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Cluster Munitions Treaty Enters Into Force

Valerie Pacer

Hailed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as “a major advance for the global disarmament and humanitarian agendas,” the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) entered into force Aug. 1.

Cluster munitions are weapons that disperse smaller submunitions, sometimes a few and sometimes hundreds, that are supposed to explode on impact. However, these submunitions often fail to detonate promptly; if they explode later, they can injure civilians and combatants. The treaty is the result of the so-called Oslo process, led in part by Norway, in response to the 2006 Israeli-Lebanese conflict that left up to 1 million unexploded submunitions. (See ACT, July/August 2008.)

The convention has been signed by 108 countries and ratified by 39. (See ACT, March 2010.) Since the countdown to entry into force, which began with the 30th country submitting its instrument of ratification Feb. 16, nine new countries have ratified the convention: Antigua and Barbuda, Comoros, Ecuador, Fiji, Lesotho, Mali, Samoa, Seychelles, and the United Kingdom. Among those absent from the list of signing and ratifying states are a number of major stockpiling and producing countries, including China, Russia, and the United States. Although data on stockpiles are incomplete, the United States is believed to have the world’s largest cluster munitions stockpile with approximately 5.5 million cluster munitions and more than 700 million submunitions.

Instead of the new convention, the United States has sought agreement on potential limits on cluster munitions use within the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). A CCW group of governmental experts has been meeting for a number of years but, despite numerous meetings, has failed thus far to reach consensus on a text for a potential new protocol dealing with cluster munitions. The group is scheduled to meet again Aug. 30-Sept. 3 in Geneva. (See ACT, December 2009.)

In 2008, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced that, after 2018, U.S. cluster munitions must have an unexploded ordnance level of less than 1 percent and that until then, munitions failing to meet that standard could be used only after authorization by a combatant commander. The 1 percent ceiling was also established by Congress in 2007 as a requirement for any military sales or transfers of cluster munitions, effectively banning export of the vast majority of U.S. cluster munitions. Critics of the 1 percent level point out that the threshold uses ideal conditions as its standard and that, under field conditions, the percentage is higher. The critics argue instead for using criteria created by the CCM.

Under that treaty, countries are banned from using cluster munitions, except for certain cluster-like weapons that contain fewer than 10 submunitions, each of which weighs more than four but less than 20 kilograms, is designed to detect and engage single targets, has an electronic self-destruct mechanism, and can electronically self-deactivate. (See ACT, December 2008.)

Under Article 1 of the CCM, parties agree not to use cluster munitions nor “develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer [them] to anyone, directly or indirectly.” States are required to destroy their existing stockpiles of cluster munitions within eight years of entry into force or if incapable of doing so, seek an extension of up to four years to complete the destruction.

States are allowed to retain “a limited number of cluster munitions and explosive submunitions for the development of and training in cluster munition and explosive submunition detection, clearance or destruction techniques, or for the development of cluster munition counter-measures.” The treaty does not provide absolute limits on the number of munitions and submunitions a country can retain.

Divestment Efforts Continue

A global effort is underway to divest from companies that produce cluster munitions and to stop financial institutions from supporting them.

New Zealand has joined Belgium, Ireland, and Luxembourg in passing national legislation banning cluster munitions investment. Other countries including Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, and Switzerland are discussing similar legislation, and the French government, without legislation, recently declared such investment illegal.

Individual companies and civil society also have been involved in divestment efforts. The three largest Japanese banks announced July 30 that they would no longer finance cluster munitions projects but that the ban would not extend to the companies themselves as they could make products other than cluster munitions. On Aug. 11, Deutsche Welle reported that the German government was under pressure after buying body scanners for the Hamburg airport that come from a subsidiary of a U.S. company, L3 Communications, that produces self-destruct fuses for submunitions.

In an April report, “Worldwide Investments in Cluster Munitions: A Shared Responsibility,” authors from nongovernmental organizations IKV PAX Christi of the Netherlands and Netwerk Vlaanderen of Belgium found a “double standard” whereby CCM parties can neither produce nor assist in producing cluster munitions but investment in cluster munitions has continued from their financial institutions.

The report, which updates the version that came out last October, considers the seven largest producers of cluster munitions and their ability to secure loans and other financing. It concludes that since May 1, 2007, 146 financial institutions have invested a total of $43 billion in the companies. Despite the divestment effort, the producing companies have not been “hampered in [their] search for financial means.” (See ACT, December 2009.)

Of the top five institutions that provide investment banking services or loans to cluster munitions producers, three are U.S. businesses.