Disarmament Insight


Sunday, 30 March 2008

Body counting

The Atlantic Monthly online is running an interesting story in its April issue looking at the on-going - and increasingly nasty - debate over the grim question of how many Iraqis have died as a result of the March 2003 invasion.

Estimates of these deaths vary widely, from around 80,000 to as high as a million, according to the article. Estimates out there include a 2006 study in the Lancet, a British medical journal , research by the World Health organisation published in the New England Journal of Medicine and (not mentioned in the article) on-going documentation work by an independent research group based in the UK, Iraq Body Count.

Debate about methodologies and numbers is all useful in the name of thorough research (although it seems to have become personally rather bitter over Iraq). But whichever estimate proves to be nearest the mark, we should always remember the shattered human lives and the misery and insecurity behind the statistics - otherwise such concerns take on a tinge of ghoulishness. Even the lowest Iraq estimates demonstrate the civilian casualties are considerable, as they are in a number of other conflicts around the world not paid so much attention.

In addition, Megan McCardle, the Atlantic Monthly article's author, puts an interesting spin on the debate by introducing the notion of "anchoring effects" - well known thanks to cognitive scientists like Daniel Kahneman and the late Amos Tversky, whose work on mental biases we've discussed before on this blog. Their empirical research, and that of others, has shown that human beings tend to fixate on numbers we've heard, even if they're arbitrary or wrong. These effects persist, even when the number has been discredited.

"We anchor most strongly on the first number we hear, particularly when it is shocking and precise—like, say, 601,027 violent deaths in Iraq. And even when such a number is presented only as a central estimate in a wide range of statistical possibilities (as the Lancet study’s figure was), we tend to ignore the range, focusing instead on the lovely, hard number in the middle. Human beings are terrible at dealing with uncertainty, and besides, headlines seldom highlight margins of error.

When information supports positions we already hold, we of course tend to accept it less critically; when the opposite is true, we can be quite good at shutting the information out. “Motivated reasoning” is a mighty force, as anyone who has argued politics in a bar at 2 a.m. can attest. Scientists have observed the process, using a functional MRI machine to peer into the brain while it processes political statements, and their report is unsurprising. When we are assessing neutral statements, activity is concentrated in the areas that control higher reasoning. But when we process statements with political valence, suddenly our emotional cortices light up as well. Indeed, some research indicates that the emotion precedes, and governs, the higher cognition—that logic is, literally, an afterthought.

But cognitive bias is not limited to partisans; we all anchor on the numbers we hear. The Lancet article’s central estimate exerts a gravitational pull on even its harshest critics, who seem to be mentally benchmarking their estimates by how much they differ from that 601,027. Others who are not motivated to disprove that number tend to orbit even closer."
Collecting data on conflict is difficult and, by necessity, rather imprecise, which is why in the domain of statistics methodology is so important. Relative margins of error can have huge impacts on data, as could the consequences of embedding spurious "facts" in the minds of the public and of policy-makers. Something we all have to bear in mind.

John Borrie

Picture by mattsmith569 retrieved from Flickr.com.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Cluster Munition Fact Sheet: A view from the field

Last week, we posted on the blog a U.S. public document on “Putting the impact of cluster munitions in context with the effects of all explosive remnants of war” issued on 15 February. In this blog post, Andy Smith offers a view from the field.

It’s always good to know what the official U.S. Department of State attitude is on a given subject. That said, a recent "Fact sheet" or “White Paper” seems to me, as a professional in demining, to present only one side of a polemic. The timing of its release seemed clearly intended to counter the Wellington Conference on Cluster Munitions.

Having just updated the Database of Demining Accidents, I have found time to respond to several of the points in the U.S. “Fact sheet”…

"...For example, there are practically no United States-produced landmines being found by de-miners anywhere in the world today."

This is simply not true. U.S. mines are being cleared in large numbers today. For example, the minefield on the border between Syria and Jordan has more than 57,000 M14 anti-personnel blast mines. There are also more than 15,000 M15 and M19 anti-vehicle mines. Clearance of this minefield is happening now. These numbers don’t seem insignificant to me.

U.S. mines aren’t common. That much is true. Most of the mines found around the world are old Soviet stuff, with mines from Italy, China and Pakistan also common. But the USA cannot claim to be clean. M14 and M19 mines have featured in demining accidents in Iraq, Cambodia, Laos and Afghanistan. The US makes well-designed mines – and unfortunately they continue to function thirty years after they were placed (which is a large part of the reason for wanting to ban their use).

"...some are claiming that unexploded cluster munitions constitute a major category of post-conflict hazard, warranting new mechanisms beyond those that already exist in Amended Protocol II and Protocol V of the CCW."

