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date: 01 April 2020

Abstract and Keywords

In practice, negotiations leading to a United Nations treaty are often untidy and anarchic. The ambition to adopt a strong treaty covering the whole UN membership is habitually at odds with the overriding significance of national sovereignty. Unwilling countries, knowing that proponents aspire consensus, can block progress where they deem fit. And that same sovereignty principle plays out in the limited options a chairperson of a conference has for firm process management. The disarray has other origins as well. At treaty conferences, delegates need to develop pockets of informality in which they can build the trust needed for recognition of their most pressing priorities. The abundance of informal exchanges outside the meeting room adds to making process management a challenge. Also, a lack of national resources, and patronage in recruitment, often negatively impact on consistent, knowledgeable engagement by delegations. Last, unavoidable time restrictions prevent the process from playing out in a well-planned, methodical way. Bringing order to this process is only limitedly possible. Multilateral treaty-making seems inherently messy and deeply improvisational. Such a setting tends to reward those countries that can field skilled, creative, resourceful diplomats who can be trusted to make the most from only generic instructions.

Keywords: negotiations, anarchy, sovereignty, consensus, chairperson, informal, treaty-making, messy, improvisation, diplomats

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