Cluster Bombs May Disappear After Dublin Accord

DUBLIN – Cluster bombs should be outlawed in most of the world thanks to an agreement formally endorsed by over 100 governments in Dublin May 30.

The accord, which prohibits the use of cluster bombs and requires the destruction of stockpiles retained in arsenals within eight years, was reached despite intense opposition from the US, the world’s top user of the weapon. Cluster bombs, in which hundreds of small bomblets are bound together, are known to slice limbs off the bodies of victims.

Although the US government did not formally participate in the talks that led to the agreement, it has admitted lobbying 114 diplomats who did, in an effort to have the text watered down. US President George W. Bush is believed to have personally telephoned some of those involved to make his case.

Mark Hiznay, an arms trade specialist with Human Rights Watch, said that despite the intense pressure exerted by Washington, the final agreement is "very strong." Campaigners are hoping that the accord will have a similar effect to the international landmine treaty that entered into force nine years ago. Today, Burma is believed to be the only country that still uses landmines.

"The writing is on the wall for the countries that aren’t here," Hiznay told IPS. "It will become infinitely harder to use cluster munitions now."

The key sticking point in the negotiations related to whether signatories to the accord could participate in joint military operations with countries that continue to use cluster bombs.

Britain successfully lobbied for the inclusion of a clause that would allow it to fight alongside the US in wars. A British diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that it sought this provision in order to "legally protect our servicemen; that was our chief concern."

Some campaigners alleged that Britain acted as a proxy for the US in Dublin. Jody Williams, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, said: "How can the British government say with a straight face it is banning these munitions while at the same time vigorously promoting language allowing British soldiers to plan and execute operations where, in effect, they would be using US cluster bombs?"

Others, however, applauded Britain for supporting the agreement.

Dennis Halliday, a former assistant secretary-general of the United Nations, said that Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, had proven that he could take foreign policy decisions of which the US disapproves. "Gordon Brown has rejected the poodle image (of Britain towards the US) and brought the United Kingdom fully behind the ban," Halliday, now an antiwar activist, added.

At least 13,000 deaths and injuries have been attributed to cluster bombs, which were first used in modern battle by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union during the Second World War.

After men, who often happen across unexploded devices while undertaking farm-work, children are the population group most likely to be hurt or killed by cluster bombs.

Umarbek Pulodov was six years of age in 1992 when cluster bombs were dropped on his family’s home in Shul, a village in Tajikistan. His brother and uncle were killed in the raid, while Pulodov himself was left almost blinded in one eye. He was hospitalized for a year as a result.

Children, he said, are especially vulnerable to cluster bombs because the bombs "look like toys."

The most recent large-scale usage of cluster bombs occurred during Israel’s attacks on Lebanon in 2006.

During the last 72 hours of the conflict that raged in July and August of that year, Israel fired over 1,800 cluster rockets containing 1.2 million submunitions. For the two months after the official cessation of hostilities, casualties were still being recorded at the rate of three or four people killed or maimed per day.

Israel, both a manufacturer and user of cluster bombs, is among the states opposed to an international ban. Other key military powers with a similar position include Russia, China, India and Pakistan.

The Lebanon example illustrated how cluster bombs can have adverse consequences for both lives and livelihoods. Some 70 percent of families in southern Lebanon rely on agriculture as their main source of income. All of the main crops grown in the region — olives, bananas, citrus fruits, tobacco and wheat — could not be harvested as normal because the land on which they were grown were contaminated by cluster bombs.

Justin Kilcullen, director of the Irish antipoverty group Trócaire, said that the use of cluster bombs has hurt many countries’ efforts to develop their economies.

As an aid worker based in Laos, Kilcullen witnessed the ongoing effects of cluster bombs that were dropped on the southeast Asian country 30 years ago. "To this day people are still being killed and maimed," he said.

The accord reached in Dublin will be formally declared open for signature at a ceremony scheduled to take place in Oslo in December.

Read more by David Cronin