Actually, unexploded “cluster munitions” do constitute a major post-conflict hazard for deminers. Cluster-bomb submunitions feature in more demining accidents than any other ordnance type other than mines. And, unlike mines, the submunitions that have featured in demining accidents are predominantly of U.S. design and manufacture.

The order of frequency in recorded demining accidents is as follows: M77, BLU-97, KB-1, BLU-26. All except the KB-1 are made in America. From a wealth of anecdotal reports, I strongly suspect that the accuracy of this record is slightly skewed by the lack of independent post-bombing data from Afghanistan and that the BLU-97 would come out top if access to the demining accident data from that period were available. (Nevertheless, the M77 is also of U.S. manufacture, so the top two would simply change positions.) When all data is in from Lebanon, the M77 is likely to re-emerge as being the most frequent offender. But deminers often survive an M77 incident. They are rarely that lucky with the BLU-97.

It should be stressed that I am only writing about accidents during demining, and not accidents to the general population. And it is true that there are some countries heavily contaminated with submunitions that have never caused post-conflict injury without the kind of human intervention that boggles the mind. (My favourite is the shepherd on the Tajik mountain who was cold and whose campfire needed fuel. He knew that explosives burn – he’d seen soldiers making tea on a TNT fire – so he put a few submunitions into the fire to try to keep it going. The next surprise is that two out of three shepherds sitting around the fire survived.) The point is that people do interact with ERW in unpredictable ways – and all of it must be removed if the innocent are to be protected from the effects of past conflicts in which their role was always limited to that of unwilling victims.

Outside Vietnam and Laos, most areas contaminated with submunitions that are reliably not movement sensitive are strewn with old Soviet submunitions. These submunitions have simple impact fuze systems; that is, "all-ways" acting fuzes, but requiring a real IMPACT. A lot of early U.S. stuff was like that, but inside Vietnam and Laos the range of experimental submunitions dropped by the USA was so wide that you can never be confident about the sensitivity of what you find - and there have been demining accidents. And, of course, here have been many civilian accidents with submunitions in Laos.

It’s disingenuous to suggest that submunitions are no worse than mortar bombs. Yes, deminers and civilians die in accidents when quantities of mixed ordnance detonate - and civilians sometimes die when taking mortars apart with hammers or when playing with grenades. However, leaving mines aside, in humanitarian demining no category of ordnance comes close to “submunitions” in the accident record.

In my opinion, the Mine Ban Treaty definition of a mine was always flawed. It includes the weasel word "designed" - as in "designed to be victim initiated". If it had not done so, it appears obvious to me that many US submunitions would be justifiably classed as mines. It is not the design, but the outcome that matters – and when an outcome of long-term civilian hazard is undeniable, the continued use of the weapon includes knowledge of that outcome. In my view, ignoring the known outcome is irresponsible. Foreknowledge and “design” begin to merge and the outcome begins to look deliberate.

And, in general terms, regardless of how they are designed to be used, U.S. cluster munitions have been used against civilian areas. Their delivery in combat is often not "precise" and their deliberate spread means that they can never be better than broadly "accurate". Their failure rate everywhere has been far higher than in user trials. They are indiscriminate weapons, which I believe breach the spirit of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, if not the treaty’s letter. And, they kill deminers, who are cleaning up after our wars, which is really rather important.

"U.S. policy for its own cluster munitions is that new types must have a 99% functioning rate in testing".

Sadly, this was also true of those in current use. It proves that the "testing" does not accurately reflect how they are used and the resultant failure rate. While for many munitions, a dud is usually a dud, it could be fatal to think that of a U.S. made submunition. Indeed, such submunitions have been fatal for many serving U.S. soldiers, as well as for a few well-trained Explosive Ordnance Disposal specialists in humanitarian demining and some unfortunate deminers.

The Fact Sheet also provides a country-by-country analysis using selected figures. In each case, its claims could easily be argued against. From my own experience, I took pictures of BLU-97 strikes on Iraqi buildings, with the submunitions in place and the US "rapid reaction force" nowhere to be seen in late 2004. Other examples abound but a brief summary would only repeat the DoS error of citing selected details to support a conclusion that was not derived, and so appears to have been a hidden premise.

I can sympathize a little with the United States over the anti-personnel mine ban – because the North/South divide in Korea is probably impossible to demine to humanitarian standards without many casualties. That said, despite U.S. claims that anti-personnel mines are essential weapons, they haven’t reported using them in conflicts since the Mine Ban Treaty, which indicates they weren’t THAT essential – and that they do have some flexibility in meeting the concerns of allies. So, we should take claims about the operational necessity of cluster munitions and portents of doom about the implications for military interoperability if U.S. allies decide to ban them (a big issue in the Oslo Process, I understand) with a big grain of salt. It seems obvious to me that the U.S.A. really doesn’t need indiscriminate submunitions either.

