DUBLIN THE DIPLOMATIC conference to ban cluster munitions - bomb canisters that open and spew hundreds or thousands of bomblets that harm both civilians and soldiers - is being held in Dublin. The United States is not participating in the deliberations but it is making its presence painfully known.
In the 1997 treaty that banned land mines, the United States was no friend either. The difference is that the United States was openly and actively involved before, until it walked out on the last day, after being unable to force acceptance of its "negotiating package," which would have gutted that treaty.
For too many years, multilateral negotiations - unless related to free trade - have seemed to be anathema to the United States. This time, rather than risk open opposition as it had with the land mine treaty, the United States opted for strong and unrelenting pressure behind the scenes of the cluster treaty negotiations.
The United States is making no secret of its pressure on allies to weaken the treaty to serve its own interests. One official recently bragged that the United States had "spoken with" more than 110 countries about this treaty. It has told allies that it will not alter its military doctrine, structure, or deployments. It has also threatened that it will not remove its cluster munitions stockpiled in countries that do join the treaty - even though it did remove land mines stockpiled in countries that are part of the Mine Ban Treaty.
Much of the US pressure has been to get allies to either remove or seriously weaken a key provision in the draft treaty that prohibits governments from "assisting, inducing, or encouraging" states that do not join the treaty with any act that is prohibited by the treaty. As Tim Shipman wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald, "An official from the US State Department warned that under the treaty, British frontline troops who call in artillery support or air strikes [in Afghanistan or Iraq] from an American war plane, all of which carry cluster munitions, could be hauled into court."
In military jargon, such exaggeration could be called "firing for effect." The US official's warning is not accurate. Mere participation in operations where a US plane might carry cluster munitions is not prohibited, it is only deliberately calling in air strikes to use those cluster munitions that would be.
Many weapons treaties prohibit such assistance, including the Mine Ban Treaty and the Chemical Weapons Convention. Additionally, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Biological Weapons Convention, and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty include similar provisions. The United States is party to most of those treaties. Its efforts in Dublin are really about undermining the treaty itself.
US allegations that the cluster ban treaty would undermine NATO are another obfuscation. The ban on land mines has not affected NATO. Belgium, which unilaterally banned cluster munitions in 2006, said its ban has in no way affected participation in NATO operations. In fact, a government official in Dublin told me a recently completed internal NATO study found that joint operations would not be affected by NATO members signing a cluster munitions treaty with the prohibition on assistance intact.
If the United States wants to try to weaken the future cluster munitions ban treaty it should do its own dirty work and not hide behind its allies.
One commander in the invasion of Baghdad in 2003 refused to order his men to use clusters. He recognized not only that it was unlawful to fire indiscriminate weapons into densely populated civilian areas, but also that he would put his own troops at risk as they later had to move through those clusters. In fact, the United States has not used cluster munitions in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, nor in Afghanistan since the invasion in 2002.
Banning cluster munitions is not antimilitary, it is pro-humanity. Banning cluster munitions protects civilians and US soldiers. The United States should stop bullying its allies and join in the work to ban cluster munitions now.
Britain says it wants to ban cluster bombs, but in reality is more concerned with appeasing the US By Jody Williams
A decade after the signing of a treaty to eliminate landmines, representatives from more than 100 countries are meeting in Dublin this week to ban an equally indiscriminate killer of innocent people - the cluster bomb.
There are billions of cluster bomblets stockpiled, ready for use by 75 countries. These bombs are responsible for killing or maiming countless civilians as their mini-bombs explode months - or even years - after they are dropped. And here's another chilling fact: one in four victims of these bombs are children. The British government has widely and loudly proclaimed its leadership in the movement to ban these bombs. But as the Dublin conference unfolds, many of us seriously question that "leadership".
It is clear that Britain is following the US - which has no intention of signing up - as it works behind the scenes to greatly weaken the treaty. But rather than continue to follow America's position, the UK should heed the words of its nine former defence chiefs and military commanders who have called upon the Brown government to ban clusters.
One American official recently bragged that the US had "spoken with" more than 110 countries about this treaty. The US has also threatened that it will not remove its cluster munitions stockpiled in countries that do join the treaty - even though in the past it did remove landmines stockpiled in Mine Ban treaty countries. And the US state department is said to have warned that British troops in Iraq or Afghanistan could face prosecution if they call in artillery or airstrike support from American planes - all of which carry cluster bombs.
