Almost 100 Nations Sign New Ban on Cluster Munitions

A new treaty banning the production, use, stockpiling, and transfer of cluster munitions was signed by over 100 nations during a ceremony in Oslo, Norway, that took place Wednesday and Thursday. The text of the treaty was adopted on May 30, 2008, in Dublin, Ireland.

Here is how a cluster bomb works.

State parties to the treaty (officially titled the Convention on Cluster Munitions) also obligate themselves to destroy existing stockpiles (for those nations that still have stockpiles), to aid in clearing contaminated areas, and to develop programs and services to assist injured and maimed survivors and their families with medical care, counseling or therapy, housing, relocation aid, education, finding work, and anything else victims of cluster weapons might need.

The complete text of the treaty is here.

One of the governments that put pen to paper in Oslo  is Afghanistan’s — in an 11th hour change of heart that defied the Bush administration’s strenuous attempts to convince Hamid Karzai not to let his country sign on to the treaty:

In a last-minute change, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan agreed on Wednesday to join some 90 other nations signing a treaty banning the use of the cluster munitions that have devastated his country in recent years.


“Until this morning, Afghanistan was not going to be a signatory,” said Jawed Ludin, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the Scandinavian countries and the leader of its delegation here. He said the president’s change of heart came as a result of pressure by human rights organizations and cluster-bomb victims, including Soraj Ghulam Habib, a 17-year-old from the city of Herat who lost both legs when he accidentally stepped on an explosive cluster remnant seven years ago.

Treaty organizers and anti-cluster munitions activists are hoping that Afghanistan’s reversal will give other countries the courage to sign the treaty:

“It is just so huge, to get this turnaround. Afghanistan was under a lot of pressure from the United States,” said Thomas Nash, coordinator of The Cluster Bomb Coalition. “If Afghanistan can withstand the pressure, so can others.”

The United States stands with Russia, China, Israel, India, and Pakistan — the biggest producers, stockpilers, and users of cluster weapons — in refusing to sign the treaty. In fact, when the provisions of the treaty were being hammered out in Dublin, the United States tried, through friendly proxies, to alter the language of the ban in ways that would have weakened its effectiveness:

The US government is trying to win dangerous loopholes in a new treaty on cluster munitions even though it is not participating in the international conference to hammer out a final text, Human Rights Watch said today.

US allies at the conference in Dublin to negotiate a global ban are proposing that the treaty allow parties to assist other countries using cluster munitions during joint military operations. American diplomats have lobbied hard for this provision in world capitals, although they are not present in Dublin.

“We are here to ban cluster munitions, not to create loopholes that would make it easier for the United States to use them,” said Steve Goose, director of the Arms division at Human Rights Watch. “US allies in Dublin must resist the pressure from Washington.”


The US government is threatening that the ban on clusters would prevent it from undertaking or participating in humanitarian operations. In fact, identical provisions in the treaty banning landmines have had no effect on US humanitarian efforts in the 11 years since the treaty came into force.

Having failed to weaken the treaty’s language, the U.S. government has had to content itself with pressuring allies (like Afghanistan and Iraq) not to sign the treaty, and falling back on absurd obfuscations — U.S. troops “cannot fight” without them; they are “more humane” than traditional bombs; they are “not indiscriminate weapons“; “technological fixes” will solve the problem — to justify America’s total abdication of responsible leadership on this issue.

At Wednesday’s White House daily presser, Dana Perino allowed as how she had “forgotten” why the U.S. government won’t sign the treaty. Which means, obviously, that she never knew and wasn’t briefed on the matter, because it isn’t considered important.

Bob Owens sneers at how “pointless” and “meaningless” the treaty is without the signatures of the Mighty Mice:

92 nations signed a ban on cluster bombs yesterday, a move that is more or less meaningless as the largest producers and users of such munitions—including Russia, China, and the United States—refused to sign on.


Small diameter bombs (SDBs) or other weapons systems will eventually make cluster munitions obsolete, but a coalition of the toothless signing bans against munition systems that they cannot effectively manufacture or deploy in combat will not have any meaningful long-term impact.

