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 You are in: Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security > Bureau of Political-Military Affairs > Bureau of Political-Military Affairs Releases > Bureau of Political-Military Affairs Remarks > Bureau of Political-Military Affairs Remarks (2005)

The Mine Action Support Group (MASG)

Richard Kidd, Director, Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs
Remarks to the Mine Action Support Group (MASG) at the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the United Nations
New York City, New York
December 13, 2005

First, I would like to express the appreciation of the United States and the entire Mine Action Support Group (MASG) for the outstanding leadership shown by Switzerland in chairing this group over the past two years. I know my colleagues join me in thanking Ambassador Staehelin and his Swiss colleagues for their hard work and contributions to mine action.The United States is grateful for the opportunity to follow Switzerland as the chair of the MASG. We look forward to working with other members to provide a forum that is of value to donors, the UN, NGOs and, most important, those around the world implementing mine action programs.

The future of the MASG will be determined by its utility. Mine action has certainly evolved since I entered this field eight years ago in Afghanistan. We believe that further significant changes will take place in the coming years and that it is essential that the donor community have a venue to exchange observations and analysis in a timely and results-oriented manner with the goal of improving our collective contributions.

I would like to state up front that the United States is cognizant of the fact that most countries represented at this forum have obligations under the Ottawa Convention. We have no desire to revisit past differences; to the extent that they still matter, let them be handled elsewhere. Instead, we would like the MASG to focus on issues and areas of mutual interest and common cause.

Switzerland has proposed a number of changes to the structure of the MASG to enhance its effectiveness, described in the paper entitled "Future Role and Format of the MASG." Switzerland has proposed that meetings be less frequent and less formal; that they follow Chatham House Rules and have no minutes; that the location should rotate between New York, Geneva, and possibly other venues; and that MASG members are represented at meeting by decision-makers and experts from capitals.

The goal of these sessions would be open and frank discussion of policy issues, resources, programs, and common concerns, as well as support for the UN mine action agencies. We believe the Swiss concept is an excellent starting point for strengthening the MASG. We have expanded upon the Swiss concept for restructuring the MASG, and revised it slightly in some areas. The key elements of our proposal, which we offer for the group's approval, are as follows:

  • Three or four meetings a year, roughly every three months. Two meetings would be held in New York and one would be held in Geneva. A fourth meeting, if held, would also take place at a venue to be decided, perhaps also in Europe. 

  • We suggest that the first of these meetings take place in New York in March, and that the second take place in the summer in Geneva on the margins of the Program Managers' meeting. 

  • Each meeting would be broken down into morning and afternoon sessions. The morning session would include UN agencies and invited guests, while the afternoon session would involve donor countries only. Lunch would be open to all and include a guest speaker on a mine action topic. 

  • As proposed by the Swiss, the meetings, or at least that portion of the meetings restricted just to donors, would be guided by Chatham House Rules, i.e., participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed; nor may it be mentioned that the information was received at a meeting of the MASG. We need to balance this with a desire to continue to post and share presentations and the results of open discussions.

Participation by decision-makers from capitals will be critical if we are to have frank and meaningful discussion on the issues and challenges we face. Accordingly, we believe it is essential that governments send the appropriate mine action experts to these meetings.

We also want this to be a collaborative process. For that reason, we are already discussing with UNMAS how we might best meet the needs of both the donors and the various UN agencies involved in mine action, and we are very interested in hearing from you as well.

As we are meeting less frequently and expecting travel from capitals, we suggest that we devote enough time -- at least five hours -- to each MASG program, with a portion of the meeting spent on different thematic topics, including issues in a particular region.

In terms of thematic topics, we would see value in addressing a number of important issues, organized around key questions that would be valuable for all in mine action so that we can make rational and reasoned decisions about the future. This would include such topics as funding, management, national capacity, and donor solidarity.

These are important issues and more can develop over time. Ensuring the greatest utility of the MASG requires your input. Accordingly, we have prepared a handout that identifies what we see as the main issues regarding the structure, format, and content of the MASG, as well as the key elements of the proposal I have just outlined.

We would like to ask for a response from your governments to our proposals by the end of January. Based on the responses we receive, we will subsequently send out the final version, and will follow with a draft agenda for the first meeting, which we propose to hold in March. Let me emphasize again that this is a collaborative process, so I encourage all MASG members to provide their input.

In closing, I would like to again thank Switzerland for its outstanding leadership of the MASG and for its useful direction in restructuring the MASG to ensure its success. I would also like to thank all of you for this opportunity to follow Switzerland as the chair of the MASG. We will certainly do our best: we think the MASG and its work are important and we take it very seriously.



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