Negotiators Gather in Dublin to
Ban Cluster Bombs
www.spiegel.de/, May 19, 2008
Almost 10 years after the Ottawa Treaty banned the use of landmines,
more than 100 countries are gathering on Monday to attempt to
ban cluster bombs as well. However, the United States and other
big producers will not be attending. Washington is arguing that
the proposed treaty threatens to undermine the very fabric of
Envoys are gathering in the Irish capital
Dublin for a conference that aims to agree on a convention banning
cluster bombs. The states will negotiate the terms of the international
treaty that would prohibit the use, production and stockpiling
of the cluster munitions by the signatories.
However the biggest producers of the cluster
weapons, the United States, China, Israel and Russia, are not
attending the 12-day conference and have been lobbying hard to
have it watered down. Benjamin Chang, a spokesman for the US mission
to the United Nations, told Reuters that Washington is opposed
to any ban. "We do not believe they are indiscriminate weapons."
Some of those who are attending, particularly
the United Kingdom, are hoping to secure exemptions on certain
weapons, or have more time to dismantle their arsenal. And there
is also a push by allies of the US to scrap or water down a key
clause that would prohibit signatories from mounting joint operations
with any state that uses cluster bombs, something the US argues
would make the alliance almost unworkable.
Humanitarian organizations are pushing
for a complete ban, which they argue would be a measure comparable
in importance to the ban on the use of land mines agreed in 1999.
Groups such as Human Rights Watch emphasize the danger cluster
weapons pose to civilians in particular. Dropped from planes or
fired from artillery, cluster bombs explode in mid-air, randomly
scattering bomblets. Many fail to explode and are scattered across
terrain, causing death or injury to civilians -- particularly
children who sometimes mistake them for toys.
The International Committee of the Red
Cross says it continues to see the consequence of the bombs. "Cluster
munitions are weapons that never stop killing," ICRC President
Jakob Kellenberger said in a statement last week.
According to the United Nations Development
Program, cluster munitions have caused more than 13,000 confirmed
injuries and deaths around the world, the vast majority of them
in Laos, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon. The munitions
caused more civilian casualties in Kosovo in 1999 and Iraq in
2003 than any other weapon system.
Israel's deployment of the weapon in 2006
came in for severe criticism. Its use of cluster bombs in the
2006 war in Lebanon left a deadly legacy. Israel littered the
south of the country with more than 4 million cluster bombs during
the 34-day conflict. The weapons caused more than 200 civilian
casualties in the year following the ceasefire, according to the
Cluster Munition Coalition.
The process leading to the treaty was
kicked off by Norway in February 2007. Since then the terms have
been thrashed out at meetings in Lima, Vienna, and Wellington.
The draft convention as it now stands would oblige signatories
to never: "(a) Use cluster munitions; (b) Develop, produce,
otherwise acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer to anyone, directly
or indirectly, cluster munitions; (c) Assist, encourage, or induce
anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a state party under
this convention." If agreed, the treaty would be signed in
Oslo in December. The signatories would then need to ratify it.
It is the last clause in particular which
is worrying Washington. According to Richard Kidd, director of
the US State Department's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement,
"US forces simply cannot fight by design or doctrine without
holding out at least the possibility of using cluster munitions."
Speaking to the International Herald Tribune, he said that the
provisions on assisting countries that use the bombs would reduce
or eliminate opportunities for joint training, command logistics
and intelligence sharing -- "the very functions that make
NATO what it is."
The UK, one of the US most important allies,
is reported to be under strong pressure from the Americans to
resist signing up to the ban. British officials told the London-based
The Independent newspaper that a range of issues is at stake,
including munitions stored at US bases in the UK and the legal
status of British soldiers serving alongside US forces. British
negotiators will be seeking exemptions on particular weapons,
such as its M73 and M85 weapons, which they argue self-destruct
if they fail to detonate and so do not pose a long-term threat.
A number of senior former British military
officers, however, are urging the British Defense Ministry to
sign up to the ban. A total of nine retired commanders, including
Field Marshal Lord Bramall, a former chief of defense staff of
the British Army, have written to the London Times and Defense
Secretary Des Browne, demanding that the British armed Forces
"move away from the use of indiscriminate weapons which
pose a threat to civilians and our troops alike."
Humanitarian organizations want the treaty
to be kept intact rather than allow exemptions and loopholes to
rob it of its impact.
"As it stands, the draft treaty is
a strong, comprehensive ban. Any attempts to water it down should
be rejected completely," Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch
told the Agence France Press news agency. "Those kinds of
revisions will only undermine the intended purpose of the ban,
which is to save lives."
On the eve of the conference Pope Benedict
XVI expressed his hope that a "strong and credible agreement"
would emerge. "It is necessary to heal the errors of the
past and avoid them happening again in the future."