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Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
June 1, 2018
CCW Fails to Reach Cluster Munitions Pact

Jeff Abramson

In November, delegates to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) failed to reach agreement on a new protocol specifically addressing cluster munitions, but committed to continue work in 2009. Countries possessing the vast majority of these weapons have insisted that the CCW is the proper forum for such discussion, thus far opting out of a separate treaty that opens for signature in December.

The CCW was under pressure to take action this year after negotiations in the so-called Oslo process agreed in May on the text of the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM). That treaty, which effectively bans all cluster munitions types used to date, is expected to garner signatures from more than 100 states at a ceremony in Oslo Dec. 3 and enter into force six months later. Many of its supporters expressed skepticism about the relevance of the CCW after the CCW was again unable to adopt its own measures on the weapons.

The CCW group of governmental experts discussing cluster munitions debated text that allowed for continued use of the weapons but envisioned some limitations. The meeting was supposed to end Nov. 7, but meeting chair Danish ambassador Bent Wigotski called for stopping the clock to allow debate to continue. Some delegations expressed frustration at the measure, noting that their experts were already heading home and unable to return for further discussion. Such clock-stopping is frequently used when negotiations are particularly close to conclusion.

Ultimately, however, no consensus was reached. During the meeting of CCW states-parties Nov. 13-14, Russia objected to using the word "protocol" if further work were to continue. Instead, states-parties agreed to continue their negotiations on "proposals," with the group of governmental experts meeting for up to two weeks in 2009, Feb. 16-20 and April 14-17.

Stephen Mathias, head of the U.S. delegation to the meeting, said Nov. 13, "Our failure is all the more disappointing because the opportunity to agree to a protocol that would have had substantial humanitarian benefits was within our grasp." In his statement, he highlighted that Russia and the United States, "arguably two of the largest stockpilers of cluster munitions," had agreed that the proposal would have required both countries "to significantly overhaul their existing stocks."

In a Nov. 19 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a diplomatic source blamed core supporters of the CCM, including Austria, Mexico, New Zealand, and Norway, for rejecting the proposed text. The source indicated that the major advantages of the proposed text were prohibitions on all cluster munitions without at least one safety feature, such as self-destruct or self-neutralizing mechanisms; a ban on transfers of all munitions produced before 1990; and a ban on transfers to nonstate actors. According to the diplomat, these restrictions would cover 95 percent of all cluster munitions stockpiles.

In a Nov. 19 e-mail, however, a European diplomat blamed the meeting's chair for not including the views of core CCM supporters. The diplomat indicated that the proposal would have more closely maintained the status quo.

In a Nov. 14 press release, the nongovernmental Cluster Munition Coalition also called the CCW proposal "weak" and noted that, with its failure, the CCM "remains [the] best and only road ahead on cluster bombs."

CCW meetings next year will be chaired by a diplomat from Argentina. Wigotski, who drew both praise and criticism from meeting participants, is now his country's ambassador to Cyprus and no longer serves as ambassador for arms control and disarmament.

John Duncan, British ambassador for arms control and disarmament, told Arms Control Today in an e-mail Nov. 21 that the CCW could still succeed. He wrote, "the agreement of the major users and manufacturers of cluster munitions to continue negotiations leaves room for hope that a new protocol will be agreed next year." London will continue to participate in the work. Duncan stated, "It is very important that those who cannot agree to sign the new Oslo treaty do not seek to undermine it."