U.S. Cannot Compete in Human Rights Market

Britain and Ireland are leading one of the most boldly forward-thinking human rights initiatives in recent memory:

The government is preparing to scrap Britain’s entire arsenal of cluster bombs in the face of a growing clamour against weapons that have killed and maimed hundreds of innocent civilians.

Officials are paving the way for the unexpected and radical step at talks in Dublin on an international treaty aimed at a worldwide ban on the bombs.

Well-placed sources made clear yesterday that despite opposition from the military, the government is prepared to get rid of the cluster munitions in Britain’s armoury: the lsraeli-designed M85 artillery weapon used during the 2003 invasion of Iraq and in attacks on Lebanon two years ago; and the M73, part of a weapons system for Apache helicopters.

“The prime minister is very much behind this process and wants us to sign [the treaty]”, a senior Foreign Office source said yesterday.

The United States, of course, will not join in this ban, which raises a potential problem with joint military operations:

Participants in the talks were still embroiled last night in the vexed question of whether troops from countries who sign up to the ban could go on operations with those, notably the US, that do not. Preventing them from doing so could lead to breaches in other treaty commitments, notably involving Nato, and would have serious practical implications, British officials say. The government also wants to allow the US to stockpile cluster weapons at American bases in the UK.

Pressure would be applied on the US not to use its cluster weapons in joint operations with countries which had banned them, officials suggest.

Cluster weapons are highly controversial because they scatter small “bomblets” over a wide area. Many of them do not explode on impact and are activated later by civilians. They caused more than 200 civilian casualties in the year after the Lebanon ceasefire, and more civilian casualties in Iraq in 2003 and Kosovo in 1999 than any other weapon system.

Each one of those hundreds upon hundreds of dead civilians (many if not most of them children who are blown up when they try to play with the interestingly shaped bomblets) was once an embryo — and even more, each one was “a unique human life with inherent dignity and matchless value.”

Although, on second thought, maybe not.

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