Disarmament Insight


Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Cluster munitions: Down to the nitty gritty

Today's discussions at the Wellington Conference on cluster munitions - part of the Oslo Process to negotiate a treaty to address the humanitarian impacts of cluster munitions - got down to the nitty gritty on two key issues: definitions and military inter-operability.

Informal consultations commencing at 8a.m. this morning tackled inter-operability: how and whether the prospective treaty on cluster munitions will set rules for military joint-operations between countries with differing legal obligations. In plain language, this is about what the obligations will be for member states working in military alliances with non-members - including questions of state and individual criminal liability if non-member states use cluster munitions in those operations. It also potentially applies to multinational interventions such as UN peace keeping or enforcement operations.

It is fair to say that while these consultations (which resumed at the end of the afternoon for a while, after the conference's formal discussions concluded) generated plenty of proposals, there was perhaps more heat than light. As well as the Australian and Japanese proposals mentioned in yesterday's blog, there were a number of other ideas put forward, including from France and Norway. This issue has taken on such importance because NATO countries and other American allies in particular claim that adequate specific provisions in a draft treaty will be a deal-breaker for them. They are clamouring loudly to see their proposals reflected in a revised Wellington text by the end of this week.

Meanwhile, in the formal plenary, the theme of the day was Article II of the draft Convention - on definitions, the most central issue to be settled in the Dublin negotiation. There isn't space here to recap these discussions (and it is nearly midnight New Zealand time) but views fall broadly into two groups. The first is a group of mainly Western countries who would like multiple exemptions to a general prohibition on cluster munitions based largely on technical characteristics (such as sensor fuzing, quantity per munition, self-destruct/self-neutralization features or/and alleged submunition reliability ). The second group is a large bunch of states, including the Oslo 'core-group' states, and many mainly developing countries, which are unconvinced that exemptions based on such technical characteristics are a good idea. In fact. many are adamant that, on humanitarian grounds, all cluster munitions should be banned and said so today.

Tomorrow, informal consultations on definitions in the margins commence, following on from today's floor discussions, while the formal conference session advances to other (less contentious articles) of the draft Convention text.

Finally, today's quote of the day (and a poke in the eye to political correctness) goes to independent UXO expert Colin King in his invited presentation to the conference, making an important point about technical criteria for possible exemptions:

"It doesn't matter if the M-85 [cluster submunition with a self-destruct feature used by Israel in South Lebanon in 2007 and British forces in Iraq in 2003] was hewn from a solid block of platinum and lovingly assembled by virgins: it would still fail. And you can't get virgins in the UK anymore anyway."
Colin is British, so one presumes he knows about these things. The UK delegation did not comment.

I'll keep you posted in coming days as discussion continues. Most proposals and statements mentioned are appearing on the New Zealand Government's Wellington Conference website. The Aotearoa Cluster Munition Coalition website is also a useful resource.

John Borrie

Cluster bomb poster for the Wellington Conference courtesy of the Aotearoa Cluster Munition Coalition.