"...assistance to victims should be provided purely on a humanitarian basis and not be made conditional upon a state's agreement to any politically motivated international agreement, whether that agreement concerns landmines, cluster munitions or any other conventional weapons."

Professionals in Mine Action know how "political" the decisions over where to give humanitarian assistance are - and how frequently national self-interest dictates humanitarian demining spending. In my experience, the U.S. is certainly no exception here. Nevertheless, if you’re going to have rational criteria for providing support to solve a finite problem (and clearing ERW is a finite and measureable task), then making the delivery of humanitarian demining funds dependent on a commitment not to use the most indiscriminate weapons (mines and submunitions) again makes a lot of sense – because it limits the potential for that country to become similarly contaminated at a later date. The logic of this is rather more compelling than some other highly “political” criteria for the provision of aid that I have encountered.

To complete the picture and offset any impression of this being an attempt to bash the U.S.A., that minefield on the border between Syria and Jordan I mentioned above contains thousands of antique British-made mines in really poor condition. It probably also has a few of the very nasty Canadian C3A1/2 AP mines that include a small shaped charge to really make your day (the "Elsie). No country is squeaky clean.

From the perspective of one who has to pick the things up, the Department of State release of a spin-doctored cluster munition "fact-sheet" built on hidden premises and selective number-crunching mixed with factual errors looks distinctly "grubby" and not a little desperate..

This is a guest blog by Andy Smith. Andy has been working in humanitarian mine action since 1994. He has demining experience in Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia Herzegovina, Cambodia, Croatia, Iraq, Kosovo, Mozambique, Namibia, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan and Zimbabwe and is currently working on the border between Jordan and Syria. Andy is involved in the
Database of Demining Incidents and Victims and is an independent member of the International Mine Action Standards Review Board.

Picture shows the author trialing water jets and mine boots in a minefield on the border between Jordan and Syria on 5 March 2008. The blue stick at Andy’s feet is an M14 anti-personnel mine.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Cluster Munitions: Putting impacts (and policies) in context

On 15 February 2008, the American Department of State distributed a White Paper entitled 'Putting the Impact of Cluster Munitions in Context with the Effects of All Explosive Remnants of War'. In some respects, this document elaborated on U.S. statements in the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) process in June and November 2007.

The U.S. document raised many issues, and represented a view contrasting with those of some others on effectively addressing the humanitarian impacts of cluster munitions. We're aware that it's generated considerable discussion, both publicly and in humanitarian demining and arms control circles.

To that end, we wanted to bring the U.S. White Paper to the attention of our readers and, in the spirit of constructive debate, to invite your comments. We've reproduced the White Paper text (which is in the public domain) in its entirety below for your reference. Where the original text indicated web-links, we've activated these as hyperlinks for your convenience.

Fact Sheet
Bureau of Political-Military Affairs
Washington, DC
February 15, 2008

White Paper: Putting the Impact of Cluster Munitions in Context with the Effects of All Explosive Remnants of War

The United States shares the humanitarian concerns expressed by many other countries with regard to the use of cluster munitions. In order to find an internationally-accepted way of effectively addressing the humanitarian aspects associated with cluster munitions, all relevant facts should be considered. Unfortunately, much of what is said for public consumption by certain advocacy groups and some foreign governments on this issue is not accurate. Therefore, as part of the United States’ overall policy of contributing to meaningful progress on concerns related to cluster munitions, including its strong support for the negotiation of a new Protocol to address the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions within the framework of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), this White Paper is being released in order to ensure that all parties interested in this issue have available the most accurate information possible.

Cluster munitions constitute a small portion of the total humanitarian threat presented by unexploded aerial bombs, unexploded artillery shells, and other conventional unexploded munitions – collectively known as explosive remnants of war (ERW) – that often remain in post-conflict environments. Yet, some are claiming that unexploded cluster munitions constitute a major category of post-conflict hazard, warranting new mechanisms beyond those that already exist in Amended Protocol II and Protocol V of the CCW. Rather than creating redundant treaty mechanisms, states need to remain focused on comprehensive post-conflict clearance of all explosive hazards, using the lessons that have already been learned from decades of successful humanitarian clearance of landmines.

This White Paper is intended to share what the United States has learned from its efforts to destroy surplus, abandoned, and unexploded conventional munitions in 52 countries.

The Gap Between Estimated Impacts and Actual Impacts

In almost every recent conflict – Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Iraq - the initial estimates regarding the degree of impact caused by cluster munitions have been grossly off the mark. Indeed, once clearance is started and accurate casualty data collected, initial estimates have been proven wrong. At the same time, the long-term impacts of other munitions have been ignored or under reported, to the detriment of affected civilian communities.

