Disarmament Insight


Monday, 27 August 2007

Cluster munitions: the stigma grows

The Sunday Observer of 19 August ran a story that some leading British financial institutions have told it "they are about to withdraw hundreds of millions of pounds from firms linked to the manufacture of controversial cluster bombs. The move will be seen as a major breakthrough for campaigners such as Handicap International, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and Human Rights Watch."

Let's also remember the Cluster Munition Coalition. All of the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) mentioned above belong to that international network of campaigners, which has played an active role over the last few years in the deliberations of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) in Geneva and especially in the international "Oslo Process" that emerged from February this year.

The Observer's story is further indirect evidence that, increasingly, cluster munitions are seen as a weapon with unacceptable humanitarian consequences by European publics. Investors see that as a risk, especially as efforts to restrict them gather steam.

Certainly, spokespeople from major arms manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon asked for comment by the Observer seemed quick to deny their involvement in cluster munition production and trade, although they have been linked to it in the recent past.

What the Observer article didn't discuss is whether - as seems likely - the investing institutions it mentioned from UK and France are taking their cue from others in this area. The Norwegian Petroleum Fund - Global, for example, is an investment big fish, with more than 200 billion Euro, making it one of the world's largest public funds. In 2005, the Fund's Council on Ethics recommended that the Fund pull out of investing in 7 cluster munition producers, which it did. It was judged that cluster munitions fail the fundamental humanitarian principle of distinction.

You can read about how it happened and why in a chapter of our third volume of research here, written by Dr. Gro Nystuen, a member of that Council.

Discussions in the CCW traditionally emphasized the military utility of cluster munitions. Not a lot of attention was given until recently to the moral or political acceptability of using a type of weapon that a range of evidence indicates is prone to indiscriminate use and deaths and injuries to bystanders.

The military utility of a weapon shouldn't be confused with its effectiveness, which is a broader consideration. A weapon may fulfill the requirements of its intended military mission, but the negative consequences of its use may outweigh that usefulness. Clearly there is widespread public unease about the civilian "collateral damage" cluster munitions cause. (You can see the footprint of a cluster munition in the Youtube clip embedded in this post, and can imagine its effects on a populated area.) We're likely to see stigma against cluster munitions grow, which will strengthen international initiatives like those mentioned above.

John Borrie


Gro Nystuen, "Investment policies and arms production - experiences from the Norwegian Pension Fund - Global", in Thinking Outside the Box in Multilateral Disarmament and Arms Control Negotiations (the pink book at left), UNIDIR: 2006.

Information about the Norwegian Government Petroleum Fund's Advisory Council on Ethics, including its recommendations on a number of weapon systems, is available here in both English and Norwegian.