Diplomats agree on treaty to ban cluster bombs

MISSING NAMES: The big cluster bomb makers like the US, Russia and China did not take part in the talks and the US said the pact would not make it alter its policy


Fri, May 30, 2008 - Page 1

Diplomats from more than 100 nations reached agreement on a treaty that would ban current designs of cluster bombs and require the destruction of stockpiles within eight years.

The breakthrough on Wednesday capped more than a year of negotiations that began in Norway and concluded over the past 10 days in Dublin. Nations were expected to sign the document in December in the Norwegian capital, Oslo.

The draft treaty declares that a signatory nation “undertakes never under any circumstances to use cluster munitions” nor “develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer to anyone, directly or indirectly, cluster munitions.”

Ireland and other lead sponsors plan to unveil the treaty today after it is translated into several languages.

Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said all 111 participating nations backed a draft treaty that he called “a real contribution to international humanitarian law.”

“This is a very strong and ambitious text which nevertheless was able to win consensus among all delegations,” Martin said.

He said majority support within the world community would put pressure on leading cluster-bomb makers — the US, Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan — to quit relying on them too. Those six nations did not participate.

Washington dismissed the prospect that the treaty would alter US policy. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the US remained committed to UN-sponsored talks that seek voluntary codes of “best practice” among leading makers of cluster bombs.

“While the United States shares the humanitarian concerns of those in Dublin, cluster munitions have demonstrated military utility, and their elimination from US stockpiles would put the lives of our soldiers and those of our coalition partners at risk,” Casey said.

In London, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the treaty was “in line with British interests and values, and makes the world a safer place.”

Brown helped propel negotiators to a speedier deal by confirming on Wednesday that Britain would discontinue its use of two cluster munitions: one an Israeli-designed artillery shell, the other a US-made rocket system for use on Apache attack helicopters. Britain had been seeking an exemption to continue using the helicopter-based weapon in particular.

Nonetheless, the draft treaty contains several concessions sought by the US. The pact would allow countries that sign the treaty to keep cooperating militarily with those that do not.

Campaigners against the use of cluster bombs expressed joy at the treaty’s requirements for signatories to fund projects that clear up unexploded ordnance and support families and communities victimized by cluster bombs.

In Geneva, the International Committee of the Red Cross also praised an agreement, calling it a major step forward for the protection of civilians.