people yet to be born – but who will come to inhabit our earth, whatever is left of it – that they will never meet. Here lies the basic problem and the biggest challenge facing those involved in the fight against climate change, the conference heard: how to motivate people to change their behaviour today, before it becomes too late, when there is seemingly no immediate threat, and certainly no short-term solutions.
The final session of the conference dealt with concluding thoughts and observations. Mark Smith, Security and Defence Programme Director at Wilton Park (and the chair of the conference) addressed the room, as did Nicholas Sims, Emeritus Reader of International Relations at the London School of Economics (and a member of the VERTIC Board of Governors), and VERTIC’s Executive Director Andreas Persbo.
The debate in this session coalesced largely around the (highly topical, given the cross-cutting nature of the conference) question of whether or not it was possible to speak of a verification ‘community’. Can such a community be said to exist? If so, participants discussed, is it working effectively? And if not, is the absence of such a community a problem?
Participants had mixed views on these questions, with some arguing that too much compartmentalisation exists among the verification practitioners of various fields and others noting that a good deal of knowledge-sharing does in fact take place, especially between and among those outside of formal government structures. The conference also heard that if no such community exists, or if any such community remains only loosely-organised, then that could perhaps be for the better. The alternative, perhaps, is insularity and the kind of group-thinking that inhibits the sort of creativity that is so essential if multilateral verification is to continue to develop, to expand - and possibly also to flourish.

Last changed: Jun 05 2011 at 1:40 PM