Disarmament Insight


Monday, 18 June 2007

Cluster munitions: "I feel a disturbance in the Force ... "

This week, experts from States Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) - sometimes known as the Inhumane Weapons Convention - will meet in Geneva.

The Group of Government Experts, or GGE as it's usually known, was scheduled last November, at the CCW's Review Conference. That meeting decided:

"To convene, as a matter of urgency, an intersessional meeting of governmental experts:

To consider further the application and implementation of existing international humanitarian law to specific munitions that may cause explosive remnants of war, with particular focus on cluster munitions, including the factors affecting their reliability and their technical and design characteristics, with a view to minimizing the humanitarian impact of these munitions."
This may all sound a bit humdrum. But while it won't make any decisions (that's the job of a one-week Meeting of States Parties in November), this week's GGE meeting will be interesting for several reasons. For instance:

- The GGE comes less than a month after an international conference in Lima, Peru, as part of the so-called "Oslo Process" toward a treaty to prohibit cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians (see previous blogs on this site reporting on that meeting) and a Meeting of Experts organised by the International Committee of the Red Cross in Montreux in April;

- There is a new proposal from the European Union for a negotiating mandate on cluster munitions in the CCW, which the GGE meeting will no doubt discuss (see reference below);

- As such, all eyes are on the reactions of some of the big cluster munition user states like the United States, Russia and China.

Until now, these countries haven't been keen to negotiate new legal rules on cluster munitions in the CCW. But they can't have been blind to international political momentum that's developed since a Norwegian-sponsored conference in Oslo in February that committed 46 countries to negotiation of a treaty in the CCW or outside it - a group that continues to grow in number.

It's unlikely that many states previously opposed to a negotiating mandate in the CCW have had a sudden change of heart, at least not on a mandate as envisaged in the Oslo Declaration. But, tactically, should they resist agreement of a negotiating mandate in the CCW or go along with the EU's text? Or should they try to water down such proposals or/and present one of their own? This week we may see some indications of intent.

In late February, the new UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, described the CCW and work in Oslo as "complementary and mutually reinforcing". From a humanitarian point-of-view, it could be argued that this is already borne out by the disruptive effect that Oslo has had on the CCW's previous status quo in which the humanitarian effects of cluster munitions remained relatively peripheral. It remains to be seen how things play out though, and we'll try to bring you more updates in the course of this week.

John Borrie


Official documents and proposals in the CCW are accessible here.

Photo retrieved from Flickr.