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– Frank Klotz
former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
Cluster Convention Set to Enter Into Force
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Jeff Abramson

The United Nations received the 30th instrument of ratification for the Convention on Cluster Munitions on Feb. 16, setting the treaty to enter into force Aug. 1.

Cluster munitions are bombs, rockets, and artillery shells that disperse smaller submunitions over broad areas. They sometimes strike civilians or fail to explode initially, later injuring or killing military forces and noncombatants. International outrage at the use of these weapons by Israel and Hezbollah in the summer of 2006 led to the so-called Oslo process and ultimately the treaty, which was opened for signature and ratification in December 2008. (See ACT, December 2008.)

The convention bars the use of nearly all cluster munitions and obligates countries to destroy stockpiles, conduct clearance efforts, and take steps to help victims. It enters into force on the first day of the sixth month after the month in which the 30th instrument of ratification has been deposited.

Burkina Faso and Moldova provided the 29th and 30th ratifications Feb. 16. Montenegro and Denmark deposited their instruments earlier this year.

Although the United States has not supported the treaty, a number of its allies have. Of the 30 ratifying states, 10 are members of NATO. Ten other NATO members have signed but not yet ratified the treaty. Afghanistan and Iraq have also signed the accord, which allows for military cooperation between member and nonmember states, provided that countries bound by the treaty do not “expressly request the use of cluster munitions where the choice of munitions used is within [their] exclusive control.”

Instead of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, Washington has preferred to seek agreement on limiting the use of cluster munitions through the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). A group of governmental experts is scheduled to meet April 12-16 and Aug. 30-Sept. 3 to continue work on a possible sixth protocol to the CCW, led by new chairperson Jesus Domingo of the Philippines. Many of the countries that have committed to the new treaty and are also party to the CCW have stressed that any agreement in the CCW must not weaken controls on the weapons, drawing into question the likelihood of reaching consensus within the CCW. (See ACT, December 2009.)

The 30 states that have ratified the new treaty are Albania, Austria, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, the Holy See, Ireland, Japan, Laos, Luxembourg, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Malawi, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, Montenegro, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Norway, San Marino, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Spain, Uruguay, and Zambia. Another 74 countries have signed the treaty.

In a statement released by his spokesperson Feb. 16, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on all states to become party to the treaty. “[T]he Convention’s entry into force just two years after its adoption demonstrates the world’s collective revulsion at the impact of these terrible weapons,” he said.