More than 100 countries were expected to sign a treaty banning cluster bombs yesterday in a move that supporters hope will stigmatize the weapons to the point that even non-signers like the US, Russia and China would abandon them.
“Once you get half the world on board, its hard to ignore a ban,” said Australian Daniel Barty, an anti-cluster bomb campaigner.
Barty arrived in Oslo on Tuesday after spending two months crisscrossing Europe in a white van covered with “Ban cluster bombs” stickers in half a dozen languages.
Cluster bomblets are packed by the hundreds into artillery shells, bombs or missiles that scatter them over vast areas. Some fail to explode immediately. The unexploded bomblets can then lie dormant for years until they are disturbed, often by children attracted by their small size and bright colors.
Washington and Moscow say cluster bombs have legitimate military uses such as repelling advancing troop columns.
US Assistant Secretary of State Stephen Mull told reporters in May that a comprehensive ban would hurt world security and endanger US military cooperation on humanitarian work with countries that sign the accord.
About 1,000 people, including British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, were expected at the signing ceremony.
Norway started a campaign against cluster bombs in February last year, in part inspired by the successful grass-roots movement that led to a 1997 treaty negotiated in Oslo barring anti-personnel mines. Like cluster bombs, those mines are blamed for killing more civilians than soldiers.
American campaigner Jody Williams and her International Campaign to Ban Landmines shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for the effort, and the treaty has now been signed by 156 countries.
“I think it’s awesome that 100 countries are coming to Oslo to sign [the new cluster bomb treaty],” said Williams, who was in Oslo for the signing ceremony.
Barty said he thought countries that snub the treaty would stop using cluster munitions anyway, as they did with anti-personnel mines.
“One of the things that really worked well with the land mine treaty was stigmatization. No one really uses land mines,” he said.
After the success of the land mine and the cluster munition drives, Williams said she and other “Nobel laureates will launch a nuclear free world campaign.”
She said it was too early go into detail about the anti-nuclear initiative, but that includes people like South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu.