Disarmament Insight


Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Thinking Outside the Bomb: The Road From Oslo

Negotiations on an international treaty to ban anti-personnel mines were successfully concluded ten years ago this week. A decade later, the Mine Ban Treaty has 155 state parties and, although substantial implementation challenges remain, is generally seen as a "success in progress" in destroying stockpiles, clearing mined land and assisting victims of anti-personnel mines.

Perhaps more than any other disarmament-related treaty, the mine ban norm has retained focus on helping mine-affected people and their communities on the ground through its partnership between both mine-affected and donor governments and civil society. And the treaty has stigmatized mine use around the world to an impressive degree.

This week, I've been participating in a round of events in Oslo to commemorate completion of the Mine Ban Treaty, all grouped around the theme of "clearing the path for a better future". It's been great to see so many familiar faces - of friends and colleagues who've come, gone and returned over the years of the mine ban process - and to renew these old ties.

This week's events have also added impetus to the international campaign to ban cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians. The Oslo Process, which emerged in February of this year with support from 46 governments, had expanded to 80 by the start of this week and has since grown further. At this rate of growth in support, the process will have more than 100 states behind it by the end of 2007.

Although not a view shared by all of those governments represented at the 10th anniversary event yesterday, there is a growing sense that the time is ripe to seize the opportunity to tackle cluster munitions, as those in the Ottawa process did a little over a decade ago in response to problems caused by anti-personnel mines. Most likely this will be through a ban on at least some cluster munitions, which will be the object of tough negotiations to come at international conferences in Vienna (December), Wellington (February 2008) and Dublin (May 2008). And, with the Mine Ban Treaty's focus on enhancing the security of ordinary people in mind, it's likely the agreement that emerges next year will have similar measures to assist victims of submunitions.

Seizing this opportunity is not without political risk, but like the mine ban treaty before it, it'll be worth it. Some of the biggest cluster munition producers and users - like China, Russia and the United States - are not yet onboard. This clearly makes several NATO countries nervous and they would prefer work to be in the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) process in Geneva. But hopes that the CCW will agree on a robust negotiating mandate at its November meeting are likely to be in vain in view of its consensus practice.

Ten years ago, the United Nations was behind the curve on the Ottawa process. In contrast, the UN family today announced a new, more ambitious position on cluster munitions, which

"calls on Member States to address immediately the horrendous, humanitarian, human rights and development effects of cluster munitions by concluding a legally binding instrument of international humanitarian law that:

- prohibits the use, development, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians;

- requires the destruction of current stockpiles of those munitions; and

- provides for clearance, risk education and other risk mitigation activities, victim assistance, assistance and cooperation, and compliance and transparency measures.

Until such a treaty is adopted, the UN calls on States to take domestic measures to immediately freeze the use and transfer of all cluster munitions."

John Borrie


If you'd like more background about cluster munitions, and an account concerning treatment of this weapon in the CCW and Oslo processes so far, you might be interested in reading a pre-print of my Disarmament Diplomacy article, "The Road from Oslo: Emerging international efforts on cluster munitions" on the Acronym Institute's website.