Disarmament Insight


Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Cluster munitions: do not adjust your set?

For the last couple of weeks, blog postings on this site have focused on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) with help from our guest blogger, Patricia Lewis.

A very different meeting is to take place in Lima, Peru, next week about addressing the hazards of cluster munitions for civilians as part of the “Oslo Process”. It follows a groundbreaking conference of governments, as well as international organizations and civil society in Oslo, Norway, in February.

The Oslo Declaration that emerged commits 46 governments to completing an international treaty by the end of 2008 to “prohibit the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.” (A link to the text of the Oslo Declaration is below. See my blog posting from 24 April for more background.)

More in coming postings about the Oslo Process. In the meantime, what does explosive submunition contamination actually look like in the field?

We might imagine, for instance, that unexploded submunitions would be relatively easy to see, and thus avoid. After all, they’re not deliberately buried and concealed like landmines. So why should they be of special humanitarian concern?

At the Oslo Conference, the humanitarian organization Norwegian People’s Aid showed all those participating this brief video clip by independent photographer John Rodsted of “cluster bomb duds that shouldn’t exist” in Southern Lebanon.

The viewing had a chilling effect on all of those present in the conference room, an audience composed in large part of government representatives, as those watching realized that John was filming on Lebanese ground contaminated by submunitions that had failed to function correctly. Filming as he went, John literally walked among the hazardous M-85 duds to show how small and difficult to see they are – you can hear the nervousness in his voice.

Looking for unexploded submunitions like this is not to be generally recommended (John has a great deal of experience in these situations, and was under the supervision of explosive ordnance disposal professionals). But it underlines why the input of civil society perspectives, and especially views from the field, are so important to keeping multilateral decision making real. A short video cut through acres of the usual conference room baloney of diplomats and politicians who have in many cases never even seen an unexploded submunition with their own eyes. It helped to give those present some clarity of purpose, which other multilateral meetings closed to the real world sometimes can lack.

Reactions to the clip since it’s been posted on Youtube have been curious. A few viewers, of course, are unable to see beyond their tired prejudices, descending into infantile, aggressive and frequently misspelled ranting, and even claiming the video was faked. No mindset adjustment for them then.

Others watching it were clearly unsettled. Judging from their comments the clip has challenged them, not least about cluster munitions but also possibly to think more deeply about what are legitimate means and methods of war. That’s an important question for every thinking person in the current age.

Watch the video. What do you think?

John Borrie


The Norwegian Foreign Ministry has an English language web page with the Oslo Declaration, statements and other resources about addressing the humanitarian impacts of civilians (click here to access this web page).

Video clip by independent photographer John Rodsted of “cluster bomb duds that shouldn’t exist” in Southern Lebanon, available on Youtube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_jsyObTG8k.


Anonymous said...

A very striking video. Unfortunately, this is another kind of reality television. I can't imagine how any one would think that it was a fake. It is too bad it was not played at the ICRC expert meeting as it would have really brought home many of the points made there.

Will you be posting from Lima?

Disarmament Insight said...

We will be reporting further on the Oslo Process including the Lima meeting over the next two weeks.

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