Disarmament Insight


Sunday, 27 May 2007

Lima: Defining cluster munitions and destroying stockpiles

Disarmament Insight note – although the world's biggest producers of the munitions - the United States, Russia and China - are still not among them, delegates from 68 countries met late last week in the Peruvian capital, Lima, to broaden support for a declaration agreed to in Norway in February calling for a ban on cluster bombs by 2008. More than a third joined the process for the first time, having missed the Oslo meeting. The post below from our guest blogger Jamie Stocker reports on the second day of this meeting: reporting on the Lima Conference’s final day will follow soon.

The second day of the three-day Lima Conference began with talks about storage and stockpile destruction of cluster munitions. Though the majority of delegates expressed support for the destruction of banned weapons as soon as possible, others thought it necessary to allow more time, as well as renewal periods for states “unable” to destroy their stockpiles within the set deadlines. Why the controversy over this seemingly mundane, technical issue?

Part of the problem is, well, technical. Many speakers acknowledged that the destruction of cluster munitions stockpiles is generally more complicated than, say, anti-personnel mines. Whereas many types of land mines can basically be stacked in a pile, lined with explosives and blown up (PLEASE don’t try this at home, kids), cluster munitions must often be disassembled and individual explosive submunitions destroyed separately.

Financial considerations also come into play. More “technical” disposal is likely to be more expensive, though exact figures aren’t available. In this regard, more expert input will be necessary down the road – Belgium noted that its experience in destroying its stockpiles could be useful.

Some states were also frank about another “financial” aspect: the costs of replacing prohibited cluster munitions with other types of weapons to perform missions that militaries currently use cluster munitions for. Others labeled this as a ”national security” rather than a security issue. Implicitly, this allows for the possibility of continued cluster munition use (at least, within this time frame) – precisely what this process is trying to prevent.

All delegations seemed to agree on the need for international cooperation, including developing countries, many of which took the opportunity to discuss their own problems with land mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW). This issue is relatively uncontroversial for the moment. But it’s likely to require coordination with other instruments that already address international cooperation in related areas, including the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention and the 2003 Protocol V of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW).

Lunchtime was filled with discussion about what the afternoon definitions debate would bring (see previous posts). At its outset, the session co-chair wisely cautioned against getting hung up on the differences between regulating and prohibiting certain types at this point, but to rather have a discussion of the issues surrounding unacceptable harm.

However, this distinction turned out to be uncontroversial, since a number of states that have been assumed to support a more limited restriction (such as the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands) made it clear that they were here to ban a certain class of weapon. Nor did these delegations draw any “red lines” on weapons they’d like to keep, though they and a number of others insisted on the relevance of self-destruct mechanisms and failure rates for these discussions.

No one disputed this point, though several states and the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) did note that evidence is lacking to show that these devices are capable of preventing humanitarian impact. The CMC suggested that the burden of proof was now on states to prove that these weapons were not and could not be harmful, rather than the other way around.

Definitions, of course, aren’t just limited to that of cluster munitions themselves. As several delegations, including Germany, pointed out, other terms may need discussion, such as submunitions, victims, assistance, etc. The German draft proposal to the CCW, for instance, contains 13 different definitions, while the Lima draft discussion text only had one.

However, it might be asked if some concepts need to be defined, or whether they could left out of the text altogether. “Dangerous duds”, for instance, was considered by some to be a “dangerous definition” that could lead to the false impression that some duds are actually safe.

Too bad that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)’s report on its April Montreux meeting of experts wasn’t out in time for this week’s meeting (see John Borrie’s blog from 24 April). Although this meeting reached no outcomes, its report may shed light on these definitional issues in time for the CCW June expert meeting in Geneva.

This is a guest blog from James Stocker. Jamie is a researcher on UNIDIR’s project on “The humanitarian impacts of cluster munitions: practitioners’ perspectives”.


Picture of PTAB submunitions piled up near Bagram, Afghanistan, in 2002. These were part of a munition dump containing 60,000 tons of unexploded ordnance. Image courtesy of John Rodsted and Norwegian People's Aid. Downloaded from Norwegian People's Aid.