A careful examination of the 2007 edition of the “Landmine Monitor” reveals 289 known post-conflict casualties from unexploded cluster munitions around the world in 2006, far fewer than advocates of a ban on cluster munitions have claimed or implied. Even if one assumes that casualties from unexploded cluster munitions are probably under-reported due to difficulties in collecting accurate casualty data, a more expansive estimate would still be hard-pressed to find 400 cluster munitions casualties out of the world wide total of 5,759 from all ERW.

For example, advocates of a ban on cluster munitions cite their alleged ongoing impact in the Balkans, stemming from the conflicts there in 1999. Yet, there was only one recorded casualty from a cluster munition in the entire Balkans in 2006, according to the Landmine Monitor.

To further place this figure in context, more people (645 according to the Mozambican Information Agency) were harmed in one afternoon by an ammunition depot explosion in Maputo Mozambique in 2007, than were reported by the Landmine Monitor to have been killed or injured by cluster munitions throughout the world during an entire year. Such catastrophic explosions of old, poorly maintained munition depots around the world pose a far greater threat to civilians in adjoining communities than unexploded cluster munitions. This truly dire threat is one that the United States is also helping to address.

U.S. Contribution to Clearing Explosive Remnants of War Globally

Before proceeding further with this analysis, it is important to understand the United States’ role in post-conflict clearance of explosive remnants of war as well as of landmines. First, with the exception of the explosive hazards that remain in Laos and to a lesser extent Vietnam, the vast majority of the landmines and unexploded ordnance found around the world were neither produced nor used by the United States. For example, there are practically no United States-produced landmines being found by deminers anywhere in the world today. Second, the regulations and laws that govern the U.S. exports of weapons systems are among the strictest in the world. These laws provide extensive safeguards against the proliferation of U.S.-produced weapons, require proper storage and security of all U.S. weapons, contain prohibitions on unlawful use, and include extensive post-sales inspection procedures (see www.pmddtc.state.gov to learn more). With regard to use, the U.S. has consistently adhered to all applicable Laws of Armed Conflict in its past use of cluster munitions and has a demonstrated record of continuously improving the features of these munitions in order to enhance the safety of civilians. Finally, even though the preponderance of ERW and landmines around the world that remain a threat are of foreign origin, the United States is the most generous donor to humanitarian mine action, having spent over $1.3 billion dollars so far to help clean up other countries’ ERW and landmines.

Reality on the Ground

The following cases describe the current impacts caused by unexploded cluster munitions around the world. While these impacts should not be taken lightly or dismissed, they certainly are much less than ban advocates are actively leading people to believe.

AFGHANISTAN: During the Soviet occupation, vast quantities of cluster and unitary munitions as well as landmines were used against the Afghan freedom fighters. The ensuing civil war affected Afghanistan further, and then U.S. and Coalition forces used cluster and unitary munitions against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Building on the U.S.’s longstanding demining program in Afghanistan dating back to 1988, the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement initiated a major clean up of all known sites with unexploded allied cluster munitions. This dedicated clean up was successfully concluded in 2002. In 2006, the UN reported 16 known casualties from unexploded cluster munitions out of a total of 796 casualties of all ERW. For that same year, the International Committee of the Red Cross reported 22 cluster munitions casualties out of a total of 784 casualties from all ERW. No matter which set of figures one accepts, the findings by these organizations prove that other forms of ERW constitute a far greater threat than cluster munitions in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the United States continues to help Afghanistan clear all of its explosive remnants of war.

ALBANIA: During the Kosovo conflict, border regions in Albania were hit by cluster and unitary munitions fired by Serbian forces of the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Extensive post-conflict landmine and ERW clearance supported by the United States and other donors has been successful. In 2006, there were no new casualties from any form of ERW, although in 2007, regrettably, four children were injured after playing with a hand grenade, according to the Albanian Mine Action Executive.

BOSNIA and HERZEGOVINA: This former Yugoslav republic, badly affected by ERW and landmines generated by all combatants, has received significant humanitarian mine action assistance from the United States and other donor nations and groups. In 2006, there were 35 ERW casualties; 1 of those casualties was caused by a cluster munition, according to the Bosnia and Herzegovina Mine Action Center.

CAMBODIA: Cluster munitions accounted for 20 of the 450 casualties that Cambodia suffered from ERW and landmines in 2006, as reported by the Cambodian Mine Victim Information Service. Overall casualty rates in Cambodia have dropped dramatically in the past two years due to the Cambodian Government’s efforts to restrict dangerous scrap metal collection from recycling of ERW, and to the success of large scale demining programs, supported in part by the United States.