In military jargon, such exaggeration could be called "firing for effect". See if you can terrorise others into doing what you want. A cluster-bomb ban will not mean the end of joint military operations nor make British soldiers automatically liable. Joint military operations with Britain continue despite the fact that the US is not party to the Mine Ban treaty. At least seven other international treaties have similar obligations on prohibiting assistance in use of a banned weapon by a country bound by the treaty.
Along with trying to protect its own cluster munitions, the UK is also trying to remove completely a key provision that prohibits governments from "assisting, inducing, or encouraging" states that do not join the treaty with any act that is prohibited by the treaty.
This would allow solders of countries that are part of the treaty to participate in the planning and execution of joint operations with the US where cluster bombs are used. How can the British government say with a straight face it is banning these munitions while at the same time vigorously promoting language allowing British soldiers to plan and execute operations where, in effect, they would be using US cluster bombs? How can it say it is merely trying to protect British troops and is not really trying to appease the US?
Likewise, a cluster ban treaty will not undermine Nato. In fact, a recently completed internal Nato study found that joint military operations would not be impacted if Nato members sign a cluster munitions treaty with the prohibition on assistance intact.
If America wants to try to weaken the future cluster munition ban treaty, it should do its own dirty work and not hide behind its allies. If Britain wishes to continue to paint itself as a leader in the cluster ban movement, it should start listening to its own former military commanders who call for nothing less than a total ban - now.
· Jody Williams was the founding coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and received the 1997 Nobel peace prize. She is also the founding chair of the Nobel Women's Initiative
DUBLIN, Ireland: American activists and global victims of cluster bombs united Monday in a demand that governments particularly the United States ban the weapons because they kill and maim too many civilians.
They made their appeal four days before negotiators from 110 governments are expected to unveil a treaty restricting the development, sale and use of cluster munitions. The pact would be formally signed in December in Norway.
Each cluster bomb drops dozens to hundreds of "bomblets," carpeting a target with explosions. Some fail to detonate on impact and instead explode when civilians stumble across them days to years later.
"There is no doubt that cluster munitions have some military utility. You could say the same of land mines. I suppose you could say the same of poison gas. But we do ban some weapons," said U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, who has led American efforts to outlaw cluster munitions and provide support to their civilian victims.
"Weapons that are inherently indiscriminate, whether by design or effect, should have no place in the 21st century," said Leahy, who in February led a successful push to ban U.S. exports of cluster bombs.
But the treaty talks, which began in Norway in February 2007 and moved to Dublin this month, do not involve the biggest makers and users of cluster bombs: the United States, Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan. Others who make the weapons, chiefly in Western Europe, are participating but seek exemptions for some of their own designs or delays in enforcing a ban.
One of the toughest points of debate is whether to include a rule forbidding treaty signatories from deploying their military forces alongside cluster bomb users an idea that would primarily hamper cooperation with U.S. forces.
Jody Williams, a U.S. teacher who shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her role pursuing the treaty that outlawed land mines that year, said countries must commit themselves not to work jointly with U.S. forces if cluster bombs are part of the arsenal.
Otherwise, she said, allied troops could "actually call in strikes using the other guy's cluster weapons. That is morally reprehensible."
Leahy, a Democrat representing the state of Vermont, said he was disappointed that the Bush administration was ignoring the treaty talks. But he said the U.S. Department of Defense was planning to announce reforms soon to its policy on cluster bomb development and use.
"I am hopeful that it will at least be a step forward," he said of the planned reforms.
Those seeking to continue using the weapon in several countries argue they are designing "smarter" modern designs that hit targets more precisely and have self-destruct mechanisms if they fail to detonate on impact.
But a panel of cluster-bomb victims from Afghanistan, Cambodia, Lebanon, Serbia and Vietnam many of them missing limbs or eyes said the world should not seek to develop higher-tech cluster bombs. They shared a podium with Leahy and several other U.S. activists.
"Dropping a high number of bombs close to civilians is a criminal act. We don't need a smart bomb. We need smart and responsible governments," said Dejan Dikic, 41, a Serbian high school teacher who suffered leg wounds when a NATO cluster bomb was dropped on his hometown of Nis in May 1999.