I am rarely in Geneva these days, but it seems like every time I set foot in the UN Palais des Nations, something really odd and unprecedented happens. Last time it was the Conference on Disarmament agreeing on an agenda for the first time in more than a decade. This time it was the ‘disco dancing’ contest by diplomats attending the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW).

I used to follow the diplomatic deliberations at the CCW in 1994-1996 when we were trying to get governments to take up civil society’s call to ban antipersonnel landmines. Due to the consensus-based decision-making of the CCW and confines of ‘no can-do’ diplomacy within the United Nations any attempt to hold meaningful discussions on banning mines hit a brick wall. The result was the “Ottawa Process,” which resulted in the creation of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty.

You’d think the CCW diplomats would have listened and learned, but instead continued in their bubble, ignoring our pleas to tackle cluster bombs. Over the last decade every time civilians were killed by cluster bombs–used in FR Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon–we would press for diplomatic action to fill the IHL void. After no action in CCW, Norway created the “Oslo Process” that resulted in the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Which brings us to today’s oddness. Diplomats from countries that have not banned mines or cluster bombs have continued to deliberate at CCW alongside states that have joined the prohibitions. Countries such as China, Cuba, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, and USA continue to promote ‘regulation’, but their efforts to date have proved fruitless. After years of deliberation, there is little left to say in the CCW’s ongoing efforts to ‘negotiate a mandate on cluster munitions.’

Today after the new CCW chair (Jesus “Gary” Domingo of the Philippines) opened the latest round of talks by the ‘group of governmental experts’ on cluster bombs, the usual governments gave their usual statements reiterating their usual demands and concerns. By the afternoon, they were had run of of things to say. So the chair decided to try something different.

Domingo proposed an exercise called “Monday Afternoon Fever Brainstorming Contest” dividing the governments present into groups of 5 states plus UN, ICRC, NGOs. On a handout disseminated to the room, these ‘teams’ were asked to ’self-organise’ and report back tomorrow morning. The exercise is ‘aimed at looking into possible or alternative approaches to the issue of prohibitions of CMs.” Each team has to produce a text acceptable to all the team’s members.

The trick was in the division of labour. Countries that have banned cluster bombs were placed alongside CCW stalwarts including cluster bomb users and producers. The diplomats appeared stunned, but none objected. As they dispersed into their small group discussions, the disco song “Saturday Night Fever” reverberated throughout the huge UN plenary room.

It seems inconceivable that anything will result from this exercise, but good on the chair for injecting some creativity into this very dreary process…