IRAQ: According to the Landmine Monitor, the Iraqi government estimated that from 2003 to 2006 there were 75 casualties from cluster munitions used by U.S. forces. The Landmine Monitor also estimated that between 2003 and 2005, there were 2,810 casualties from ERW and landmines. Immediately after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the U.S. Department of State initiated a major humanitarian mine action program in Iraq, which included a deployment by its Quick Reaction Demining Force in the summer and fall of 2003 to clean up unexploded cluster munitions and other ERW. In 2006, Iraq suffered 99 casualties from ERW and mines that were reported: 1 of those casualties was caused by a cluster munition, according to the Landmine Monitor. The United States continues to provide Iraq with significant ERW/mine action assistance.

KOSOVO: By the time former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia forces were driven from Kosovo by U.S. and NATO forces, this province was heavily affected by landmines and ERW, including unexploded cluster munitions. The United States contributed to a UN- led clearance effort that declared Kosovo free from the humanitarian impacts of landmines and ERW in 2001. Nonetheless residual ERW do remain in Kosovo and produced 11 casualties in 2006, not one of which was reported as being caused by cluster munitions, according to the Office of the Kosovo Protection Corps Coordinator.

LAOS: Laos was heavily bombed by the United States during the Vietnam conflict in an attempt to block the flow of North Vietnamese arms and troops through Laotian territory. Cluster munitions comprised a significant portion of the U.S. bomb attacks over a seven- year period and, due to the technology in use at the time, very large amounts of unexploded cluster munitions were generated, making Laos the only country in the world where cluster munitions constitute the principal and most dangerous ERW hazard. The United States has since provided significant ERW clearance assistance to Laos, which has helped to reduce casualty rates, with annual casualties dropping dramatically by 65 % according to the Landmine Monitor. In 2006 there were a total of 59 known casualties from all ERW (it is likely that additional casualties took place but were not reported to authorities). The Landmine Monitor calculates that given the sufficient information known about 49 of those cases, the majority of the casualties were caused by handling, tampering, and playing with unexploded cluster munitions. U.S. cluster munitions technology has evolved to ever more accurate and reliable systems since the Vietnam conflict.

LEBANON: The 2006 conflict between Hezbollah militias and Israeli forces that took place predominantly in southern Lebanon is one of the exceptions to the case in which unexploded cluster munitions normally constitute a small portion of ERW. Unexploded cluster munitions created a significant humanitarian impact in southern Lebanon. In response, the United States quickly and significantly increased the funding for its long-standing humanitarian mine action program there, contributing at least 25% of the $53 million in international donations to aid clearance operations. A summary of the U.S. surge in assistance to deal with ERW clearance as of October 2006 is available. U.S. assistance continues. The combined efforts of U.S. and other donors and the Lebanese people have made great strides in the clearance of ERW, and restoration of impacted land to safe use. As clearance operations and ERW risk awareness programs have expanded, casualty rates have fallen. For example, in December 2007, there were 2 casualties from unexploded cluster munitions, down from 57 in August 2007. Further details are available in the UN Mine Action Center (UNMACC) for South Lebanon Quarterly Report for October–December 2007 .

But even in southern Lebanon, the projects failure rates of cluster munitions were ultimately incorrect. As of December 2007, UNMACC reported that 68% of the impacted land (25% with sub-surface clearance to 20 centimeters; 43% surface cleared of all threats) there had been cleared, producing 138,750 unexploded cluster munitions. Based on the rate of clearance, this indicates that the initial estimates of over 1,000,000 unexploded cluster munitions were high. Similarly, this would make the actual failure rate of cluster munitions there closer to 5% rather than the oft-quoted 20% - 40% estimates. (U.S. policy for its own cluster munitions is that new types must have a 99% functioning rate in testing.)

SERBIA: During hostilities to prevent ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia targets in Serbia were struck by NATO forces using unitary and cluster bombs. Between 2001 and 2005, there were 52 casualties caused by ERW, according to the Landmine Monitor. The Associated Press reported that 1 of those ERW incidents involved a deminer who was injured by a cluster munition that had failed to detonate in 1999. There were no ERW or landmine casualties in 2006, according to the Landmine Monitor.

VIETNAM: In 2006, according to Clear Path International there were 96 reported casualties from ERW and landmines, a legacy of conflicts dating back to World War II, the French period, American period, and the Sino-Vietnamese War in 1979. Handicap International-Belgium calculated that at least 20 of these casualties were reported to come from cluster munitions. The United States has spent millions of dollars to help clear landmines and ERW from Vietnam, as well as teach ERW/mine risk education in affected areas, and render assistance to ERW/mine survivors. Its long-standing efforts along with those of other donor nations and non-governmental organizations have made a difference.