Uh, Bob. That’s kind of the point. Government leaders and other interested parties all over the world have been working to make this treaty a reality for many years now. When the actual text of the treaty was written and adopted in Dublin at the end of May, the United States could have been a part of that, but it chose not to be. The United States and the other holdouts could have decided to sign the treaty in Oslo, but they decided otherwise. No one associated with the Convention on Cluster Munitions put out the word that only non-producers and non-users of cluster weapons could participate in the drafting and adoption and signing of the treaty. The United States, Russia, China, Pakistan, India, and Israel put themselves in that position. If a handful of major powers in the world refuse to take a rational position on a class of weapons that have killed hundreds of thousands of civilians — fully a quarter of them children — in dozens of countries in the world long after the wars in which those weapons were used are over, that is not a reason for the rest of the planet to remain paralyzed and frozen, unable to proceed until those few rogue countries see the light.

Moreover, if it were true that the CCM could not have any meaningful effect without the signatures of the United States, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and Israel, then why would the U.S. government feel the need to lobby its allies and would-be allies not to sign the agreement? Why did the Bush administration put so much pressure on Afghanistan not to sign the treaty? Why did it work so hard to convince Eastern European nations (most of which are very eager to stay in the United States’s good graces and so are vulnerable to pressure) not to sign the treaty? What’s the big deal if countries the United States considers to be in its orbit sign the treaty, if the treaty is so pointless and toothless?

Clearly, a global consensus exists, and is building, for the proposition that antipersonnel weapons — cluster bombs and land mines — have a devastating effect on civilians, far in excess of their military utility. If most of the world’s nations are signing on to an international instrument that codifies that consensus, and the country that claims to be the global model of morality and human rights refuses to sign it, that doesn’t look good — to say the least. The treaty’s organizers and supporters are hoping that stigma will eventually persuade the United States and others to give up the use of these weapons, if not actually sign the treaty (obviously the ultimate goal).

Indeed, that is what happened after the global ban on landmines came into force in 1998. Even though the United States steadfastly refused to sign the ban, and publicly reserved the right to continue using landmines, in practice they have not been deployed by the U.S. military since the Persian Gulf War:

In ousting Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, the U.S. military employed many weapons systems but not landmines. Nearly 150 countries have forsworn anti-personnel landmines (APLs) through the Ottawa Convention, but the United States had reserved the right to use them. …

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Public Affairs reported June 5 that U.S. forces did not use or deploy any APLs in Iraq. CENTCOM later added that U.S. forces also chose not to use anti-vehicle mines or mixed systems, which have both anti-vehicle and anti-personnel components. When it led a coalition to evict Iraqi forces from Kuwait a dozen years ago, the U.S. military used approximately 118,000 landmines.

No treaty barred any country from using landmines in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. In 1997, however, some 90 countries negotiated the Ottawa Convention, which bans the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of anti-personnel landmines and certain mixed systems.

Although the United States refused to sign the accord, many of its key allies, including the United Kingdom and Australia, became states-parties. These two countries made it clear before their participation in this year’s invasion of Iraq that their militaries would not use APLs.

CENTCOM did not offer any reason for why landmines were not used. One explanation might have been a desire not to constrain U.S. and allied mobility on the fast-moving Iraqi battlefield.

According to CENTCOM, U.S. forces did suffer some casualties from Iraqi landmines. Like the United States, Iraq was not bound by the Ottawa Convention.

The United States has already started responding to pressure on the use of cluster weapons [my bolds]:

A U.S. Defense Department memo says the United States will begin using cluster bombs that pose less danger to civilians, after international pressure to change its use of the controversial weapon.

A three-page Defense Department memo requires that, effective in 2018, 99 percent all the bomblets dispersed by a cluster bomb would detonate on impact.

Cluster bombs explode in mid-air and scatter hundreds of smaller bombs over a wide area. Currently bomblets that do not explode on impact can remain active for years, often killing or maiming unsuspecting civilians.

The Defense Department memo says the United States will also begin reducing its inventory of cluster bombs that do not meet the new safety requirements.

The change was made after the United States boycotted a May conference in Dublin, during which 111 countries agreed to ban the use of cluster bombs.

Obviously, this is not an acceptable alternative to signing the treaty, but it’s a start, and it demonstrates that the United States is no different from any other country in its vulnerability to the shame of being viewed as a pariah nation.

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  1. Liberty Street - [...] who dismissed some 100 nations that signed the new convention banning cluster munitions as “a coalition of the toothless”…

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