Survivors Must be Helped Regardless of What Type of Munition Injured Them

The debate about cluster munitions should not distract the international community from the fact that tens of thousands of survivors from landmines and the full range of ERW have been physically, emotionally, and economically harmed over the years. Thanks in part to the U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program, the world’s largest such program which includes a robust survivors assistance component, the casualty rate from landmines and ERW has plummeted from the estimated range of 10,000 - 20,000 four years ago to 5,751 as of 2006 for which the most comprehensive data exists at the time of this White Paper, a clear positive trend even taking into account the incomplete collection of data for accident and health statistics in many conflict-affected countries. (Statistics for ERW and landmine casualties in 2007 have not been fully compiled yet.) Today more civilians come to harm through tampering with abandoned or unexploded ordnance than are injured or killed by landmines. Nonetheless, current survivors and survivors of new accidents from explosive hazards left from past or on-going conflict continue to deserve help that will restore their dignity, mobility, and ability to reintegrate in their communities.

Since 1989 when the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Leahy War Victims Fund was founded, the United States has assisted tens of thousands of survivors of mines and other war-related causes. It should be noted that the United States has reached out to help war victims around the world, even though the vast majority have been injured by mines and other devices that were manufactured and used by foreign combatants, and not injured by United States mines or munitions.

Furthermore, assistance to victims should be provided purely on a humanitarian basis and not be made conditional upon a state’s agreement to any politically motivated international agreement, whether that agreement concerns landmines, cluster munitions or any other conventional weapons. The best example of this principle can be found in Protocol V of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons which the United States has signed and which calls on its States Parties to:

“… provide assistance for the care and rehabilitation and social and economic reintegration of victims of explosive remnants of war. Such assistance may be provided inter alia through the United Nations system, relevant international, regional or national organizations or institutions, the International Committee of the Red Cross, national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies and their International Federation, non-governmental organizations, or on a bilateral basis.”

The campaign to ban cluster munitions has endeavored to elevate a single type of munition to infamy rather than addressing the continuing need to clean up all explosive remnants of war, the vast majority of which are not cluster munitions. To truly save lives, responsible governments and civil society should urge all states to take a comprehensive, humanitarian, impact-based approach to reduce the effect of landmines and all ERW and by providing more support to existing clearance and survivors’ assistance efforts, and not dissipate resources in a variety of competing and redundant mechanisms.

States that are party to the CCW should support Protocol V. States that are not party to the CCW but claim to be genuinely concerned about the humanitarian impacts of conventional weapons should accede to this Convention. They should support Protocol V and support any future instrument in the CCW that addresses cluster munitions.

Additional Information:

To learn more about the United States position on cluster munitions and all ERW, and on the inter-agency U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program, the world’s largest such program that clears landmines and ERW, teaches ERW/mine risk education, renders assistance to ERW/mine survivors, conducts research and development on faster and safer ways to detect and clear ERW and mines, and provides humanitarian mine action training to foreign deminers, consult the following materials and websites:

• “U.S. Statement on Humanitarians Aspects of Cluster Munitions,” delivered by Katherine Baker, Member of the U.S. Delegation to the CCW-GGE, January 16, 2008;

• “U.S. Landmine Policy and the Ottawa Convention Ban on Anti-Personnel Landmines: Similar Path,” by Richard Kidd, Director, Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, November 21, 2007;

• “U.S. Intervention on Humanitarian Impacts of Cluster Munitions,” delivered by Richard Kidd, Director, Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, June 20, 2007;

• “United States Clearance of Unexploded Cluster Munitions,” February 23, 2007 U.S. Department of State Fact Sheet.

Website of the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs;

Website of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Leahy War Victims Fund;

Website of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Humanitarian Demining Research & Development Program;

Website of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Humanitarian Demining Training Center.

For further comprehensive information about the clearance of landmines and ERW around the world, visit the website of the Mine Action Information Center at James Madison University and consult their “Journal of Mine Action”.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Worrying the Lords of War

On 30 August 2007, the UN Secretary-General submitted to the General Assembly a report of a Group of Governmental Experts on "enhancing international cooperation in preventing, combating and eradicating illicit brokering in small arms and light weapons." On 6 March 2008, Thai police arrested Viktor Bout, one of the world's most notorious gun-runners who had eluded capture for years. Coincidence? I think not.

If only it were possible to make such a connection without having ones tongue firmly in cheek, assessing the effectiveness of arms control agreements would be a much easier task. Unfortunately, Viktor Bout's arrest had nothing to do the UN expert group report - which, in any case, contains only recommendations on how States can close legal loopholes used by illegal arms dealers.

A March 10 editorial in the International Herald Tribune argued that Bout's arrest - or, rather, the length of time it has taken to put him behind bars - should serve as a "wake up call to governments and international organizations" and that it:

"illuminates the need for more enforceable legal strictures against the global arms trade and for more cooperation in enforcing those that already exist."
Unfortunately, such strictures are in short supply at the global level. The idea of a multilateral, legally-binding Arms Trade Treaty is currently being considered by UN Member States but actual negotiations on it have yet to begin. The UN Programme of Action on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons, which contains commitments to control brokering activities and exports, is not legally binding.

It is true that some individual States, although not many, have effective laws in place to regulate arms brokering activities. Shady arms brokers are global players, however. They are very good at arranging complicated deals from, in and through countries with the weakest regulation, or none at all. There will always be a weakest link in the chain of national regulations or arms brokers. Without effective global regulation of the arms trade, Viktor Bout's successors will have little difficulty moving into the void his arrest has created.

I've always thought that the most effective way of gauging the effectiveness of proposed or existing international agreements to regulate the arms trade would be ask illicit arms dealers how worried they are about them. Not a very practical idea, I realise. Such people normally do not like to discuss their work. However, now that Mr. Bout is behind bars and possibly looking for ways to pass the time, perhaps we should send someone to talk to him about the UN Programme of Action on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons and the proposed Arms Trade Treaty. If he begins to look distinctly uncomfortable and breaks out in a cold sweat, we'll know we're on the right track. Given the rather anaemic regulation of the global arms trade that we have at the moment, however, I would predict a somewhat calmer reaction from Mr. Bout.

Patrick Mc Carthy

Photo Credit: Nicholas Cage playing Yuri Orlov, a character based on Viktor Bout, in a scene from the film, "Lord of War."

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Gut Feelings

On the long flight back from New Zealand last week following the Wellington Conference on cluster munitions, I read Gerd Gigerenzer's recent book, Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious.

The popular science and pop psychology shelves of book shops are packed with titles purporting to explain the mysteries of decision making, or how to get a leg up in business, love or just making friends and influencing people. Gigerenzer is notable, though, in the sense that he's Director of the Centre for Adaptive Behaviour and Cognition at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, and was formerly a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago. He has academic credibility on these issues and, rather than offering advice, his book seeks to explain how human gut feeling operates and also describes some recent empirical research into how the human mind actually solves problems.

Gigerenzer has a knack (no doubt thanks in part to a good editor) for explaining constraints on how human beings see the world in cognitive terms in a way that's easy to follow and punctuated by entertaining examples.

Some of my colleagues - particularly social scientists for some reason - sniff at 'popular' science books or lectures. This mystifies me. Of course, one can't expect a book aimed at a general audience to always be as precise or technically nuanced as a scientific journal article or a volume of research - although the best writers often manage it. But in an increasingly specialised age, in which knowledge is often highly compartmentalized, it's unreasonable to expect readers to have a deep background or advanced education in all domains of research. As long as the writing is accurate, and not just interesting, books like Gigerenzer's are a means for literate people to keep themselves abreast of developments outside their domains of expertise in more depth than can be achieved by a newspaper article or television documentary. Otherwise, we end up as people knowing a lot about very little.

And good popular writing on scientific research often encourages useful cross-fertilization of ideas, even among so-called experts. Many developments have occurred as serendipitous connections in the web of knowledge. Cross-fertilization of ideas is so important we made it a mantra of our Disarmament Insight workshops in 2007, bringing in outside experts from fields like economics and economic modelling, physics and even primatology to work with disarmament diplomats and prompt them to make new connections.

Gigerenzer's book is a neat introduction to a field of research that strongly suggests we need a new way of seeing the way the mind works that recognizes we are often not rational optimizers. As he said in a recent interview for Edge (The Third Culture):

"Human rationality cannot be understood, I argue, by the ideals of omniscience and optimization. In an uncertain world, there is no optimal solution known for most interesting and urgent problems. When human behavior fails to meet these Olympian expectations, many psychologists conclude that the mind is doomed to irrationality. These are the two dominant views today, and neither extreme of hyper-rationality or irrationality captures the essence of human reasoning. My aim is not so much to criticize the status quo, but rather to provide a viable alternative."
Gigerenzer's book should be of interest to multilateral disarmament practitioners because it's a light introduction to problems of intuition and decision-making they face in the complex environments in which they operate.

For instance, many of the heuristics or cognitive rules-of-thumb we use in everyday life are "fast-and-frugal" - depending on very simple unconscious rules that are often products of our adapted minds. We use these in the way we frame problems (and their solutions) and in our social interactions, usually without thinking about it.

Acknowledging and mapping these rules-of-thumb has led, for example, to improvements in medical diagnostics for coronary care unit allocation - by devising protocols that leverage the intuition of doctors and specialist nurses, rather than baffling them with complex calculations that, empirically, are no more effective.

Gigerenzer also notes that in some institutional settings, when our intuitive rules-of-thumb are at cross-purposes with due process (he draws on various studies to look at magistrates' rulings in the English legal bail system as an example) a gap can emerge between what practitioners do, and what they think they're doing.

Similar arguments could be made in looking at some multilateral disarmament and arms control processes - something we described as "cognitive ergonomics" in our third volume of research. It's hard to achieve good outcomes in dysfunctional environments, especially if those working in such environments don't know any different. Which just proves the value of cross-fertilization of the kind Gigerenzer's short book offers.

John Borrie

Photo of Gerd Gigerenzer courtesy of Edge.org.

See Gerd Gigerenzer,
Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious, London: Allen Lane: 2007.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Shall the geeks inherit the earth?

Outside the largest conference rooms at UN Headquarters in Geneva, there are several discreet booths containing telephones. Most delegates to UN conferences these days have no idea they're there. Many would be surprised, and probably bemused, to learn that the dusty, disused booths exist for their use, provided they can reach the international operator to authorize their collect calls to capitals.

Like certain other aspects of the 'community of practice' to which disarmament diplomats belong, the UN's delegate phone booths are something of an anachronism in today's world of mobile phones, wi-fi laptops and 'push' e-mail devices like the Blackberry. In a post on Disarmament Insight last year, Patricia Lewis shared some observations about how she thought such wireless devices were changing the practice of diplomacy in settings like New York.

As readers know, I recently attended the Wellington Conference on cluster munitions. Nowhere have the implications of new technology on a multilateral disarmament process been more stark to me.

Let's consider my own case, for instance. I carried a laptop of course, equipped with a built-in webcam, wi-fi and a flash card reader, which enabled me to transfer pictures or movies quickly from my digital camera. It also enabled me to save and edit the contents of my digital field recorder (sort of a souped-up dictaphone-cum-portable recording studio). It's also possible, of course, to record interviews and sessions using a laptop and the right audio cable. I saw several delegates doing this, which adds a new dimension to "the diplomatic record" of an international meeting.

While I wrote my daily reports for DI readers nightly, it would have been perfectly feasible to send out pictures, audio, messages and even video almost in real time from the Conference. In fact, like Geneva, New York and many other parts of the world, it's easy to get on-line with a commercial hot spot in Wellington for only a few dollars an hour, and upload to sites like YouTube or, indeed, Disarmament Insight.

Moreover, it's fair to say that digital equipment connected to the internet is transforming the ability of civil society advocates to co-ordinate internationally in order to try to influence government polices - not only with national delegates in the vicinity of the conference room, but indirectly by engaging with authorities in capitals to try to have delegation instructions changed.

Thanks to instantaneous communication, NGO information is sometimes more up-to-date and more comprehensive about negotiating dynamics than those of governments, thanks to the slower reporting cycles of encrypted official cables. Moreover, one Cluster Munition Coalition delegate, a veteran of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty process told me,

"Ten years ago, when we depended on faxes and international calls, we couldn't have afforded this level of co-ordination, let alone been able to sustain it".
And government officials themselves are looking more broadly for analysis and information. For many years, independent analysts like those of WILPF and the Acronym Institute have, for instance, published excellent analyses of multilateral processes like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty meetings and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty negotiations. Diplomats take note of these. But such reports were usually not timely enough to feed directly into delegation decision-making cycles, and mainstream media analysis wasn't detailed or engaged enough. That's changing too.

Nevertheless, while keen to avail themselves of benefits like these, some government officials also seem a bit uneasy about the implications of greater transparency and the involvement of more of the great unwashed in multilateral processes. As diplomats they are, after all, the representatives of peoples - not largely unaccountable specialist interests like NGOs. And there was certainly some on-the-margins grumbling among a number of them about the degree and kind of NGO pressure on them. It was mixed with respect for the substantive knowledge and tactical ability of non-state experts to mix it with states in the informal consultations.

In the wake of the Mine Ban Treaty a decade ago, some claimed it heralded a "new diplomacy" between governments and civil society actors co-ordinating on international issues of human concern. But there was disappointment when it seemed not to eventuate in other areas of international security. Is it now almost here, thanks to collaborative technologies of the Web 2.0? Or is it just in the Oslo Process? And are these new developments entirely good or bad? What do readers think?

John Borrie

Picture of a sculpture in Kingston Upon Thames in the UK by David Mach called "Out of Order". Photo by Maria Kristin Steinisson, downloaded from Flickr.